Big Ten Point Guard Title Belt: Update #1

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 28th, 2015

On January 10, the B1G point guard title belt was introduced in an effort to determine (unofficially) which player is the best floor general in the league. Since then, a series of injuries and inconsistent play have resulted in the mythical belt already changing hands four times. Volatility is enhanced by the fact that one-game sample sizes lend themselves to frequent changes, but only one player has been able earn the belt and keep it. Here’s a brief rundown on how the belt changed hands over the past couple of weeks and which point guard presently holds the title.

After taking over the primary point guard responsibilities from the injured Traveon jackson, Bronson Koenig has been solid. (AP)

After taking over the primary point guard responsibilities from the injured Traveon jackson, Bronson Koenig has been solid. (AP)

  • January 10: Michigan 62, Minnesota 57. In his first game as the belt-holder, Minnesota’s Deandre Mathieu struggled to the tune of a disastrous individual offensive rating of 30.0 — going scoreless and turning the ball over five times in 29 minutes. Meanwhile, Michigan’s Derrick Walton, Jr went 3-of-4 from behind the arc en route to a 15-point performance. The sophomore only notched three assists against two turnovers, but his 136.0 offensive rating was the highest on his team in the victory.
  • January 13: Ohio State 71, Michigan 52. Walton’s reign at the top was a short one, as Ohio State convincingly beat the Wolverines in their Super Tuesday match-up in Columbus. The Buckeyes’ Shannon Scott notched seven points and eight assists to go along with only one turnover, and even though he didn’t shoot the ball very well (3-of-9 from the field), he outplayed Walton, who posted a dismal offensive rating of 43.0 with two points (1-of-7 shooting) and two assists.

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Big Ten M5: 01.28.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 28th, 2015

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  1. Since it was supposed to be played last night, people have probably figured out by now that the game featuring Michigan State and Rutgers was postponed due to the blizzard that decimated the northeastern part of the country over the last couple days. The game is being pushed to Thursday, which may give the Scarlet Knights some time to heal from a rash of injuries to their perimeter. Bishop Daniels is nursing a strained hip flexor, while freshman Mike Williams is dealing with a sprained ankle that will keep him out of action for up to two weeks. Whether or not Daniels plays or not, forward Junior Etou will be back in the lineup after missing a game due to a team disciplinary issue.
  2. Another freshman is dealing with an injury issue as well, although this one is a starter for a nationally ranked team. Indiana guard Robert Johnson suffered a knee injury in a rather unique fashion in Sunday’s tilt against Ohio State. Coach Tom Crean stated that the team’s fourth leading scorer still may play tonight when the Hoosiers travel to West Lafayette to face Purdue. Indiana has no chance against Purdue’s size, so it will have to bomb away from deep if they want to get a crucial road win. If Johnson can’t go, the onus will fall on Nick Zeisloft or Stanford Robinson to pick up the slack.
  3. The Purdue-Indiana game will feature as big of a contrast in terms of size that will be seen this season. Purdue will try to bang away inside with behemoths Isaac Haas and AJ Hammons. Indiana will counter with a much quicker lineup featuring no player taller than 6’7″. This makes what usually is one of the better rivalries in the league even more interesting this time around. Neither team really has an answer for the strong spots of the other team. It’s worth watching as well because a Hoosier loss would give each team an identical 5-3 conference mark.
  4. The other game tonight features two desperate teams looking to string together some wins to jump up from the bottom of the league standings. Minnesota travels to Penn State, where they’ll need another effort like his 12-point, 13-rebound from Maurice Walker. He’s one of the best post players in the league, albeit in a league where there aren’t many who can punish teams offensively on the block. He doesn’t always play with the aggressiveness the Gophers need, which made his efforts Saturday a big reason why they were able to beat Illinois. Penn State has some depth on the block, but Walker has the advantage over the trio of Donovon Jack, Jordan Dickerson, and Julian Moore. If the senior can continue to dominate on the low block, Minnesota can still make some noise before March.
  5. Nebraska continued to struggle on the road, as they lost by double-digits to a depleted Michigan team Tuesday night. Coach Tim Miles was succinct in his analysis, stating that ” they outcompeted us, they outexecuted us and we didn’t show much heart.” Whether or not the team was overconfident in seeing that Derrick Walton Jr would miss the game, they simply didn’t get anything done offensively. The Cornhuskers struggle sometimes even when Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway are at their offensive peak, but when they combine to go 5-for-23 from the field it’s a wrap. This team has to prove it can win on the road, and needs to do it quickly. It looked like things were starting to trend upward after winning four out of five games, but this result really makes it difficult to imagine them making a repeat NCAA Tournament appearance.
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Big Ten M5: 01.21.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 21st, 2015

