Minnesota Finds Itself in the Big Ten Cellar

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 15th, 2015

Minnesota is in a bind. After a strong 11-2 showing in the non-conference schedule — with losses to only Louisville and St. John’s – the Gophers are now 0-5 in conference play after losing to Iowa on Tuesday night. In case you missed it, Minnesota came back from a 17-point deficit in the second half only to lose when DeAndre Mathieu’s game-tying layup came a tenth of a second too late. Now more than a quarter of the way through conference play, Minnesota is one of only two Big Ten teams (Penn State is the other) without a conference win; even lowly Rutgers already has two. To be fair, the rough start can partially be explained by an unfortunate schedule where three of the Gophers’ first four Big Ten games came on the road. This week’s home game against Iowa, however, marked the beginning of a seven-game series that includes five home games. Their hope was to start making up some of that lost ground during the friendly part of their schedule. That will get tougher now, as Minnesota’s offense has proved inefficient and fixing its scoring woes will need to be addressed immediately to find any hope left.

Despite not getting much production from leading scorer Andre Hollins, Minnesota has made it to the Final 8 of the NIT. (AP)

Minnesota needs the elite version of Andre Hollins to show up — and soon — if they want to turn their season around. (AP)

In Tuesday night’s game, Minnesota’s offense was a tale of two halves. In the first session, the Gophers were unable to find any rhythm and only managed to shoot 30 percent from the field. In the second half, however, they surged back by shooting over 62 percent from the field and putting together a 29-9 run that just fell short. But does a successful 20 minutes mean that the offense has started to click? The second-half outpouring was driven by two players – Nate Mason and Carlos Morris (37 points combined) — both of whom caught fire rather than the offense running any great sets. A major reason for the team’s offensive struggles has been inconsistency from their veteran leaders. Andre Hollins is not having an all-Big Ten senior season. He chipped in only seven points against Iowa and was a non-factor for the majority of the game. Mathieu has also been unreliable, witnessed by the fact that he went scoreless against Michigan State and only managed four points against Maryland. This duo’s scoring average has dropped by a combined 3.5 PPG from last season, and this decline in production and inconsistency from their veterans has severely and negatively impacted Minnesota’s offense. Richard Pitino, to his credit, is trying just about anything to fix the problem. He removed Morris from the starting lineup against Iowa and he responded by leading all scorers (20 points) in his first game as the sixth man. But time has run out for experimentation — if this offense can’t click during the next three weeks that are mostly at home, the Gophers will be permanently stuck in the Big Ten cellar. That’s something no one saw coming as recently as two short weeks ago.

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Big Ten M5: 12.29.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 29th, 2014

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  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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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #9 to #5

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 13th, 2014

We continue our preseason Big Ten rankings today with spots #9 through #5. The bottom tier of teams, #14 to #10, released earlier this week. These middle tier teams will be fighting to be on the right side of the bubble — and providing us with great drama — all season long.

9. Maryland

  • What they do well: Defense. Mark Turgeon has had a top 40 squad in adjusted defensive efficiency the past couple seasons and it’ll likely be his area of focus once again.
  • What they don’t do well: Retention. Seth Allen, Charles Mitchell, Nick Faust, Roddy Peters and Shaquille Cleare all transferred out of the program in the offseason — not exactly inconsequential players.
Dez Wells is one of the few familiar faces in College Park this year. (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

Dez Wells is one of the few familiar faces in College Park this year. (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

  • Get to know: Melo Trimble. The top 40 recruit will need to use his offensive skill set to help replace all the lost scoring from last season.
  • Why they’ll finish 9th: The exodus of key players and unfamiliarity in the Big Ten will cause some very sharp growing pains for the Terrapins.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: This team still has talent and is used to playing top-notch competition. If they can get all their new pieces to gel together, they can compete in a relatively down Big Ten.

