Big Ten M5: 12.29.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 29th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. On Saturday, Indiana lost its final non-conference match-up to Georgetown in Madison Square Garden. In the second half, the game became a duel between two former teammates and Indianapolis natives, the Hoosiers’ Yogi Ferrell and the Hoyas’ D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Ferrell scored a team-high 27 points, including two three-pointers that helped the Hoosiers tie the game and send it to overtime. As Zach Osterman explains, there is no shame in losing to Georgetown on a neutral site — the disappointment stems from what would have been gained with a win. A win over a good Big East team would not only have given Indiana a big boost going into its conference schedule, but also earned them their first resume win and mitigated some of the stain from their bad loss to Eastern Washington. Now, the Hoosiers will have to overperform in Big Ten play in order to earn an NCAA bid.
  2. This weekend we also saw the return of Dez Wells when Maryland defeated Oakland. After missing five games with a wrist injury, Wells did not get the start but played 22 minutes, chipping in 10 points and four assists. The senior’s return adds to the momentum the Terrapins have built after going 12-1 in non-conference play. In Wells’ absence, Jake Layman has stepped up his production, emerging as a legitimate scoring option for Maryland; combine that with the standout play of freshman stud Melo Trimble and a healthy Wells and Evan Smotrycz, and Mark Turgeon now has a wealth of talent with which to develop his new rotation, shaping up Maryland to be a force in its first season in the Big Ten.
  3. The slate of Saturday games also included Minnesota’s convincing win against UNC-Wilmington. This was the Golden Gophers’ eighth victory in a row, and it caps off a nice finish to their non-conference schedule after starting 3-2 — they’re now 11-2 with losses only to Louisville and St. John’s (both in KenPom’s top 20). Richard Pitino’s pressure defense has once again been a big part of their success (defensive turnover rate of 28.0 percent, third in the country), but it’s their ability to share the ball that has really boosted the offense and overall play, as evidenced by the 66.2 percent of field goals made that come off of assists (fifth nationally). Minnesota will see if its collegial philosophy on offense will translate to a step up in competition when it starts Big Ten play Wednesday at Purdue.
  4. Now that the non-conference schedule season has wrapped up, it’s worth reviewing what has happened in the season thus far. We will have some look-back posts coming up here on the microsite, but the MaizeNBrew blog from SB Nation has compiled a pretty comprehensive version of its non-conference awards. Wisconsin was honored as the Best Team, while Northwestern shamefully beat out Rutgers to be named the Worst Team. Additionally, the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky was awarded midseason MVP, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell was Best Freshman, Maryland’s Jake Layman was Most Improved, Wisconsin/Duke was the best game of the non-conference season, Iowa over North Carolina was deemed the Best Win, and Michigan’s infamous defeat to NJIT was identified as the Worst Loss. There are many, many more awards in the article, and it serves as a good recap of the early part of the season for the Big Ten.
  5. Finally, fans have been grasping at straws to make sense of the “mushy middle”of this year’s Big Ten. It seems as if there is not much daylight between teams unless your name is Wisconsin (for good reason) or Northwestern and Rutgers (for not-so-good reasons). If you’re looking for some clarity, Jeff from the BasketballPredictions blog has updated his bracketology predictions to include Saturday’s results. His predictions and seedings reflect what he expects to occur by the end of the season. In it, he has eight Big Ten teams making the Dance: Wisconsin (#1 seed), Ohio State (#4), Maryland (#7), Illinois (#7), Iowa (#8), Michigan State (#9), Michigan (#11), and Minnesota (#12). This leaves out bubble-hopefuls Penn State (and their 12-1 record), Indiana, Nebraska and Purdue. These predictions seem to highlight how much uncertainty there is with any team’s record and/or performance in the non-conference, and that we’ll likely have a slugfest in the conference all season long for those precious NCAA Tournament bids. There are two exciting months of Big Ten play coming our way that will sort all of this out. Get excited!
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Dear Santa: Conference Season is Beginning, Please Bring Help

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 25th, 2014

The man in the red suit is a busy guy right about now, but more than a few college basketball teams should be hoping Santa has time to swing by campus before his work is done. No milk and cookies were left fireside in Lexington, KY, or Durham, NC (reinforcements not needed), and some programs need seek only a stocking stuffer or two (hey there, Virginia and Wisconsin). But most teams have wish lists that stretch far longer. Conference play is here, and the blissful ignorance of the non-conference season? Long gone. In its place arrive true days of reckoning – grinding tests against peers that won’t allow deficiencies to go unpunished any longer. With conference season looming, we take a look at a handful of college basketball teams in desperate need of a gift this Christmas.

