Key Questions For Michigan State at Ohio State Today

Posted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on March 9th, 2014

It’s the final weekend of the regular season and teams are either jockeying for seeding or trying to get on the right side of the bubble. Later this afternoon, Michigan State will travel to Ohio State and, with both teams clearly in the NCAA Tournament field already, this game will be about building momentum for the Big Ten Tournament and beyond. Once again, RTC Big Ten writers Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody preview the game as they each ask one another a question about the today’s match-up.

Keith Appling and the Spartans' offense try to keep the momentum going against Ohio State on Sunday. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

Keith Appling and the Spartans’ offense try to keep the momentum going against Ohio State on Sunday. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

AM: In its last two games, Ohio State’s defense (#2 in KenPom) has underperformed against two inferior teams (Indiana and Penn State). Meanwhile, Michigan State’s offense (#18 in KenPom) has been inconsistent since the beginning of February. In the match-up between the Buckeyes’ defense vs the Spartans’ offense today, which comes out on top, and why?

BB: It’s hard to say whether Michigan State’s performance Thursday night against Iowa was simply the result of Iowa’s porous defense or a sign that the Spartans are once again fully healthy and clicking on all cylinders. Numbers like 1.26 points per possession, 58.3 percent shooting from the field, and 20 assists on 28 made fields goals, aren’t anything to take lightly, whether they were accomplished against the league’s third-worst defense in conference play or otherwise. Part of the problem for Ohio State in its two losses is that the Buckeyes let their opponents shoot 38.7 percent from three even though they forced an average of 17 turnovers. The Spartans hit 11 threes the first time these two teams played, and after witnessing Thursday’s offensive clinic, I think they’re going to get the best of the Ohio State defense. Thad Matta’s team wins on defense by eliminating the three, but Michigan State is a bad match-up because of the way they share the ball (11th in the country in assist rate), and how they can spread things out in transition with multiple shooters that can burn you. Kenny Kaminski, Travis Trice, Adreian Payne and Appling all shoot over 40 percent from distance for the season, and Gary Harris is 16-of-33 in his last four games from that distance. I think the Iowa game showed what everyone thought at the beginning of the season. Michigan State is about to go on a run, and Ohio State won’t stop them this afternoon.

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Can Ohio State Find Enough Offense to Stay Off the Bubble?

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on February 1st, 2014

Dear Ohio State fans, it is finally time to have this conversation. I didn’t want to have this talk because, well, with a decade of Big Ten dominance on his side, it seemed silly to doubt head coach Thad Matta. I just assumed he’d turn it around sooner than later because things tend to work out for him more often than not. But after the Buckeyes’ one-point overtime loss to Penn State in Columbus and losses in five of their last six games, it’s apparent that this Ohio State team is not very good right now, and they are a likely bubble team as of today. I know that statement stings; heck, a few weeks ago I even wrote this article on how the Buckeyes may have the best road to the Big Ten championship. And to be honest, I’m not sure that Matta doesn’t find a way to salvage this season. In his 10 seasons in Columbus, he has two Final Four appearances, five regular season championships, and four Big Ten Tournament championships. But at the moment, this offense, and therefore this team, seems incapable of competing with the Big Ten elites.

After their home loss to Penn State, Thad Matta and his Buckeyes may be sweating it out selection Sunday.

After their home loss to Penn State, Thad Matta and his Buckeyes may be sweating it out on Selection Sunday.

To say Ohio State’s resume is weak may be a bit too kind; the Buckeyes’ best win is against a Marquette team which is 12-9 and at .500 in the Big East. On the other side of the ledger, the Buckeyes now have bad losses against Nebraska and Penn State. Last week I pointed out that the team’s recent struggles can be traced back to its anemic offense. Before the Penn State game, their last five offensive performances were logged at 0.88, 0.96, 0.82, 0.90, and 1.02 points per possession. But lately, their defense — which has a current adjusted defensive efficiency of 0.89 points per possession and was #1 in the nation for most of the first half of the season — has not been nearly as dominant. In the same five games, Ohio State has allowed their opponents to score 1.01, 1.18, 0.99, 0.95, and 0.86 points per possession. The Buckeyes’ defense disappointed again on Wednesday night as they allowed 1.06 points per possession from Penn State — a team ranked eighth in the conference by offensive efficiency.

