Big Ten M5: 02.21.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 21st, 2014

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  1. Minnesota did some severe damage to their NCAA Tournament chances with a loss at home to bottom-feeder Illinois Wednesday night. There were almost too many problems to name for the Gophers if one were to catalog exactly what went wrong. A good starting point would be the fact that they shot 4-for-25 from three-point range. Deandre Mathieu did not have a good game at all, as his point total matched his turnover total with 3 of each. He fouled out in 24 minutes, showing that Minnesota will only finish strong in their last 4 games if he’s on his game.
  2. East Lansing has loosely resembled a soap opera for much of the season, but all was well for Michigan State Thursday night. They simply went nuts on Purdue from the perimeter in beating them 94-75 in West Lafayette. The Spartans hit 17 three’s on the game, and 13 of them came in the first half. Gary Harris was the ringleader, as he continued to make schools in his home state of Indiana pay. Harris has shot an absurd 56.9 percent from three in his career against Indiana and Purdue.  If this game is the beginning of a hot streak for the future lottery pick, then much of the drama surrounding the program due to injury concerns could very easily go away.
  3. Harris was one high school star from the Hoosier state that went elsewhere, but James Blackmon Jr. will be donning the cream and crimson next season for Indiana. Blackmon Jr. based part of his choice on going somewhere that he can fit in right away, and he feels as though he can help the Hoosiers immediately with his perimeter shooting abilities. If he is as good as advertised, he will play heavy minutes immediately alongside Yogi Ferrell next season, giving IU a sorely-needed shooter from the perimeter that they are currently lacking.
  4. Ohio State has won 5 of their last 6 games, but questions still remain about their viability or ceiling in March. The main questions still are the fact that they can’t get consistent play in the paint, and that they are prone to shooting slumps. Each player on the team has some sort of hole in their respective games, but their defensive pressure and athleticism, and experience could still lead to a deep tournament run. They’ve looked better as of late, and with Aaron Craft starting to attack the basket with a little more aggressiveness, they could very well be peaking at the right time.
  5. Nikola Cerina is normally a fairly under the radar member of the Northwestern basketball team. He generally plays about 10 MPG to spell Alex Olah. Cerina made news Wednesday night however, as it was determined that he threw a punch at Ohio State’s Amir Williams which resulted in his being ejected from the game. Cerina will now have to miss the Wildcats’ next game against Indiana on Saturday. With next to no depth already, this suspension could be a huge problem if Olah gets into foul trouble against the Hoosiers.
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Big Ten M5: 02.19.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 19th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. As many know by now, the Iowa-Indiana game scheduled for Tuesday night was postponed due to a metal beam falling from the roof. It landed and damaged some seats in the upper corner of Assembly Hall. Thankfully, this didn’t happen while a game was taking place where a spectator could have been seriously injured or even worse. The women’s game between Michigan and Indiana also slated to take place at Assembly Hall will take place as scheduled Wednesday night. So now the question is, when will this game be made up? A decision is expected to be made by noon Wednesday, but it will be interesting to see what the teams decide to do with limited flexibility in their schedules at this point in the season.
  2. With losses in four of their last seven games, questions are starting to be raised about Michigan State. The three main questions would have to be: how should they be seeded with their recent struggles, are they still a viable national championship contender, and when will they actually play with their whole lineup intact? Questions two and three are still up in the air, but question one is a little easier. Even with all the injuries, the Spartans can’t truly be taken seriously if they keep losing. They sit at 10-3 in the Big Ten, and 21-5 overall with games at Michigan and at Ohio State left. They also have to play Iowa at home. Unless they win two of those games, and make at least the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament, they may drop as low as a four seed, even with all the injuries.
  3. Speaking of March Madness dreams, it’s almost unfathomable that Nebraska has played their way onto the bubble. Especially after they started out 0-4 in league play. The fact that Nebraska, Northwestern, and Penn State all have played much better than they were predicted could be the biggest storyline of the 2013-14 Big Ten campaign. People still may scoff at the Cornhuskers making the tournament field, even after they win in East Lansing Sunday afternoon. But their resume really is on a par with many of the heavyweights in the college game, many of whom are nationally ranked. With a manageable schedule going forward, they could legitimately sitting at 18-12 before the Big Ten Tournament. If they win a game there, they’ll have built a very solid case to make the field.
  4. Northwestern ranks 342nd out of 345 teams in scoring. They’ve gotten most of their wins-specifically in Big Ten play through their stingy defensive play. One player who’s been able to provide a huge chunk of their offensive output however has been Tre Demps. Demps ranks second in the country in scoring for players that have not started a game at 10.7 PPG. He still plays starters minutes despite starting the game next to Chris Collins, and has really done a nice job in recent games distributing as well. He’s averaging 3.4 APG in his last five games, and sports a 19.1 percent assist rate, good for 16th in the conference.
  5. Wisconsin has had quite the roller coaster of a season thus far after starting out 16-0, losing 5 out 6, then coming back recently and winning 4 in a row. Because of their recent hot streak, they have a legitimate chance at winning the regular season Big Ten title. Their biggest remaining challenge will probably be playing at Iowa on Saturday afternoon. They are projected by KenPom to win the rest of their games after that. The fourth-place Badgers could jump ahead of Iowa with a win against them, and if they won out from there, a 13-5 record could get the job done.
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Big Ten Valentine’s Day Candy Heart Messages

