Big Ten/ACC Challenge: What Did We Learn?

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 5th, 2014

In the aftermath of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, we might have expected to learn a great deal about Big Ten teams as they matched up against foes that were generally their peers. In the big picture, however, what that means to the Big Ten race remains a mystery. Wisconsin appears to be a notch or two above everyone else despite losing to Duke. Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State each has its fair share of issues. There are seven or eight other teams that have decent chances to become NCAA Tournament teams. As we head into the slowdown of finals and the Christmas holiday season, here’s a brief snapshot of one takeaway per squad after their Challenge contests.

Ahmad Starks had a horrible shooting night against Miami. (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Ahmad Starks had a horrible shooting night against Miami. (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

  • Illinois: Taking 30 three-pointers probably isn’t a good idea for this team. Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby won’t combine to shoot 15.4 percent very often, but Nnanna Egwu shooting three bombs by himself probably isn’t a good idea for future success.
  • Indiana: Emmitt Holt has been a borderline revelation, leading the team in scoring and giving Tom Crean another solid freshman to rely upon. Having only nine turnovers is something the Hoosiers should try to bottle for use all season.
  • Iowa: Telling Mike Gesell that his former AAU teammate Marcus Paige is on the other team every single game might just get him to play like a First Team All-B1G selection.

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Big Ten/ACC Challenge: Which League Has the Upper Hand?

Posted by mpatton on December 2nd, 2014

The Big Ten/ACC Challenge wasn’t the original inter-conference, made-for-TV battle, but it’s still the best. It represents a clash of styles, histories (especially with most of the Big East now in the ACC) and talent between two of the top basketball leagues in the country. The ACC dominated the Challenge from its inception, winning the first 10 meetings from 1999-2008, but the Big Ten is in the middle of a furious comeback by winning three in a row from 2009-11 before the ACC managed to eke out a couple of ties. This season the challenge expanded to a whopping 14 games, and on paper it looks like it will be another close one.

Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers Headline the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Monday (Big Ten leads 2-0)

The Challenge started on Monday night, with Big Ten schools coming away victorious in two blockbuster middling match-ups. Florida State and Clemson have disappointed to start the season, so their losses to Nebraska and Rutgers weren’t surprising. But it’s not like those two schools have looked like powerhouses either. It’s also important to note that both games took place on ACC turf, which means the ACC needs to steal at least two road games of its own in order to break even the rest of the way. That these were considered toss-ups is also somewhat troubling. Regardless, let’s look at the remainder of the schedule.

Tuesday

  • Pittsburgh at Indiana (7:00 PM ESPN2): Recent history says this match-up will be awesome, but this season has been a disappointment so far for both teams. Jamie Dixon’s Panthers took an unexpected loss to Hawaii on its way to the Maui Invitational; likewise, the Hoosiers lost a shocker at home to Eastern Washington. Over the course of the season, Pittsburgh appears to be the better team, but without Durand Johnson (suspended for the season) and the game in Bloomington, there are plenty of questions. Prediction: Pittsburgh
  • Minnesota at Wake Forest (7:00 PM ESPNU): Look at this game on paper and it looks like a blowout. The Demon Deacons have finished near the bottom of the ACC during the last four years, and they’re also coming off a loss to Delaware State (at home). But Minnesota looks beatable here — especially if Codi Miller-McIntyre plays up to his potential. The Gophers are more experienced, but Danny Manning’s team should be able to pull off a couple of a head-scratching wins this season at home (I mean, Jeff Bzdelik pulled the feat last year), so this game isn’t as straightforward as it looks. Prediction: Wake Forest

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O26 Weekly Awards: Northern Iowa, Craig Bradshaw, Pat Duquette & Eastern Washington

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 1st, 2014

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition. 