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  1. Freshmen have made much more of an impact this season than last year. Because of this, it’s difficult to truly pick an All-Freshman Team. BTN’s Shon Morris took a stab at it anyway, as he named five guards to his list. Wooden Award Semi-Finalists Melo Trimble and D’Angelo Russell made the cut, along with Indiana guard James Blackmon Jr, Northwestern guard Bryant McIntosh, and Minnesota’s Nate Mason. If there was anything to quibble with here, it would potentially be the exclusion of Purdue first-year players Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas. Both have kind of tailed off as of late in terms of production however, as the quintet of guards have had more of an impact in conference play.
  2. Indiana coach Tom Crean doesn’t necessarily have many fans in the media, and articles written about him are usually slanted toward the negative. Things weren’t helped by the train wreck of a 2013-14 season, and the turmoil that surrounded the team before this season even started. The Hoosiers have exceeded expectations in starting 14-4, and Crean deserves a good deal of credit for the way his squad has performed. Indianan has a rough stretch of games coming up, but finishing in the top five in the league and making the NCAA Tournament should not only enable Crean to not have to worry about his job, but also could put him in contention for Big Ten Coach of the Year.
  3. Purdue can pick up another conference win tonight when they take on Illinois in West Lafayette. After a sluggish start against Penn State that took a miraculous shot to force overtime, the Boilermakers are trying to figure out how to get off to better starts. They’ve trailed in each Big Ten game so far, and the catalysts for the poor starts have been a lack of communication on defense and too many turnovers. With Illinois desperate to stay in the hunt until Rayvonte Rice returns, Purdue can’t afford to let Illinois shoot the lights out in the first stanza like they did against Indiana. Locking down on defense for 40 minutes like Purdue teams of old will determine how far this team can go.
  4. Michigan State has struggled at times this season, and whether or not they turn things around by March remains to be seen. That doesn’t mean that fans of the green and white should get too upset according to Graham Couch of the Lansing State-Journal. Being upset at this non-top 25 unit shows just how good the program has been under Tom Izzo. There’s been some recruiting misses of the highly-publicized variety (Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander, Tyus Jones), and lesser-hyped players that have become really good (Monte Morris, Tyler Ulis). But the fact that this year’s team could still turn things around, combined with a 2015-16 team that has a chance to be really solid should be enough for fans to tolerate the struggles of this team.
  5. College Basketball Talk listed some of the surprises and disappointments so far this season, and B1G teams made the cut on both lists. Maryland made an appearance as one of bigger surprises, with Coach Mark Turgeon being mentioned as a possible National Coach of the Year candidate. As far as disappointments, both Michigan and Nebraska were considered. Both teams won last night, and have a combined 8-5 mark in conference play right now. But they both started the season in the top 25, losing that distinction by playing poorly in the early going. The B1G as a whole has been disappointing, and the dip from both of these squads has played a large role in its demise.
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Big Ten M5: 01.19.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 19th, 2015

