It was always going to be a rough introduction into the Big Ten for Rutgers, given that last year the Scarlet Knights weren’t competitive in a mediocre American Athletic Conference. If they are going to turn things around, the effort will need to be led by one of their senior leaders, Kadeem Jack. So head coach Eddie Jordan must be more than a little concerned that last year’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer has been unable to practice due to a wrist injury. Jack is expected to be healthy by the first game of the season against George Washington, but Jordan needs to hope that’s the case as his team is going to need all the wins it can get for a shot at a postseason tournament.
In East Lansing, Michigan State is also dealing with the injury bug. Tom Izzo’s team will lose freshman Javon Bess for at least a month as he will have surgery on his injured foot. Though not a heralded recruit, he seemed to have already earned some respect from his fellow teammates and coach. Izzo called him a “diamond in the rough” while Denzel Valentine said his loss is “gonna be big [to us].” His injury chips at the Spartans’ depth, something the Spartans would like to have as they make their way through another tough non-conference schedule with opponents like Duke, Georgia Tech, Kansas and Notre Dame slated.
The season hasn’t even started, but Richard Pitino is already dealing with some off-the-court issues, as Minnesotadismissed junior Zach Lofton on Wednesday with no specific explanation given for his cause for dismissal. The 6’4″ wing had transferred to Minnesota from Illinois State, where he averaged 11.3 PPG and 3.0 RPG last season. His dismissal has no effect with respect to this season, as Lofton would have had to redshirt this year anyway. But it’s certainly not ideal and leaves a hole in Pitino’s lineup for the 2015-16 season that he will need to fill. Not a great start for the Golden Gophers.
Earlier in the week, SBNation released its Top 100 players list. Yesterday, CBSSports.comdid likewise. One big difference between the two lists was with the ranking of Sam Dekker, who came in at #5 on the latter as opposed to #33 on the former. Another huge difference in ranking was Ohio State’s freshman D’Angelo Russell, who was listed all the way up at #44 on CBS and was left off the list altogether on SBNation. They reached some consensus, however, with Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Michigan’s Caris Levert as top 10 players. Finally, while SBNation put 15 B1G players on its list, CBS was more bearish on the conference’s talent with only 11 players. These lists make for fun fodder, but honestly, it’ll be nice just to get through all this and focus on the games.
Lastly, Indiana’s Tom Crean is trying to get his Hoosiers squad ready for game shape this week. The Hoosierslost some key players from last year’s squad, such as Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Noah Vonleh, four-year contributor Will Sheehey, and a bunch of transfers. This lack in continuity is showing as the coach has to impress upon his squad to avoid “defensive fatigue”. While the Hoosiers lost a bunch of talent, they also brought in a quality freshmen class. Crean will need to get his star point guard, Yogi Ferrell, to whip those youngsters in shape if they’re to avoid another disappointing season.
Zach Lofton‘s time at Minnesota was very short-lived. The Illinois State transfer, who would have had to sit out this season as a transfer after averaging 11.3 points and 3 rebounds per game last season, was kicked off the team yesterday. The reasons for Lofton’s dismissal are unclear, but he is still on scholarship at the school and can remain at the school to pursue his undergraduate degree so we are assuming it was something that wasn’t too serious as in it was not due to an arrest. We are not sure what Lofton’s plans are, but we are assuming that he won’t be staying at Minnesota.
Yesterday, Florida announced that John Egbunu, a transfer from South Florida, will have to sit out this season per NCAA transfer rules. Egbunu, who averaged 7.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game as a freshman last season, was a top-60 prospect coming out of high school. We are not sure what basis the Florida staff was hoping to use in order to get Egbunu a waiver, but they should be able to survive without him this season as they already have a deep frontcourt.