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on February 14th, 2014

It’s the day celebrating romance and love. It also marks the final home stretch of the regular season. In honor of this day, it felt appropriate (or just fun) to take aim at each Big Ten team and the thing they most want — in the form of a candy heart message. So, in alphabetical order, I give you the simple message each conference team would want most to come on a candy heart. Enjoy Valentine’s Day everyone.

Can Tom Crean's Hoosiers end the Badgers' winning streak? (AP).

Tom Crean and company would love to start winning the games its supposed to. (AP)

Illinois: “Not Last In My Heart” – Oh what once was for the Illini this season. The great non-conference play has fallen apart and Illinois is sitting in last place in the Big Ten. Getting out of the cellar would be great for the team.

Indiana: “Your Love Overcomes a Bad Team” – The Hoosiers are quite the fickle team this year. Beating Wisconsin and Michigan but losing at home to Northwestern and Penn State? This team would love to win the games it should the rest of the way and pull off a few more upsets to find itself back on the NCAA bubble.

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Big Ten Postseason Watch: 02.08.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on February 8th, 2014

Conference play has hit the midway point. The top of the Big Ten is already a two team contest contained to the state of Michigan, but the middle of the conference is as muddled as ever with 10th place a mere game and a half back of fourth. With that in mind we examine where the conference’s teams are at in terms of postseason play. All teams currently have a shot of playing somewhere after the conference tournament concludes and RTC’s Daniel Evans currently lists six Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament (as does ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, who adds Indiana in his first four out). The teams will be put into tiers depending on where they currently stand, and we will give you a look at what’s coming up in terms of importance along with the KenPom rankings and RPI according to ESPN. Feel free to tell us how wrong we are in the comments and through social media or how your team’s fortunes will change in the final five weeks of the season.

Fighting for a No. 1 seed

Adreian Payne's return is huge for a Michigan State team wanting to claim a No. 1 seed in March (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

Adreian Payne’s return is huge for a Michigan State team wanting to claim a No. 1 seed in March (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

  • Michigan State (KenPom #12, RPI #10): The injuries to Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson have put the Spartans in a bind inside, but it also has let other players develop their games. Payne’s return comes at the perfect time for the team as it makes the final push for a Big Ten championship and a top seed in March. This team can’t afford to lose many more if it hopes to take a top spot, but with everyone back, even a No. 2 or 3 seed would work just fine for a healthy squad that can contend for the national title.
  • Michigan (KenPom #14, RPI #15): This team is far from dead after the injury to Mitch McGary. The development of freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. has been instrumental to the Wolverines becoming stronger in conference play. The potential for John Beilein’s team to grab a No. 1 seed could be decided this week with two massive tests at Iowa and at Ohio State. Win both and it looks reasonable; lose either and it will be battling for a top four protected seed.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XI

