Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part III

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on April 8th, 2016

We continue to address key questions for each Big Ten team as they head into the offseason. Today we will tackle Michigan, Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Parts I and II can be found here and here.

Michigan (23-13, 10-8 Big Ten)

John Beilein will need a dominant presence in the paint to compete for the Big Ten title. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

John Beilein will need a dominant presence in the paint to compete for the Big Ten title. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

Will the Wolverines have any presence at all in the paint?

With the unexpected departure of Ricky Doyle, John Beilein suddenly has a dearth of big men on his roster. The Wolverines ranked 12th in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding percentage and badly need a big man who can consistently hold his own on the defensive glass. Michigan returns a lineup of athletic wings with excellent range on their jumpers, but it won’t rise to the top of the Big Ten standings without better rebounding — particularly on the defensive end of the floor.

Iowa (22-11, 12-6 Big Ten)

Can the Hawkeyes fill the huge void left by their four well-traveled seniors?

Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons and Adam Woodbury were the foundation of a Hawkeyes’ squad that spent over a third of this season ranked among the top 10. Peter Jok will be the team’s primary offensive weapon next season, but the rest of the roster will be very inexperienced. Dom Uhl showed good range in shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc; he is in line for a big increase in minutes and production.

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Three Statistics That Favor Wisconsin Over Notre Dame

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 25th, 2016

January 12, 2016, was a low point for Wisconsin basketball. Not only did the Badgers lose to a sub-par Northwestern squad on the road, but they also appeared to have dug themselves into a dangerous and perhaps irrevocable hole with a 1-4 record in the Big Ten. Nobody then would have expected that team to have a legitimate chance of making the Elite Eight two months later. Ken Pomeroy’s model predicts a one-point win for the #7 seed in its regional semifinal versus #6 Notre Dame tonight. The oddsmakers in Vegas, however, originally pegged Notre Dame as a one-point favorite, although that appears to have moved toward Wisconsin as well since then. Here are three statistics that indicate that KenPom is accurate in considering Wisconsin tonight’s favorite.

Bronson Koenig should have plenty of good looks from beyond the arc against a porous Irish defense. (AP)

Bronson Koenig should have plenty of good looks from beyond the arc against a porous Irish defense. (AP)

  • Opponents shot 38.7 percent from three against the Irish during ACC conference play. Notre Dame ranked 12th of 15 ACC teams in this defensive category this season, so poor perimeter defense will be an issue against a hot Bronson Koenig, who went 6-of-12 from behind the arc against Xavier last weekend. As a team, the Badgers shot 38 percent from three-point range during conference play, and Koenig’s long-range efforts have been complemented effectively by Vitto Brown‘s 40 percent shooting. Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia will have their hands full in keeping up with Wisconsin’s hot-shooting backcourt.

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Handing Out Big Ten Awards and Superlatives

Posted by Patrick Engel on March 8th, 2016

With the regular season complete, it’s time for our Big Ten postseason awards. Here are our three all-conference teams, all-rookie team and individual award winners as voted on by our microsite staff. Note that our ballots were submitted before the Big Ten released its official winners on Monday night.

Individual Awards

Tom Crean helped his Indiana team regroup and win the Big Ten after a poor nonconference showing. (Getty)

Tom Crean helped his Indiana team regroup and win the Big Ten after a poor nonconference showing. (Getty)