O26 Team of the Week

Northern Iowa began the week in Cancun and ended it with a home victory over Richmond. (unipanthers.com)

Northern Iowa began the week in Cancun and ended it with a home victory over Richmond. (unipanthers.com)

Northern Iowa. With all of the marquee tournaments and showdowns taking place over the holiday weekend, it’s understandable if Northern Iowa’s trip to Mexico for the ‘Cancun Challenge’ was lost in the shuffle to some extent, especially considering the fellow competition: Virginia Tech, Northwestern and Miami (OH). If you did miss it, here’s a quick synopsis: after hammering Virginia Tech by 19 points, the Panthers held Northwestern to a paltry 0.76 points per possession and pounded the Wildcats by 21 to claim the championship. But although a tournament title is certainly a nice preseason prize, it’s not even the hardware that made Northern Iowa’s week so impressive. No, the reason Ben Jacobson’s club is our Team of the Week is because after delivering those back-to-back drubbings against high-major (if subpar) opponents, thousands of miles away from Cedar Falls, the Panthers flew back to the United States and kept the train rolling against an even better Richmond team. All signs pointed to a post-Thanksgiving, post-showcase letdown, especially against a tough, well-rounded Spiders unit ranked 54th in KenPom and boasting one of the Atlantic 10’s best guards in Kendall Anthony. But instead of coming out emotionally lethargic or physically fatigued or preoccupied with thoughts of warm resort towns, Northern Iowa took control of the game – just as it had in Cancun – and completely outclassed Richmond from start-to-finish, never once relinquishing the lead and defeating the Spiders, 55-50. In all, the Panthers maintained a lead for roughly 110 of 120 minutes this week against Virginia Tech, Northwestern and Richmond combined, a trio of dominant victories that has both propelled Jacobson’s unit to an impressive 7-0 start and further improved its at-large prospects.

Honorable Mentions: Gonzaga (2-0: N-Georgia, N-St. John’s); Green Bay (3-0: N-East Carolina, N-Evansville, N-Florida Gulf Coast); Colorado State (3-0: N-Missouri State, N-Pacific, N-UC Santa Barbara); Valparaiso (3-0: N-Drake, N-Murray State, N-Portland).

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Big Ten Feast Week Primer

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 24th, 2014

Seven Big Ten teams will be competing in tournaments during Feast Week. Some are expected to do well, while others are looking to pick up some quality wins and defy preseason expectations. Here’s a primer for those hoops-obsessed fans who want to schedule some Big Ten basketball watching around their annoying relatives. The fun gets started later today in Maui, New York and Kansas City.

Progressive Legends Classic: (Monday and Tuesday)

Caris LeVert needs to continue to fill up the stat sheet if Michigan wants to win the Legends Classic. (Getty)

Caris LeVert needs to continue to fill up the stat sheet if Michigan wants to win the Legends Classic. (Getty)

  • Teams: Michigan, Oregon, VCU, Villanova
  • Favorite: Villanova
  • TV: ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU
  • Outlook: Michigan will face its first big-name opponents of the season when the Wolverines take on Oregon in the first game. Should they win, they’ll face off against the winner of the VCU-Villanova game after that. The perimeter trio of Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert will have to continue to score at a high level, as the trio is producing a robust 67.5 percent of Michigan’s points thus far this season.
  • Predicted Finish: First if they play Villanova; second if they play VCU.

CBE Hall of Fame Classic: (Monday and Tuesday)

  • Teams: Maryland, Arizona State, Iowa State, Alabama
  • Favorite: Iowa State
  • TV: ESPNU, ESPN2

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Morning Five: 11.24.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 24th, 2014