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Iowa: Last Season’s Shooting Touch

Shoddy defense destroyed the Hawkeye’s promising start a season ago, but things have changed this winter. The defense has been much improved (22nd nationally in defensive efficiency), but a sputtering offense has left Iowa just 9-4 heading into conference play. All eight of the Hawkeye returnees have seen their three-point percentage drop this year (team: 259th nationally in three-point percentage), while only Gabriel Olaseni has improved upon his 2013-14 two-point field goal percentage (team: 232nd nationally in two-point percentage). The widespread nature of the shooting epidemic would seem to indicate some sort of systemic explanation. No Roy Devyn Marble? A lack of comfort with a quicker tempo? A coaching staff that has lost its players? Any or all of these questions could be a dig at the root cause, but even if they are, expecting some reversion to the more efficient levels of 2013-14 is entirely fair. The defense has been there; can Santa bring back the Hawkeyes’ shooting strokes?

Arkansas: Road Victories

For most of Mike Anderson’s tenure at Arkansas, the New Year (and conference play) has brought two things in bunches: home wins, and road losses. The Razorbacks are well positioned to earn their first Tournament appearance under Anderson after a 9-2 start, even if old habits die hard. The Hogs are undefeated on the home hardwood (8-0) and less perfect on the road: Both of the Hogs’ losses (Iowa State and Clemson) have come in enemy arenas. A November win at SMU should not be overlooked, but Arkansas needs to prove they can win games away from Bud Walton Arena in 2015. A depleted SEC should play the role of enabler.

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O26 Weekly Awards: St. Francis, Denzel Livingston, Jeff Neubauer & Texas Southern

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 23rd, 2014

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

St. Francis (PA). After going 7-6 down the stretch last season and winning 10-plus games for the first time since 2011, St. Francis (PA) entered this season with more optimism and higher expectations than it has had in a while. Not only were the Red Flash picked fourth in the NEC preseason poll, but they even received a first-place vote – major respect for a program that hadn’t finished in the upper half of the league for a full decade. After picking up road wins at Duquesne and Rutgers this week, however, it appears that respect was well-warranted – and maybe even insufficient.

St. Francis (PA) is our O26 Team of the Week. (Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports)

St. Francis (PA) is our O26 Team of the Week. (Jim O’Connor-USA TODAY Sports)

In both victories, SFU got the job done with defense, rebounding and strong efforts from forwards Earl Brown and Ronnie Drinnon. On Wednesday, Rob Krimmel’s bunch held the Dukes’ usually-proficient offense to just 52 points on a season-low 0.83 PPP, crushing the home team on the offensive glass – despite entering the night as the worst offensive rebounding team in the NEC – and maintaining a comfortable lead for all 40 minutes. Brown led the Red Flash with 16 points in the triumph while Drinnon grabbed 15 rebounds, a pair of solid outings that still couldn’t match what they accomplished on Saturday. As if man-handling an A-10 team was just another day at the office, SFU then headed to Rutgers, fell behind by 16 points, came out of the locker room unfazed, and used a 27-11 second-half run to beat the Scarlet Knights, 73-68, over the weekend. Brown’s 23 points and Drinnon’s 16 boards again paced Krimmel’s team, and the win – SFU’s first over a Big Ten school other than Penn State – turned heads across college basketball. Now 6-4 and nearing the KenPom top-150, the Red Flash are starting to look more like ‘NEC favorites’ than merely ‘NEC contenders.’

