On Wisconsin, Bo Ryan and the Future…

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on April 16th, 2014

At the start of the season, we, along with most everyone else, slated Wisconsin to finish in its usual place among the top four of the Big Ten standings, but also noted that the team would once again be limited in what it could accomplish in the NCAA Tournament. Examining the preseason roster, we thought the Badgers would be be better on the perimeter with the return of the Josh Gasser; we knew Sam Dekker was a pro talent, the likes of which doesn’t usually wear a Wisconsin uniform; but we also wondered whether Frank Kaminsky was capable of stepping up and playing at the level that Jarred Berggren had provided. Without mincing words, we were wrong. Six months and a Final Four appearance later, we now know that these Badgers were the most talented squad Bo Ryan has coached in Madison, and although they came up just short of a shot at the title, next season looks even brighter. Almost the entire roster is coming back and Wisconsin will be projected as an elite team by almost every prognosticator based on this year’s run. A run to the Final Four wasn’t supposed to happen with this group, so how’d they do it?

Bo Ryan has finally reached college basketball's mountain top.

Bo Ryan has finally reached college basketball’s mountain top. (AP)

Wisconsin’s 30-8 season was built on the talents of individual players who outperformed expectations and this particular squad’s great offensive chemistry in Ryan’s system. The junior Kaminsky emerged as a terrific college player and a legitimate future contender for National Player of the Year. After averaging only 4.2 PPG and 1.8 RPG in 2012-13 behind Berggren, Kaminsky led the Badgers in scoring (13.9 PPG) and rebounding (6.3 RPG) and was the second-most efficient player in the conference (127.5 Offensive Rating). Additionally, Nigel Hayes went from an unheralded high school recruit to a spot on the All-Big Ten freshmen team behind his 7.7 PPG and 2.8 RPG. The emergence of a viable scoring frontcourt — combined with a versatile wing like Dekker and a deep shooting back court in Traevon Jackson, Brust, and Gasser — created the most potent offense Ryan has ever put on the floor. By the end of the season, the Badgers carried an adjusted offensive efficiency of 1.21 points per possession (fourth in the country).

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Opportunity Missed, But a Season to Cherish for Wisconsin

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 7th, 2014

Saturday night’s wild finish between Kentucky and Wisconsin offered yet another poignant display of the vast range of emotions that this Tournament is capable of causing. While the Wildcats celebrated another stirring victory, the Badgers saw their season end in the most sudden, grief-inducing of fashions. Bo Ryan’s team was seconds away from heading to the National Championship game as favorites. One seismic moment later, and both season and dream were finished. So is life in the emotional rollercoaster that is the NCAA Tournament, but less-than-glorious conclusion notwithstanding, the Badgers accomplished plenty this season. In the wake of Saturday night’s classic, here are three thoughts on Wisconsin’s 2013-14.

After Saturday's Crushing Final Four Defeat, Bo Ryan, Traevon Jackson And The Rest Of The Returning Badgers Will Seek A Happier Ending Next Winter

After Saturday’s Crushing Final Four Defeat, Bo Ryan, Traevon Jackson And The Rest Of The Returning Badgers Will Seek A Happier Ending Next Winter