8. Iowa

  • What they do well: Offense. Last season, the Hawkeyes were fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and they bring a majority of that roster back this year.
  • What they don’t do well: Mental toughness. Last season, Iowa wilted in close games against Villanova and Iowa State. Things really spiraled out of control at the end of the season when they lost seven of their last eight contests.

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Who Won The Week? Louisville, Marcus Smart, Michigan and The Citadel…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 28th, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

We’ve got more to get to here than usual, so we’ve got a special extended-yet-abbreviated edition of WWTW on tap today.

WINNER: Louisville

Russ Smith won Louisville's game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)

Russ Smith won Louisville’s game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)

Your defending national champions – remember them? – are rolling at just the right time in the season. They went into Cincinnati and handed the Bearcats their first home loss of the season Saturday, 58-57, with a Russ Smith dagger – remember him? – then followed that up by blowing out woebegone Temple 88-66 on Thursday.

Sophomore Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell thrived this past week, as he has since the dismissal of Chane Behanan, scoring 21 points in both games. Going forward, the Cardinals have games left at Memphis and SMU, followed by a home game against Connecticut. Though they’re tied with Cincinnati at the top of the American and on a seven-game winning streak, we’ll know much more about Louisville by the time the conference tournament rolls around.

(Related winners: Smith; Harrell. Related losers: Cincinnati, which squandered its chance at an outright AAC championship by losing at home; Temple, which had its first 20-loss season in school history thanks to Louisville.)

LOSER: Saint Louis

The Billikens, which had been one of America’s last four teams undefeated in conference, took one of the most befuddling losses of the whole season, falling 71-64 on Thursday to a Duquesne team that had won four Atlantic 10 games in Jim Ferry’s two seasons in Pittsburgh. What had been one of the nation’s top 10 shooting defenses gave up an effective field goal rate of 50.7 percent, including 14-0f-18 shooting and 7-of-9 three-pointers by Dukes guards Micah Mason and Jerry Jones. And against one of the nation’s 10 worst defenses vs. three-point shooting, Saint Louis only made 4-of-23 shots from beyond the arc. The Billikens have a top-five defense nationally according to KenPom.com, but their offense ranks 169th in efficiency. Then again, defense wins championships, right?

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Minnesota Half-Court Defense is Cause For Concern

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 28th, 2013

Ed. note: Minnesota finished up its Maui Invitational trip with an 83-68 win over D-II Chaminade on Wednesday afternoon.

Things were going so nicely for first-year head coach Richard Pitino and his Golden Gophers. They had won their first five games in convincing fashion; junior guard Andre Hollins was looking like a possible Big Ten Player of the Year candidate; and they had just taken it to top-ranked Syracuse losing only in the final minutes of their opening round game at the Maui Invitational. They entered their second game in Maui against an Arkansas team who had lost its most electric player in B.J. Young and was not expected to make the NCAA Tournament.  In fact, according to KenPom, the Gophers were expected to win the game by a 10-point margin. Things went as planned in the first half as Minnesota took a five-point lead to the locker room, but after that point, the bottom fell off for Pitino’s squad. The Gophers’ ineffective half-court defense allowed the Razorbacks to come back and win the game, 87-73, and the game tape it created may haunt them throughout the rest of the season.

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Richard Pitino is trying to implement his father’s pressure defense in Minnesota, but its the half-court defense that may cost him.

As one of our fellow RTC Big Ten microsite columnists pointed out earlier this season, the press defense is a feature Pitino is trying to instill at Minnesota. Pitino learned the art of applying  a press from one of the best in the business, his father Rick Pitino. This focus on the press has helped them blow some lesser talented teams out in the early schedule, but it was a complete disaster in the second half against Arkansas. The Razorbacks scored 11 points off turnovers in the second half, but the remaining 41 points were scored in the half-court. Once Arkansas figured out how to break Minnesota’s press and began their offensive sets, they exposed Minnesota’s zone defense.  Unlike Syracuse, the Razorbacks had more than one shooter capable of dropping threes over the zone (four different Razorbacks hit from deep in the second half). They confused Minnesota by switching from attacking with three-pointers and drives, and the Gophers were completely feckless in stopping either. The Razorbacks’ 76 percent true shooting percentage (5-of-7 3FGs, 17-of-28 FGs, 13-of-14 FTs) for the second half was easily the team’s best of the year. The Gophers have been working on their press defense all season, but perhaps as a result, they seem to have completely forgotten what to do when they’re in the half-court.