Honorable Mentions: Quinnipiac (2-0: vs. Lehigh, vs. Oregon State); American (2-0: at LaSalle, vs. Mount St. Mary’s); St. Francis (PA); VCU (2-0: at Belmont, at Cincinnati), Cal Poly (2-1: at San Francisco, vs. Northeastern (N), vs. Gonzaga (N-loss)) Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Rewind: Drubbings, Drama, and Misfortune in Michigan

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 22nd, 2014

If you’re a fan of the sport, you know the feeling: of the impossible-to-keep-up-with, full slate of games; of the constant twists and turns; of the incessant storylines. It’s the feeling of conference play. It’s the feeling of a mid-January Saturday. It’s the feeling of a day on which college basketball is king. In an awkward, premature way, that’s kind of what this past Saturday felt like. It didn’t have the same intensity. It didn’t have the same weight or meaning. But, if you were so inclined, you could have plopped yourself on a couch and let college basketball gloriously eat away your entire day. And given how the day and the games played out, you would’ve been happy with your decision.

It Was That Kind of Day For Steve Alford's UCLA Team (USA Today Images)

It Was That Kind of Day For Steve Alford’s UCLA Team (USA Today Images)

Or, at the very least, happier than Steve Alford.

Headliner: Insanity in Philly. They used to meet at the Garden on Fridays in mid-March. They used to battle on Big Mondays in February; on Saturdays in January. Rather unfortunately, they no longer do. But whereas for others, conference realignment has terminated great rivalries, Syracuse and Villanova play on. And even if they do so in mid-December, we should all be thankful that that is the case. Saturday showed us why.

Saturday also showed us why you NEVER, EVER LEAVE A BASKETBALL GAME EARLY unless the result is entirely out of question. Hundreds of spectators had already filed out of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia when undefeated Villanova trailed unranked Syracuse by five with 17 seconds to play. The Orange had led wire to wire, and it appeared as if the Wildcats’ valiant comeback attempt would fall just short. But then chaos ensued. Josh Hart hit a 3. Trevor Cooney fell down. A pass intended for Rakeem Christmas was broken up. Players scrambled. The ball found Ryan Arcidiacono. He found JayVaughn Pinkston. He found the basket. The place exploded. Villanova students jumped up and down, mobbing each other out of sheer joy. When overtime began, they hadn’t yet stopped. There were still five extra minutes to play, but, even though Jay Wright’s team still hadn’t held one lead all game, the result seemed inevitable. Villanova was going to stay unbeaten.

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A Soft December Just What the Doctor Ordered For Michigan State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 19th, 2014

Michigan State’s non-conference schedule has been defined by missed opportunities – first against Duke, then Kansas, then Notre Dame – and now, for the first time in years, it will enter Big Ten play with virtually zero quality wins of note. Only Texas Southern and the Citadel remain before the conference opener against Maryland beckons on December 30, the final two contests in an exceedingly soft five-game stretch that’s sure to leave the Spartans’ resume short on substance. And yet, as Wednesday night’s 20-point victory over Eastern Michigan showed, this light period might be the best possible scenario for Tom Izzo’s club. With two players returning from injury, Branden Dawson on the mend and the offense still finding its identity, December offers the crucial break Michigan State needs to round into form.

Freshman Javon Bess should provide added depth for the Spartans. (J. Scott Park | MLive.com)

Freshman Javon Bess should provide added depth for the Spartans. (J. Scott Park | MLive.com)

On the one hand, Wednesday night marked an important step forward for the Spartans. Freshman Javon Bess – an expected contributor who missed the first month-plus with a foot injury – made his debut, logging one point and five rebounds in nine minutes of action. Izzo was high on Bess in the preseason and seems confident that the 6’5’’ wing will add an important, unique dimension it’s been lacking. “We’re missing a tough guy, and he [Bess] brings that to the table,” the coach said afterward. Likewise, sophomore guard Alvin Ellis III contributed 14 minutes in just his second full game back in the rotation. But while both players should provide needed depth in the coming months (especially Bess, whom Izzo thinks is “going to be an Alan Anderson-type”), neither appears to be game-shape enough yet to significantly contribute. Bess looked very raw during his brief second-half stint – understandable, considering the layoff – and Ellis, though aggressive, appeared clumsy and lost on several possessions. Luckily, with the team’s soft slate and eight days off prior to Maryland, Izzo has the luxury of slowly working them back to form: “Now we have time for practice.”