  1. Even after a brilliant season, to ignore the Badgers’ missed opportunity would be both near-sighted and disrespectful. Of course, Kentucky had much to do with seizing victory from the Badgers on Saturday night, but Wisconsin should not be misconstrued as a “had a great run, was just happy-to-be-here” type of team. Final Fours don’t grow on trees, especially during those chilly Madison winters (this was just the program’s third national semifinal appearance), but this Badger team was talented, well-coached and legitimately elite. They had every right to believe that they could leave Dallas as champions – especially after Florida fell in the first semifinal. Wisconsin should be lauded for a fine season, but frustration is only fair when visions of a National Championship were as salient as they were for the Badgers.
  2. Next season, the Badgers’ senior backcourt tandem of Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser may be the toughest, most experienced pair of guards in America. The duo will be forever frozen on the wrong end of Final Four history – Jackson for his missed jumper on the game’s final possession, Gasser for his contest of the Harrison jumper – but both Badgers were integral pieces of this run, and will be cornerstones for Wisconsin success next winter. Wisconsin diehards had to know who would be taking the final shot before it happened, as Jackson has developed into a late-game go-to guy for Bo Ryan over the past two seasons. Clutch and accurate (he shot 38 percent from behind the arc this season), Jackson’s three seasons of experience have also aided his development as the perfect conductor for Ryan’s swing offense. His classmate Gasser is equally learned in the intricacies of the Badger system, although Gasser’s main value is on the defensive end of the floor. That’s saying something after a season in which he posted an O-rating of 128.6 (24th-best in the country), but Gasser will be back next year to continue his harassment of the best wings in the Big Ten.
  3. Kaminsky! So, yea, the hype surrounding Frank the Tank may have been slightly outsized after his scintillating 28-point, 11-rebound Elite Eight performance. I’m not sure how much of this has to do with the fact that Turner has a studio crew that has watched exactly zero college basketball before March (hi Charles!), but Kaminsky appeared to have become the second-coming of Dirk Nowitzki for the past seven days. Dirk he is not, but Kaminsky’s presumed return to Madison is a game-changer for the Badgers. His offensive versatility makes him a unique weapon in the college ranks, and with Nigel Hayes’ rugged athleticism offering a nice complement, Wisconsin’s interior (especially offensively) will be difficult to handle in 2014-15.
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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Final Four

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 4th, 2014

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#1 Florida vs. #7 Connecticut – National Semifinal (at Arlington, TX) – 6:09 PM ET on TBS

The Final Four tips off with a Florida team that has won 30 consecutive games facing the last team to beat it, Connecticut. The Huskies knocked off the Gators in Storrs way back on December 2 on a Shabazz Napier buzzer-beater. Although it was four months ago, much can be learned from that game. Contrary to popular belief, Florida’s top six rotation players suited up for it, although Scottie Wilbekin left the game with about three minutes to play due to injury. In that contest, Florida absolutely dominated the paint by holding Connecticut to 41.4 percent shooting from two-point range and winning the rebounding battle by eight. However, the Gators lost the game at the three-point line, where they allowed the Huskies to make 11-of-24 attempts. Sixteen Florida turnovers also didn’t help matters for Billy Donovan’s team.

Napier Has His Eyes Set on Another Title (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

Napier Has His Eyes Set on Another Title (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

Fast forward to April and the Gators’ front line is formidable as ever. While Connecticut’s interior play has improved and its rebounding has been terrific in the NCAA Tournament, facing Patric Young and the nation’s top-ranked defense will be a tall task for the Huskies. Connecticut is talented but young and raw up front. Amida Brimah and Phillip Nolan are just a freshman and sophomore, respectively, while DeAndre Daniels loves to drift away from the paint and is not a back-to-the-basket kind of player. For Kevin Ollie’s team to have success, Napier must continue his dominant performance and Daniels has to make jump shots. Napier and Ryan Boatright are the two constants on this team, but it is Daniels who takes it to another level when playing well. He will likely be guarded by Will Yeguete, Dorian Finney-Smith or Young, or any combination of the three. If Daniels cannot get anything going, Napier will have to score 30+ points and Connecticut will have to have another terrific night from the three-point line in order to advance to Monday night’s national championship game.

Defensively, there is no doubt that Connecticut can match Florida. The Huskies’ defense has been phenomenal all season long and doesn’t get the credit it deserves with Napier stealing the spotlight most of the time. Connecticut ranks 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency and actually has a slightly stronger interior defense than Florida when you look at opponents’ two-point percentage (one percentage point better than Florida). An important part of Ollie’s game plan will be to limit Scottie Wilbekin and prevent him from easily getting Florida into its sets and taking over the game. Easier said than done, of course.