  • Player of the Year (unanimous): Denzel Valentine (G, Michigan State). The Wooden Award Candidate is the first player to lead the Big Ten in both scoring and assists per game since Iowa’s Andre Woolridge in 1996-97. He’s the Big Ten’s best passer (44.6 percent assist rate) and notched a sterling 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio this season. Valentine takes 30 percent of Michigan State’s shots (over half are three-pointers) and he still has a top-35 offensive rating (126.9) nationally.
  • Coach of the Year: Tom Crean (Indiana). The Hoosiers won the outright Big Ten title with a strong 15-3 record and significantly improved its defense during the Big Ten season. Despite losing one of its best offensive players with James Blackmon, Jr.’s injury in January, Indiana still boast the nation’s fourth-most efficient offense (119.6 points per 100 possessions).
  • Rookie of the Year: Ethan Happ (F, Wisconsin). Happ’s production and consistency on both ends of the floor gives him the edge here. He is tied for second in the conference with nine double-doubles and was an important part of Wisconsin’s resurgence after a 1-3 start to the Big Ten season.
  • Defensive Player of the Year: A.J. Hammons (C, Purdue). Hammons has tallied four more blocks (74) than fouls (70) this season, and he helps Purdue hold opponents to a difficult 42.7 two-point percentage. He also rebounds 23.4 percent of opponents’ misses.
  • Most Improved Player: Peter Jok (G, Iowa). Jok went from an inconsistent reserve as a sophomore to a consistently productive scorer as a junior. Iowa needed a complementary scorer to put alongside Jarrod Uthoff this season, and Jok became that guy.

All-Big Ten First Team

Denzel Valentine has become one of the nation's best players, if not the best, in his senior season. (AP)

Denzel Valentine has become one of the nation’s best players, if not the best, in his senior season. (AP)

  • Denzel Valentine (G, Michigan State): Valentine is the only player in the modern history of college basketball to average at least 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game (assists became an official statistic in 1983-84). He also logged two triple-doubles and shot 49.6 percent from beyond the arc in conference play.
  • Yogi Ferrell (G, Indiana): The Hoosiers’ senior point guard is the Big Ten’s fourth-leading scorer (17.1 PPG), fourth-leading distributor (5.5 APG), 10th-leading three-point shooter (42.1 %) and the conference champion’s best player.

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Big Ten M5: 02.12.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 12th, 2016

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  1. Purdue announced on Thursday that athletic director Morgan Burke will retire when his contract expires on June 30, 2017. Burke, who has held the job in West Lafayette since 1993, is the longest-tenured athletic director in the Big Ten by 12 years. Michael Berghoff, former football player and current chairman of the Purdue Board of Trustees, will lead the search and gave no timetable for making a hire. The Lafayette (IN) Journal & Courier‘s Nathan Baird put together a list of possible candidates for the job.
  2. In more Purdue news, starting point guard P.J. Thompson has sprained ligaments in his left ankle, causing him to miss practice and wear a walking boot. His status for Saturday’s game at Michigan is unclear, although X-rays came back negative. Thompson said he suffered the injury in the second half of the Boilermakers’ overtime win versus Michigan State on Tuesday. The Indianapolis native is on pace to shatter Purdue’s record for assist-to-turnover ratio: The sophomore has 71 assists against 11 turnovers this season.
  3. The James Naismith Trophy released its midseason list for its men’s college basketball Player of the Year award. The list of 35 names includes five Big Ten players: Purdue center A.J. Hammons, Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine, Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff, Maryland point guard Melo Trimble and Indiana point guard Yogi Ferrell. Trimble, a sophomore, is the only non-senior of the five Big Ten candidates.
  4. Rutgers is in the middle of a 23-game Big Ten losing streak and head coach Eddie Jordan is displeased with the fan base’s impatience. Responding to a question about their disappointment, Jordan’s frustration showed as he defended Rutgers’ direction, saying, “They just have to be more educated in what the real deal is. If they understand what this conference is about, what type of players and teams we’re going up against with injuries and being a young team. If they don’t understand that, I don’t need to read what the reaction is.” Rutgers’ average home game attendance of 4,483 is easily the worst in the Big Ten.
  5. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Wisconsin has won six straight games since a 1-4 start to Big Ten play. Forward Nigel Hayes is tied for fourth in the conference in scoring with 17.3 PPG and has scored at least 20 points in four of the six wins. But Hayes isn’t doing all the work. Junior forward/center Vitto Brown’s newfound consistency has given the Badgers a big lift too. He scored a career-high 18 points in Wednesday’s win over Nebraska and made all three of his three-point attempts. Brown is averaging 14.0 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in Wisconsin’s last four contests. He has made six three-pointers in that stretch after making only eight in the first 20 games of the season.
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Big Ten M5: 02.05.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 5th, 2016