morning5

  1. Texas showed off some of its potential last week winning the 2K Classic in convincing fashion, but it appears they will have to prove they can maintain the same level for at least a few weeks without the services of point guard Isaiah Taylor, who injured his wrist late in Thursday night’s win over Iowa and missed Friday night’s game against California. While the Longhorns have quite a bit of depth on the inside they are not quite as deep on the perimeter particularly after the departure of Martez Walker, who left the program after being suspended indefinitely following a domestic incident. Texas will have to figure out how to play without Taylor, who is expected to be out for four to six weeks which would mean that he would not be available for their December 10 showdown in Rupp in what could have been one of Kentucky’s toughest tests this season.
  2. Texas A&M received some good news on Friday as the NCAA cleared both Danuel House and Tonny Trocha-Morelos to play this season. House, a former five-star prospect who averaged 13.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game at Houston, should be an immediate impact player for the Aggies. As Mike DeCourcy notes, the decision by the NCAA to allow House to play immediately is unusual given the information that has been released. Trocha-Morelos is a little bit more of an unknown quantity as the 6’10” center from Colombia had a breakthrough performance at some international tournaments in 2012, but has been in NCAA Clearinghouse limbo for the past two years.
  3. Ball State announced that it has suspended Zavier Turner indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Turner, who averaged 12.1 points and 3.7 assists per game last season on his way to MAC freshman of the year honors, had already played two games for the team before the suspension so we are assuming this is related to something that happened in the past week. This is the second notable suspension from the MAC in the past week as Akron had suspended All-MAC senior forward Demetrius Treadwell indefinitely after he was accused of assaulting a player on the women’s basketball team.
  4. A US District Judge ruled in favor the NCAA and the four major professional sports leagues in issuing a permanent injunction against the state of New Jersey, which had attempted to legalize sports betting at casinos and racetracks. The state is attempting to overcome the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 that only allowed legal sports betting in very specific areas. The leagues have attempted to argue that allowing sports betting beyond those previously designated areas will reduce the fans’ perception of the integrity of their sports. New Jersey has fought this claim with a 2013 ruling that said the state was free to repeal those sports betting laws. It appears the leagues will continue to fight this despite one commissioner (Adam Silver) saying that expanded legalized betting is inevitable and various teams partnering with fantasy sports operators. Frankly, the argument that expanded legalized sports gambling will impact the perception of the integrity of the game seems rather myopic as everybody knows about all of the easily available non-legal sports gambling platforms. What New Jersey is doing is trying to bring this out into the open and create another stream of revenue from the government rather than keeping a black market alive, which is what the leagues seem to be in favor of doing.
  5. We are still working on this year’s in-season tournaments and they are already releasing the names of teams that will be participating in next year’s tournaments. North Carolina, Northwestern, Kansas State, and Missouri have been named as the headliners for the 2015 CBE Classic. The CBE Classic is held in Kansas City in conjunction with ceremonies for the College Basketball Hall of Fame. While we would normally point to UNC as the headliner in this field the location will probably make Missouri and Kansas State the crowd favorites. In any event the Tar Heels should be the heavy favorites in this field although the overall depth of the field is better than this year’s event.
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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #14 to #10

Posted by Eric Clark on November 11th, 2014

With college basketball’s regular season finally tipping off on Friday, the time has come for the Big Ten microsite writers to make their predictions public. We’ll begin by showcasing the five projected bottom-feeders of the Big Ten, the teams we forecast to finish from 14th to 10th.

14. Rutgers

  • What they do well: There won’t be many positives for Rutgers in its inaugural Big Ten season — especially after three would-be seniors transferred during the offseason – but it looks like head coach Eddie Jordan brought in a solid recruiting class. His prized recruit is junior Bishop Daniels, a transfer from ASA College in New York City. Daniels, a former Miami player, will help solidify Rutgers’ backcourt with last year’s leading scorer, Myles Mack.
  • What they don’t do well: Rebound. The Scarlet Knights only had two players average more than six rebounds per game last season (Kadeem Jack and Wally Judge), and Judge is no longer with the team. Rutgers was eighth in the AAC last season in rebounding margin, averaging 1.8 fewer rebounds per game than their opponents. Ten of the 12 Big Ten teams, on the other hand, had positive margins.
Myles Mack will be one of the lone bright spots in Rutgers' inaugural Big Ten season.

Myles Mack will be one of the lone bright spots in Rutgers’ inaugural Big Ten season.

  • Get to know: Kadeem Jack. Jack is Rutgers’ lone established presence in the post on an otherwise young and inexperienced roster. The 6’9″ senior grabbed almost seven rebounds per game last year and shot 50 percent from the field. He’s likely the only Big Ten-caliber forward on the team.
  • Why they’ll finish 14th: Rutgers lost three senior players via transfer and has only two players, Mack and Jack, who have proven that they’re ready for Big Ten basketball. Defenses will key on those two, leaving an inexperienced cast to do – or rather, try to do – most of the heavy lifting. Eddie Jordan will overuse the phrase “growing pains” this season.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: Bishop Daniels has no problem adjusting back to Division I basketball, and freshman Mike Williams establishes himself as one of the best long-range shooters in the conference. Kadeem Jack thrives down low with the outside presence of Jack, Daniels and Williams.

