Big Ten M5: 12.07.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on December 7th, 2012

  1. Amir Williams was a star recruit coming out of high school, but the sophomore center rode the bench for much of his freshman campaign. Now, Ohio State is counting on Williams to be a major contributor, but before he becomes the star that many projected, he has to improve his consistency. He had 10 rebounds in a loss to Duke, but has struggled to rebound in other games. Free throws have been an issue at times, too, but he was 6-of-7 from the line against the Blue Devils. The potential is there, but the stat sheet needs to reflect that potential every game. As for the hype, coach Thad Matta isn’t a big fan of those recruiting sites: “I think that’s what’s kind of wrong with society today. Joe Blow’s got an opinion and everybody think that’s the gospel.”
  2. After a fast start to the season, Michigan State freshman guard Gary Harris suffered a shoulder injury and missed two games. In the three games since coming back, he’s been inconsistent shooting the ball, and part of that could be due to a shoulder harness that he’s been forced to wear. However, Harris refuses to use the harness as an excuse for his poor shooting. He said confidence isn’t an issue, but each game it takes him some time to get used to the harness. Despite a poor shooting start in the Spartans’ game against Arkansas Pine-Bluff, he still provided a spark for his team and finished with 13 points and three steals.
  3. Minnesota is ranked anywhere between No. 14 and No. 21 in the nation in various polls, and is likely just a few wins away from being the highest-ranked Gophers team in the Tubby Smith era. There is certainly star power in Minneapolis, as the Gophers boast Andre Hollins, Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, but the depth of this team is equally impressive. Austin Hollins and Joe Coleman have both been key contributors. The scary part? Mbakwe comes off the bench, since he is struggling with injuries. The last time Minnesota was ranked this high, it ended up missing out on the NCAA Tournament. As long as the depth stays solid, that isn’t likely to happen this year.
  4. Trey Burke is having an All-America-caliber sophomore start for Michigan after a breakout freshman year, and he’s drawing high praise from the national media. Burke will be in the NBA soon enough, and he’s already drawing comparisons to one of the NBA’s best in Chris Paul. ESPN has a nice article comparing the two, highlighting their exceptional passing abilities. Not only are both good at getting their teammates involved, but they also both know how to score when necessary. Of course, Burke still has a long way to go in order to reach Paul’s status, but he certainly has the potential to eventually become an NBA star.
  5. Last year, Baylor’s big men dominated a Northwestern team that essentially didn’t have one en route to a huge win in Evanston. This year, however, the Wildcats’ frontcourt — still considered a weak link — took it to the Bears in Waco for their best win of the season to date. NU out-rebounded Baylor 34-27 and unheralded Wildcats freshman Alex Olah outplayed Bears blue-chip recruit Isaiah Austin at center. The physicality from Olah, Drew Crawford, Jared Swopshire and Reggie Hearn was a welcome change from how the Wildcats normally operate. Their consistency still needs to come, especially at center, but the Wildcats showed they have the potential to play with teams that are much more talented then them on the inside.
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Big Ten M5: 11.29.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on November 29th, 2012

