Big Ten M5: Christmas Eve Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on December 24th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Wisconsin played its first game in eight days last night, and its first after Bo Ryan announced his retirement. Interim head coach Greg Gard earned a win in his coaching debut as the Badgers edged Green Bay, 84-79. It wasn’t pretty, as Wisconsin was outscored 52-36 in the second half and turned the ball over 26 times. Redshirt sophomore guard Jordan Hill, who hadn’t scored and played just 27 minutes all season, received 22 minutes and scored 10 points to go along with four rebounds and four assists. Nigel Hayes scored his 1,000th career point in the win as well. Wednesday’s game was also the first for newly-named assistant Howard Moore, whom Gard hired Tuesday for the rest of the season. The former UIC coach was an assistant under Ryan from 2005-10.
  2. Minnesota will enter Big Ten play with a 6-6 record after a disappointing Wednesday home loss to Milwaukee. The Gophers played just seven scholarship players and were without freshman point guard Kevin Dorsey, who is dealing with a foot injury. Fellow freshman Dupree McBrayer, primarily a shooting guard, saw time at point guard — playing him there showed Minnesota’s lack of depth at the position with Dorsey out.
  3. Ohio State freshman wing Mickey Mitchell was ruled eligible on Saturday, just two days after Austin Grandstaff decided to transfer. Mitchell didn’t play in the Buckeyes’ upset of then-No. 4 Kentucky, but he debuted in Tuesday’s 64-44 win over Mercer. He played nine minutes and had three rebounds, but didn’t make his one field goal attempt. Mitchell will team up with sophomore Kam Williams to add depth on the wing behind starters Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate and Marc Loving.
  4. The legend of Nicholas Baer continues to grow. The Iowa redshirt freshman walk-on scored 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-4 threes, in Tuesday’s 85-63 win over Tennessee Tech. On Monday, Baer earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors after his 13-point game against Drake on Saturday. He’s shooting 46 percent (11-of-24) from three so far this season.
  5. Spike Albrecht may not be done with college basketball just yet. Albrecht’s dad, Charles, told Mike Hutton of the Northwest Indiana Post-Tribune that he believes his son will play next season if he is able to completely rehabilitate his surgically repaired hips, complications from which forced him to step aside for the rest of the season. Since the senior played in less than 30 percent of Michigan’s games this season, he is still eligible for a medical redshirt. Should he come back, it may not be at Michigan, though, due to the Wolverines’ scholarship crunch. They already have four players signed for next season, which puts them at 14 scholarships for next year as of today.
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Big Ten M5: 12.18.15 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on December 18th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Most universities have now finished the fall semester and are on winter break; with that endpoint typically comes a flock of mid-year transfers. As if on queue, Ohio State freshman Austin Grandstaff on Thursday announced that he is leaving Thad Matta’s program. The freshman from Rockwall, Texas, played in 10 games for the Buckeyes this season, averaging 4.4 PPG in 11.5 minutes per contest. The former four-star prospect in the 2015 class will no doubt command considerable attention on the transfer market in coming weeks. Grandstaff joins former Wisconsin guard Riley Dearring as a pair of Big Ten mid-year transfers.
  2. Illinois is hitting a new low with all of its injuries. In addition to the losses of Tracy Abrams and Mike Thorne, Jr., sophomore forward LeRon Black is now out indefinitely because of setbacks in his recovery from surgery to remove a torn meniscus. Black had already missed four of Illinois’ 11 games with the knee issue, and now John Groce will need to find a way to replace his 3.9 PPG and 3.9 RPG in almost 13 minutes per game. Forward Maverick Morgan should see a spike in his minutes as a result, although the Fighting Illini could elect to go with a four-guard lineup if needed.
  3. After Bo Ryan’s abrupt retirement announcement earlier this week, interim coach Greg Gard has a three-month trial period to prove that he should become the new head coach at Wisconsin. On his first full day on the job, he said he isn’t feeling any pressure and doesn’t care to think about the end result. Gard, a Wisconsin assistant under Ryan since 2001, also said that he isn’t going to make any drastic changes to the team’s style of play even though the Badgers sit at 7-5 and have struggled offensively without its elite core that carried them to consecutive Final Fours.