Last year, Louisville provided a prime example of an elite team winning the National Championship while implementing the press on a consistent basis. So this isn’t a gimmick Pitino is trying to enable to mask some other defensive deficiencies. But the Big Ten is at its heart a half-court league, and Minnesota will find itself in numerous situations where it will have to rely on half-court defense to win games. If they can’t shore up that defense enough to at least provide some element of resistance, the conference schedule will expose this Minnesota team night in and night out.

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Brandon Paul: Certified Gopher Killer

Posted by KTrahan on March 14th, 2013

Throughout his career, Brandon Paul has been touted as an ultra-talented player who struggles with inconsistency. Sometimes he showcases his impressive range and versatility, while other times he seems to disappear from the moment. In Thursday’s opening round Big Ten Tournament game, Paul rose to the moment, and then some. He scored 25 of the Illini’s 51 points on 10-of-16 shooting, and was 4-of-8 from beyond the arc in his team’s victory over Minnesota. But he saved his best for last, hitting a 15-footer at the buzzer to get his team a date with Indiana in the second round of the Big Ten Tourney on Friday.

Other than Paul, Illinois struggled mightily. Its next three leading scorers  — D.J. Richardson, Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu — each had just six points. Paul, a guard, was the second-leading rebounder with five, just one behind Egwu. And while Paul shot 50 percent from beyond the arc (4-of-8), the rest of the team was just 2-of-17 from long distance — Tyler Griffey was 0-of-4, Abrams was 0-of-3.

Illinois’ season has taken after Paul’s career, in a way. The Illini have lived and died by the three, which essentially means inevitable inconsistency. On nights when they’re firing on all cylinders, they’ve pulled out impressive wins against Butler, Gonzaga, Indiana and Ohio State. However, cold-shooting nights have led to bad games — a 14-point home loss to Northwestern and near losses to Gardner-Webb and Auburn. The good wins have offset the bad ones, and they’re why the Illini will surely be dancing next weekend.

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Big Ten M5: 02.15.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on February 15th, 2013