Buckeye fans, if you’re looking for hope, you may find it in the computer models that still think this team is among the top 25 in the country. Both KenPom and Sagarin have Ohio State ranked 21st and 17th in their national rankings, respectively. So if you’re of the belief that some of these latest losses are just the case of a slump combined with some bad luck, you aren’t completely without merit. But even if Matta’s defense rounds back into form, they’re going to need to upset a few of the better Big Ten teams to pad that resume and offset the bad losses. That’s a tall task to request from this offense.

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Want to Win in the Big Ten? You’d Better Get Your Offense Right

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 23rd, 2014

This isn’t your father’s offensively challenged but physical Big Ten. This year the league houses three of the top five efficient offenses in the nation (Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin). In fact, certain teams’ offenses, or obvious lack of offense, have challenged our preconceived notions of how the league might shake out over the next two months. Two weeks ago, I wrote that Ohio State, after its overtime to loss to Michigan State, still had a great shot to win the Big Ten title because of its soft conference schedule. On Monday night, the Buckeyes lost to perpetual bottom-dweller Nebraska, extending their losing streak to four games. Four weeks ago, Michigan looked dead in the water when news broke that center Mitch McGary would have season-ending back surgery. Last night, the Wolverines put on an offensive show in their defeat of Iowa by eight points in Ann Arbor. They now find themselves tied for first place with a 6-0 record in league play. Each team’s change of fortune can be explained through the evolution (or devolution) of their offense.

Shannon Scott hasn't been the offensive weapon the Buckeyes have hoped. And it may be costing them losses in the conference. (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

Shannon Scott hasn’t been an offensive option off the bench. And it may be costing them losses in the conference. (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

While physical play and strong defenses are still league constants, some teams are now surging due to their offensive prowess while others are sinking because of their offensive fecklessness. Take the case of Michigan, a team that has surprised the Big Ten with its undefeated record through the first third of conference play. The Wolverines racked up four losses in non-conference play, but their offense has hit another gear since. In the last five games, Michigan has not had an eFG rate below 58 percent and has averaged approximately 1.2 points per possession. Sophomores Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III have led the way by averaging 34.8 PPG combined in those five games. Robinson has been especially surprising after his mediocre start to the season. On the flip side is the case of Ohio State. The Buckeyes have the best defense in the league by a significant margin, but at best a middle-of-the-road offense. The Buckeyes were hoping Shannon Scott would contribute in the scoring department off the bench, but that has not come to fruition. In their four consecutive losses, Scott is averaging a measly 4.0 PPG and Ohio State as a team has shot below 45 percent from the field in each of those games.

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Big Ten M5: 01.14.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 14th, 2014