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Five Crucial Wisconsin Moments That Shaped Its Run to North Texas

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 4th, 2014

However things turn out in North Texas this weekend, Wisconsin has had a season to remember. The Badgers started the year at 16-0, rose to No. 3 in the polls, and generally dispelled any previously-held stereotypes about their brand of basketball under head coach Bo Ryan. This was a different kind of unit, filled with dead-eye shooters, tremendous ball movement, and a fun team to watch. Four players averaged double figures and no one particularly cared who got the credit for the team’s prodigious success. As a sort of tribute from a writer covering this program for the first time, here are my top five moments from Wisconsin’s Final Four campaign, presented in no particular order.

When Frank Kaminsky scored 43 points against North Dakota, the college basketball world took notice.  (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

When Frank Kaminsky scored 43 points against North Dakota, the college basketball world took notice. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  1. Frank Kaminsky scores 43 points against North Dakota: If you have a second or two to kill, check out the thing of beauty that is Kaminsky’s shot chart from this game. He put on an absolute offensive clinic, going 16-of-19 from the field, hitting all six of the three-pointers that he attempted, and making the whole college basketball world take notice of “Frank the Tank.”
  2. Traveon Jackson hits a game-winner against Michigan State: Coming into this February 9 match-up, Wisconsin had been in the midst of a 2-5 slide where it had started to undo the credibility it had built up during the non-conference schedule. They had just lost to Northwestern and Ohio State at home, and simply couldn’t afford to drop another one in Madison at this point in the season. After falling behind in the first half, Jackson effectively ended a close game with a deadly pull-up jumper from 17 feet. The Badgers went on to win six more games in a row after this one, and in many respects, saving the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Final Four Previews In-Depth: Wisconsin Badgers

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 3rd, 2014

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As part of our ongoing NCAA Tournament coverage, RTC is unveiling a detailed look at each of the Final Four teams throughout the week. Kentucky and UConn have already released. Today: Wisconsin.

In the days between Selection Sunday and the actual start of the NCAA Tournament, Wisconsin flew under the radar. In a West Region lacking the punch of, say, the loaded Midwest Region, the #2 seed was picked by just 20 percent of ESPN.com‘s bracket entrants to advance to the Final Four, while nearly half of those brackets instead favoring Arizona. But after riding the a little home-cooking through the Milwaukee pod in the first weekend then taking care of business in Anaheim against two of the hottest teams in the nation (Baylor and Arizona), it is the Badgers that are left standing, delivering the first Division I Final Four in Bo Ryan‘s successful career.

Wisconsin Earned Its Third Final Four Appearance With A Dramatic Win Over Arizona On Saturday (Jae C. Hong, AP Photo)

Wisconsin Earned Its Third Final Four Appearance With A Dramatic Win Over Arizona On Saturday (Jae C. Hong, AP Photo)

Pre-NCAA Tournament Capsule. Coming into the season, expectations were somewhat measured for the Badgers. With last year’s frontcourt stalwarts Ryan Evans, Jarred Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz all having used up their collegiate eligibility, Ryan was going to have to rely more on his veteran backcourt of sophomore Sam Dekker and some additional to-be-determined frontcourt players. Very early in the season, we got a big hint as to which of those candidates had the most potential, as junior seven-footer Frank Kaminsky, after scoring only 10 points in his first two games, dropped 43 points on just 19 field goal attempts in the Badgers’ fourth game of the season. From that point forward, Kaminsky regularly scored in double-figures for Wisconsin, and he did so in a highly-efficient manner. Meanwhile, in fewer minutes, freshman big man Nigel Hayes was also establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with, turning a preseason question mark into a serious strength for Ryan’s club.  With the backcourt of Traevon Jackson, Ben Brust and Josh Gasser locked into their roles and Dekker taking the obvious next step in his development, Wisconsin got off to a great start, winning its first 16 games of the season and jumping into the national top five. Playing with more pace and offensive punch than they had in previous years under Ryan, the Badgers were recognized roundly as maybe the coach’s best bet at a Final Four.