13. Northwestern

  • What they do well: Defend – at least, better than the Wildcats used to. Head coach Chris Collins made a concerted effort to move away from the “open door policy” defense that plagued Northwestern in Bill Carmody’s final years at the helm. Collins’ team held opponents to a 41.1 percent field goal shooting last year, good enough for third in the conference.
  • What they don’t do well: Score. The Wildcats ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring last season, averaging 59.5 points per game. Illinois, which ranked second-to-last, averaged almost five more points per game. The Wildcats also were last in the Big Ten in field goal percentage.

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AAC M5: 11.10.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 10th, 2014

  1. AAC_morning5_headerIf you didn’t catch it on Friday, make sure to take some time to read the Houston Chronicle‘s extensive profile on new Cougars’ coach Kelvin Sampson and his decision to return to the college coaching ranks. There aren’t many shocking revelations here, but it covers his decision to return to college coaching after more than five seasons in the NBA and sheds some light on why he ultimately chose Houston. In fact, the most eye-opening tidbit in the piece was learning that the program — which went to multiple Final Fours in the 1980s — has only one NCAA Tournament appearance since 1992. We are on the record here in saying Sampson is a fantastic hire for the Cougars and everyone should expect that he will end that drought sooner than later. If he stays around the program long enough to build something solid in Houston, the Cougars will be one of the conference’s better teams for a very long time.
  2. Tulane got a much-needed size injection last week when the school cleared sophomore center Aaron Liberman to play, effective immediately. A Los Angeles native, Liberman began his career at Northwestern but saw action in only 10 games last season after a redshirt year in 2012-13. He probably won’t be an impact player for the Green Wave, but at 6’10” he will earn rotation minutes in the team’s thin and inexperienced frontcourt. Ed Conroy’s club is relatively loaded in the backcourt with the likes of Louis Dabney and Jonathan Stark available, so if all Liberman provides is interior defense and help on the glass this season, he will play a meaningful role as this program adjusts to the new conference.
  3. One intriguing player at UConn who hasn’t received any attention this preseason is sophomore forward Kentan Facey. The New York native was the Huskies’ top-ranked recruit last season, but he played sparingly while clearly still learning the nuances of the game. His offensive skills are developing, but the 6’9″ Facey has athleticism to burn and the Huskies need all the help on the interior they can get. Facey started in the team’s first exhibition game against Southern Connecticut State and rewarded head coach Kevin Ollie with nine rebounds in 18 minutes of action. The sophomore’s performance on the glass in particular made his coach very happy and potentially earned himself an opportunity for more playing time. Of course Facey promptly corralled only four rebounds in 20 minutes of action in the team’s second exhibition game against Assumption, so the learning curve hasn’t exactly disappeared.
  4. You have to love the quiet intensity of Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin. The Bearcats have played just two preseason games and already Cronin has banished one player (redshirt freshman Deshaun Morman) to the locker room before the end of a game and been late to a press conference so he could have a stern postgame chat with his team. Cincinnati got off to a sluggish start and actually trailed Division II Fairmont State in the first half, so the sloppy start is presumably what upset Cronin. His attention to detail and perfectionism are a large part of the reason why his teams are successful without top-tier talent, so while it might seem like Cronin needs to relax, Cincinnati fans won’t complain once the season starts.
  5. We try not to get nitpicky when the media makes predictions we don’t agree with, especially before the season starts. That said, we strongly disagree with Tulsa World sports writer Kelly Hines when she wrote that it would be a “solid finish to Frank Haith‘s first season” if the Golden Hurricane make the NIT. She is right to point out that moving to a new conference will make things more difficult for Tulsa, but this is a squad that returns nearly everyone of note from an NCAA Tournament team. It would be disappointing to say the least if the Golden Hurricane don’t return to the NCAA Tournament again this season. It was one sentence in what was surely the 20th piece of preview content Hines has published in recent weeks, so we aren’t going to make a big deal out of it. But I bet if we polled the Tulsa players on this matter, they would not be satisfied with a “solid finish” of making the NIT.
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Big Ten M5: 11.10.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 10th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. After numerous key losses from last year’s team, Denzel Valentine has to have a big season for Michigan State if Sparty wants to avoid falling back into the Big Ten pack. If preseason exhibitions are any indication, then Valentine is definitely in line for a huge season. He went for 24 points and 12 rebounds on 6-of-9 shooting from behind the arc in the Spartans’ first preseason tilt, then topped that off with a 15-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist triple-double over the weekend. Should he notch one of these stat lines in the regular season, he would join a select group of Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Draymond Green and Charlie Bell as the only Michigan State players to register one in a regular season game.
  2. Another preseason standout has been Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell. Russell enters college basketball with plenty of expectations, and he showed the reason behind them by leading the Buckeyes in scoring in a win over Walsh College, 77-37, on Sunday. In addition to his 17 points, he also chipped in eight rebounds and six assists for an all-around fantastic performance. Four Buckeyes went for double figures, including fellow freshman Ja’Sean Tate with 10 points. With so much experience on the roster, it will be interesting to see how Thad Matta manages his team if Russell is the team’s best offensive weapon. Will the seniors allow him to take the big shots late in games?
  3. Eddie Jordan is quietly putting together a solid recruiting class for Rutgers with his growing haul in the Class of 2015. Highly-rated point guard Corey Sanders is already in the fold, and now combo guard Justin Goode has also pledged his services to the Scarlet Knights. Goode joins his teammate at Hargrave Military Academy, Kejuan Johnson, in becoming the second recruit from the school to verbally commit to Rutgers in just the last week. With Myles Mack leaving after this season, having as many guards on the roster to choose from will help Jordan rebuild this long-suffering program.
  4. Even though it was against a Division II opponent, it has to be a good sign for Northwestern to score 102 points in a game — which is the exact output the Wildcats put up in their 50-point Friday night win against McKendree. Alex Olah led the team in scoring with 18 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. The team shot an absurd 72 percent from the field, and head coach Chris Collins used garbage time to mix different combinations of lineups with all the new players on the roster. The coach was pleased with the effort, saying, “We have a lot of guys who are really good players. I am really proud of our group.”
  5. The image of Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery stalking the officials on to the court in the Hawkeyes’ loss at Wisconsin last year was one of the most memorable and infamous moments of the Big Ten season. Having a son diagnosed with cancer will change one’s perspective, however, and McCaffery acknowledges that each possession on the basketball floor is not going to get him quite as upset as it probably would have in the past. Patrick McCaffery, now 6’5″, is currently dunking in junior high games. Recent blood work shows that he is cancer-free, and this is obviously outstanding news for the entire Iowa basketball family.
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Unbalanced Schedules Create Difficult Paths to Big Ten Title