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Morning Five: 12.19.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 19th, 2014

morning5

  1. Last season, Dayton was one of the Cinderellas of the NCAA Tournament and the team that cost me $1 billion (ok, it was the first game of the Tournament). This year that will be hard to replicate and they might not even make the NCAA Tournament after they dismissed their only two big men–Devon Scott and Jalen Robinson–on scholarships. While the school did not explain why the two had been dismissed, it was later revealed that they were caught stealing from on-campus dorms. After losing Scott, a 6’9″ junior who averaged 9.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, and Robinson, a 6’9″ junior who averaged 3.2 points and 2.4 rebounds per game, Dayton does not have a scholarship player who is taller than 6’6″.
  2. It seems like every year we read an article coming up with some back-of-the-envelope calculation about how much college players are worth. The article always gets passed around as “proof” that college players deserve to be reimbursed financially for playing for their team. The latest version of this article is a chart that tries to extrapolate the value of the average basketball player by multiplying the program’s revenue by 49% (to mimic the NBA’s revenue sharing plan) and dividing that by 13 (the number of scholarship players). The headline number is that the average Louisville player is worth a little over $1.5 million per year using this methodology. Of course, we have some questions about the methodology used in this analysis such how reliable those revenue figures are in terms of subsidies and how easily numbers/dollars can be moved around.
  3. Branden Dawson is expected to miss at least the next two games after fracturing his left wrist in Wednesday night’s win. Dawson, who is averaging 10.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, suffered a “non-displaced fracture” after missing 10 games last year when he broke a bone in his right hand. Fortunately for Michigan State, their upcoming schedule is pretty easy with their next two games coming against Texas Southern and Citadel before they open Big Ten play against Maryland (that feels so weird) on December 30. So while the injury could be a big blow for the Spartans at least it comes at a time when they can recover before starting Big Ten play at which point they need to start picking up quality wins because their resume thus far isn’t exactly inspiring.
  4. When Florida State declared Aaron Thomas ineligible for the rest of the season last week we figured that he might try to transfer, but now it looks like he is considering playing overseas. While the news is not completely unexpected since Thomas isn’t a NBA-caliber player, it is still a big blow to the Seminoles who might have hoped that the junior guard would return next season to anchor a team that was poised to add an excellent incoming class. Instead, it appears that Thomas, who was averaging a team-leading 14.8 points per game, will start his professional career overseas a year early.
  5. By this point you are probably aware of what we think of Luke Winn’s Power Rankings, which is consistently the best weekly column you will find. Like most power rankings, we could do without the actual rankings because frankly we find the order an individual writer thinks teams should be ranked useless, but Winn always has useful and timely information about the best teams in the country. This week our favorite stats are his breakdown of Kentucky‘s platoons (technically provided by Sean Lawless of GroupStats) and using expected value predictions on how to defend Jahlil Okafor. The analysis of Kentucky’s platoons are more of an interesting theoretical exercise and probably mirror something along the lines of what John Calipari should probably use. The Jahlil Okafor breakdown is a little more interesting from a practical perspective and might be something that should concern Duke fans going forward.
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Sorting Through the Big Ten’s Murky Middle

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 17th, 2014

There have been 142 non-conference games involving Big Ten teams thus far, and yet it can be reasonably argued that we really don’t know much more than we did before the games tipped off on November 14. What we do know is that Wisconsin is still the clear-cut favorite and Rutgers will probably struggle to stay out of the league basement. That means that the other 12 teams are still clustered together into a large pack. Some have bigger wins than others; some have better offenses than others; while some have a marquee player who can get hot and carry them for a while. This exercise is meant to rank those other teams based on a number of different categories to see which is performing as the best and worst of the bunch right now . I’m no math major, so I simply took a look at twelve key categories and ranked each team accordingly. Some are subjective, some are objective, and it’s by no means perfect. But the categories on which I ranked each team are as follows:

Denzel Valentine is leading an efficient Michigan State offense in scoring so far. (Getty)

Denzel Valentine is leading an efficient Michigan State offense in scoring so far. (Getty)

  • Best Win
  • Worst Loss
  • Point Differential in home games against teams ranked #150 or above
  • Eye Test
  • Schedule Strength
  • Best Player
  • Offensive Efficiency
  • Defensive Efficiency
  • Assist Rate
  • Turnovers
  • Rebounding
  • Three Point Shooting

After crunching the numbers, here are the results.