  1. Defense seemed optional for last year’s Iowa Hawkeyes squad, but this year, coach Fran McCaffery and his team claimed things would be different. A week ago, Iowa staged a comeback against Gardner-Webb that was led primarily by defense, and the Hawkeyes had yet to give up more than 75 points. That was before Tuesday, when Iowa gave up 95 points in a loss in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge to Virginia Tech. It looked like last year’s Iowa team all over again, but McCaffery claimed that his team simply didn’t follow the game plan. The game plan certainly needs to be defense, and lots more of it, if Iowa wants to go dancing in March. With big games against in-state rivals Iowa State and Northern Iowa coming in December, we’ll find out soon if Tuesday’s game was a fluke or a possible warning sign that not enough has improved on the defensive end.
  2. Teams often underachieve following a coaching change, but Illinois has exceeded expectations this year under first-year coach John Groce. The Illini are undefeated and ranked No. 22 in the latest poll, and a big reason for that is how well the current players have bought in. That’s especially true of seniors Brandon Paul and Tyler Griffey, who have both improved their offensive outputs this season. Despite being picked ninth in the Big Ten during the preseason, enough unexpected players have stepped up for Illinois to certainly make a run at the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Michigan has been a guard-oriented team for a long time, and that’s no different this year, as Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. are the Wolverines’ two leaders. However, coach John Beilein says that this team has a different feel to it — it can also play with anyone in the post. Finally, in addition to good outside shooting, the Wolverines can compete inside and have solid athleticism down low too. Freshmen Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III are leading the way for UM’s frontcourt, and with that increased inside presence, Beilein’s offensive system has been able to change for the better. That all adds up to a No. 3 national ranking and a marquee ACC/Big Ten Challenge win over NC State.
  4. Nebraska figures to have some growing pains this year under new coach Tim Miles, but the Cornhuskers got a big win on Tuesday by defeating Wake Forest 79-63 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It was also a win for the record book, writes Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World Herald. The 16-point win was the Huskers’ largest margin of victory in a true road game in nine years, and Miles became the first Nebraska coach to win his first road game since Paul Schlisser in the 1919-20 season. It was also just the Huskers’ sixth true road win in the last four seasons. It’s too early to call this a turnaround in Lincoln, but there are some bright spots for a team that was picked to finish last in the Big Ten.
  5. Minnesota finished up a long road trip with a win over Florida State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and the Gophers proved why they’re considered a sleeper in the conference this year. In fact, they showed exactly how they need to play, writes Amelia Rayno of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Minnesota put together a clean and balanced offensive game, getting help from both its frontcourt and the backcourt. They got up early on Florida State and put the game out of reach fairly quickly. Defensively, the Gophers pressured the Seminoles and forced them into 14 turnovers. If Tubby Smith’s team plays like that all year, Minnesota will be very dangerous — and, of course, it will help if forward Rodney Williams continues to do things like this.
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Big Ten M5: 11.02.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on November 2nd, 2012

  1. Exhibition season has officially begun in college basketball and Minnesota kicked off the year with an 81-56 victory over Minnesota State-Mankato Thursday night. The Gophers started the exhibition with the same starting five as the end of last year — Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, Joe Coleman, Rodney Williams and Elliot Eliason — because that group has performed well in practice together, but coach Tubby Smith also mixed in star forward Trevor Mbakwe, who was injured last season, and Mo Walker, who redshirted last season. Walker had eight points in 11 minutes, while Mbakwe had four points and three rebounds. Minnesota has another scrimmage against Southwest Baptist on Monday before opening the regular season on November 9 against American.
  2. If Michigan is going to have the season many media members predict — challenging for the conference crown — then the Wolverines’ freshmen are going to have to step up. They did just that in Thursday’s 83-47 exhibition win against Northern Michigan, as Nik Stauskus, Spike Albrecht and Glenn Robinson III led Michigan with 17, 16 and 13 points, respectively, along with junior Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 13 points. At one point, coach John Beilein had five freshmen in the game at the same time and he said he didn’t even realize it. Of course, there’s a long way to go before we crown his team as the next Fab Five, but these freshmen certainly didn’t disappoint in their first time on a college court. The Wolverines have another exhibition, this time against Saginaw Valley State, on Monday before opening the regular season on November 9 against Slippery Rock.
  3. Like Minnesota’s Mo Walker, Indiana’s Maurice Creek shined in his exhibition game following a redshirt year. Creek, who had to sit all of last year with a ruptured Achilles’, had 12 points to lead the Hoosiers in their 86-57 win over Indiana Wesleyan. Indiana also received contributions from preseason national player of the year Cody Zeller and Will Sheehey, who both had 11 points and five rebounds. Christian Watford had 11 points and six rebounds, while Victor Oladipo had 10 points and seven rebounds. This is a deep team, and while a win against Indiana Wesleyan proves nothing, IU certainly showed it has plenty of options and can spread the ball around.
  4. Wisconsin has yet to play a game this year, but it has already dealt with injuries to two key players — Mike Bruesewitz and Josh Gasser. Bruesewitz will be back in the non-conference season, but Gasser is out for the season with a torn ACL. CBS Sports has a first-hand account of Gasser’s injury from guest blogger Zach Bohannon, a Badgers forward. Bohannon gives an emotional account of Gasser’s injury and the effect of an ACL injury on teams in general. It was a shocking injury for the Wisconsin players, as Bohannon said they saw Gasser as “indestructible.” It’s a humanizing account of “the face of the program” and puts the careers of college basketball players into perspective.
  5. The Big Ten is known for its low-scoring games and its defense, so it’s not surprising that two of the top 10 scariest defenders in the game, according to ESPN.com, play in the conference. ESPN ranks Ohio State’s Aaron Craft as the scariest defender in the country, citing his one-on-one defensive skills on the perimeter and his ability to steal the ball. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo checks in at No. 5, due to his versatility and ability to defend on the perimeter and in the post. Craft has a reputation throughout the nation as a top defender and he has an effect beyond standard statistics, as laid out by the Aaron Craft Turnometer created by Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn. Only a junior, Big Ten teams likely have two more years of dealing with Craft’s spectacular defensive skills.
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Big Ten Team Previews: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Posted by KTrahan on October 24th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Minnesota Golden Gophers. 