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  1. Injuries have plagued Michigan State throughout the season and have affected some of their most important players, including Gary Harris, Branden Dawson, and Adreian Payne. Payne did not play in Saturday’s win against Minnesota because of a nagging ankle injury. Now, Tom Izzo says he will keep his star big man on the bench until he’s 100 percent healthy. Michigan State has managed to keep winning despite its health misfortunes, but if this keeps being an issue, it could affect their chances of a Big Ten title and a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. Sadly, this would deprive us of seeing the full potential of one of the better teams Izzo has put together during his tenure, a loss for fans of Big Ten basketball.
  2. It has not been the best of weeks for Ohio State. The Buckeyes are on a two-game losing skid after dropping games at Michigan State (in overtime) and at home versus Iowa. If the Buckeyes are to end this streak and insert themselves back into the Big Ten championship conversation, they’ll need to do it with their elite defense. LaQuinton Ross has been unable to replace last season’s Big Ten scoring leader, Deshaun Thomas (19.8 PPG), as many had projected. So the Buckeyes are left with focusing on their top-ranked defense (0.87 points per possession) to shore up their offensive inefficiencies. They failed to do this in the last two games when they gave up 0.96 and 1.14 points per possession, respectively, against the Spartans and Hawkeyes.
  3. Tom Crean‘s team isn’t where he hoped it would be at this point in the season. Indiana is 1-2 in conference play and 11-5 overall with no signature wins on its midseason resume. Things aren’t about to get any easier as an undefeated Wisconsin visits Assembly Hall tonight. Crean had high praise for Bo Ryan‘s squad on Monday: “I have tremendous respect for that program. That’s what a great team looks like. I think you can start with Bo, and that’s what a great coach looks like.” The Indiana head man has been at the receiving end of Ryan’s ‘greatness’ over the years, as he is 3-14 all-time in games against Ryan (0-10 while at Indiana). Given how the Badgers have been blowing out their lesser opponents, Crean will have to do one heck of a coaching job for his Hoosiers to earn his first Big Ten win over Ryan.
  4. Once the announcement came that Mitch McGary would opt to undergo back surgery and effectively end his season, most thought Michigan would struggle and might even fall apart. At least so far, the Wolverines have been able to tread water competently and are currently sit at 3-0 in the Big Ten. A big reason has been the aggressive play of freshman Derrick Walton, Jr., who had the tough duty of replacing last year’s National Player of Year, Trey Burke. Burke was a facilitator who made everyone on the team better, while Walton has focused more on getting his own shot because that is what his team needs right now. On the last possession of last Thursday’s game against Nebraska, Walton drove the ball for an and-one that secured the win. No one is expecting Michigan to compete for a Big Ten title this season, but Walton’s newfound confidence will keep the Wolverines competitive and set them up for high expectations next season.
  5. If you happened to catch Sunday night’s game of Illinois at Northwestern, you probably wished you had watched the Golden Globes instead, or even the Yule-Log channel. The Wildcats won an awkward, hard-to-watch, 49-43 affair where both teams shot below 40 percent from the field. While the game certainly didn’t help the overall brand of college basketball, it did get Northwestern’s first-year head coach, Chris Collins, his first Big Ten win. His father, former NBA head coach Doug Collins, was in Welsh-Ryan arena and was able to share the nice moment with him. It was a big moment in his early coaching career and is another step in the right direction for the rebuilding process in Evanston.
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Big Ten M5: 03.13.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on March 13th, 2013