  4. Minnesota’s 70-52 win over Chicago State on Wednesday indicates a fairly easy win, but the Golden Gophers didn’t pull away until the final 10 minutes of the game. Despite this season’s struggles, freshman wing Jordan Murphy’s performance shouldn’t be lost on Big Ten fans. The San Antonio, Texas, native scored 12 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in the win against the Cougars, just 11 days after he grabbed 17 rebounds in a double-overtime loss against South Dakota. While some may disregard those numbers because Minnesota hasn’t played a great schedule to date, no Gophers player had grabbed at least 18 rebounds in a game since Trevor Mbakwe did so in 2012. “High-Motor Murph” will be a key piece to the puzzle if Richard Pitino’s team plans on winning some conference games.
  5. Purdue is in the AP Poll’s top 10 for the first time since 2011, but the Boilermakers could not care less. Senior guard Raphael Davis sent the team a group text after the rankings came out this week, telling his teammates that their placement has as much to do with other teams losing as it does Purdue winning. While Matt Painter’s squad has risen to third in KenPom’s ratings, it has only two wins against top 100 teams, to Davis’ point. The Crossroads Classic game against Butler on Saturday will tell us a lot more about the quality of these Boilermakers. Elsewhere, point guard P.J. Thompson is optimistic he will play against the Bulldogs after leaving last Saturday’s game versus Youngstown State with a nasty gash under his right eye.
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Big Ten M5: 12.14.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 14th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. It’s hard to say that the number one team in the country is a work in progress, but Michigan State struggled in their 58-52 win over Florida on Saturday. The Spartans scored a season-low 58 points and only managed 0.95 points per possession on 37 percent shooting from the floor. Outrebounding the Gators by 11 caroms helped, but it’s worth watching whether the Spartans can win the Big Ten without getting additional scoring from other sources.
  2. Nebraska notched a hard-fought comeback win on Sunday afternoon, coming back from double-digits against a solid Rhode Island squad. The main catalyst in the rally was freshman point guard Glynn Watson, who ended the game with 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting. The Cornhuskers have three point guards that play a good amount. This makes one wonder if this game makes the “point guard of the future” crack the starting five.
  3. Minnesota stumbled for the third game in a row after losing to Oklahoma State on Saturday night. Curiously, part-time starter Charles Buggs never saw the court in the game. Coach Richard Pitino didn’t particularly clear things up after the game, saying that he “just played the guys that would help us win the game.” Buggs had been averaging 27.3 MPG so far this season. The Gophers have been struggling on the defensive end of the floor, so it could be that Pitino thinks the younger players on the roster have a higher upside on that end of the floor. Buggs has had some solid games however, so that rationale has to be called into question.
  4. One lingering question for Michigan this season has been the health of Spike Albrecht. After having two hip surgeries in the summer months, the senior struggled in his brief spells on the court this season. The health concerns became answered last Friday, as Albrecht ended his Michigan career ten games into his senior season. The guard had some tremendous moments in his first three seasons, including his memorable performance in the 2013 National Championship game against Louisville. Now the return of Derrick Walton Jr. becomes that much more important.
  5. Purdue fans got their wish on Saturday afternoon, as centers Isaac Haas and AJ Hammons played together for the first time all season. It turned out to be much ado about nothing, as the “twin towers” lineup was only on the court for a brief time. Coach Matt Painter tried the combo out briefly last season against Michigan State, but who knows if the duo will see the floor at the same time if situations call for it later on in the season.
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ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Five Stars Who Shined