Where We Left Off: Minnesota’s 2011-12 season can best be described as streaky. The Gophers started the year 12-1, but lost their first four conference games before a three-game winning streak that included a good win at Indiana. Minnesota then traded wins and losses before ending the regular season on a 1-6 slide. However, the Gophers got hot in the Big Ten Tournament, knocking off Northwestern and nearly doing the same to Michigan. They then made a great run in the NIT, including a win against Washington before losing in the championship game to Stanford. It certainly was an up-and-down year, but it ended with plenty of promise.

Tubby’s Minnesota Teams Can Never Seem to Get Healthy and Eligible at the Same Time (AP)

Positives: This could be one of the most talented teams that Tubby Smith has had in Minnesota, and some — including yours truly — see the Gophers as a sleeper in the Big Ten title race. Sixth-year senior Trevor Mbakwe will be the face of the team, and the Gophers got a huge break when he avoided jail time after a parole violation for a summer DUI. This is a versatile team, which will allow the Gophers to play several big or small lineups. Talented young players such as Andre Hollins, Joe Coleman and Elliott Eliason will be complemented by more experienced players, such as Julian Welch, Rodney Williams, and Mbakwe.

Negatives: Can this team be consistent? Of course, a lot of last year’s on-court issues can be blamed on Mbakwe’s injury before conference play. The Gophers were forced to throw a number of talented freshmen into action, and while there were bright spots early — particularly the win against Indiana — it took awhile for things to come together. Can Minnesota take advantage of the experience gained by its younger players last year, or will inconsistency continue to be the story of a team that can’t get over the hump?

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Big Ten M5: 10.23.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on October 23rd, 2012

