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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Big Ten M5: 01.22.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 22nd, 2014

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  1. When Michigan head coach John Beilein refers to a schedule that includes three games against top 10 opponents consecutively as an “incredible opportunity,” some might claim that the rigors of Big Ten play have made him slightly insane. If the Wolverines can somehow win all three of these games against Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State, however, his quote will prove rather prophetic. Winning against Iowa tonight won’t be an easy task though, and Beilein acknowledges as much when he states that the Hawkeyes’ length, versatility, and experience make for a opponent different from any team his Wolverines have seen so far. It will certainly be interesting to see how they match up with the waves of players Iowa can throw at them.
  2. Two desperate teams will meet in Columbus tomorrow night. In advance of this crucial game between Ohio State and Illinoishead coach John Groce gave his team a much-needed day off on Sunday. The Illini had just come off of a stretch of three games in seven days, all of which resulted in losses and a drop from being ranked to completely off of the NCAA bubble. Maybe getting a chance to rest up and hit the reset button will be the cure for what ails this team.
  3. Speaking of bubble teams, Minnesota is going to need both Andre and Austin Hollins to be at full strength for the Gophers to make a run to the NCAA Tournament. That’s why it has to be moderately disturbing to learn that Andre Hollins has been playing through a toe injury. Head coach Richard Pitino said that the injury is probably why he has had some trouble with effectiveness in the second half of recent games. There really isn’t much margin for error if Minnesota wants to let him rest and fully recover. Unlike Michigan State — a team boasting a deeper roster that enables the Spartans to rest injured star Adreian Payne — the Gophers need every win they can get. Hollins is just going to have to play through the pain of the injury for the team to get to the postseason in Pitino’s first season in Minneapolis.
  4. Iowa has been somewhat hit or miss with its shooting from the three-point line despite the Hawkeyes’ 15-3 overall record. They have a pretty good percentage on the year (38.2%), however, and this number has risen lately thanks to the hot shooting of junior Josh Oglesby. The junior went 5-of-7 from deep as the Hawkeyes turned a close game into a blowout against Minnesota on Sunday. Oglesby, Jared Uthoff, Roy Devyn Marble, and Mike Gesell can all get hot and knock down a handful of threes in a given game. They’re all somewhat streaky, but the ability to get this kind of production from multiple players is just one of many reasons why Iowa remains extremely dangerous in the long run.
  5. Wisconsin is coming off of a two-game losing streak, and the Badgers’ lack of production from the bench has been a key part of that. Freshmen Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig now realize with the intensity of the conference season in full swing that they can’t play like rookies anymore. They both have learned what to expect after dealing with the crowd at Indiana’s Assembly Hall last week. Hayes is needed to provide frontcourt depth, and Koenig needs to be able to come in and spell the Badgers’ guards. The quicker these two can morph into consistent bench options, the better the chances for the Badgers to go on another long winning streak.
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Trending Upward: Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes is Making an Impact

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 4th, 2014

Wisconsin has been the story of the B1G thus far, as the Badgers improved to 14-0 on the season with their 76-48 win at Northwestern on Thursday night. Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky have garnered most of the attention from the rest of the college basketball world, but freshman Nigel Hayes is starting to come on strong as well. He’s emerging as a legitimate factor, giving the Badgers a tremendous athlete coming off the bench. Hayes scored a career-high 19 points in that game, and his play of late is something of which to take notice.

Nigel Hayes is starting to give the Badgers another weapon on offense (Jeff Potrykus, Journal Sentinel).

Nigel Hayes is starting to give the Badgers another weapon on offense. (Jeff Potrykus, Journal Sentinel).

“He listens, he works, he’s athletic and strong for a freshman so the combination is pretty tough to beat, and he feels that there really isn’t anything that he can’t do, but he knows he’s not a three-point shooter, so he doesn’t shoot three-point shots. He just does what he knows and he can do and what he does well. “

Bo Ryan’s quote here was in reference to his standout freshman while speaking with the ESPN crew after the win. The quote illuminates the fact that Hayes seems to know his place and is bent on fitting in and contributing wherever he can. He rarely forces anything on the offensive end, but you can see his confidence growing with each game. He’s now going aggressively to the basket, where in the beginning of the season he was more likely to have deferred to a teammate. In looking at Hayes’ numbers, you can see an upward progression as he’s gone for 15.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and a block per game in his last three outings. He has done this while shooting a stellar 63 percent from the field and getting to the free throw line 30 times. He was named B1G freshman of the week on December 30, and has a good chance to win it again after this weekend is over.