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  1. With Minnesota’s Thursday night loss at Northwestern and Rutgers’ Wednesday night triple-overtime loss vs. Illinois, the Big Ten has two teams that are each 0-10 in conference play, making up two of eight Division I teams that have yet to win a conference game this season. The other six are Boston College, St. John’s, Delaware, Western Illinois, Chicago State and Penn. Minnesota and Rutgers play each other twice this season, with the first matchup in Minneapolis on February 23.
  2. Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes has been invaluable during his team’s five-game winning streak and he was rewarded with a little personal glory on Wednesday. The junior forward earned a spot among the 10 finalists for the Julius Erving Award, which is given to the best small forward in college basketball. Hayes is averaging 17.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game this season. Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine is the other Big Ten small forward among the finalists — the senior is averaging 18.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game. The winner of this award will be announced on April 8.
  3. Illinois’ terrible luck with injuries continues. Center Michael Finke sat out Wednesday’s win against Rutgers with a hip contusion, joining Mike Thorne, Jr. and his persistent knee problems on the bench. Finke did not practice on Monday or Tuesday and is considered day-to-day for now. With Finke’s recent absence, that means that only four Illinois players have played in every game this season. His status for Sunday’s game at Iowa is uncertain.
  4. Both Michigan State and Michigan are dealing with some injury issues before their intrastate rivalry resumes in Ann Arbor on Saturday afternoon. For the Spartans, point guard Tum Tum Nairn is likely to miss his sixth straight game, while at Michigan, head coach John Beilein finally gave a clear update on guard Caris LeVert, saying there is a chance he could play this weekend. Both teams would certainly like to be at full strength heading into the home stretch.
  5. Jarrod Uthoffs impressive senior year at Iowa has put him in the conversation for Big Ten and National Player of the Year and, as a result, gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated. Brian Hamilton’s cover story on Uthoff details the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native’s simple, metronomic personality and consistency on a surprising and surging team.
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Wisconsin Slowly Finding Its New Identity

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 1st, 2016

The first half of January wasn’t kind to Wisconsin. Losing its first three games by an average of just three points per contest to Indiana, Maryland and Northwestern put the Badgers behind the Big Ten eight-ball. As we now head into February, however, Greg Gard‘s new team seems to be slowly recovering just in time for the back half of the league schedule. Four straight wins to finish January has delivered some hope of making a run toward an NCAA Tournament bid, but to make that a reality, the Badgers will need to find answers to the following three questions.

Nigel Hayes will need to mix up his game to be effective with Ethan Happ.

Nigel Hayes will need to mix up his game to be effective with Ethan Happ.

  • Can Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes continue to effectively share the low post? The Badgers’ freshman star, Happ, isn’t a secret anymore. After averaging almost 20 PPG in wins over Michigan State, Penn State and Indiana, he drew consistent double teams from Illinois on Sunday. While he was able to pass the ball capably out of the post yesterday, there is a risk that Happ could slow down the offense if he starts to force bad shots in those situations. He and Hayes have been clicking inside together during the winning streak, but that trend will continue into the stretch run only if Hayes can remain active without the ball. The junior has struggled from the perimeter this season, making only 30 percent of his three-point attempts, so having him stand on the wing looking for jumpers while Happ works inside isn’t the long-term solution.

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Levy’s Layup Line: Week 9

Posted by Adam Levy on January 29th, 2016

What a strange season it has been for the Big Ten this year. This is the most top-heavy Big Ten conference we’ve seen in quite some time, as evidenced by the insane blowout rate (victories by 20+ points). For as long as KenPom has been around, there has only been one season in which blowouts have occurred in more than 20 percent of games (2013). This season? 16 of 59 games have resulted in blowouts – good for 27.1 percent, the highest rate of any league in the country. So what the heck is going on? It’s Week 9 of the Layup Line.