  1. The news coming out of Minnesota hasn’t been great recently, first with Trevor Mbakwe’s DUI and then assistant coach Saul Smith’s arrest on suspicion of DUI. Needless to say, the Golden Gophers are ready for the season to begin to put their offseason troubles behind them. However, to lighten the mood, here’s something everyone in America undoubtedly wants to see: Tubby Smith doing “Gangnam Style”. Tubby actually isn’t too bad, though he messes up the parts of the dance a couple of times. Women’s coach Pam Borton clearly had practiced for her routine. The dance was part of the Gophers’ “All Star Friday Night,” which included a dunk contest and a scrimmage to go along with the awful dancing.
  2. Iowa also held its kickoff event — the Black and Gold Blowout — this week, including a dunk contest and a scrimmage. Senior Eric May won the dunk contest with an alley-oop off a header. However, the highlight of the night might have been coach Fran McCaffery entering in a yellow Corvette. Scott Dochterman of The Cedar Rapids Gazette has some good stuff on the Blowout, including this nugget: The Hawkeyes had roughly 5,000 fans show up for the event, but the school averaged only 5,500 fans per game in May’s freshman season. This telling statistic shows that the Hawkeyes have certainly come a long way in two short years under McCaffery, both on and off the court.
  3. Last year, Purdue was one of the smaller teams in the Big Ten, sometimes relying on forward Robbie Hummel to take on a “center” role. That team was successful because of its experience and deadly perimeter shooting, but while this year’s team will be inexperienced, it will allow the Boilermakers to sport a more traditional-looking lineup. In fact, Matt Painter hasn’t had this much depth in the frontcourt in his eight years as coach at Purdue, writes Jeff Washburn of the Journal and Courier. The Boilermakers have added four-star, seven-foot center AJ Hammons, as well as four-star forward Jay Simpson to their frontcourt. Overall, Purdue will have six players who are at least 6’8″ or taller this season. It may be a young team in West Lafayette, but it will certainly be a talented one, as well.
  4. This doesn’t have much of a bearing on current news, but a friend pointed it out the other day and it’s an interesting point. This year, Northwestern will open its season against Texas Southern, and while that’s a game that typically wouldn’t have many storylines, it’s actually quite intriguing for several off-court reasons. Northwestern is one of only 17 schools to have never had a major NCAA violation. Texas Southern, however, is a walking NCAA violation. As pointed out by ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan, “Texas Southern is awful at following rules.” The Tigers were cited for “lack of institutional control” and the report on their transgressions is mind-boggling, as “the university allowed 129 student-athletes in 13 sports during seven academic years to compete and receive financial aid and travel expenses when they were ineligible.” There’s plenty more in the report, but the most hilarious thing is that Texas Southern is considered a “double repeat violator.” So this November, the goody-two-shoes of the NCAA will take on the double repeat violator. It should make for an interesting storyline, regardless of the yawner that is likely to occur on the court.
  5. CBS Sports put out its list of the 50 best point guards in college basketball, and the Big Ten was well-represented with two players in the top four and five overall. Michigan’s Trey Burke was the top-ranked point guard in the conference at No. 3, while Ohio State’s Aaron Craft came in right behind him at No. 4. Penn State’s Tim Frazier was No. 15, Michigan State’s Keith Appling was No. 28, and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell round’s out the Big Ten’s representation at No. 33. Ferrell made the list on speculation alone, but the first four are proven and all obvious choices for the list. The only two point guards better than Burke, according to CBS?  Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan and Missouri’s Phil Pressey, who check in at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
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Set Your TiVo: 12.27.11

Posted by bmulvihill on December 27th, 2011

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter.  See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

As we head into conference season, we will focus on two games that feature four teams that need a quality win to kick off the “second season”.

Jamie Dixon Needs Someone To Step Up Against Notre Dame

Pittsburgh @ Notre Dame – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 HD (***)
  • Without point guard Travon Woodall (currently listed as a game-time decision), Pitt is a two-man team.  Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson have taken 41% of the teams field goal attempts. Luckily, the level of competition the team has faced since the Woodall injury has not been stellar. However, they ran into a tough Wagner team last Friday that gave the Panthers their second home loss to a mid-major team this season. Gibbs is only shooting 38.5% from two-point range and shoots an equal amount of two-point and three-point attempts (just over 100 from each). Robinson is shooting much better from inside the arc, hitting 68.9% of his two-point attempts. To grind out a few more wins prior to Woodall’s return, Jamie Dixon’s team will need to get help from someone other than Gibbs and Robinson. Keep an eye on who steps up against Notre Dame. If a third scorer does not emerge, the pressure on those two may be too much.
  • Notre Dame is in desperate need of a win against a quality opponent. Through 13 games this season, they have zero wins against a school from a major conference. They have lost to Missouri, Georgia, Gonzaga, Maryland, and Indiana. While the Notre Dame offense ranks in the top 50 in efficiency, they have managed to shoot 50% eFG or under in 7 of their 13 games – going 2-5 in those games. Pitt has only allowed three of its opponents to shoot over 50% eFG. In more bad news for Mike Brey’s team, the Panthers are #1 in the country in offensive rebounding percentage and 29th in defensive rebounding percentage. Both areas are weak spots for the Irish. Since the Irish may be catching Pitt in one of its last gamess without its point guard, it is a perfect time for them to pick up a quality win at home. However, they will have to play a lot better than they have played all season.
  • Notre Dame must figure out a way to hit more shots and grab more rebounds. Unfortunately, Pitt is stronger in both areas. Keep a close eye on the Panthers’ rebounding numbers and field goal defense. If they win in those areas and get some contribution from another source than Gibbs and Robinson, they will win. The Irish must keep Pitt a two-man show, if they are to have a shot in this one.

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