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 7th, 2014

With a 14-team league and an 18-game conference schedule, the path to a Big Ten regular season title is not equitable. A 26-game round robin is out of the question, so that means that by a simple luck of the draw, certain teams will end up with “easier” schedules than others. The easier comes with the tongue-in-cheek quotation marks because all we have right now are preseason projections. Last year, for example, a preseason review of a game in Lincoln would have seemed like a relatively easy projected win for a team like Wisconsin. So in crunching some numbers and considering how we at the microsite voted in our yet-to-be-released preseason poll, here’s a cursory look at three Big Ten teams that look like they will have the toughest slate of conference games, followed by two teams who appear to owe the scheduling gods a thank-you note.

Chris Collins have many more moments of frustration with the way the B1G schedule breaks for the Wildcats. (Getty).

Chris Collins have many more moments of frustration with the way the B1G schedule breaks for the Wildcats. (Getty).

Toughest Schedules

  • Northwestern. The Wildcats have the unenviable task of playing Wisconsin, Michigan State and Michigan twice. They also have to play at Nebraska in their only meeting against the Cornhuskers. The other two opponents they play twice are Illinois and Iowa, a pair of teams that have an excellent chance to make the NCAA Tournament if things go their way. After Northwestern travels to New Jersey to play Rutgers in its first league game, a slate that features Wisconsin, Michigan State, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio State awaits them next. Starting on February 3, they have a week of games that includes a trip to Nebraska, followed by another one to Wisconsin, and then Michigan State at home. This team could be much better than last year’s group, yet end up with a similar or worse record in conference play.

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Big Ten M5: 11.07.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 7th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. On Wednesday, the NCAA decided that Duje Dukan would get one more year of eligibility and could play in all but the first two games of the upcoming season. Our newest microsite writer, Eric Clark, wrote about the specifics of the decision earlier in the week. The crux of it is that Dukan took a medical redshirt in 2012-13 after already playing in a couple of scrimmages, making his eligibility for a fourth year questionable. In the end, this is very good news for Wisconsin because for all their talent in the starting lineup, the Badgers are not very deep. On Thursday, Zach Bohannan, a former Wisconsin player and teammate of Dukan, wrote on CBSSports’ blog about the complexity of the medical redshirt rule and called for the NCAA to make its application consistent to all players regardless of class. That would make sense, but that’s not exactly what the NCAA is known for. Speaking of Wisconsin…
  2. That same night, we got to see the Badgers in action for the first time in an exhibition game against Wisconsin-Parkside. The game ended with a 37-point Badgers’ win, and Frank Kaminsky showed why he’s a consensus Naismith candidate by contributing 19 points and 11 rebounds in 22 minutes. He even generated a Sportscenter-worthy highlight as he showed off his ball-handling skills, going coast to coast before dishing to a teammate for an assist. We all know exhibition games mean absolutely nothing, but Frank the Tank certainly seemed like he was already in midseason form.
  3. And now for your daily update on the circus formerly known as Indiana basketball. We are now getting a clearer picture on how severe Devin Davis’ head injury is and how long the road to recovery will be for the sophomore. While Davis is progressing, simple tasks remain difficult for him. As Tom Crean describes it: “Progress this morning is sitting up in a chair. Progress is taking a walk.” There’s been a lot of chatter about whether the Indiana head man will be fired during or after this season, so it’s easy to forget that a young man is dealing with a very serious setback in his life. We hope that Davis fully recovers and that this experience, not just the threat of bad publicity, motivates the rest of the Hoosiers’ roster to modify their behavior.
  4. There’s been a good amount of discussion this preseason as to whether Nebraska can continue the success it built last season. Most prognosticators believe the Cornhuskers can, thanks in large part to players like Terran Petteway, Shavon Shields and Tai Webster. But if Tim Miles’ team wants to improve, it is going to need other players to step up beyond that trio. One such candidate is backup point guard Benny Parker, who is hoping that the work he put in the offseason to improve his shooting will make him more of an offensive threat during games. If Parker can become a consistent shooter from deep, that will add another scorer while also opening things up for Petteway and his mid-range jump shot.