REPORT CARD

A: Yogi Ferrell and Ethan Happ

Viewed as an afterthought in the wake of being destroyed by Duke back in December, the Indiana Hoosiers have engineered an incredible turnaround, in large part thanks to Yogi Ferrell. Since the start of Big Ten play, the senior point guard is averaging 20.3 points, 5.6 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 3.1 threes and shooting 55.6 percent from distance. He continues to put this team on his back when they need it most, hitting big shot after big shot and smoothly setting up teammates for easy looks. In fact, he’s done the latter so many times in his career that he became Indiana’s all-time assist leader last week. It’s clear that Ferrell is quite salty about being left off of the Midseason Top 25 Wooden Award List, and his performance in Madison was nothing short of incredible. If only his frontcourt could stop…

Yogi Ferrell Has Been Dynamic For The Hoosiers (USA Today Sports)

Yogi Ferrell Has Been Dynamic For The Hoosiers (USA Today Sports)

Ethan Happ, who earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors for the second consecutive week. He completely had his way with Indiana’s bigs on Tuesday night, getting to the rim with ease and showing off great footwork and underrated quickness in the post. As of Monday, he ranked third in the conference with 8.1 rebounds per game and second with over two steals per game. From Brian Butch to Jon Leuer to Jared Berggren to Frank Kaminsky to Ethan Happ, the story of the unheralded Wisconsin big man never seems to end. Enjoy another three years of this kid, Badger fans.

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Big Ten Player of the Year Ladder: Volume Two, Part I

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 20th, 2016

After finishing roughly two months of the college basketball season, it’s time to revisit the leaderboard for the Big Ten Player of the Year race. Injuries have played a role in shaking things up a bit since the last listing, but eight of the ten listed last time are still in the top ten. Isaac Haas has seen his productivity and minutes go down since conference play started and Robert Carter Jr also is off the list for now. Here’s a quick look at players 10-6, with players 5-1 to come shortly:

  • 10. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: (16.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.6 APG, 59.5 Free Throw Rate)- Hayes has struggled at times much like his team has. The easy looks that he was able to capitalize on with Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker on the roster last season have gone away, but Hayes has still managed to score more than 20 points five times. He also has increased his assist rate from 11.9 to 21.9 percent as he has done a nice job facilitating for the Badgers.
  • 9. Caris LeVert, Michigan: (17.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.2 APG, 129.9 O-Rating)- Through no fault of his own, LeVert took a decent sized drop here because he has missed the last five games for Michigan due to a lower leg injury. The numbers he has put up to date still hold up however, as he leads the Wolverines in points, rebounds, assists, and steals.
Caris LeVert is still one of the top ten players in the B1G despite missing his teams' last five games. (Getty)

Caris LeVert is still one of the top ten players in the B1G despite missing his teams’ last five games. (Getty)

  • 8. Malcolm Hill, Illinois: (18.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.6 APG, 80.0% FT)- Even though Illinois is off to a 1-4 start in conference play, Hill has still been one of the most consistent and versatile performers in all the league. The junior has scored in double-figures in each game this season, and has also lead the Illini in rebounds five times, and lead them in assists seven times.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 20th, 2016

Because of the Martin Luther King holiday, this week’s weekend wrap-up post includes the rare Monday Big Ten game. In what was the third weekend of Big Ten play, it’s fitting that three-pointers played a large role in many of the outcomes. Northwestern and Illinois suffered losses where they shot too many while Maryland and Iowa made double-digit shots from deep as they cruised to home wins. The rest of the best and worst from the weekend follows below:

Andrew White notched a double-double with 21 points and 13 rebounds Saturday for Nebraska. (Getty)

Andrew White notched a double-double with 21 points and 13 rebounds Saturday for Nebraska. (Getty)

Player of the Weekend: Andrew White III has had better shooting efforts than what he put forth Saturday for Nebraska in their win at Illinois, but this game may have been his best all-around effort. The junior continued to show that he’s more than just a shooter in going for a season-high 13 rebounds, and also dishing out a season-high three assists. White and Shavon Shields outscored Illinois’ potent duo of Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn 35-32, but more importantly White III keyed the 42-24 advantage for the Cornhuskers on the boards as they evened their conference record at 3-3 in winning their third game in a row.