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  1. Ohio State has had its struggles this season, particularly in finding a consistent offensive threat outside of Deshaun Thomas. However, the Buckeyes have gone on a hot streak as of late — ironically, they’ve done it in a stretch when Thomas has struggled — and surged to grab the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament. Late-season surges such as this are nothing new under coach Thad Matta. As the Columbus Dispatch points out, Matta’s teams have won 15 consecutive games in the final week of the regular season, a streak that dates back to 2005. This year — as we’ve seen before — OSU is peaking at the right time, right before the “win and advance” portion of the season.
  2. Finishing No. 8 in the country and getting a No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament is quite the accomplishment, especially for a team that lost its leader and best player from last season. However, it’s not enough for Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. MSU was on top of the conference a few weeks ago, but it lost two close games to Michigan and Indiana down the stretch, which ultimately kept the Spartans from winning the Big Ten regular season title. Not getting that championship is an extra incentive for Izzo and his team this weekend, as they try to claim a Big Ten Tournament championship. Not only that, but a run in Chicago would necessarily include some pretty impressive wins, which would give MSU great confidence heading into the NCAA Tournament.
  3. One of the reasons John Groce got the job at Illinois this season is because of the success he enjoyed at Ohio, particularly in the postseason. His Bobcats won the MAC last season and upset Michigan in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Now, he’s heading into his first postseason as a Big Ten coach, but the competition is much tougher here than it was in the MAC Tournament. Still, Groce is excited for his first opportunity to coach in the Big Ten Tournament, and he’s equally excited for his team, which will get the chance to regain some momentum after a bit of a slide to end the regular season.
  4. Sunday’s Michigan-Indiana game was one for the ages, coming down to the final seconds with a tough roll ending up as the difference between a win and a loss for the Wolverines. However, that game just about defined the season for John Beilein’s team, which has shown its incredible potential at times but has also struggled with consistency. The Wolverines have the talent to be the best team in the country, but Bill Simonson of MLive questions whether they have the toughness to make a serious run in the NCAA Tournament. Can UM shake its most recent loss to IU? The talent is there, but it might be tough to get over it.
  5. Iowa has played its last four games without freshman point guard Mike Gesell, but with do-or-die time looming in the Big Ten Tournament, Gesell expects to play on Thursday when the Hawkeyes suit up against Northwestern. Gesell has a stress reaction in his foot, but since it isn’t fractured, he’s been cleared to play despite the pain that limits his abilities. He said he should be able to go. Head coach Fran McCaffery said he will support whatever decision Gesell comes to, noting that the Hawkeyes could certainly use him this week if he’s able to play.
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Big Ten M5: 03.07.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on March 7th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. The postgame scene at Assembly Hall after Indiana’s loss to Ohio State on Tuesday night was… well, it’s tough to really describe it. “Odd” doesn’t really do it justice. Following the loss, The Hoosiers held a ceremony for their departing seniors and cut down the nets to celebrate clinching a share of the Big Ten title, thanks to a Michigan win over Michigan State two days earlier. IU won, but it lost. It was celebrating, but the scene was depressing. It’s strange that IU was so set on having a net-cutting ceremony that it didn’t wait until the Big Ten Tournament, when it would have made a lot more sense.
  2. Michigan State still has a lot to play for this season, including a Big Ten title and a subsequent run in March Madness. However, the Spartans got some good news for next season when they found out forward Branden Dawson plans on returning for his junior year. Dawson is likely a future NBA player and he has improved and lived up to his potential considerably since stepping on campus two falls ago. Staying an extra year gives him the chance to make the jump to elite and becoming a certain first round pick. This news potentially extends a long streak of MSU players not leaving early, dating back to Shannon Brown’s departure in 2006.
  3. Despite its early-season hype, Ohio State quickly dropped into the second tier of the Top 25 due to quite a bit of inconsistency from its young players. Outside of Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft, the Buckeyes have struggled to find contributors on both ends of the floor. Now, however, OSU is rolling on a four-game winning streak after taking down Indiana in Bloomington. The most encouraging sign is that the Buckeyes are doing it without dominance from Thomas, who has recently been in a scoring slump. If OSU can win without Thomas carrying them, who’s to say they can’t go on a run in March if he finds his groove?
  4. The Big Ten race is confusing. Five teams can potentially still win a share of the conference title, and depending on a number of different scenarios, we will likely see multiple-way ties for first place in the conference. This chart from The Only Colors is by far the best way to tell how any potential ties will be broken up. Since the Indiana-OSU and Michigan-Purdue games have already been played, the number of possibilities has since narrowed, but Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin still all have a chance to get the No. 1 overall seed, even though Indiana is far and away the favorite.
  5. Sunday’s loss to Purdue was a tale of two halves for Wisconsin, just as it was for Badgers’ guard Traevon Jackson. Jackson had been playing well recently, and he continued that trend in the first half against the Boilermakers. But he struggled in the second half, particularly with his passing the ball. While he had problems earlier in the year with his passing, he looked like he had gotten the issue fixed in recent games. Before the Purdue game, Jackson had three of his most efficient offensive games of the season, which also turned out to be some of Wisconsin’s most efficient games this year. In order for the Badgers to be effective down the stretch, Jackson can’t play like he did in the second half on Sunday.
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Big Ten M5: 02.14.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on February 14th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan State was always considered one of the better teams in the Big Ten, but it hadn’t been considered one of the favorites for the conference title to this point. The Spartans’ blowout win over Michigan on Tuesday night represented a shift in that thinking. MSU is peaking at just the right time after some inconsistency early in the season. Veterans Derrick Nix, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson are all stepping up, along with star freshmen Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine. Tom Izzo’s teams are notorious for their ability to turn things on at the end of the season and play well in March. MSU has to stay consistent, but if the Spartans play like they did against the Wolverines, they’ll be tough to beat many more times this season.
  2. Ohio State needed to fill a void in leadership and on-court production when it lost Jared Sullinger last year, and the most obvious player to fill that void was Deshaun Thomas. Thomas has lived up to the calling and become one of the most productive players in the Big Ten. However, he has changed a lot off the court, as well, thanks to his infant son. Deshaun Jr. was born the night Ohio State played Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament last March and it has changed Thomas’ perspective. Having a son has helped him become more responsible and made him realize that he now has someone looking up to him. That means less time for celebration of games, but it’s still rewarding for him to be able to go home and spend time with his son.
  3. When Fran McCaffery came to Iowa City, his fast-paced offensive style was a welcome change for a program that had just endured three years of slow, unexciting basketball under Todd Lickliter. However, while McCaffery has helped turn the Iowa program around, he recognized the need for better defense if the Hawkeyes were to take the next step. This year, his team has largely delivered on its promise to play better defense. Last year, Iowa gave up an average of 72 points per game through 24 games, but the Hawkeyes are down to 63.9 points per game this year through the same span. Iowa gave up 74.2 points per game through 11 Big Ten games last year, but has given up just 67.2 points per game through that same span this year — and this year’s schedule is far more front-loaded. That’s the largest drop in the conference and a big reason why Iowa is back in the conversation for NCAA Tournament contention.
  4. Over the past week, Illinois has regained the impressive form that it showed early in the season, and part of that is due to the contributions of Sam McLaurin. McLaurin, a fifth-year senior transfer from Coastal Carolina, earned himself a spot in the starting lineup this year and has provided a boost for the Illini on both ends of the floor. McLaurin did a nice job making plays off the ball against Indiana, but Illinois coach John Groce was especially impressed with his performance on defense against Minnesota. Groce said McLaurin received higher grades on defensive hustle stats in that game than any player he has ever coached. For a team that is a bit undersized in the frontcourt, McLaurin’s contributions will continue to be important down the stretch.
  5. Like every year it seems, this was supposed to be the year that Northwestern finally broke its NCAA Tournament curse. The Wildcats seemed to have the talent coming into the season, but they’ve been hit by a number of personnel losses, and two more hit recently. Jared Swopshire and Alex Olah both went down in NU’s loss to Iowa, and while Olah has a concussion and will return, Swopshire is done for the year after having arthroscopic knee surgery. The Wildcats now have very little depth in the frontcourt due to all of this year’s injuries. Sippin’ on Purple does a good job of rehashing all of NU’s injury struggles this year. First, JerShon Cobb was suspended for the season (not an injury, but still a problem), then Drew Crawford went down in December. Freshmen Sanjay Lumpkin and Chier Ajou also had season-ending injuries, while Nikola Cerina, Reggie Hearn and Alex Marcotullio have all dealt with injuries at one time or another this year.
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Big Ten M5: 02.01.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on February 1st, 2013