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 5th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Early Returns on Chris Collins Look Great

When former Duke associate head coach Chris Collins was hired at Northwestern this past spring, many felt it was only a matter of time before the local guy from Northbrook, Illinois, would build up the program to a level where it could achieve its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. After a 7-9 (0-3 Big Ten) start to the season, Collins and Northwestern have righted the ship with wins in five of their past seven games. Most impressive have been the three consecutive wins away from Evanston: at Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota. How have the Wildcats done it? Collins has done what any good coach would do — analyze the strengths and weaknesses of his team and implement a style of play that showcases the strengths while minimizing the weaknesses. Northwestern obviously does not have the same talent level as most other teams in the Big Ten so the way to win games is to slow it down, muck it up and play great defense in low possession games. And that is exactly what the Wildcats have done.

Chris Collins is starting to get it done in Evanston.

Chris Collins is starting to get it done in Evanston.

Collins has gotten this team to buy in defensively as Northwestern is currently ranked No. 10 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. In Big Ten play, the Wildcats lead the conference with a 44.6 percent defensive effective field goal percentage. Since allowing 93 points in a loss at Iowa on January 9, Northwestern has allowed only one opponent (also Iowa) to score more than 56 points in regulation time (Purdue scored 60 in a double-overtime loss to the Wildcats but posted just 46 points in regulation). Northwestern’s games in Big Ten play have averaged only 61.2 possessions with an average possession length of 20.4 seconds, both statistics ranking as the slowest in the Big Ten. Last year’s Northwestern team was dead last in defensive efficiency (in league play) under Bill Carmody which shows you how absolutely remarkable it is that Collins has gotten this group to defend at a high level in such a short period of time. While you never want to get ahead of yourself, at this point it would be a surprise if Northwestern doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament over the next five years when you also consider how well Collins is already doing on the recruiting trail.

Syracuse and Duke Exceeds the Hype

Syracuse’s thrilling overtime victory over Duke last Saturday was one of the best regular season college basketball games I can remember in quite some time. It had everything you would want in a big game: a terrific atmosphere with over 35,000 fans in attendance; two Hall of Fame coaches; league title implications (Syracuse entered the game at 7-0, Duke at 6-2); tons of talent on the floor; and an extremely high level of play. Consider this: Syracuse won an overtime game by two points on its home floor and posted an outrageously high offensive efficiency of 1.34 points per possession. It took that good of an offensive performance to stave off the Blue Devils, which posted 1.31 PPP themselves. It is going to be very difficult to top that game but I am very excited for the rematch at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 22. Duke and North Carolina will always be the best rivalry in the ACC and arguably in all of college basketball, but Duke and Syracuse appear to be on their way to another terrific rivalry in what has become a bloated ACC. This new rivalry has the potential to exceed what Duke and Maryland had going for some time as a secondary ACC rivalry now that Maryland will be moving on to the Big Ten next season.

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College Basketball by the Tweets: #BBN Whining, Berkeley Celebrating, Marcus Smart Flopping, and More…

Posted by Nick Fasulo on February 4th, 2014

Nick Fasulo is an RTC correspondent who writes the column College Basketball By the Tweets, a look at the world of college hoops through the prism of everyone’s favorite social media platform. You can find him on Twitter @nickfasuloSBN.

Our latest College Basketball by the Tweets piece opens up again in Lincoln, Nebraska, where a young Cornhuskers fan is really excited to receive a headband from sophomore forward Terran Petteway following the team’s win over Indiana.

As the #BBN Turns

The so-called perfect recruiting class John Calipari brought to Lexington this season has been exposed to have a handful of imperfections. To make it worse, some of those issues may be that of the intangible kind (i.e., lack of effort, team chemistry) than pure talent. Following a rather ugly road loss to LSU last week, the #BBN whine train was chugging along quite nicely.

And then the ultimate jab from the in-state rival:

The ‘Cats did right the ship a bit over the weekend with a nice road win over Missouri, but signs point to continued road inconsistency for the rest of the regular season.