  5. Finally, many basketball programs that do not typically recruit top 100 prospects have started to look overseas to find promising talent. For example, Patty Mills became a star at St. Mary’s via Australia and Alex Len became a lottery pick at Maryland via Ukraine. Alex Olah, Northwestern’s returning big man, hails from Romania and now plays basketball at one of the most elite academic institutions in the country. Henry Bushnell from SBNation did a really interesting profile on the junior. It describes his journey from humble beginnings in low-middle class Eastern Europe to now walking around as a semi-celebrity in Evanston. Olah will probably never be a star in this league, but that doesn’t mean his story — and others who travel from afar to be part of the sport we love — shouldn’t be shared.
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Big Ten M5: 10.29.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 29th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Northwestern surprised many people last season with the transformation it made halfway through conference play, leading to road wins against Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Drew Crawford was the most important player on that team, so it should be shocking to no one that head coach Chris Collins is still trying to figure out how the Wildcats are going to replace him. Two likely candidates are JerShon Cobb and freshman Vic Law. Cobb topped 20 or more points four times as a junior, while Law is one of the most gifted players coming into the program in quite a while. Northwestern has more depth than last season, but whether the Wildcats can collectively replace one of the best players in the Big Ten is worth watching.
  2. Purdue received its first Class of 2016 pledge on Tuesday, as Indianapolis Tech point guard CJ Walker chose the Boilermakers over Butler and Cincinnati. Walker won a class 4A championship as a sophomore, where he shot 51 percent from the field and averaged 3.2 assists per game. Walker should join Bryson Scott and fellow Indianapolis native PJ Thompson at the point guard spot for the 2016-17 campaign.
  3. Illinois and head coach John Groce have gotten some highly-rated players from Chicago and elsewhere in the state of Illinois. Kendrick Nunn, Jaylon Tate and Malcom Hill are three that come to mind, for example, from his first recruiting class. But one former Illini great thinks that Groce has more work to do. Deon Thomas – the school’s all-time leading scorer and the state’s Mr. Basketball in 1989 from Chicago’s Simeon High School — says that talents like Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander would have stayed home and played for Illinois in the past. He cites AAU culture as a leading factor for Chicago kids choosing to play outside the state. Groce has made some nice headway with in-state kids, but it will take a top-15 type of player from Chicago staying close to home for many Illini fans to truly believe in his recruiting abilities.
  4. Ken Pomeroy released his preseason rankings to the masses on Sunday night and the Big Ten put 13 of its 14 teams among the top 80 in the country. One theme in the ratings is how balanced and equal teams #2 through #11 in the standings could be this season. As an example of how tight things are, Michigan State comes in at second in the league and 12th nationally while Purdue is 11th in the conference but 40th nationally. Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, Minnesota and Illinois are all ranked between #32-#38 in the nation. The equality of the teams in the middle of the pack makes predicting the Big Ten race largely a guessing game, and the first set of Pomeroy numbers seem to show that, outside of Wisconsin, he feels that the rest of the league is wide open.
  5. Tis the season for lists and preseason superlatives, and the Big Ten was well represented in SBNation‘s list of the top 100 college basketball players. Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky (#8) and Michigan’s Caris LeVert (#9) both cracked the top 10 nationally, while Nebraska’s Terran Petteway (#15) and Michigan State’s Branden Dawson (#26) made it into the top 30. All told, 15 B1G players made the cut, which left the league tied for second among power conferences with the Big 12. The SEC had the most players on this list with 16, six of whom play for Kentucky alone. The post also listed 50 more players who just missed the cut, which included Penn State senior guard DJ Newbill and Wisconsin sophomore Nigel Hayes.
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Vic Law Might be the Most Important Freshman in the Big Ten