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  1. It’s been a rough few weeks for Glenn Robinson III, one of Michigan’s highly-touted freshmen who started the season strong, but then fell into a cold stretch. As Robinson III has struggled, so has his team, which has dropped consecutive games after finding itself at No. 1 in the nation just a few weeks ago. Robinson III’s five-game struggle has resulted in lower shooting and rebounding numbers, and it’s affected the Wolverines’ entire offense. When he scores at least 10 points, Michigan is 15-0; when he scores less than 10, the Wolverines are 5-4. Over the past five games, he has averaged just 6.2 points per game. Other players need to step up, as well, but for Michigan to turn things around, Robinson III needs to regain the form he showed earlier this season.
  2. Illinois has been wildly inconsistent on offense this year. The Illini are guard-oriented, so they’ve relied a lot on outside shots. When those shots are falling, they’ve been good, but there have also been some bad losses, most notably a double-digit home loss to Northwestern. However, Illinois has been on a recent surge, with wins over Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue. The key for the Illini has been offensive efficiency, and they graded out nicely in that area in the win against Purdue. The effective field goal percentage wasn’t great, but the Illini did well with their points per possession and turnover rate. John Groce’s team must continue to put up solid tempo-free stats in order to finish out the season strong.
  3. Indiana’s depth heading into the year was pretty incredible and one of the main reasons the Hoosiers were considered one of the best teams in the nation. While Victor Oladipo has stepped up more than most expected, the rest of IU’s squad wasn’t all that consistent. However, things are starting to get put together, with Cody Zeller and others playing better. Christian Watford is one of those players who has stepped up, and that was evident in the Hoosiers’ blowout of Nebraska. Watford has scored in double figures in 17 straight Big Ten games dating back to last season, and he’s done so in the last 15 games this year. He gives an IU team full of weapons yet another scoring option, and that wealth of options is what makes the Hoosiers so dangerous.
  4. Matt Painter wasn’t happy with much Wednesday night. Not with his team, and certainly not with the officials. Purdue fell to Illinois and the Boilermakers were forced to finish the game without their coach, who was ejected with around eight minutes left in the game. The issue wasn’t in doubt at that point, so Painter was really just trying to light a fire under his team, which has lost five of its last seven games. The Boilermakers have a very young team and were expected to struggle, and now their streak of six consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances looks to be in serious jeopardy. Now, it’s about building momentum heading into next year, and Painter hopes Wednesday night’s loss ignites some sort of spark.
  5. Early this season, Minnesota looked like it could have been one of the top 10 teams in the country. However, a recent, long losing streak has started some talk of the Golden Gophers falling back onto the bubble. Tubby Smith still needs to get more consistency from his team, but Thursday night’s overtime win over Wisconsin has to be encouraging for a team that was desperate for a win. Minnesota’s star guard Andre Hollins got his mojo back and led to Gophers to the win in an overall gutsy team performance against the rival Badgers. Even after falling behind by 10 points — a tough deficit to come back from against Wisconsin — Minnesota stayed patient and used strong defense to crawl back into the game. It wasn’t pretty, but it ended up being a possible season-saving win for the Gophers.
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The Battle for Sixth Place in the Big Ten is More Important Than You Think

Posted by KTrahan on February 11th, 2013

The battle for the top of the Big Ten this season has been well-documented. Indiana and Michigan look like the front-runners right now, but Michigan State has a chance to threaten for the conference crown as well. Then there’s Ohio State and Wisconsin, both of which have knocked off and hung with the top tier teams this season. Unless there’s a major turn of events in the next few weeks, those five teams will occupy the #1-#5 seeds in the Big Ten Tournament, although the order is completely up in the air. The jockeying for position among those teams will certainly be interesting to watch, but after seeing this comment on Twitter last night, the battle for the #6 seed looks almost as compelling.

I hadn’t thought about it before, but that race should be extremely interesting and close the rest of the way. All four teams are either 4-7 or 5-6 in conference play right now, but the #6 seed figures to need to finish at 10-8 or 9-9. Purdue’s road to the position is the toughest — the Boilermakers have trips to Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin and visits from Michigan and Minnesota. Still, the jockeying among Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota with the Boilers should be very close. Right now, Iowa and Illinois sit at 4-7 while Minnesota is 5-6. Iowa has the toughest part of its schedule behind it, while Illinois has plenty of momentum looking forward.

First, it’s important to understand why this is important. The difference between being a #6 or #8 seed in the Big Ten Tournament this year really could mean the season for any of these teams. A top-half seed in the toughest conference in college basketball means that team would likely have a strong enough resume to make the NCAA Tournament. That isn’t to say the selection committee will necessarily choose a team based off of  its position in the conference standings — it doesn’t work that way — but it will take a number of quality wins to get to that slot in the Big Ten race, which enhances that team’s resume. It’s also important to draw the #6 seed for match-up and bubble reasons — it’s much easier to have to play #11 seed Nebraska than inconsistent but dangerous teams like possible #9 or #10 seeds Purdue and Northwestern. Let’s take a look at the road to get to the elusive #6 slot for the three teams we’re considering.