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Big Ten Tournament: Friday Recap/Saturday Preview

Posted by Walker Carey on March 15th, 2014

With the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament in the books, we take a look at a few of the big takeaways from Friday, as well as storylines to keep in mind on Friday.

What went down on Friday:

The Top-Seeded Wolverines Survived an Upset Bid by Illinois Friday

The Top-Seeded Wolverines Survived an Upset Bid by Illinois Friday

  • Top-seeded Michigan survived a scare from a tenacious Illinois squad. The Wolverines saw a 13-point lead completely disappear before senior forward Jordan Morgan converted a layup with seven seconds left to give Michigan the 64-63 victory. The Wolverines were able to build their 13-point lead thanks to great assertiveness from sophomore Glenn Robinson III and the play-making ability of Big Ten Player of the Year, Nik Stauskas. The team’s fortunes, however, changed in the second half when Illinois dropped into a 2-3 zone that utterly frustrated Michigan throughout a majority of the second half.
  • Ohio State advanced to the semifinals with an epic 71-67 comeback victory over Nebraska. The Buckeyes trailed by 18 points with just over 13 minutes to play, but junior forward LaQuinton Ross and their suffocating defense took over and allowed Thad Matta’s squad to come all the way back to earn the victory. Senior guard Aaron Craft did not have the best game statistically, but he once again showed how valuable it is to have a confident, heady leader at the controls.
  • Wisconsin was very impressive in its 26-point mauling of a Minnesota team that could not find its way off the bubble. Senior guard Ben Brust turned in a career-best performance for the Badgers, finishing with a game-high 29 points. Bo Ryan’s squad also received a significant contribution from its bench, as guard Bronson Koenig and forward Nigel Hayes combined for 29 points. There have been questions all season about Wisconsin’s defense, but the Badgers were outstanding on that end of the court, limiting Minnesota to just 32.8 percent shooting for the game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #12 Wisconsin 83, Minnesota 57

Posted by Walker Carey on March 14th, 2014

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Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday evening’s Big Ten Tournament action between Minnesota and Wisconsin in Indianapolis. 

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Wisconsin Continues to Look Like a #1 Seed Candidate

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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The RTC All-Big Ten Team: Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 7th, 2014

Next up on our countdown of the RTC all-Big Ten team is Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. Bo Ryan’s had a number of big men who could shoot over the past few years — Keaton Nankivil and Brian Butch, to name a couple — but Kaminsky is so unique because of his combined ability to drive to the basket and hit the perimeter shot with ease. Without Kaminsky’s 13.3 PPG, the Badgers wouldn’t be second in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency, averaging 1.13 points per possession. Outside of just pure scoring, his main contribution to the team is his versatility and flexibility.

Frank Kaminsky is the fifth best player in the Big Ten.

Frank Kaminsky is the fifth best player in the Big Ten.

Why Frank Kaminsky is the fifth best player in the league: During the first two months of the season, Kaminsky showed that he can put up points with ease, but the main reason behind his ranking here is his performance over the last five games. During a key stretch of the season, he averaged 17.4 PPG against the likes of Iowa, Indiana and Michigan. After a mid-season slump when the Badgers lost five of six games, Kaminsky led them back to top-15 status and making them a lock for a top-three NCAA seed. It is clear that he isn’t just a three-point shooter, as he has begun to attack the basket consistently with a signature turnaround move in the paint. Few big man defenders can come out to the perimeter to guard his three-point shot off the pick-and-roll and at the same time cycle back on defense if he chooses to take it to the rack. His versatility is indicated the following metrics: 62.9% TS and 41% 3FG.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review: Illinois and Indiana Mount Late Charges