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 3rd, 2015

The Big Ten ended up winning the ACC/Big Ten Challenge by a score of 8-6. Coming into Wednesday night tied at four wins each, the B1G notched four more victories to seal the deal. Along the way, there were several noteworthy performances from superstars and role players alike. Here are five stars who stood out over the course of the three-day event. If we think of the 14-game challenge as though it were a tournament, these five would have placed on the All-Tournament team.

Shep Garner was absolutely on fire in Penn State's win over Boston College Wednesday night. (Mark Selders)

Shep Garner was absolutely on fire in Penn State’s win over Boston College Wednesday night. (Mark Selders)

  1. Shep Garner, Penn State (30 points,two steals, 10-of-16 FG, 8-for-12 3FG): Garner came out against Boston College bombing away, as he drilled five three-pointers in the first nine minutes of the game. He ended up with the fourth-highest single-game point total in the Big Ten campaign, scoring a total of 30 of his team’s 67 points on the night. He also did a nice job at the top of the Penn State zone, finishing with two steals and a couple of deflections. All in all, this was definitely the best performance of the young season for the sophomore guard.
  2. Jordan Murphy, Minnesota (24 points, 10 rebounds, two steals, two blocks): Murphy notched a career-high in scoring with his 24 points, and he did so in a multitude of ways. He made his only three-point attempt, got to the basket repeatedly, and found some clean-up points on the offensive backboards. The freshman from San Antonio had been a solid player in the Gophers’ lineup up to this point, but this was definitely a breakout performance for the former VCU commitment. Read the rest of this entry »
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Drawing Battle Lines, Day Two: Making a Case For Tuesday’s Games

Posted by Brad Jenkins and Patrick Engel on December 1st, 2015

After one day of competition, the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge is tied at one game a piece, with 12 more matchups to come tonight and tomorrow (schedule below). Wake Forest tipped things off Monday night by using a furious late rally to top Rutgers, 69-68, while Minnesota held off Clemson, 89-83, in the evening’s nightcap behind a strong performance by freshman Jordan Murphy. Both of those games were played at Big Ten venues, but the ACC will have the home court edge tonight by hosting four games. To prepare for this evening’s action, the ACC and Big Ten microsites are once again here to defend the schools they cover. Patrick Engel (Big Ten) and Brad Jenkins (ACC) make the case for each team in their respective leagues for all six contests that will take place tonight on the ESPN family of networks.

acc big ten schedule

Michigan at N.C. State (7:00 PM ET, ESPN2)

  • Patrick: We’ve seen Michigan at both its best and its worst so far this season. As I detailed on Monday, it’s becoming clear that the Wolverines have plenty of shooters but are going to once again struggle in the paint. NC State isn’t great at either defending the three (35.7%) or shooting it (32.4%), but the Wolfpack are one of the biggest teams in the country (ninth in height). Michigan has to find space against NC State on the perimeter without getting beat in the paint or on the glass to earn a win here.
  • Brad: The obvious advantage here for the Wolfpack is in the paint. N.C. State should control the boards, and it will need to because Michigan is bound to hit more threes than Mark Gottfried’s team. As long as he can stay relatively fresh, Anthony Barber (39.2 MPG) should win the point guard matchup with Derrick Walton. The Wolfpack aren’t deep and must avoid foul trouble, but they can’t shy away from being physical in defending the offensively-potent Michigan wings.

Northwestern at Virginia Tech (7:00 PM ET, ESPNU)

  • Brad: There’s no way to sugarcoat Virginia Tech’s opening home loss to a SWAC team (Alabama State), but Buzz Williams’ guys have shown some recent signs of improvement. Iowa State beat them handily in the semifinals of the Emerald Coast Classic last week, but the Hokies bounced back to beat a decent UAB squad in overtime the next night. If Virginia Tech is to win this game, it probably will have to do so by living at the foul line.
  • Patrick: The Wildcats have survived without Vic Law so far. They’re not elite in any one area, but they also don’t have a singular glaring weakness. They’ve been a perimeter-oriented team to this point, but Alex Olah’s ability to get to the free throw line will challenge a Virginia Tech team that rarely lets its opponents get there. Northwestern has a good chance of winning this game on the road if it can earn charity stripe opportunities while keeping the free throw-minded Hokies (nation-leading 60.9% free throw rate, per KenPom) away from the line.