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on October 28th, 2014

Here’s a familiar scene. A heralded freshman joins a veteran-laden team. His older teammates are a bit jaded by all the hype and media attention that their younger counterpart receives, but they’re also intrigued with what the young star can do on the floor. Eventually the team is won over by all the potential embedded in their new teammate, and the season-long process of integration takes its first step. This scene usually takes place with elite freshmen and the blue-chip college programs at which they enroll, but at some level, a similar story also involves a four-star recruit in Evanston, Illinois. Vic Law is not the most talented freshman in the Big Ten this season, but he might be the most important. His ability to succeed may change the trajectory of the perennially bottom-dwelling Northwestern program, head coach Chris Collins’ career, and the future pecking order of the Big Ten.

Vic Law is the most heralded freshman at Northwestern in a long time.

Vic Law is the most heralded freshman at Northwestern in a long time.

The first thing you need to know about Law is that he doesn’t look like a typical Northwestern basketball player. The Chicago native is a 6’7”, 185 lb. string bean, but he’s remarkably athletic with a versatile game that makes him a threat from both the outside or in the mid-range. In short, he looks like a top-100 prospect. Compare him with several recent Northwestern stars such as Drew Crawford, John Shurna and Kevin Coble, and the gap in their upside becomes even more apparent. No offense to those former players, but they were successful Wildcats as much from their basketball IQ and guile than from their athleticism and talent. During former head coach Bill Carmody’s tenure, that was the formula that successfully got the Wildcats as close to making the NCAA Tournament as they had ever been. But eventually, that approach simply wasn’t able to get over the hump, and a coaching change was made.

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