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 3rd, 2014

With the drama pretty much settled at the top of the Big Ten standings, the biggest storyline to emerge from the weekend was the fact that Illinois and Indiana have rallied back to the point of respectability. Illinois shocked Michigan State 53-46 in East Lansing and has now won four of their last six games. Indiana was missing its Freshman of the Year candidate Noah Vonleh, yet still won over Ohio State 72-64 in a game that wasn’t really as close as the final score indicated. The Hoosiers have now won three of their last four contests and sit at 17-12 (7-9 in the Big Ten) on the season. Illinois is also 17-12 overall, with a 6-10 league mark. It’s still unlikely that either team will make its way to the right side of the bubble, but they’re inching closer and have meaningful games left this week that could help their respective causes. Iowa got back on track with a win over Purdue; Michigan continued to roll; and Wisconsin won its seventh game in a row. Here’s some of the rest from the weekend that was.

Roy Devyn Marble once again took over offensively as Iowa beat Purdue to stop a three game losing streak. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports).

Roy Devyn Marble once again took over offensively as Iowa beat Purdue to stop a three game losing streak. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports).

Player of the Weekend: Roy Devyn Marble: Marble continues to be slightly overlooked as a defensive player, as his length and wingspan are vital in Iowa’s 1-2-2 trapping half-court zone. Marble reached four or more steals for the fourth time this season, as Iowa forced 16 Purdue turnovers in its win on Sunday. He also did his normal damage on the offensive end as well, scoring 13 of his 21 points in the first half. He needed 18 shots from the field to get there, but this was more a function of Purdue’s defense as opposed to Marble forcing anything. He ended the game with team highs in points (21), assists (five), and steals (four).

Super Sub of the Weekend: Evan Gordon: Gordon and fellow senior Will Sheehey have really played well in the past week as Indiana won two out of three games. Gordon did nothing spectacular on Sunday, but he was really steady as a secondary ball-handler along with Yogi Ferrell. He knocked down pressure free throws in the late stages of the game once again, scoring nine points on the afternoon. He also got three steals as the Hoosiers were able to frustrate Aaron Craft into another horrible offensive game where the senior went 2-of-11 from the field with three turnovers. It looks as though Tom Crean is starting to lean on his seniors in the closing stages of games, as Gordon, Sheehey, and Jeff Howard saw time down the stretch in the win.

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Big Ten M5: 02.20.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on February 20th, 2014

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  1. The Big Ten may not have a freshman who is as heralded as the numerous national ones like Tyler Ennis, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and the others. Still, there have been plenty of impact rookies to talk about, including a likely top 10 pick should Indiana’s Noah Vonleh leave for the draft. The Big Ten Geeks took a look at the conference’s Freshman of the Year race, essentially narrowing it down to the trio of Vonleh, Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr. and Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes. It’s hard to argue against those three being the best, although Illinois’ Kendrick Nunn has been impressive too. Overall, the Geeks give Vonleh the slight edge and I would agree with them unless Michigan wins the Big Ten title. If the Wolverines finish the season on top, it would be tough to argue against Walton given how much he has turned up his play in conference action. He is the biggest reason this team has responded so well to loss of Mitch McGary and overcome Nik Stauskas’ recent scoring slide.
  2. Everyone knows letdown games occur, but it is extremely rare to have a player candidly admit as much. Michigan State‘s Matt Costello did just that when discussing the Spartans’ recent struggles against Nebraska, and his candor is refreshing. Michigan State losing at home to a Cornhuskers team that had been dismal on the road was certainly a shocker, and the fact that Costello (and maybe in turn the rest of the team) didn’t respect Nebraska appears to have been a contributing factor. Outsiders can look to injuries as well, but this team has overcome injuries all season long. A lackadaisical attitude was the bigger factor and we’ll see if they learned to not overlook an opponent when the Spartans go to Mackey Arena to face Purdue tonight.
  3. Michigan has had plenty of players raise their games in Big Ten play, and recently it has been Caris Levert who has stepped up as the Wolverines’ scoring leader over the last five games. He has proven to have no problem attacking the basket to create his own shot while drawing the foul or stepping outside to shoot the three. Michigan will need to continue getting solid contributions from Levert with its massive intrastate rivalry game against Michigan State coming up this weekend. Also of note in this article — John Beilein discusses the Olympics and the sport of curling. Who doesn’t like curling?
  4. The postponement of the Iowa vs. Indiana game following a beam falling on Tuesday night was certainly a scary situation. It is very fortunate that it happened when no one was in the arena, but with the Indiana women at home last night, it appears the Hoosiers will still be able to host the Hawkeyes later this season. The question is when will it happen and how the team will respond? Tom Crean says it is just a matter of adjusting to changing circumstances and being ready to play no matter what. The two schools will still have another day to schedule the game before the Big Ten is obligated to step in and schedules it for them.
  5. Wisconsin has plenty of players that contribute every game, but this is news it certainly did not want to see. Senior guard Ben Brust left practice yesterday after he was hit from behind and knocked down. The injury appears to be to his back and he is currently listed as day-to-day. The Badgers have likely clinched an NCAA Tournament berth barring a complete collapse, but with a game at Iowa coming that could have big seeding implications, this injury is certainly not good news. Brust isn’t just a good scoring threat for the Badgers, but he is also one of the best leaders on Bo Ryan’s team. Not having him in a raucous Carver-Hawkeye Arena over the weekend could be a daunting task for the Badgers.
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Big Ten M5: 02.18.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 18th, 2014