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  1. Michigan’s NCAA tournament chances took a major hit on Sunday when it learned that junior Caris LeVert would miss the remainder of the season with a left foot injury. With non-conference losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan, the Wolverines needed a stellar conference record to impress the selection committee. With their leading scorer and rebounder sidelined, Michigan’s youth-laden roster will be further tested by the heart of the Big Ten schedule. The next week-plus could be particularly rough for them, as a chunk of their squad is suffering from some sort of illness or injury.
  2. Indiana got the best of Illinois on Sunday despite squandering double-digit leads in both halves. Zach Osterman of the Indy Star said the Hoosiers’ resiliency shown today is a sign that they’re headed in a direction that many thought impossible after their tumultuous offseason and non-conference slate. Osterman said that while Indiana has been impressive thus far, they aren’t a contender for the Big Ten title – but given the circumstances they faced in October and November, their recent play is worthy of praise.
  3. Northwestern’s stellar freshman Bryant McIntosh was inconsolable after suffering a two-point loss to Michigan – but according to Henry Bushnell of Inside NU, McIntosh’s miss didn’t matter. What is important, Bushnell said, is that Northwestern is playing well against decent teams. The losses the Wildcats have suffered aren’t in vain, because their improvements are evident. Head coach Chris Collins understands the frustrations surrounding the team’s last three losses, but he stressed that the team’s improvement is an ongoing process.
  4. D’Angelo Russell wowed a national audience on Saturday, dropping 27 points and gathering 14 rebounds in the Buckeyes’ 76-67 loss to Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Despite Russell’s performance, Ohio State was familiarly inconsistent and Thad Matta found few positives to take after the Hawkeyes completed their sweep of his squad. According to Shannon Scott, the Buckeyes’ recent losses are more indicative of their play and not of the strength of their opponents. With a starting lineup that features three seniors, it’s a bad sign that a freshman (albeit a future NBA lottery pick) is proving to be the most consistent player on the team. If the Buckeyes want to maintain a position at the top of the conference standings, they’ll need more out of their experienced players to complement him.
  5. Minnesota defeated Rutgers on Saturday, picking up their first conference win of the season. Their 0-5 start in conference play was the worst since 2005-2006. A loss to Rutgers would have killed the Gophers’ NCAA Tournament hopes, but Andre Hollins dropped in 31 points to save the season for the time being. Amelia Rayno of the Star Tribune said the win brought a jovial feeling back to the locker room, a good sign for a team that was very apparently feeling the pressure in its last few games. The Gophers next five games are all very winnable as they face Nebraska twice in addition to matchups with Penn State, Illinois and Purdue.
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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 Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 13th, 2015

The Big Ten unthinkable happened in the form of bottom-feeder Rutgers knocking off Wisconsin in Piscataway on Sunday night. The Scarlet Knights went crazy on the offensive end in the second half against a Badgers squad that is now reeling with the news that senior point guard Traveon Jackson could miss significant time with a foot injury that he suffered in the second half. Maryland, Michigan State and Michigan all won games over the weekend to move into a four-way tie for first place, while Minnesota continued to struggle in losing its fourth straight contest in conference play. Just ahead of a big Tuesday night of action, here’s the rest of the happenings around the weekend in the B1G.

Terran Petteway once again lead Nebraska in scoring when they beat Illinois Sunday night. (AP)

Terran Petteway once again lead Nebraska in scoring when they beat Illinois Sunday night. (AP)

  • Player of the Weekend: Nebraska’s Terran Petteway narrowly edges out Rutgers’ Myles Mack here, and he did so by being much more efficient than he has been this season. He did turn the ball over five times on Sunday against Illinois, but he didn’t force shots en route to 18 points on 4-of-7 shooting from behind the arc. He also did a nice job as a facilitator, leading the team with four assists. It was mentioned on the broadcast, but Petteway and Shavon Shields look more comfortable now that the Huskers have their whole roster finally intact. Moses Abraham and Leslee Smith only combined to play 11 minutes in this game, but Petteway moved like the weight of the world was off of his shoulders so that he could concentrate exclusively on scoring and passing. Pay attention to Nebraska in the next couple of weeks to see if the Huskers get it together and make a run.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Maryland’s Richaud Pack is not usually a substitute (starting 15 games), but Pack made a cameo appearance off the bench in the Terps’ Saturday game against Purdue as the Terps went with more size (Jared Nickens) against Purdue. The senior scored 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including eight in the second half that were essentially rally-killers — each time he scored, it was immediately after Purdue had cut the Maryland lead to under five points. Pack didn’t lead the team in scoring on this day, but his poise under pressure to quell Purdue’s momentum transcend the box score. Credit the transfer for responding to a short-term demotion to still make a large contribution in the win.