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Big Ten M5: 12.17.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 17th, 2014

 

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  1. Michigan has struggled more than people thought coming off of a National Championship game appearance and an Elite Eight run in the last two seasons. One of the reasons for this season’s struggles has been the loss of key inside players Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. “Morford,” as the duo was nicknamed throughout Big Ten telecasts a year ago may have not been flashy, but they were consistent and did a good job defensively down low. The season is not a lost one yet for the Wolverines, but things will have to get much better on the defensive end of the floor with freshmen Marc Donnal and Ricky Doyle for this unit to even sniff the postseason success they have had recently.
  2. Michigan State plays four games in the next nine days, and they will look to avoid falling prey to an Eastern Michigan team that knocked off state-rival Michigan recently. How the Spartans attack Eastern’s 2-3 zone is just one of the interesting subplots to monitor in the coming days for Sparty. Freshman Javon Bess should make his debut tonight, which will give Tom Izzo some different looks as far as how he can set his rotation.
  3. Ohio State will get tested Saturday when they play North Carolina in Chicago. They have to play North Carolina A&T first on Wednesday, but playing on a neutral floor will be the last real test the team gets in non-conference play against a quality opponent. It will be worth noting whether the Buckeyes can handle a big team that makes its living on the offensive glass, especially since Marcus Paige has been struggling to shoot the ball. Amir Williams and Trey McDonald will have to have good days on the boards for Ohio State to prevail.
  4. Illinois already has more non-conference losses than they did last season, and Saturday’s loss to Oregon at the United Center in Chicago wasn’t exactly their best performance. Should Illini fans really be worried that this team might be destined for another NIT berth? Some disturbing trends from the loss to the Ducks were the fact that Rayvonte Rice had to resort to carrying the offense like he did for a good chunk of 2013-14, and the fact that Oregon was able to score in the paint seemingly at will. Losses to Villanova and Miami (Florida) weren’t bad losses from a resume perspective, but there were signs in those losses as well that this team might struggle later on. Illinois may need quite a few conference wins against Big Ten heavyweights to make the field of 68 for the second time in John Groce‘s tenure.
  5. Joe Lunardi hasn’t released anything yet, but Jerry Palm of CBS has seven Big Ten teams currently in his NCAA Tournament field. One surprise would have to be Penn State coming in as a number ten seed. Despite their 10-1 record, the Nittany Lions only win against a team projected to be in the field was against George Washington. It’s also worth noting that Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, and Purdue were left out of the field at this time. This saga will be an ongoing one all season, with the national perception of the league not nearly being as strong as it has been in recent seasons. The wins that would have carried more weight in the last couple of years might not mean as much as 2014 turns to 2015.
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Big Ten/ACC Challenge: What Did We Learn?

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 5th, 2014

In the aftermath of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, we might have expected to learn a great deal about Big Ten teams as they matched up against foes that were generally their peers. In the big picture, however, what that means to the Big Ten race remains a mystery. Wisconsin appears to be a notch or two above everyone else despite losing to Duke. Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State each has its fair share of issues. There are seven or eight other teams that have decent chances to become NCAA Tournament teams. As we head into the slowdown of finals and the Christmas holiday season, here’s a brief snapshot of one takeaway per squad after their Challenge contests.

Ahmad Starks had a horrible shooting night against Miami. (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Ahmad Starks had a horrible shooting night against Miami. (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

  • Illinois: Taking 30 three-pointers probably isn’t a good idea for this team. Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby won’t combine to shoot 15.4 percent very often, but Nnanna Egwu shooting three bombs by himself probably isn’t a good idea for future success.
  • Indiana: Emmitt Holt has been a borderline revelation, leading the team in scoring and giving Tom Crean another solid freshman to rely upon. Having only nine turnovers is something the Hoosiers should try to bottle for use all season.
  • Iowa: Telling Mike Gesell that his former AAU teammate Marcus Paige is on the other team every single game might just get him to play like a First Team All-B1G selection.