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  1. Before the season, Keith Appling wasn’t even a Michigan State captain. Tom Izzo was looking at the veteran point guard to become a leader on an off the court for the Spartans, who had lost last year’s emotional leader Draymond Green. Appling has now earned captain status and Izzo has noticed a big change from his junior point guard. Izzo said Appling is doing a better job of communicating on the floor and showing his confidence after sitting down with former MSU point guard Mateen Cleaves. Appling learned to fight through adversity after a rough past, and now he’s doing it on the court, becoming the leader Izzo had hoped for at the beginning of the season.
  2. Ohio State has had trouble finding players outside of Deshaun Thomas, Sam Thompson and Aaron Craft to step up this season. The Buckeyes certainly have talent, but its supporting players — Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and LaQuinton Ross, to name a few — haven’t been consistent. That has resulted in inconsistent playing time among that bunch. OSU has been searching for an alternative offensive option to Thompson and it appears it may have found its answer in Ross. Ross has seen the court much more recently, and part of that is due to his improved listening to coach Thad Matta. He’s taking in more direction from the coaching staff, and subsequently seeing more of the floor.
  3. There aren’t many legitimate criticisms of No. 1 Michigan right now, considering how the Wolverines have been playing. However, people are always trying to find something wrong with top teams, so the common criticism of UM in recent weeks is that its roster isn’t deep enough. After all, the Wolverines rank 326th in the country in bench minutes, according to Ken Pomeroy. But part of the reason the Wolverines don’t go to their bench much is that the starters have played so well. Now though, in the wake of Jordan Morgan’s injury, Michigan is proving that it has enough depth. Jon Horford started the Wolverines’ game against Northwestern earlier this week and gave his team solid minutes, while freshman Mitch McGary also played well. Michigan may not have a star big man, but its frontcourt has proven it can play well this year, even without Morgan manning the paint.
  4. The press has been Minnesota’s best friend and its worst enemy this season. After struggling with its execution earlier in non-conference play, the Gophers’ press worked very well against Nebraska, returning to the form we saw during the non-conference season. Minnesota struggled to press against teams that like to slow things down like Northwestern and Wisconsin, but the Gophers were able to be successful against Nebraska, which employs the same tempo strategy. The bigger issue against the Wildcats and Badgers was their failure to execute in other areas of the game, such as free throw shooting. That prevented the Gophers from ever going all out with the press in those contests.
  5. It’s tough to find a bright spot out of a 97-60 loss, especially a home loss to your rival when coming off a solid win. However, Purdue’s A.J. Hammons was a bright spot for the Boilermakers in their drubbing at the hands of Indiana earlier this week. Hammons was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school, but like most freshman big men, he has been inconsistent in his first college season. However, he was exceptional against Indiana, scoring 30 points and blocking five shots in 28 minutes, showing the potential we’re likely to see from him down the road. While he didn’t get much help against the Hoosiers, his consistency will be key to how Purdue finishes its season.
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Big Ten M5: 01.16.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on January 16th, 2013