Connecticut junior guard Omar Calhoun is expected to miss at least a week after spraining the MCL in his right knee. Calhoun injured the knee during a Sunday practice, but a subsequent MRI revealed that there was no significant structural damage. Calhoun has reportedly recovered completely from the bilateral hip impingement surgery that limited his production as a sophomore. The Huskies appear to be set for their starting backcourt with Ryan Boatright and Rodney Purvis, but Calhoun could be a key reserve for the team.
St. John’s announced yesterday that junior college transfer Keith Thomas would not be academically eligible for this season. Thomas, who was an honorable mention NJCAA All-American while averaging 15.3 points and 15.7 rebounds per game last season, is the third player from Westchester Community College to either be ruled academically ineligible as the school’s academic credentials are being questioned (where have we heard this before?). The loss of Thomas is a big hit for the Red Storm as they lack many legitimate big men outside of Chris Obekpa.
We aren’t exactly sure how much to read into Jeff Goodman’s report that several college basketball referees had accessed unauthorized information on a refereeing site. While some of that information like game schedules and how much certain referees were paid probably did not affect the way games were called, other information like comments that coaches made about certain officials certainly could have impacted the outcome of games. If this might seem a little far-fetched, it was just a year and a half ago that where the Pac-12 had a controversy because there were reports that the head of officiating attempted to get other officials to target Arizona coach Sean Miller. We doubt that this will lead to a similar revelation, but it should be the primary concern in a situation like this.
Wisconsin has been picked to finish high both nationally and in the Big Ten largely because of the experience it has coming back to Madison. Several other schools in the league also have a good deal of returning talent, though, and Minnesota is one such team. The Gophers will feature four seniors who should get heavy minutes, including all-Big Ten candidates Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins. The senior class has taken their roles as leaders to heart, as they’ve been in constant communication with one another as the opening of the season grows closer. There have been many instances where teams that made a deep NIT run (Minnesota won the tournament last season) came back to progress to the NCAA Tournament the following year. Richard Pitino’s squad may well be the next such example of a team, much like Iowa a year ago, to use its NIT experience as a springboard to a better season.
Maryland guard Melo Trimble has quickly become the talk of the highly-touted freshman class that Mark Turgeon has assembled in College Park for his first B1G campaign. Trimble is getting rave reviews for his defensive abilities, and much of that is due to his work with Director of Basketball Performance coach, Kyle Tarp. Trimble has lost 18 pounds since arriving on campus, leading Turgeon to comment that “he’s further along defensively than I expected.” With Seth Allen gone to Virginia Tech, Trimble will have a much greater initial responsibility than he would have had if Allen had stuck around. The combination of Maryland’s experience and youth make this year’s team an intriguing Big Ten sleeper.
Preseason lists for this award and watch lists for that honor are being released in earnest. When it comes to a very specific list, plenty of Big Ten players are honored on the All-Indiana College Basketball Team, consisting of players from the Hoosier State who compete at the collegiate level. The first team includes Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Michigan State’s Branden Dawson, and perhaps a debatable player to some in Purdue’s AJ Hammons. The second team includes Michigan’s Zak Irvin, while three Honorable Mentions in Indiana’s James Blackmon, Jr. and Purdue’s Basil Smotherman and Raphael Davis. The team exhibits all the Indiana talent that is scattered across Big Ten rosters beyond just those playing for the in-state Hoosiers and Boilermakers.
Minnesota is a team with some intrigue surrounding it entering this season. The Golden Gophers return four starters from its NIT Championship squad and it has raised some hopes and created high expectations for this year’s team. Some of these projections make sense and seem legitimate, such as Andre Hollins making an All-Big Ten team; but others, like Elliot Eliason leading the conference in rebounds and blocks, are a little more unrealistic. The biggest question to answer for Minnesota fans is whether the Gophers can make the NCAA Tournament and push forward to the second weekend of action. To accomplish such a feat, the team will need Hollins to really improve with the losses of Malik Smith and Austin Hollins. He has the skill set and talent to do so, but it will take a very strong campaign for Minnesota to rise to become a player at the top of the Big Ten and nationally.