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Big Ten M5: 12.05.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 5th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. The Big Ten emerged victorious in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday night after Iowa secured the series-clinching eighth win by shocking North Carolina with a 60-55 road victory. It was Mike Gesell who carried the Hawkeyes to victory with his 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting. The victory for especially sweet for Iowa’s point guard, as it came against former AAU teammate Marcus Paige, an All-American and someone he considers “his brother.” Iowa’s center, Adam Woodbury, was also on that same AAU team and described what the win meant to Gesell: “I think this is great for Mike… He played really well in AAU, and for him to be compared to Marcus was unfair. I think he showed [Wednesday] that he’s his own player.” For one night at least, Gesell came away with the acclaim over his friend in Carolina Blue.
  2. While Iowa clinched the Challenge for the Big Ten, the game of the series was played later that night when Duke went to Madison and disposed of Wisconsin by 10 points. Evan Flood wrote a great summary on some of the lessons learned for the Badgers, including the continuing concern over the health of Sam Dekker’s ankle. Additionally, Flood shrewdly points out that the Badgers’ perimeter defense was sorely lacking, allowing the Blue Devils to shoot a blistering 58.7 percent from three and 67.6 percent from inside the arc. Defense was this team’s vulnerability last season and it could be the Badgers’ biggest weakness this year as well.
  3. One of the Big Ten’s wins on Wednesday came at State College, where Penn State protected home court against Virginia Tech in a three-point win. It was somewhat of a revenge game for the Nittany Lions’ senior leader, D.J. Newbill, who has a legitamite gripe against Hokies’ head coach, Buzz Williams. While at Marquette, Williams pulled a scholarship offer from Newbill after he got another commitment from Jamil Wilson, who was transferring over from Oregon. Williams’ familiarity with Newbill showed, as Virginia Tech packed the paint and used double teams to prevent the Penn State guard from getting to the rim, ending his five-game streak of scoring 20 points or more. Luckily for Penn State, Newbill was able to get enough of his teammates involved to notch the win and get some payback on someone who was, at one time, the coach he hoped to play for.
  4. Michigan State came up short in South Bend when they fell to Notre Dame by a point in overtime, but one of the bright spots in the game was the shooting of Cleveland State transfer Bryan Forbes. The 6’3″ junior guard scored 18 points, which included a 4-of-4 mark from deep. Forbes was not only accurate but timely, as he scored on a jumper at 9:03 in the second half that ended an 8-2 Irish run. Unfortunately for the Spartans, Forbes inexplicably did not take another shot after that. Moving forward, it’s going to be necessary to bring him more into the offense as Tom Izzo does not have as much offensive talent as he’s grown accustomed to having these last 15 years.
  5. Finally, another loss on Wednesday occurred when Maryland was defeated by Virginia in College Park. With the Terrapins short-handed because of injuries to Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz, it was an expected outcome. And while this made the Terps even more of a long shot against the reigning ACC champions, it also presented an opportunity to for some of their freshmen to get invaluable experience playing elite competition. The Terps’ super frosh, Melo Trimble, was able to grind out 16 points — mostly at the free throw line — while Dion Wiley also chipped in 12. Mark Turgeon would rather have his veterans playing than not, of course, but in the long run, a game like this may end up benefiting the team as a whole. The young players on the team will be better suited for Big Ten play when their squad is expected to be at full health.
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Three Takeaways as Notre Dame Bested Michigan State Last Night

Posted by Walker Carey on December 4th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report following Wednesday evening’s game between Michigan State and Notre Dame in South Bend.