A Sea Of Yellow As No. 1 Goes Down

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The RTC Podblast: Time and Score Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 31st, 2014

Welcome back to the RTC Podblast. In this week’s edition, the guys take a look back at a week filled with some strange upsets, including what might be the only time in the history of podcasts that the Northwestern fight song was used, a discussion of time and score (also known as a 13.5 second interlude), and a look ahead to a ridiculously strong Saturday of college basketball. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts.

Make sure to subscribe to the podcast/podblast on iTunes so that you’ll get all of the episodes immediately downloaded to your listening device.

  • 0:00-5:56 – Wild, Wild Midwest
  • 5:56-9:28 – Iowa Comes Up Short… Again
  • 9:28-13:02 – Kentucky Falls At LSU
  • 13:02-18:44 – Louisville Fails to Validate Randy’s Belief
  • 18:44-24:30 – Busy Weekend Preview
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Morning Five: 01.29.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 29th, 2014

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  1. The announcement that a group of Northwestern football players are asking to be represented by a labor union probably will not elicit the amount of attention it deserves from the general public because… well, they are Northwestern football players, but it could be one of the biggest sports stories of this year. With the backing of the National College Players Association the football players filed a petition to be recognized as employees with the National Labor Relations Board and filed union cards for an undisclosed number of players. Before we get ahead of ourselves we should point out that this is just the first step of the process (“getting a seat at the table” as they say), but it is an important one. As you can imagine the NCAA is not a fan of the idea and has issued a statement essentially saying that athletes do not meet the definition of employees and thus should not be awarded rights typically given to unions. The scope and details of the case go well beyond what we have the space to cover here so we would recommend you check out the excellent Outside the Lines piece we linked to earlier.
  2. We all knew it was coming, but Dante Exum came out and announced it yesterday: he will be entering this year’s NBA Draft. The Australian point guard, who is projected by most to be a top-5 pick in this year’s Draft, had reportedly been considering playing college basketball and even had come up with a list of finalists. Basically it was a list of top programs with no real shot (even UNC where his father played) since Exum is guaranteed NBA millions. Multiple players including Andrew Bogut, a fellow Australian and #1 pick who actually went to college, came out publicly and urged Exum not to go to college. Now college basketball fans can bring back their dreams of landing a star recruit to American high school players.
  3. According to Tim Miles it was not a single incident, but rather a series of them that led him to dismiss Deverell Biggs from the team. Biggs, who redshirted last season after coming to Lincoln as a first-team junior college All-American, was the team’s third-leading scorer at 9.9 points per game despite being a reserve playing just 20.5 minutes per game. We do not know the full extent of the series of incidents that led to Biggs’ dismissal, but he was cited in April 2012 for suspicion of DUI and in December 2012 for leaving the scene of an accident then was suspended in July for a violation of team rules. We do not know what happened to make Miles finally decide to get rid of Biggs, but we imagine that there will be somebody else out there to take a chance on Biggs.
  4. We are not sure what “medical and personal reasons” have led Kennesaw State coach Lewis Preston to take off from his coaching duties since January 2, but the school announced that he will return to his coaching duties at the end of this season. Preston, who is 7-61 (not a typo) as a head coach at Kennesaw State, was replaced by Jimmy Lallathin, who did not do much better going 3-12 as the interim coach. As we said we have no idea what the specific reasons were for Preston’s absence were and it would be reckless to speculate on what those reasons could be so we will just wish Preston the best in his return.
  5. Normally the loss of a player who is averaging 2.8 points and 2.8 rebounds per game would not even merit a mention here (ok, maybe if they did something really dumb), but Xavier’s frontcourt is so thin that the indefinite suspension of freshman forward Jalen Reynolds might have an impact on the team. Despite his limited playing time (partly the result of his propensity to foul) Reynolds is one of the top rebounders on the team and as a freshman one would expect him to improve as the year goes along. Based on the reports on nearly every site it appears that this is an academic issue so we doubt that we will see Reynolds back this season.
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College Basketball by the Tweets: #WraggeBombs, South Florida Jersey Fail & More…

Posted by Nick Fasulo on January 28th, 2014

Nick Fasulo is an RTC correspondent who writes the column College Basketball By the Tweets, a look at the world of college hoops through the prism of everyone’s favorite social media platform. You can find him on Twitter @nickfasuloSBN.