With the loss of Noah Vonleh to the NBA, it is no secret that Indiana has some major question marks on its interior this year. One player hoping to provide an answer, however, is Devin Davis. He is one of the few interior players the Hoosiers have returning with experience. The best thing going for Davis may just be that he isn’t a dominant offensive force but he is a strong rebounder. With this year’s team likely looking to rely on its perimeter play to propel the offense, a solid defender underneath who can also attack the boards fits very well. While Davis will likely sit behind Hanner Mosquera-Perea in Tom Crean’s rotation, his style could be beneficial and result in a significant number of minutes throughout the season.
There are high hopes in Wisconsin this season, so to get ready for the year, why not start debating the past? What would you rate as the Badgers’ top play of the past 10 years? While this list goes with Bo Ryan making his first Final Four, personally the Ben Brust half-courter against Michigan would top my list. The real question for Wisconsin fans is whether this list will include more big plays from the upcoming season, and at what stakes? Certainly there could be a few leading to Big Ten and national accolades.
Ever wondered what was in Lebron James’ locker? How about what is in his locker at Ohio State? Yes, Lebron James has a locker inside Ohio State’s locker room, right next to Amir Williams. He doesn’t use it, given that he’s a 29-year old professional and all, but the Buckeyes display Nike gear with his name on it to help appeal to recruits when they come to visit Columbus. Not a bad ploy to use despite King James never playing at Ohio State, or college anywhere, for that matter.
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitment of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions atThe Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at email@example.com.
Over the past two weeks four highly rated high school seniors from the Midwest have committed to their colleges. Despite calling the states of Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota home, however, only one of the four elite players decided to stay at home and play in the Big Ten. Could this exodus spell trouble down the road for one of the premier power conferences in the land?
Jay Wright Lands Top Point Guard in Class of 2015
The point guard position is fairly weak in the Class of 2015, but Villanova recently locked up five-star prospect Jalen Brunson, who is considered the No. 1 point guard in the class and No. 16 player overall. The lefty from the northern Chicago suburbs is the son of former Temple star and NBA journeyman Rick Brunson, and chose the Wildcats over the in-state Illini. The 6’2” point guard plays for one of the top high schools in Illinois as well as for the Mac Irvin Fire, which is known for suiting up Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, and Cliff Alexander in recent years. During the Nike EYBL, Brunson averaged 17.2 points and 6.9 assists per game.
Brunson plays the game with an old school flair. While definitely not an elite run-and-jump athlete, he is a master at running the offense, using the pick-and-roll, and knocking down jump shots from all parts of the floor. He uses his strong upper body to get by defenders and has NBA range on his three-point shot — which he displayed during the Nike Global Challenge in August. Off the pick-and-roll, Brunson can calmly knock down a three or get into the lane for a soft teardrop floater. He is a smart passer and gets the ball to teammates in a position to score and knows how to feed the post. This past winter, Brunson led his team to the Illinois state semifinals just one year after leading them to the state finals as a sophomore. In 2013 Brunson’s team came up short against a senior Jabari Parker’s Simeon powerhouse. Last year Brunson scored a remarkable 56 points in a losing effort against Jahlil Okafor’s state champs at Whitney Young. With his strong junior season, Brunson racked up a host of awards and also outplayed Kentucky’s freshman point guard Tyler Ulis in a notable head-to-head battle.
This season (25-10, 10-8): What would be a successful season for most programs was a relative disappointment for the Buckeyes. Ohio State did not capture a Big Ten regular season or tournament title for the first time since 2008-09, and similar to that season, they were also bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in their first game. The issue for the Buckeyes – which was a clear problem area in the preseason – was generating offense without Deshaun Thomas in the lineup. Thomas’ replacement, LaQuinton Ross, almost doubled his scoring average, but the Buckeyes failed to find reliable offensive firepower anywhere else. In the end, Aaron Craft and Ohio State’s excellent showing on defense wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s offensive woes.
Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don’t expect it to continue next season. (Getty)
Next season: The Buckeyes lose Craft, Amedeo Della Valle, Ross, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. They welcome in an elite recruiting class that includes D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, and Jae’Sean Tate; and they also will get graduate transfer Anthony Lee from Temple next year. These additions along with several talented players already on their roster should have no one worrying about the state of the program going forward. This season was merely a hiccup in the Thad Matta era.
Minnesota has made the most out of its experience in the NIT, as the Gophers have made it to New York City to take on Florida State in the semifinals of the event this evening. This is a rematch of an earlier meeting in December’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, when Richard Pitino’s team defeated the Seminoles 71-61 at Williams Arena. Despite a lack of prestige and eyeballs on this game, Minnesota is the only Big Ten team still playing basketball other than Wisconsin. In order to advance to Thursday night’s championship game, here are three things for Minnesota to concentrate on to beat FSU again.
With Elliott Eliason probably not playing due to an injury, Minnesota needs a big night Tuesday from Maurice Walker. (Pioneer Press, Ben Garvin)
Create turnovers: Florida State turns the ball over slightly less often than Indiana, and anyone who watched any Big Ten basketball this season knows what that means. The Seminoles turn the ball over on over 21 percent of their possessions, and out of the 92 ACC players who played over 40 percent of their team’s available minutes, Devin Bookert and Ian Miller rank fourth and fifth from the bottom. Miller also uses 25.6 percent of the team’s possessions, so taking advantage of his propensity to give the ball away is a must. Minnesota needs to remain aggressive on the perimeter, forcing turnovers instead of letting the guards — both of whom shoot over 40 percent from deep — get hot from the outside. Read the rest of this entry »
Wisconsin is certainly used to the Sweet Sixteen and plenty of success under Bo Ryan. Part of the reason for that is how Ryan instills the “method of deception” into his players from the moment they arrive on campus. For a team that is often talked about as athletically outmatched, the idea of Ryan preaching the use of ball fakes and shot fakes during every practice makes sense. This could be important in creating opportunities against Baylor’s zone tonight. The Badgers may also use these fakes to get Isaiah Austin into the air and create foul trouble for the athletic big man. If Wisconsin can remove Austin from the center of that zone, their chances of finding open shots everywhere on the floor improves substantially.
Nik Stauskas certainly was one of the biggest surprises this season in the Big Ten. After he was named first team All-America by the National Association of Basketball Coaches this week, you can add that he is one of the nation’s biggest surprises as well. Stauskas was certainly a good player as a freshman last season but expecting him to be one of the five best players in America this year was on nobody’s radar. With this award, he has put himself in elite company at Michigan, becoming just the 13th Wolverine to be named to at least one All-America team in program history. Now the question is whether he, like last year’s Michigan All-American Trey Burke, can lead his team to a Final Four?
Michigan State has played plenty of big games in almost all the major venues across the country. Tom Izzo has taken the Spartans around the world and even played a game on an aircraft carrier. For all of this talent and history of success, the one place that Izzo’s Spartans have struggled is exactly where they are headed this weekend: Madison Square Garden. When Michigan State takes on Virginia in New York City Friday night, it does so with a 2-10 all-time record there (2-6 under Izzo). Sparty hasn’t won at MSG since 2006 and already lost there once this year to Georgetown. While it is obviously foolish to think the arena itself is causing losses, it is an interesting trend to think about. Izzo says he isn’t superstitious but if the losses keep piling up at MSG maybe he will avoid the arena the best he can in the future.
With three Big Ten teams left in the NCAA Tournament it is easy to forget that Minnesota is still playing basketball as well. The Golden Gophers are headed to New York next Tuesday night where they will take on Florida State in the NIT semifinals, thanks in large part to a massive game from Austin Hollins. For a team playing in the NIT rather than the NCAAs, they are still plenty focused on the games ahead and getting to 25 wins this season. While there is no guaranteed correlation between NIT success and the next season, Richard Pitino’s Gophers are playing well and could easily take home some postseason hardware by the end of the season.