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Big Ten M5: 01.12.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 12th, 2015

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  1. The biggest news of the weekend was Rutgers 67-62 upset win over Wisconsin Although the Badgers were without Frank Kaminsky (concussion-like symptoms) and lost Traevon Jackson during the game, the Scarlet Knights second Big Ten win is still a quality one. Those injuries, however, could continue to hurt the Badgers beyond today’s loss. Benjamin Worgull of Scout.com reported that assistant coach Greg Gard said Jackson’s foot injury isn’t good and he’ll have it evaluated further back in Madison. Kaminsky‘s presence was certainly missed as Rutgers, the worst-shooting team in the conference, drained shots at a 66.7% clip in the second half on Sunday. If there was any doubt that Kaminsky is the engine that makes this team go, it was emphatically erased on Sunday.’
  2. Illinois’ loss of Rayvonte Rice didn’t seem to hurt them in last Wednesday’s win over Maryland, but he was sorely missed after Sunday’s loss at Nebraska. The Illini play great defense with or without Rice, as they hold the 36th best defensive efficiency rating in the country and have yet to allow an opponent to score over 80 points this season. Their offense is another story – they shot 27.3 percent from the field on Sunday. The Champaign Room said Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby’s play simply has to get better in order for the Illini to have any success the rest of the year. The two are shooting 32.6 and 28.5 percent from the field this year respectively.
  3. Maryland added some girth to its frontcourt this weekend as Ivan Bender, a forward from Bosnia and Herzegovina was granted immediate eligibility. Bender, who stands at 6-foot-9, averaged 14.3 points and 9 rebounds per game with KK Split of the Junior Euroleague. The Terrapins already have junior Jake Layman and senior Evan Smotrycz at power forward, so it’s unlikely that he’ll crack any playing time right away in that position. They are quite young at the center position, however, playing sophomore Damonte Dodd and freshman Michal Cekovsky a majority of the time. It won’t be a surprise if Mark Turgeon decides to redshirt Bender, effectively staggering the eligibility of all of his big men.
  4. Northwestern fell at the hands of Michigan State in overtime on Sunday, but it seems the Wildcats picked an infamous moral victory, even if they won’t admit it. But that moral victory shouldn’t be enough for Northwestern -they should have won the game, but they again fell victim to ‘hero ball’ writes Inside NU’s Henry Bushnell. Had the Wildcats operated their offense like they did for the first 39 minutes of the game for the entire 40, head coach Chris Collins might be tabbing Sunday’s game as a signature victory for the program. In the end, it seems that Northwestern just got tired and opted for one-on-one matchups versus team basketball late in the second half and in overtime – and it cost them the game. But the ‘Cats are young, and this experience will certainly serve them well in the future.
  5. Michigan and Minnesota faced off on Saturday, two programs seemingly headed in opposite directions after the non-conference slate at the end December. Michigan was reeling from losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan while Minnesota was high off of an 11-2 non-conference record. The directions of those teams seemed to have flipped though, as the Wolverines downed the Gophers, pushing Michigan’s Big Ten record to 3-1 and dropping Minnesota’s to 0-4. Richard Pitino didn’t offer any answers to his team’s struggles after the game, but he had better figure some out. While the Gophers are considered one of the best passing teams in the country, the rest of their game is not up-to-par. And with a matchup with Rutgers looming, Minnesota may have its hands full with a confident team fresh off of a monumental upset.
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Introducing the Big Ten Point Guard Title Belt

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 8th, 2015

Point guard play has been the difference in many games involving Big Ten teams this season, but if fans who follow the league were asked to name its best floor general, several different answers would be given. Do you value a scoring guard like Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell or do you fancy a pass-first type like Ohio State’s Shannon Scott. Each team around the conference has a point guard who impacts the team’s bottom line by how or well or poorly they play on a given night, so how do you determine which player is the best? It’s a tricky question, but one that I’ve decided to tackle here. Per KenPom’s metrics, considering all point guards who have played at least 50.0 percent of their teams’ available minutes, there are 18 eligible Big Ten players. That group was then rank-ordered into five categories: free throw percentage; assist-to-turnover ratio; assist rate; effective field goal percentage; and steal rate.

Shannon Scott is one of the best point guards in the B1G, but is he the best?(AP)

Shannon Scott is one of the best point guards in the B1G, but is he the best?(AP)

These five metrics could arguably be tweaked or weighted by importance, but each represents a valuable commodity for someone who has the ball in his hands for a good portion of the game. Good point guards need to make free throws; they are expected to get their teammates involved; and they have to either be a capable shooter from behind the arc or get into the lane for high percentage shots. Defensively, a point guard needs to be able to pressure and irritate their assignments, and while steal rate isn’t a perfect indicator, individual defensive metrics are notoriously difficult to compare. Keeping in mind that statistics are only one part of the equation in evaluating players, after compiling the rankings, the top five came out as follows (in no particular order):