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Big Ten M5: 12.31.13 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 31st, 2013

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  1. Happy New Year’s Eve! A new year means new beginnings and a chance to possibly start over. So maybe not coincidentally, this is also transfer season in college basketball. A time of year where players all around the country have decided that their current program is no longer the place for them and need a fresh start. It only took one semester at Indiana for Luke Fischer to decide he needed to seek another opportunity and subsequently announced that he was transferring. Unlike his fellow freshmen teammates, Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams, Fischer was not able to contribute significantly mostly due to a shoulder injury. He just started to work his way into the rotation but apparently it was not enough for him to stay. Fischer was a Top 100 recruit and while his departure shouldn’t affect the Hoosiers drastically this year, Tom Crean loses a potentially effective player in the future.
  2. After their impressive win against Missouri, Illinois is in position to challenge, once again, for an NCAA Tournament bid. If they do so, it would be an impressive feat since this was supposed to be a rebuilding year for John Groce after losing his two top scorers from last season. A major reason the Illini have been able to stay competitive is due to the emergence of transfer Rayvonte Rice, who won his second Big Ten Player of the Week honor on Monday. Rice is no Brandon Paul when it comes to upside potential, but his stats certainly look similar after half a season — last season, Paul  averaged 16.6 PPG,4.4 RPG, & 2.7 APG, while Rice has averaged 18.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, & 1.9 APG thus far this season.
  3. Along with Rice, Michigan State’s Keith Appling also won Big Ten Player of the Week. This is his first such honor of the season and the fourth in his career. Though he won the award for last week’s performance, where he scored 27 points, dished out 8 assists, and grabbed 5 rebounds against New Orleans, his production has been outstanding throughout the entire season. Thus far, Appling is averaging a career high in points and assists. As Michigan State prepares to enter conference play and battle for sole ownership of a league title, they’ll need not only Appling, but Adreian Payne and Gary Harris, to keep performing at their current All American levels.
  4. Wisconsin has been the most impressive Big Ten team in the early part of the season. Not only are four of their five starters effective scorers, but their bench can score as well. We have seen the likes of Duje Dukan and Bronson Koenig already contribute, and you can add freshman Nigel Hayes into the mix as well. The 6’7″ big man from Toledo won Freshman of the Week honors off his 10 points, 4 rebounds, and three blocks performance against Prairie View A&M. Hayes has jumped ahead of Evan Anderson and Zach Bohannon as the first big off the bench when Frank Kaminsky or Sam Dekker need to be spelled. Hayes is an important part of the Badger’s tremendous success early this season and he will continue the winning tradition in Madison for years to come.
  5. Conference play starts today! And it starts early in the day (1 pm ET) when the undefeated Buckeyes come to West Lafayette and face struggling Purdue. While the Boilermakers have had disheartening defeats (and some disheartening wins against inferior teams), they have recently racked up some face-saving wins against Boston College and West Virginia. Both of those teams have had disappointing seasons as well, and they won’t impress anyone come Selection Sunday. But losing to them would have caused the bottom to fall out on Purdue’s season. In the first game of Big Ten play, Purdue needs to show that they can at least put up a fight against the Buckeyes — a team vying for a league title — to show their fans they will be able to compete during all of conference play.
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Wisconsin Faces Another Test Against St. Louis

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 26th, 2013

With two quality victories in the bank already against St. John’s and Florida, Wisconsin will look to put another significant win on their resume Tuesday night in Cancun against a 5-0 St. Louis team. While the Billikens are not ranked in the Top 25 yet, they are the defending Atlantic 10 Tournament champions and a team with good experience at a number of key positions. This game could have been projected as a rock fight of the 45-43 variety in years past, but what makes this one particularly interesting is that Wisconsin is averaging 80.2 PPG despite not really playing terribly fast (67.3 possessions per game, 258th nationally). The Badgers are making things happen by simply shooting the lights out in the early going, notching a 45.2 percent output from three, and a 57.9% eFG. St. Louis is stingy in giving up the three-ball, however, and this highlights what will be one of the more intriguing Feast Week match-ups in the B1G.

Frank Kaminsky looks to stay hot against a quality St. Louis team.  (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky looks to stay hot against a quality St. Louis team. (Getty)

Wisconsin has been lights-out shooting the ball this season, but St. Louis has just as impressive numbers defensively. The Billikens are holding opponents to a minuscule 20.3 percent from behind the arc, and they also check in with a 41.8% defensive eFG. Both statistics rank in the top 20 nationally. For the most part, they play a hard-nosed man-to-man with athletic guards that will challenge the shooters and not give allow many open looks. Mike McCall Jr. and Jordair Jett fly around the perimeter making things difficult, and then collectively, the Billikens don’t give out too many second chances after a miss. SLU ranks 44th in the country (26.7%) in letting teams retrieve their misses. To summarize, St. Louis is good at forcing teams into tough threes, then grabbing the defensive rebounds off those misses that often lead to great looks from kickouts. Wisconsin only gets 28.6 percent of their offensive rebounds as it is, so chances are they won’t get many second chance opportunities Tuesday night.

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