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  1. Tom Izzo deserves credit for his team’s success throughout all the injuries. Sparty is still atop the Big Ten standings and a legitimate threat to reach the Final Four despite — at times — losing the services of Keith Appling, Gary Harris, and Adreian Payne. Appling’s recent injury puts him in jeopardy of missing the remainder of the regular season and returning for the postseason. With Appling, Harris, and Payne most likely gone after this season, Izzo is no doubt thinking long-term. He has the most Final Four-ready team in years, and a national championship, not another regular season championship, is the prize.
  2. Indiana may have said goodbye to its NCAA Tournament prospects after its 82-64 loss at Purdue on Saturday. That loss was its third in a row from a slate of games which were thought to be one of the Hoosiers’ easiest stretches of the season. Now, they find themselves with a 4-8 conference record with upcoming games against Iowa, at Wisconsin, Ohio State, and at Michigan still in its schedule. Tom Crean has stated that his players need to block out “unneeded pressure”. Crean further explains that some players on his young team are dealing with adversity for the first time as they were mostly winners on their respective high school and prep school teams. That may be true, but it’s also true that what plagued them in December plagues them today: too many turnovers and inconsistency on offense (outside of transition).
  3. It’s high time we start grouping Terran Pettaway in with other elite Big Ten players. On Sunday, he led his team in minutes and points to register a huge win at Michigan State. Thanks to Pettaway, who earned co-Player of the Week honors, the Cornhuskers are now back to .500 in the conference. Pettaway’s efforts, which have also propelled him into being second in the league in scoring (17.7 points per game), beg the question: shouldn’t he be in contention for Big Ten Player of the Year? However, there are some issues working against him. First, he’s playing for a team that will most likely miss the NCAA Tournament. Second, he is not as efficient as other elite scorers in the league; he averages around 1 point per possession while other top scorers are usually around 1.2 or greater. Despite these facts, we should recognize and appreciate the impact he is having on his team.
  4. Another player who should be recognized for his unexpected impact is Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. The junior forward chipped in 25 points in the Badgers’ Sunday win at Michigan, scoring most of his points in the second half, including a three-point dagger that all but put the game away. He was also named co-Player of the Week on Monday and has helped put the Badgers back into the conversation of Big Ten regular season champions, now that they are only two games back. Unlike Pettaway and the Cornhuskers, Kaminsky has an arsenal of other teammates who can step up and have big scoring nights of their own. However, Kaminsky’s improvement this season has given Bo Ryan the most potent offense of his coaching career.
  5. One of the players Kaminsky has to rely on is freshman sensation Nigel Hayes. The young big man scored 15 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in their win against Minnesota this week. Hayes has now won his fourth Freshman of the Week award, only trailing Indiana’s Noah Vonleh with seven.  Vonleh will most likely win the Freshman of the Year honors due to his absurd rebounding numbers, and he is also projected to be a better NBA prospect than Hayes. But since conference play, Hayes has stepped up his game and is averaging 10.4 points per game, not too far off of Vonleh’s 11.3 points per game mark. Regardless of whoever people consider the best, it’s nice to see the tradition of talented big men continue in the Big Ten.
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Big Ten M5: 02.11.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 11th, 2014