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  1. Despite a valiant comeback effort that nearly resulted in a win at Assembly Hall, Minnesota ended up falling to Indiana in its first Big Ten loss on Saturday. The Gophers fell behind by 23 at halftime due to a slow start, and Tubby Smith said part of that was due to a lack of aggressiveness. The Indiana game wasn’t the only slow start Minnesota has had. The Gophers also got into an early hole against Illinois before coming back for an impressive win. They did the same against some inferior competition in non-conference season. Minnesota has the talent to hang with anyone in the country, but in games against top teams,the Gophers must make sure they are strong from the start.
  2. The Big Ten has some fairly active coaches on Twitter. Indiana’s Tom Crean tweets a lot of biblical passages while Nebraska’s Tim Miles tweets about his games at halftime. But don’t expect Tom Izzo to join Twitter any time soon as the Michigan State coach hates the social media platform. There are a lot of good quotes in that article from Izzo, who said he thinks his players listen to criticism more because of it. He has also had conversations with Derrick Nix, who searches his name after every game to retweet fans who criticized him during the game.
  3. In Tim Miles’ first season in Lincoln, nobody expected Nebraska to make much noise in the Big Ten. And while the Huskers have still yet to win a conference game, they have kept things close with both Michigan and Michigan State on the road, thanks to stellar defensive play. Tom Izzo came away impressed with Miles’ squad and said, “I don’t think anybody wants to play them home or away.” Even more impressive, Nebraska held its own against Michigan State without top player Brandon Ubel.
  4. Ohio State has struggled to score this year, and that was very evident at Illinois in a lopsided loss. The Buckeyes have been able to score in transition and have gotten points in the paint at times, but they don’t have consistent shooters. However, the defense was outstanding in their win over Michigan on Sunday and the offense was good enough. Aaron Craft frustrated Trey Burke and the Buckeyes did the same to freshman stars Nick Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. The Wolverines admitted to noticing the pressure. Considering how inconsistent the offense is, Ohio State’s season outlook could depend on how the defense plays from here on out.
  5. When Wisconsin arrives at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Iowa will be facing the Big Ten’s lone undefeated team. That plus the prospect of playing a rival makes the game a good one, but an added emotional dimension will be in play, as well. The Hawkeyes will be honoring the legacy of former player Chris Street, who died in a car accident 20 years ago. Rick Brown of The Des Moines Register has a nice story on Street’s legacy, his family, and the impact he has left on the University of Iowa.
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Big Ten M5: 12.14.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on December 14th, 2012