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Big Ten M5: 01.08.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on January 8th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan dropped its first conference game last night at Purdue, 87-70, but the bigger story for the Wolverines was Caris LeVert’s lower leg/ankle injury. The senior guard traveled to West Lafayette and warmed up with team, but he did not play in the loss. Head coach John Beilein has been vague about the seriousness of the injury and hasn’t given a clear timetable for LeVert’s return other than a simple “day to day” estimate given on Saturday. Michigan’s 1.02 points per possession without LeVert in the lineup was the second-highest mark scored against Purdue this year, but he would obviously be a massive loss if forced to miss extended time.
  2. Illinois took a 79-54 beating in East Lansing on Thursday night, but the Illini experienced a couple notable personnel moves before the game. First, point guard Khalid Lewis returned to the lineup after missing the last two games with the mumps. He scored eight points and grabbed four rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench. Meanwhile, shooting guard Kendrick Nunn did not travel to East Lansing because of the birth of his first child. Nunn is tied for the Big Ten lead in scoring at 18.5 points per game.
  3. The player tied with Nunn for the conference lead in scoring is Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, and he could be nearing a return from a right knee injury that has sidelined him since December 21. Valentine recently said that his knee is “90 percent healthy” but that he will not play until he feels that all of his “straight ahead speed” is back. The senior has already been medically cleared to play, but head coach Tom Izzo would not commit to a return on Sunday at Penn State. Valentine has previously said that he is targeting a return against the Nittany Lions.
  4. Wisconsin is 9-7 overall and 1-2 in Big Ten play after Tuesday’s loss at Indiana, another poor offensive performance by a team long known for its offensive potency. Junior forward Nigel Hayes’ shooting numbers have dropped amid the team’s struggles, and the Badgers star on Thursday produced another memorable sound bite by saying he has “played like poop” this season. A season ago Hayes shot 49.7 percent from the floor and 39.6 percent from three compared to 37.4 percent and 28.6 percent this year.
  5. Michigan State has notched two straight wins after losing at Iowa on December 29. The team needed several others to step up in Valentine’s absence and one Spartan who has capably done so is center Matt Costello. The senior has been playing perhaps the best basketball of his career, averaging 13.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per game since Valentine went out. Even when the NPOY candidate returns to the lineup, Izzo will need production at the center position. Costello is proving he is the best option to provide it.
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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 Weekend Look Ahead: 12.11.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 11th, 2015

The college football championships are now in the books, which means basketball has center stage for a while. There are just under three weeks left in the non-conference portion of the schedule, so teams are still looking to notch a few resume-enhancing wins before conference play begins at the end of the month. Luckily for Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Nebraska this weekend, they will have those opportunities against top 100 teams this weekend. Here is your weekend preview of those four games.

Mark Loving (left) leads a very mediocre Buckeyes unit into Stoors on Saturday.

Mark Loving (left) leads a mediocre Buckeyes unit into Storrs on Saturday.

  • Ohio State at Connecticut (Saturday, 12:00 PM ET, CBS). The Huskies are coming off a tough loss at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, possibly because their coach, Kevin Ollie, received an ill-timed technical in the latter stages of the game. They’ll get another shot against a Big Ten team when the Buckeyes visit Gampel Pavilion on Saturday afternoon. Thad Matta’s young squad has looked its age as the Buckeyes commit a turnover in one out of every five possessions so far this season. If Ohio State can’t protect the ball against a very good Connecticut defense, they’ll slip below .500 with a record of 4-5, something that hasn’t happened this late in the season during the Matta era.
  • Marquette at Wisconsin (Saturday, 1:30 PM ET, ESPN2). If you haven’t yet heard, this version of Wisconsin isn’t your typical Bo Ryan team. Rather, this team, to the consternation of its head coach, shies away from three-pointers in favor of mid-range jumpers. Therefore, this rivalry game may rely on which player wins the battle in the paint between the Badgers’ Nigel Hayes and the Golden Eagles’ Henry Ellenson. While the freshman is bigger and more naturally gifted, the upperclassman knows how to take over a game — Hayes scored 32 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a recent loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Look for whoever wins this individual battle to set the tone for the rest of his team.

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