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Big Ten M5: 02.01.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on February 1st, 2013

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  1. Before the season, Keith Appling wasn’t even a Michigan State captain. Tom Izzo was looking at the veteran point guard to become a leader on an off the court for the Spartans, who had lost last year’s emotional leader Draymond Green. Appling has now earned captain status and Izzo has noticed a big change from his junior point guard. Izzo said Appling is doing a better job of communicating on the floor and showing his confidence after sitting down with former MSU point guard Mateen Cleaves. Appling learned to fight through adversity after a rough past, and now he’s doing it on the court, becoming the leader Izzo had hoped for at the beginning of the season.
  2. Ohio State has had trouble finding players outside of Deshaun Thomas, Sam Thompson and Aaron Craft to step up this season. The Buckeyes certainly have talent, but its supporting players — Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and LaQuinton Ross, to name a few — haven’t been consistent. That has resulted in inconsistent playing time among that bunch. OSU has been searching for an alternative offensive option to Thompson and it appears it may have found its answer in Ross. Ross has seen the court much more recently, and part of that is due to his improved listening to coach Thad Matta. He’s taking in more direction from the coaching staff, and subsequently seeing more of the floor.
  3. There aren’t many legitimate criticisms of No. 1 Michigan right now, considering how the Wolverines have been playing. However, people are always trying to find something wrong with top teams, so the common criticism of UM in recent weeks is that its roster isn’t deep enough. After all, the Wolverines rank 326th in the country in bench minutes, according to Ken Pomeroy. But part of the reason the Wolverines don’t go to their bench much is that the starters have played so well. Now though, in the wake of Jordan Morgan’s injury, Michigan is proving that it has enough depth. Jon Horford started the Wolverines’ game against Northwestern earlier this week and gave his team solid minutes, while freshman Mitch McGary also played well. Michigan may not have a star big man, but its frontcourt has proven it can play well this year, even without Morgan manning the paint.
  4. The press has been Minnesota’s best friend and its worst enemy this season. After struggling with its execution earlier in non-conference play, the Gophers’ press worked very well against Nebraska, returning to the form we saw during the non-conference season. Minnesota struggled to press against teams that like to slow things down like Northwestern and Wisconsin, but the Gophers were able to be successful against Nebraska, which employs the same tempo strategy. The bigger issue against the Wildcats and Badgers was their failure to execute in other areas of the game, such as free throw shooting. That prevented the Gophers from ever going all out with the press in those contests.
  5. It’s tough to find a bright spot out of a 97-60 loss, especially a home loss to your rival when coming off a solid win. However, Purdue’s A.J. Hammons was a bright spot for the Boilermakers in their drubbing at the hands of Indiana earlier this week. Hammons was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school, but like most freshman big men, he has been inconsistent in his first college season. However, he was exceptional against Indiana, scoring 30 points and blocking five shots in 28 minutes, showing the potential we’re likely to see from him down the road. While he didn’t get much help against the Hoosiers, his consistency will be key to how Purdue finishes its season.
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Big Ten M5: 01.25.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on January 25th, 2013