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  1. After losing five games in January, Ohio State has managed to right the ship this month and win its last three games with impressive wins at Wisconsin and at Iowa. Senior guard Aaron Craft has been leading the way and was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 12.0 points, five assists, and 4.5 steals per game against Purdue and Iowa. Those numbers do not capture Craft’s most valuable attribute, of course — his lock-down defense. In the past three games, he helped lead the Buckeyes’ perimeter defense in holding Wisconsin, Iowa, and Purdue to a combined 11-of-50 from the three-point line (22 percent). The Buckeyes’ offense has been their season-long weakness, but as long as Craft gets near double-figures every game, Ohio State should be able to maintain their current winning trajectory.
  2. Wisconsin also had a big week as the Badgers managed to end their losing skid by winning at Illinois and then coming up with huge weekend win against Michigan State. It’s been an atypical season for the Badgers. They’re still on pace to make yet another an NCAA Tournament, but this season Wisconsin relies on its offense more than its defense, and Bo Ryan plays some of his freshmen substantial minutes. None of these first-year players have had a bigger impact than the big man from Toledo, Ohio, Nigel Hayes. He won his third Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor after chipping in 14 points in both games this week. Maybe more impressive is the fact that he ranks second in the league in field goal percentage (58.2%). This season may not look as promising as it did a month ago for Wisconsin, but with Hayes getting a ton of playing time this early in his career, he’ll pay dividends in the years to come.
  3. Continuing with the theme of breaking streaks, Illinois managed to end its eight-game losing streak against Penn State on Sunday. What may be the more lasting storyline was the emergence of the Illini’s freshmen guards, Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, who combined to score 30 points. John Groce finally decided he had to switch things up and threw both freshmen into the starting lineup for the first time this season. The pair responded in kind and gave hope to a fan base that certainly needed it. Illinois is all but out of the NCAA Tournament picture at this point, but if his guards can continue to play well the rest of the season, it will set things up nicely for the program as early as next season when more talented transfers and recruits join the team.
  4. Tim Miles must be mostly pleased with the performance of his Cornhuskers after winning its first conference road game on Saturday against Northwestern. As he continues to build the program in Lincoln, he may owe a big thanks to his junior wingman Terran Pettaway, who is quickly becoming a household name around the Big Ten. Pettaway continues to rank in the top five in scoring and field goal percentage in the conference, but what is most impressive about the junior is his keen ability to affect the game even when things aren’t going his way. On Saturday, he kept the confidence to hit the game-winning shot despite a poor shooting performance (5-of-16) and committing five turnovers. If Pettaway can continue to play well, the Cornhuskers have a realistic chance of finishing the conference near .500, a major leap for the historically moribund basketball program.
  5. Win or lose, Minnesota is always fun to watch. A lot of it has to do with the Gophers’ style of play — a pressing defense and a hyperactive offense — but they also have entertaining players. The main draw might be Andre Hollins, but DeAndre Mathieu can also put up a show. He’s exciting because of the athleticism and motor he packs into his 5’9”, 165-pound frame. But he’s also vital to the success of the Golden Gophers. The split for Mathieu in a win compared to a loss are night and day (e.g., 57% vs 42% FG%). Mathieu seems to enjoy taking on the more important role and is comfortable taking big shots late in games.  He’ll need to have more good days then bad if Richard Pitino’s team wants to challenge for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
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