Welcome back to College Basketball by the Tweets. We promise that we’re in tune with the latest social media trends and best practices, and are happy to share such sage advice to the Nebraska Cornhuskers basketball announcers, who are still in the beginning stages of understanding hashtags.

White Kid With A Flat Top Alert

This is Utah State’s Sean Harris. He’s living proof that the flat top, which has made a profound comeback since it was popular back in the 1980s, can transcend both hair and skin color.

Our only wish right now is that we could go back and time and tell former Wisconsin forward Mike Bruesewitz to pioneer this movement.

Ethan Wragge Shoots, Does Not Dribble

It was a night were you could say with complete certainty that Creighton would have defeated any college basketball team in America, and perhaps even the Milwaukee Bucks. Against the unbeaten and then No. 4 ranked Villanova Wildcats, the Bluejays nailed 21 three pointers, nine coming from forward Ethan Wragge, who needed only six minutes to knock down his first seven.

Even more eye-popping was Wragge’s made-three-pointers-to-dribbles ratio, which isn’t even remotely close to a real statistic but something that was easy to track for the reasons noted below. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 01.23.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 23rd, 2014

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  1. When people think of Big Ten basketball, most tend to associate the league with defense, ugly play and low-scoring games. Northwestern has certainly gotten that formula down pat lately. In its last four games — including its double-overtime victory over Purdue — the Wildcats have played ugly and won three of them. It’s quite the change from earlier in the year, as Northwestern all of a sudden has a chance to push for a .500 overall record and a possible NIT berth. Chris Collins came to Evanston wanting to build a defensive-oriented squad and this team is starting to buy in and take on that identity. Its brutal offense may still be lacking, but if Northwestern can limit possessions and hold every team to under 60 points, it has a chance to make some kind of a postseason tournament this year. Would anyone have predicted that just a few short weeks ago?
  2. It is without question that Michigan State is a better team with Adreian Payne on the floor. Despite not playing in the last four games and remaining unbeaten in league play, Tom Izzo still has a tough decision to make on Saturday. With first place in the conference on the line, Sparty hosts Michigan and Izzo does not yet know whether Payne will play. This obviously can’t be an easy decision, but even a slightly hobbled Payne would be huge for the team. The biggest issue is the potential risk involved — if Payne plays and further aggravates the injury, how big of a blow could that be for a team aspiring to win not only a Big Ten title but a national championship?
  3. This wasn’t the start Indiana wanted to its Big Ten conference season. The Hoosiers now sit at 2-4, but that includes games against three teams that were ranked in the top five at the time. Indiana only faces two more current top 10 team in the rest of the conference season (at home against Iowa; away against Wisconsin) so the push for the NCAA Tournament is on. The Hoosiers likely would not be invited as of today, so it can’t afford to lose too many more games. The positive of not playing as many elite teams is obvious in that wins will be easier to come by; the drawback, of course, is that the chance for another marquee win is also diminished.
  4. Richard Pitino has had plenty of experience with big-time programs, but his inaugural Big Ten experience has been  exceptional for the first-year Minnesota head coach. The quotes in the story bring an interesting perspective on the league and how it compares to other conferences. He highlights how Big Ten arenas create a unique experience: “Not every place had home courts like Iowa had, like Nebraska had last night against Ohio State, or like we have. These are the best home courts in all of college basketball.” The arena experience is certainly something that gives additional credence to the idea that the Big Ten is one of the toughest conferences to win in all of college basketball.
  5. It was unreasonable to think Nebraska would go winless in the Big Ten this season. The Cornhuskers had been close in nearly every game to start the conference season, but nobody saw its first victory coming against the likes of Ohio State as it did on Monday night. Tim Miles’ team sprung the upset to land its first win against the Buckeyes since Thad Matta got to Columbus 10 years ago. It did so with strong inside play and contributions from nearly the entire team, which was especially prevalent on the foul line as the Cornhuskers went 20-of-26 there. With all the close losses and a big confidence-building win over the Buckeyes, don’t be surprised if Nebraska pulls another big upset before the conference season is over. Minnesota and Indiana will both visit Lincoln in the coming week.
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It’s Time to Give Northwestern Some Love