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Minnesota Already in Rough Shape in the Big Ten Race

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 7th, 2015

Some might have considered the Ohio State vs. Minnesota game on Tuesday night an interesting match-up but not necessarily one with postseason implications. The new year has just begun. Teams have barely played 15 games, and the conference season is just picking up. So why would it matter? Well, for a Gophers’ team that hasn’t earned a quality win yet despite an 11-5 start to the season, an 0-3 beginning to Big Ten play doesn’t bode well for the future. A home win against Ohio State is exactly what the team needed, but the Gophers, despite a valiant second half comeback, just couldn’t finish it off. Here are three thoughts from the overtime thriller:

Richard Pitino's Gophers blew a golden opportunity at the Barn on Tuesday night.

Richard Pitino’s Gophers blew a golden opportunity at the Barn on Tuesday night.

  1. Credit Andre Hollins for his defense against D’Angelo Russell in the second half. Russell was on fire in the first half, scoring 25 points including 5-of-6 from beyond the arc and making Hollins look like a tired senior trying to keep up with a stud freshman. The second half, however, was a completely different story, as Hollins hit a big three-pointer in the first minute and showed that he was ready to lock down Russell by pressuring him full-court. His improved intensity allowed him to fight over the screens, bumping Russell off balance as he tried to turn the corner. This defensive tweak along with pushing him to the corners worked perfectly, as Russell was held scoreless during the rest of regulation (he finished with 27 points). If Hollins had played with half of his second half intensity from the start, the Gophers probably wouldn’t be left with with an 0-3 Big Ten record. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 01.06.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 6th, 2015

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  1. Michigan State seemed to get its mojo back in crushing Indiana on Monday night, holding the Hoosiers to just 20 percent shooting from long distance. Inside the Hall’s Ryan Corazza attributed Indiana’s loss to a poor first-half performance that amounted to a 19-point halftime deficit. The Spartans, six days removed from a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to Maryland, were able to stifle Tom Crean’s drive-and-dish offense by locking down the paint and effectively closing out on Indiana’s gunners. In fact, Yogi Ferrell and Emmitt Holt were the only Hoosiers to make a shot in the first half while the rest of the team went 0-of-19. This is the first time all season we’ve seen such a poor offensive performance from Indiana, but the loss certainly highlights the team’s dependence on long-distance shooting. As Big Ten Powerhouse’s Scott Manning put it, Indiana will live and die by the three this year.
  2. Purdue stumbled – or rather, fell face-first – into the opening week of Big Ten play, entering last week having dropped three straight games to Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and Gardner-Webb. The Boilermakers turned things around by winning home games against Minnesota and Michigan to start conference play, but they now travel to face arguably the two hottest teams in the league on the road this week in Wisconsin and Maryland. Purdue’s success in Madison will hinge heavily on its ability to defend Frank Kaminsky, who is currently ranked first in KenPom’s Player of the Year rankings. The Wisconsin center is noticeably more mobile this year, providing Matt Painter with the dubious task of deciding to defend him with either shot-blocker extraordinare AJ Hammons or leaving him on Wisconsin’s four to better defend the paint. KenPom predicts the Badgers will win by 17 points on Wednesday.
  3. Minnesota freshman Gaston Diedhiou could make his college basketball debut tonight in the Gophers’ home Big Ten opener versus Ohio State, writes Marcus Fuller of the Pioneer Press. Diedhou, a 6’9″, 230-pounder, could help solidify Minnesota’s depth at the forward positions. After Joey King, the Gophers have gotten little to no production from reserves Charles Buggs and Bakary Konate. Citing the Senegal native’s raw offensive game, head coach Richard Pitino said that he doubts Diedhiou will have an impact against the Buckeyes, but his athleticism and rebounding skill may force Pitino’s hand if the Gophers continue to struggle down low.
  4. Michigan does not look much like the outstanding John Beilein teams of the past few years, as evidenced by their disappointing 8-6 record. The head coach is doing his best to keep the team’s struggles in perspective, though, stressing patience to fans and praising the improvement of freshman big man Ricky Doyle. That improvement hasn’t been universal among all Wolverines’ freshmen, as Aubrey Dawkins and Kameron Chatman have been very inconsistent. As it stands, Michigan fans will have to bear with Beilein’s group this year, as he’s been very open and honest about it being a relative rebuilding year with the squad – but don’t expect the slump to last much longer than one season.
  5. Iowa is off to its best start in the Big Ten since the 2002-03 season, standing at 2-0 in conference play after topping Nebraska in Iowa City last night. In the win, Aaron White scored 23 points and became Iowa’s all-time leader in made free throws, a mark currently standing at 524. Scott Dochterman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette said White’s ability to get to the free throw line has made him an all-time Hawkeyes great, but the Strongsville, Ohio, native canned an uncharacteristic three-pointer to push Iowa’s lead to seven points in the waning minutes to seal last night’s victory. Fans and media alike had hoped White would develop a better perimeter game this season, but the senior is only shooting the ball from distance at a 22.7 percent clip. That statistic won’t matter, though, if gunners Peter Jok, Jarrod Uthoff and Josh Oglesby step their games up like they did on Monday night.
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Big Ten Viewers’ Guide For Conference Play