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  1. Full disclosure, when I’m not writing for RTC or going to school, I run a site called InsideNU along with RTC columnist Chris Johnson. I don’t typically plug my own articles, but after Northwestern’s win over Minnesota I wrote this feature breaking down the Wildcats’ 1-3-1 defense. NU was getting dominated on the boards by Trevor Mbakwe and the Gophers in the first half and the beginning of the second half, so the Wildcats switched to the zone, stifling Minnesota’s offense and helping Northwestern get into transition. NU ended up holding the Gophers, whose previous season-low was 66 points, to a paltry sum of 48 in that game. The 1-3-1 also helped NU keep things close with Indiana, and suddenly, it appears as if the Wildcats may be able to make things interesting with respect to postseason play.
  2. A victory over Nebraska isn’t all that impressive of a win, but Illinois’ 20-point blowout against the Huskers was just what the doctor ordered. The Illini had been reeling since a win a couple of weeks ago against Ohio State — suffering losses to Wisconsin and Northwestern — so the win over Nebraska was a much-needed confidence booster. Now comes a five-game stretch that could define Illinois’ season: vs. Michigan, at Michigan State, vs. Wisconsin, vs. Indiana, at Minnesota. The Illini may not be favored in any of those five games, but it’s important that they fight through to get at least a couple of wins in order to avoid a collapse similar to last season.
  3. It doesn’t take much offense to beat Penn State this year, and Indiana’s 72 points earlier this week were more than enough to take down the Nittany Lions. Still, the Hoosiers found their offense in unexpected places. Cody Zeller finished with just two points on 0-of-4 shooting — a career low. However, IU got other players to step up, including Will Sheehey, who has struggled with consistency at times this year. Sheehey came into the game with IU up just 23-14, but he hit two threes and helped the Hoosiers eventually increase their lead to 41-19, essentially putting the game away.
  4. In Tuesday’s game against Michigan State, Wisconsin lived and died by the three-point shot. When the Badgers were hot, they were tough to stop, but there were too many cold stretches and low percentage shots for UW to escape with a win. The Badgers came out strong in the first half, but struggled to keep up that pace throughout the game. Wisconsin shot a season-low 29.6 percent from the field, mainly because half of those shots were threes. The three-point shot can be the great equalizer if it’s working, but on days that it’s not, the Badgers must find another way to score through high-percentage shots.
  5. After years of enduring second half collapses, you can’t blame Minnesota fans for getting restless in the midst of a three-game losing streak, especially following a loss to Northwestern. This year, Minnesota has enough talent to earn consideration as a top four seed or better in the NCAA Tournament, but the Gophers must be more consistent in order to reach that goal. In fear of yet another collapse, some Minnesota fans are already calling for coach Tubby Smith’s head on Twitter. It’s just a three-game losing streak and the Gophers will still be ranked, but a few more bad losses could cause Smith’s seat to get a little bit warmer.
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Big Ten M5: 01.16.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on January 16th, 2013

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  1. Despite a valiant comeback effort that nearly resulted in a win at Assembly Hall, Minnesota ended up falling to Indiana in its first Big Ten loss on Saturday. The Gophers fell behind by 23 at halftime due to a slow start, and Tubby Smith said part of that was due to a lack of aggressiveness. The Indiana game wasn’t the only slow start Minnesota has had. The Gophers also got into an early hole against Illinois before coming back for an impressive win. They did the same against some inferior competition in non-conference season. Minnesota has the talent to hang with anyone in the country, but in games against top teams,the Gophers must make sure they are strong from the start.
  2. The Big Ten has some fairly active coaches on Twitter. Indiana’s Tom Crean tweets a lot of biblical passages while Nebraska’s Tim Miles tweets about his games at halftime. But don’t expect Tom Izzo to join Twitter any time soon as the Michigan State coach hates the social media platform. There are a lot of good quotes in that article from Izzo, who said he thinks his players listen to criticism more because of it. He has also had conversations with Derrick Nix, who searches his name after every game to retweet fans who criticized him during the game.
  3. In Tim Miles’ first season in Lincoln, nobody expected Nebraska to make much noise in the Big Ten. And while the Huskers have still yet to win a conference game, they have kept things close with both Michigan and Michigan State on the road, thanks to stellar defensive play. Tom Izzo came away impressed with Miles’ squad and said, “I don’t think anybody wants to play them home or away.” Even more impressive, Nebraska held its own against Michigan State without top player Brandon Ubel.
  4. Ohio State has struggled to score this year, and that was very evident at Illinois in a lopsided loss. The Buckeyes have been able to score in transition and have gotten points in the paint at times, but they don’t have consistent shooters. However, the defense was outstanding in their win over Michigan on Sunday and the offense was good enough. Aaron Craft frustrated Trey Burke and the Buckeyes did the same to freshman stars Nick Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. The Wolverines admitted to noticing the pressure. Considering how inconsistent the offense is, Ohio State’s season outlook could depend on how the defense plays from here on out.
  5. When Wisconsin arrives at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Iowa will be facing the Big Ten’s lone undefeated team. That plus the prospect of playing a rival makes the game a good one, but an added emotional dimension will be in play, as well. The Hawkeyes will be honoring the legacy of former player Chris Street, who died in a car accident 20 years ago. Rick Brown of The Des Moines Register has a nice story on Street’s legacy, his family, and the impact he has left on the University of Iowa.
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Big Ten M5: 12.26.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on December 26th, 2012