Jerian Grant‘s return from a semester-long academic suspension was discussed plenty in the preseason. The popular opinion was that Grant is a very good player, but would his return to the lineup be enough to help Notre Dame significantly improve from its disastrous 15-17 record a season ago? Entering Wednesday night’s showdown with Michigan State, early returns on Grant’s comeback season are very positive. The Irish came into the game having won six of their first seven, and Grant was the ACC leader in both scoring (18.4 PPG) and setting up his teammates (7.1 APG). Little did we know that the senior guard also had a career-best performance up his sleeve in Notre Dame’s thrilling 79-78 overtime victory over the Spartans. Grant tallied 27 points and dished out six assists to lead the Irish to the win. The following are three key takeaways from Wednesday evening’s action.

Jerian Grant is Having Quite the Senior Season (USAT Images)

Jerian Grant is Having Quite the Comeback Season (USAT Images)

  1. Notre Dame’s backcourt was tremendous. Mike Brey runs a four-guard lineup this season and it was greatly successful against Michigan State. Grant led the way with those 27 points and six assists. Sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson showed why he was a McDonald’s All-American, totaling a career-best 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting. The versatile Pat Connaughton chipped in 12 points with eight important rebounds, and sophomore Steve Vasturia added another 12 points. Brey is well-known for playing a short bench and that was on display again last night, as Grant played 45 minutes, Jackson and Connaughton each played 44, and Vasturia logged 42. The Irish guards also did a stellar job defensively, as Spartans point guard Travis Trice was held to just seven points on 3-of-13 shooting. If Notre Dame can get this type of performance — or even something approximating it — from its backcourt throughout the season, the Irish are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the ACC race. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 12.03.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 3rd, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. It looks like Michigan State will get a needed boost in terms of depth for their game against Notre Dame tonight. That’s because sophomore guard Alvin Ellis III will likely be back from the ankle injury that has sidelined him for the last six games. Ellis wasn’t a huge contributor last season, but he gives the Spartans some necessary backcourt depth as they play a pretty good Notre Dame squad in South Bend. This will give Tom Izzo more options defensively to try to stop Notre Dame senior guard Jerian Grant, who ranks among the top 15 players in America in Offensive Rating (147.9).
  2. Maryland is still trying to figure out its rotation in the wake of losing Dez Wells to a broken wrist. The Terps have played several different lineups, depending on the opponent, so players like Jon Graham have had to stay ready depending on the situation. Graham could be a key piece against Virginia tonight, however, as Mark Turgeon comes up with a strategy to defend forwards Anthony Gill and Darion Atkins. Graham had a nice game as a starter against Iowa State, playing great defense against Cyclones star Georges Niang (10 points on 4-of-14 shooting). It will be interesting to see if he can have the same impact against the Terps’ former ACC rival this evening.
  3. Iowa has a huge chance to get a win that will look awfully nice come March should it knock off North Carolina in Chapel Hill tonight. The Hawkeyes need to limit their turnovers against an athletic and deep squad, and they have to hold their own on the inside against the Tar Heels’ prodigious size. After missing out on a couple of good opportunities in New York when they lost to Texas and Syracuse, the Hawkeyes need a big win before heading into conference play. This one is also interesting because of the individual match-up between former AAU teammates Marcus Paige and Mike Gesell.
  4. National Player of the Year candidates Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor are the headliners for the Wisconsin vs. Duke clash tonight, but Duke has a number of other weapons that the Badgers need to shut down if they want to beat another elite opponent. The Blue Devils’ entire starting five has been very impressive thus far, so taking Okafor’s offense away will likely not be enough to get the home win. The match-up in the backcourt between veterans Traveon Jackson and Josh Gasser against Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook will also be vitally important in this early season blockbuster game.
  5. Purdue has gotten off to a great 6-1 start keyed by newcomers Jon Octeus, Vince Edwards, and Isaac Haas, but the efforts of junior captain Rapheal Davis have been just as important. Davis was especially clutch in the last two games Purdue played in the Maui Invitational, which he described as ” everything we put in this summer, it showed in the end.” What he meant with that statement was that Purdue fought off a disappointing opening round loss to Kansas State by bouncing back to win its last two games against Missouri and BYU. That positive play continued last night against North Carolina State, as the Boilermakers beat the Wolfpack, 66-61. Davis was held to just three points in that one, but he notched a team-high six assists continuing to provide just what Purdue needs to win games.
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