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  1. Michigan coach John Beilein isn’t scared to use his five highly-touted freshmen this year, and he solidified that this week when he said he would stick with a nine-man rotation, including all five of those rookies. Freshmen Nick Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III will continue to start alongside Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan, but Caris LeVert, Mitch McGary, Spike Albrecht and Jon Horford will all see significant minutes, as well. The Wolverines have one of the deepest teams in the league, and with the freshmen living up to the hype so far, they have the potential to put a dangerous lineup on the court for the entire game.
  2. With so many new faces, Northwestern has been fairly inconsistent en route to a 7-3 start. The Wildcats won at Baylor, but have home losses to Maryland, Illinois-Chicago and Butler, with Texas State and Stanford coming to Evanston next week. Northwestern has spent the last four years on the NCAA Tournament bubble and fans are becoming restless about the team’s chances this year. CBS Chicago’s Dave Wischnowsky wonders how much more “close but no cigar” NU will accept, and whether coach Bill Carmody will be shown the door if things don’t turn around this season.
  3. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo has been hitting the recruiting circuit hard recently, looking at top recruits Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander and Tyus Jones, among others, but the Spartans’ head coach isn’t a fan of such road trips. Izzo would like the NCAA to shorten the length of time in which coaches are able to evaluate recruits in order to allow coaches more time with their families. Coaches have very little time off from September to March, and a change in the rules would also allow them more time to spend with their teams during the season. Izzo admits that his words go “on deaf ears,” but he thinks teams could get the same players even if the rules were changed.
  4. Iowa has three freshmen in its starting lineup this year, which means that some veterans have had to embrace bench roles. Zach McCabe and Melsahn Basabe, in particular, have given up playing time for the newcomers, but they’re OK with it if it helps the team. Coach Fran McCaffery is impressed with how his upperclassmen have bought into the program and accepted their new roles this season, even if it means they won’t be in the starting lineup. It’s not all bad for McCabe and Basabe, though, as both see minutes comparable to what the starters see. As long as they’re winning, the Hawkeye players don’t really care how it happens, even if that means sitting on the bench to start the game.
  5. It’s mid-December, which means it’s cupcake season in college basketball. Ohio State picked up a routine 85-45 cupcake victory over Savannah State this week, which will put another tally in the win column for the Buckeyes, but Rob Oller wonders if the game was really that beneficial. It’s a way for players — especially role players — to gain confidence, but there isn’t much good that it does for the starters. Since it’s difficult for players to get up for this kind of game, coach Thad Matta was forced to exaggerate what Savannah State brings to the table, all adding up to a yawner. But if this kind of game can inspire confidence in the players, that, says Oller, is really all that’s important.
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Big Ten M5: 12.07.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on December 7th, 2012