It is easy to forget that Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan has never reached the final weekend in college basketball despite everything he has accomplished while at Wisconsin. Having never reached the Final Four gives him the dubious honor of being named the Athlon Sports Top Coach Without a Final Four Appearance. He wasn’t the lone representative from the conference, either. Iowa’s Fran McCaffery came in 11th, Purdue’s Matt Painter at 14th and even Nebraska’s Tim Miles cracked the top 20 at #17. This is certainly not a list any coach wants to reside on and Ryan has a great opportunity to leave it in his wake this weekend.
The Big Ten has three teams still playing in the Sweet Sixteen, and after Penn State’s loss to Siena on Monday night, it now has one team still alive to win one of the other three postseason tournaments. Here’s a brief rundown on what’s been going on with Illinois, Minnesota, and Penn State as they finished out their seasons in the NIT and the CBI over the course of the last week.
Despite not getting much production from leading scorer Andre Hollins, Minnesota has made it to the Final 8 of the NIT. (AP)
Illinois: The Illini got a raw deal in the fact that they had to play both of their NIT games on the road despite being a #2 seed. They started things out last week with an ugly win at Boston University, getting down 30-13 early but managing to go on a 53-32 run over the last 24 minutes to finish off a four-point win. Illinois shot 8-of-17 from three and were +12 on the boards in the victory. This did not carry over to Illinois’ second contest on Sunday against Clemson. In a defensive struggle, the Illini were outrebounded by seven and shot only 14 percent from behind the arc (3-of-21). Clemson is a strong defensive team, but this game summed up the Illinois season. They struggled to make any shots, didn’t have a good option on the low block, and despite forcing 15 turnovers, couldn’t close things out in the end in losing by one point, 50-49.
Plenty of Purdue fans were unhappy with their team after a last-place season filled with inconsistent play. The Boilermakers were already slated to lose four seniors, and had just lost the promising career of a redshirt freshman from a heart ailment. Their sophomore center, a player as inconsistent as he is talented, is contemplating entry into the NBA Draft. Now, starting point guard Ronnie Johnson has decided to transfer. Johnson does not know where he’s headed yet, but the latest departure makes an already volatile situation in West Lafayette even worse. The Boilermakers just signed point guard P.J. Thompson, so it looks like it will be up to the freshman or Bryson Scott to run Matt Painters’ offense in 2014-15.
Another less-heralded sophomore is also leaving the Big Ten this week. Northwestern forward Kale Abrahamson has decided to play his final two years of basketball elsewhere. Abrahamson was never a great fit for Chris Collins’ system, so it’s not too terribly shocking that he’s leaving. Known mostly for his ability to stretch the floor, his shot wasn’t as consistent as it needed to be. He shot a solid 34.6 percent from behind the three-point line this season, but that percentage needs to be considerably higher if it is his primary skill on the floor. With five new recruits on the way to Evanston, look for this to be a much different Northwestern squad next season.
Minnesota played about how you might expect a team to play when they’re given an NIT bid after residing on the bubble for the better part of two months. In their opening round victory over High Point Wednesday night, the major story to come out of the game was an early injury to Deandre Mathieu, who took a hard fall after being fouled on a layup attempt. Should this be a significant injury, the Gophers’ chances of getting to New York City for the semifinals look quite slim.
Indiana didn’t win enough basketball games this season, and the Hoosiers certainly aren’t ringing in the offseason by winning any trophies in Public Relations 101. Shortly after athletic director Fred Glass made headlines with his quote about playing in the CBI, head coach Tom Crean said that people could say whatever they want to him on Twitter, because he doesn’t read it anyway.He went on to tweet: ” I receive a lot of good advice through the years and some is really good. I love the passion of the fans. I just don’t read my twitter.” You can interpret things however you wish, but it’s probably best that the staff of Indiana probably just stays quiet for a while.