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  1. It’s been hard to convince anyone who has watched or covered Hawkeye basketball for much of the past decade to jump onto the “Iowa is back” bandwagon just yet, and for good reason; the Hawkeyes have been inconsistent at best. But this year, after an 11-2 start, Mike Hlas of the Cedar Rapids Gazette is ready to jump on the bandwagon. The Hawkeyes have a very young team and have been inconsistent at times, but they have impressive wins against Iowa State and Northern Iowa, and they’ll be a tough out at home this year. The Big Ten slate starts off against Indiana at home and then with two on the road against Michigan and Michigan State, so it certainly won’t be an easy task to get to March. Still, with a Big Ten slate that is easier than most teams’ schedules in the conference, this may finally be the year Iowa returns to the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Non-conference basketball means cupcake season for the most part, and that has led to criticism of top teams like Indiana that play so many guarantee games in November and December. However, Terry Hutchins of the Indianapolis Star said that the criticism is misguided, because much of the reason for the easy schedule is revenue-driven. The Hoosiers need to make sure that they have 18 to 20 home games per year, and an easy way to do that is to pay teams a fee to come to Assembly Hall for a beatdown. That leads to more home games and more ticket sales, which is what non-conference games are all about. The Hoosiers always go to some early season non-conference tournament, play an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game, and, this year, will have a very difficult Big Ten schedule. Playing a few cupcakes in the first two months of the season certainly isn’t something to get up in arms about.
  3. Minnesota has a history of starting fast in the non-conference season and then slumping at the start of Big Ten play, but this year’s Gophers have put together an impressive resume and look like the real deal. The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently handed out a report card on Minnesota’s non-conference schedule, and a lot of the focus is on Trevor Mbakwe, a player who is starting to look like he did before last year’s ACL injury. He is gaining strength and could potentially re-enter the starting lineup which already features stars Andre Hollins and Rodney Williams. The Gophers have so much depth that this certainly looks like Tubby Smith’s best team yet in Minnesota. Now, with conference play about to start, we’ll get some more answers about a team that has a lot of potential but still also some unknowns.
  4. When eight-year-old Mackenzie Kelley found out that her favorite player, Penn State star Tim Frazier, might not be able to play next year if he isn’t granted a medical hardship waiver, she decided to take the matter up with Santa by asking him to put a good word in with the NCAA. Kelley is a diehard Penn State fan and has met Frazier a couple of times. After she met him initially at a preseason event, she met him again and was excited to find out that “out of all the people he meets he remembered me.” Frazier got a hold of the letter and thanked Mackenzie on Facebook; luckily for Mackenzie — and Frazier — the injury happened early enough in the season that Frazier should be back on the court next year, a gift from old St. Nick indeed.
  5. Derrick Nix has been asked to take on more of a leadership role for Michigan State this year after the departure of Draymond Green, and he’s still improving, as exhibited by a career high 25 points to go along with 11 rebounds in a win on Saturday against Texas. However, the area in which Nix has improved the most isn’t something you would expect from a man his size — free throws. Nix was a bad free throw shooter when he first got to MSU, but endless hours of practice has helped him become much better, improving from a 27 percent free throw shooter as a freshman to a 70 percent free throw shooter this season. Nix said that coach Tom Izzo would rather he was moving around more before practice, but he’s always at the free throw line practicing his shot, and it’s paid off for the Spartans in the long run.
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