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Drawing Battle Lines: Making a Case For Monday’s Games

Posted by Brendan Brody and Brad Jenkins on November 30th, 2015

It’s that time once again. The annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge tips off at 7:00 PM EST on the ESPN family of networks, with 12 more games to come on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings (schedule below). Some matchups are of course better than others, but there is plenty of quality among the 28 teams and national bragging rights on the line. Keep in mind that the ACC hasn’t won this event since 2008 after winning the first 10 in a row. To prep for tonight’s start to the big event, the ACC and Big Ten microsites are here to defend the teams they cover. Brad Jenkins (ACC) and Brendan Brody (Big Ten) lead off the week by breaking down why their sides will prevail in tonight’s two games.

acc big ten schedule

Wake Forest at Rutgers (7:00 PM EST, ESPNU)

  • Brad: Wake Forest is coming off an impressive performance in the Maui Invitational, beating UCLA for a third place showing in that event. The Demon Deacons have already claimed a Big Ten scalp in rallying to knock off a ranked Indiana squad a week ago, but the main reason Wake should win tonight is that Rutgers just doesn’t appear to be very good at basketball right now.
  • Brendan: They don’t appear to be very good at basketball right now, but they are 3-0 at home. The Scarlet Knights get to play this one in their own gym and they surprised everyone last season by knocking off Clemson in this event. Look for Wake to be feeling somewhat full of itself after its surprising performance in Hawaii, and look for Rutgers to shake off its perimeter shooting drought with Mike Williams leading the charge.
Mike Williams looks to lead the charge tonight for Rutgers against Wake Forest. (Jim Mone)

Mike Williams looks to lead the charge tonight for Rutgers against Wake Forest. (Jim Mone)

Clemson at Minnesota (9:00 PM EST, ESPN2)

  • Brendan: Minnesota has been pretty brutal in guarding the three-point line this season (36.8%), but Clemson doesn’t have anyone shooting over 40 percent from distance. These teams appear even on paper, but look for sophomore Bakary Konate and the improving freshman class to show progress as the Gophers squeak out a close win.
  • Brad: Clemson is a slight underdog on the road in Minneapolis, but the Tigers should be used to traveling as their home games this season are located 30 miles from campus. And they say that defense travels. Neither team looks like an offensive juggernaut this season, but Minnesota’s defense (133rd nationally) is also suspect. Brad Brownell’s unit has held opponents to 0.83 points per possession thus far, so expect that defense to carry them to a win tonight.
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Minnesota’s To-Do List in Puerto Rico

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 19th, 2015

Minnesota started off its 2015-16 campaign with two home wins against UMKC and Louisiana-Monroe. In those first two victories, Richard Pitino‘s squad struggled to put together a complete effort. They led UMKC by only two at the half and allowed Louisiana-Monroe to cut a 13-point halftime lead to a single bucket before pulling away late. The competition will improve today when the Gophers begin their three-game participation in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, and it’s clear that Minnesota has some work to do in the islands. Here are three things that the team needs to figure out and improve upon during this weekend’s trip to San Juan.

Minnesota needs Nate Mason to score a bit more consistently in Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Minnesota needs Nate Mason to score a bit more consistently in Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

  1. Find Another Offensive Threat or Two: Joey King was lights-out in the two wins, averaging 21.0 points per game and scoring from all over the floor. Nate Mason and Carlos Morris have started slowly, however, as they’ve combined to shoot just 5-of-17 from behind the arc. Both of these veterans need to be able to complement King’s offensive work with some production of their own. If their shots aren’t falling, they need to get more aggressive and find some ways to the charity stripe — the duo has shot only six combined free throws on the season. It’s safe to say that Pitino’s squad has settled far too often and taken too many perimeter shots. King needs some help in the scoring column. Read the rest of this entry »
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Holiday Tournament Previews: Puerto Rico Tip-Off & Charleston Classic

Posted by Andy Gripshover on November 19th, 2015

One of the true beauties of non-conference play in November is all of the various tournaments and the match-ups that they enable. With multiple events tipping off this weekend, let’s start this series of previews by analyzing two of the bigger annual events — the Puerto Rico Tip-Off (bracket) and the Charleston Classic (bracket).