The fruits of Nebraska’s run are starting to help them on the recruiting trail, as the Huskers recently picked a commitment from point guard Tarin Smith. The guard plays for legendary high school coach, Bob Hurley, Sr., of the fabled St. Anthony’s program in New Jersey. This leaves Tim Miles with a good problem to have on his roster next year, with multiple options in the backcourt between Smith, Tai Webster, and Benny Parker.
The Big Ten ended up getting seven NCAA Tournament bids for their 12 schools once the field of 68 was announced on Sunday night. This ended up bursting the bubble for Minnesota, who was really the only team that didn’t get in that had an outside chance of doing so. They did, however, manage to receive a #1 seed in the NIT. The Gophers will host High Point on Wednesday night. Illinois received a #2 seed and will travel to Boston to take on Boston University on Wednesday night. It’s also worth noting that Indiana did not get into the field due to the fact that their RPI was not high enough. Their season is done after they declined an invitation to the CBI while Penn State will continue on in the CBI.
Here’s a little of what these teams have to look forward to as their seasons continue in the shadow of the bigger tournament:
Richard Pitino will look to build for the future as a number one seed in the NIT. (AP)
Minnesota: The Gophers take on High Point in their first-round game. The Panthers went 16-14 in the Big South, and they are led by 6’8″ sophomore John Brown. They do not have anyone over 6’9″, so look for the Gophers to try and pound the ball inside and get plenty of points in the paint. If they win that one, they’ll play either St. Mary’s or Utah. St. Mary’s would be interesting because former Minnesota starting guard Joe Coleman transferred there in the after Tubby Smith was fired. Utah was on the bubble for a little while and they boast wins over UCLA, Colorado, and Arizona State. They could get a match-up with Missouri in the quarterfinals if they take care of their first two opponents, which would set up a great point guard battle between Deandre Mathieu and Jordan Clarkson. Read the rest of this entry »
Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday evening’s Big Ten Tournament action between Minnesota and Wisconsin in Indianapolis.
Wisconsin Continues to Look Like a #1 Seed Candidate
Three Key Takeaways.
This was a one-sided thumping. Wisconsin dominated this game from the opening tip and never looked back on its way to a 26-point victory. Minnesota never led and was thrown off its rhythm all night long by the Badgers’ suffocating defensive attack. Golden Gophers guard Andre Hollins – the team’s leading scorer at 14.4 points per game – had a nightmarish night, as he finished with just eight points on 2-of-14 shooting. The Golden Gophers as a team only managed to shoot 32.8 percent from the field for the game and its 29 percent mark in the first half greatly contributed to Richard Pitino’s team falling behind early. Minnesota also experienced issues with its defense, as Wisconsin was allowed solid looks all night and shot 54.5 percent from the field for the game.
Minnesota did not do itself any favors with the selection committee. Richard Pitino’s group was squarely on the bubble entering the game, and while a loss to a good team like Wisconsin is probably not enough to completely kill their NCAA Tournament chances, one would think a 26-point shellacking does not bode well either. An argument can certainly still be made that Minnesota belongs in the field of 68, but when the committee decides its selections, its last impression of Minnesota will be Friday night’s embarrassing defeat.
Wisconsin has the look of a potential one-seed. Minnesota certainly deserves plenty of blame for its embarrassing loss, but it must be noted just how well Wisconsin played. The Badgers led the entire game and it never even appeared as though Minnesota had any chance. Wisconsin starting guards Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson went scoreless for the night, but the Badgers were able to get past that due to a career performance from fellow starter Ben Brust and a 14-point performance from reserve guard Bronson Koenig. Starting big man Frank Kaminsky also struggled a bit offensively, but reserve forward Nigel Hayes contributed 15 points and six rebounds to the winning effort. Great teams find a way to keep things going when they may not get the expected output from key players and that is exactly what Wisconsin did Friday night. There is a lot of conversation nationally right now over which team will be getting the fourth #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and on Friday night, Bo Ryan‘s Badgers definitely looked like they belong in those conversations.