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 30th, 2014

As you well know, the Big Ten starts off conference play with four games today. While some of the luster has been lost due to several teams’ non-conference struggles, that doesn’t mean that things won’t be entertaining with so many teams relatively close to each other in talent level. Can disappointing teams like Michigan and Purdue turn things around? Will Wisconsin dominate as much as everyone seems to think? Can Penn State keep winning? Some of these questions and more will be answered over the next two and a half months. With that in mind, here’s a look at five key dates during conference play that will be appointment viewing if you’re a true B1G fan.

Dez Wells and his Maryland squad taking on Michigan State in College Park highlights a slew of games on January 17 .(Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

Dez Wells and Maryland vs. Michigan State in College Park highlights a slew of good games on January 17 .(Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

January 17 (five games)

  • Rutgers-Minnesota 12:00 EST (BTN)
  • Purdue-Penn State 1:0o (ESPNU)
  • Ohio State-Iowa 2:00 (ESPN)
  • Michigan State-Maryland 4:00 (CBS)
  • Northwestern-Michigan 8:15 (BTN)

You may be able to skip the opener at Minnesota, but the meat of this five-game Saturday slate is right in the middle. Iowa and Ohio State split their games last season, which each team winning on the other’s home floor. Both teams once again have legitimate NCAA hopes, but this one will be important for setting the tone early in conference play. After today’s season opener in East Lansing, Maryland and Michigan State will run it back just 17 days later. The Terps are known for bringing a raucous atmosphere to the Xfinity Center — how will Michigan State handle the chaos in playing there for the first time as a league opponent? Read the rest of this entry »

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Some Big Ten X-Factors That Will Shape the Conference Race

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 29th, 2014

It’s easy to sit here and write that players like Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell will be key factors in how the Big Ten race shapes up once conference play begins this week. It’s a little harder to dig deeper and find several of the league’s non-superstars who will also have significant roles in the final determinations. Is it the freshman who starts to understand the speed of the game and plays much better with a few games under his belt? Or is it the underachieving senior who plays with an increased urgency now that his career is coming to a close? Here’s a look at several non-household Big Ten players who will be key cogs for their teams over the next couple of months.

Bronson Koenig has played well after struggling early for Wisconsin. (Reuters)

Bronson Koenig has played well after struggling early for Wisconsin. (Reuters)

  • Bronson Koenig: The sophomore guard struggled in his first five games, only averaging 2.8 PPG on 33 percent shooting from the floor. Since then, he’s increased his output to 6.3 PPG on 40 percent shooting over seven games. The Badgers have not yet really replaced the three-point production of Ben Brust despite their 12-1 record, so Koenig will need to be a more consistent offensive option when he gets called upon.
  • Aaron Cosby: Illinois has done a good job in being less reliant on Rayvonte Rice this season. His usage rate has only dropped only a bit (from 26.6 to 25.8 percent), but his minutes are reduced as well (27.8 MPG). The Illini’s offense is therefore more balanced, and it will be even better if Aaron Cosby can regain his shooting touch. In Illini wins, Cosby has made 36.5 percent of his shots from distance. In three losses, he’s made only 20.0 percent. He’s done a good job contributing in other ways — like when he grabbed seven rebounds in a win against Missouri — but Cosby is in Champaign to make jump shots. If he can get things rolling and shoot like he did when he was at Seton Hall for his first two seasons (nearly 40 percent from three), Illinois will be hard to stop.

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