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 21st, 2014

After the non-conference season is over, most power conference teams usually come away with a record significantly over .500. So when you start off 7-6 before you even get into your conference, you’re usually going to be doomed to a season where you might win 11-12 games overall. This still might be the case for the 2013-14 Northwestern squad, but the Wildcats have turned things around quite significantly in their last three games. The team has become elite defensively, allowing opponents to score an average only 48 points in their last three games. So what are the catalysts for this impressive turn around where they’ve gone from the team that struggled to beat Brown at home, to beating Illinois and Indiana in consecutive weeks?

Alex Olah has turned into a defensive force for the improving Wildcats( Nam Y. Huh, AP).

Alex Olah has turned into a defensive force for the improving Wildcats. (Nam Y. Huh, AP)

  • Alex Olah: At the beginning of the season, Olah looked like an abnormally tall human being who was told to play basketball simply because of his size. There was no energy, no passion, and no coordination. If you fast forward and take a look at how he’s played from November 9 to the present, you can see a tremendous difference. This can seen without even using one statistic. He aggressively posts now and tries to seal his man, almost like he just woke up one day and realized that he’s 7-feet tall and weighs 265 pounds. He’ll occasionally take a three here and there that the team could do without, but he’s done a much better job being active both offensively and defensively. Part of the reason teams don’t get many points in the paint against Northwestern is because of the presence of Olah in the middle. He’s pushed his averages up to 10.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 2.0 BPG in conference games, compared to 8.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 1.8 BPG in non-conference games. More importantly, he’s gone up from 25.1 MPG to 32.0 in league play. His ability to stay on the floor and not pick up cheap fouls that seemingly plague almost every big man in college basketball has lead to the team defense staying strong throughout the game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Extended Weekend in Review: Upsets Abound

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 21st, 2014

The third weekend of conference play was marked by several unexpected results. After Nebraska knocked off Ohio State Monday night, three Big Ten underdogs had come away with unlikely wins. The Cornhuskers got their first conference win against a staggering Buckeyes squad while Northwestern has now won two more league games than some predicted it would get all year. Here are the rest of the extended weekend highlights from a relatively crazy weekend.

Caris LeVert played a an outstanding all-around game in their upset win at Wisconsin(Gregory Shamus, Getty).

Caris LeVert played a an outstanding all-around game in their upset win at Wisconsin(Gregory Shamus, Getty).

Player of the Weekend: Caris LeVert, Michigan: One of the main reasons why Michigan has survived Mitch McGary’s unfortunate injury is because players like LeVert have stepped up in his absence. He was a huge factor on Saturday, scoring 20 points on 3-of-3 shooting from behind the arc. He also produced seven rebounds, four assists and four steals in a stellar outing. His length allows him to be a defensive menace on the perimeter, where he pestered the Wisconsin guards throughout the evening. On the offensive end, he was able to not only knock down outside shots, but also penetrate and drive at will. LeVert continues to be one of the most improved players in the Big Ten this season.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Zach McCabe, Iowa: This bullish bench player for the Hawkeyes has been struggling with his shooting. He went 0-of-8 from the field against Ohio State last Sunday, but he came back against Minnesota and played the most minutes (22) he’s played since Iowa’s early December win against Notre Dame. He was extremely productive in that extended time against the Gophers despite not lighting up the scoreboard, ending up with eight points, five rebounds, three assists and a team-high three steals. McCabe and Josh Ogelsby show why Iowa is so dangerous — they can avoid foul trouble and ineffectiveness from the starters and still beat a solid team handily.

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