Puerto Rico Tip-Off

Potential top-10 pick Jakob Poeltl and Utah headline a strong Puerto Rico Tip Off tourney. (AP)

Potential top-10 pick Jakob Poeltl and Utah headline a strong Puerto Rico Tip-Off. (AP)

  • Favorite: Utah. Just about everyone other than Delon Wright and Dallin Bachynski is back, and Brandon Taylor can fill enough of Wright’s shoes without making the team so reliant on any one player. Arizona is the Pac-12 favorite by default this season but it’s looking incredibly wide open after that and it ultimately may come down to the Utes defending their second-place crown against upstart Cal.
  • Darkhorse: Butler. It’s Butler in a tournament setting — you’re not quite sure you see the Bulldogs coming but you’re not surprised when they do. Roosevelt Jones (yes, he’s still there) and Kellen Dunham (yep, him too) lead a team that dropped a Big East record 144 points on The Citadel transitioning from Chuck Driesell (344th in adjusted pace last year) to Duggar Baucom (the former VMI coach who was perpetually first)
  • Most on the line: Miami, Minnesota, Temple. The Hurricanes might be the most interesting team in this tournament. That’s not a surprise considering they were also one of the most interesting teams for most of last season. Will they be the “winning at Cameron by 16” Miami or the “losing at home to Eastern Kentucky” Miami? Probably somewhere in-between. The Gophers are entering Year Three of the Richard Pitino Experiment, but closed Year Two by losing six of their final eight games. They’ll be eager to get off to a good start. The Owls couldn’t keep it close with a Marcus Paige-less UNC team in Annapolis and they have as much on the line as any team this weekend by virtue of their status as annual NCAA bubble candidates.

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RTC Big Ten Preview: The Bottom Tier (#14-#8)

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 10th, 2015

It’s almost time to get rolling, as actual games begin in three days. That means that it’s time for us here at the Big Ten microsite to unleash our preseason predictions and superlatives for the upcoming season. Keep an eye out in the next few days for our preseason all-league teams and some other preview material before the first games tip off on Friday. After careful deliberation among our group of writers, here’s how we see the standings shaking out, starting with our projected bottom half of the conference.

It could be another long season for Eddie Jordan and Rutgers in their second Big Ten season (USATSI).

It could be another long season for Eddie Jordan and Rutgers in their second Big Ten season (USATSI).

  • 14. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights started last season 10-7 before proceeding to lose their last 15 games. That team lost three of their top four scorers and only returns two starters. Corey Sanders is a nice building block for the future, but Eddie Jordan needs his freshman point guard and some of the sophomores to really improve quickly in order to move out of the basement.
  • 13. Penn State: Pat Chambers is starting to get things going on the recruiting side of things, but losing DJ Newbill and Geno Thorpe means that his backcourt is going to be a question mark all season long. The Nittany Lions have the bodies with which to bang down low, but who scores for this team at the level of Newbill?

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Three Ways the Big Ten’s Bottom Tier Can Move Up

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 5th, 2015

Along with Rutgers, Minnesota, Penn State and Nebraska finished among the bottom four of the league standings last season. Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, they appear to have more than one fix they need to make in order to climb out of the Big Ten basement. The other three cellar-dwellers, however, are in better shape, with each having a reasonable chance to move up the ladder if a few things break their way this season. Here are three things that, if enabled, would allow the Gophers, Nittany Lions and Cornhuskers to make their way into the middle of the pack.

Richard Pitino needs heavy contributions from his freshmen to exceed expectations(Getty).

Richard Pitino needs heavy contributions from his freshmen to exceed expectations. (Getty).

Freshmen Playing Above Expectations (Minnesota): Richard Pitino did not sign a single top 100 recruit this year, according to 247sports.com, as the Gophers brought in the 11th best recruiting class in the league. Yet, given the team’s heavy personnel losses, freshmen will by necessity play a crucial role in the success of this year’s team. None started in the Gophers’ recent scrimmage against Minnesota-Crookston but the newcomers scored 31 of their team’s 74 points in an easy win. Jordan Murphy led the way with 19 points and nine boards on 7-of-11 shooting from the field, while fellow newcomers Dupree McBrayer, Kevin Dorsey and Ahmad Gilbert all contributed while playing at least 14 minutes each. Some recruits play above their rankings and some classes pan out better than expected. If Pitino’s incoming class can play better than its ranking and develop a couple solid Big Ten players as soon as this year, the Gophers are poised to finish in the middle of the pack. Read the rest of this entry »

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