  1. Amir Williams was a star recruit coming out of high school, but the sophomore center rode the bench for much of his freshman campaign. Now, Ohio State is counting on Williams to be a major contributor, but before he becomes the star that many projected, he has to improve his consistency. He had 10 rebounds in a loss to Duke, but has struggled to rebound in other games. Free throws have been an issue at times, too, but he was 6-of-7 from the line against the Blue Devils. The potential is there, but the stat sheet needs to reflect that potential every game. As for the hype, coach Thad Matta isn’t a big fan of those recruiting sites: “I think that’s what’s kind of wrong with society today. Joe Blow’s got an opinion and everybody think that’s the gospel.”
  2. After a fast start to the season, Michigan State freshman guard Gary Harris suffered a shoulder injury and missed two games. In the three games since coming back, he’s been inconsistent shooting the ball, and part of that could be due to a shoulder harness that he’s been forced to wear. However, Harris refuses to use the harness as an excuse for his poor shooting. He said confidence isn’t an issue, but each game it takes him some time to get used to the harness. Despite a poor shooting start in the Spartans’ game against Arkansas Pine-Bluff, he still provided a spark for his team and finished with 13 points and three steals.
  3. Minnesota is ranked anywhere between No. 14 and No. 21 in the nation in various polls, and is likely just a few wins away from being the highest-ranked Gophers team in the Tubby Smith era. There is certainly star power in Minneapolis, as the Gophers boast Andre Hollins, Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, but the depth of this team is equally impressive. Austin Hollins and Joe Coleman have both been key contributors. The scary part? Mbakwe comes off the bench, since he is struggling with injuries. The last time Minnesota was ranked this high, it ended up missing out on the NCAA Tournament. As long as the depth stays solid, that isn’t likely to happen this year.
  4. Trey Burke is having an All-America-caliber sophomore start for Michigan after a breakout freshman year, and he’s drawing high praise from the national media. Burke will be in the NBA soon enough, and he’s already drawing comparisons to one of the NBA’s best in Chris Paul. ESPN has a nice article comparing the two, highlighting their exceptional passing abilities. Not only are both good at getting their teammates involved, but they also both know how to score when necessary. Of course, Burke still has a long way to go in order to reach Paul’s status, but he certainly has the potential to eventually become an NBA star.
  5. Last year, Baylor’s big men dominated a Northwestern team that essentially didn’t have one en route to a huge win in Evanston. This year, however, the Wildcats’ frontcourt — still considered a weak link — took it to the Bears in Waco for their best win of the season to date. NU out-rebounded Baylor 34-27 and unheralded Wildcats freshman Alex Olah outplayed Bears blue-chip recruit Isaiah Austin at center. The physicality from Olah, Drew Crawford, Jared Swopshire and Reggie Hearn was a welcome change from how the Wildcats normally operate. Their consistency still needs to come, especially at center, but the Wildcats showed they have the potential to play with teams that are much more talented then them on the inside.
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Big Ten M5: 11.21.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on November 21st, 2012

  1. Penn State was never on anyone’s short list to be a Big Ten Tournament contender, but it has one of the best players in the conference in guard Tim Frazier. The Nittany Lions’ prospects got even worse on Monday, as Frazier went down with an Achilles injury. Coach Pat Chambers confirmed on Tuesday that Frazier would miss the remainder of the season. Frazier should be able to get a medical redshirt to play next season, so that’s good news for Chambers’ rebuilding squad. However, this year will likely be rough without Frazier, who was Penn State’s leader last year in every major statistical category. Now, D.J. Newbill, Ross Travis and Jermaine Marshall all need to step up. If they all show improvement and take on bigger roles, the Nittany Lions could have a decent team next year when Frazier returns.
  2. On the subject of injuries, Michigan State may have taken a major hit when star freshman guard Gary Harris left the game with a left shoulder injury. Coach Tom Izzo did not sound optimistic about the situation, saying at best case Harris would be out with a sprain, and at worst would be out “a lot, lot, lot, lot, lot, lot, lot longer.” Harris will get an MRI on Wednesday, but it’s a bad situation no matter what. Harris is the team’s leading scorer and has broken out early this year for the Spartans. He went out at the beginning of Tuesday’s game and MSU struggled without him, beating Boise State 74-70. If Harris is out for an extended period of time, MSU will need Keith Appling and Denzel Valentine to step up and provide more consistent scoring.
  3. It’s not often that you see a 6-foot-1 guard atop a list of rebounding leaders, but that’s exactly what Ben Brust has done at Wisconsin. In fact, he was tied for third in the Big Ten in rebounding before Tuesday’s games, behind Michigan State’s Derrick Nix and Indiana’s Cody Zeller. Brust has put together a phenomenal start for the Badgers. He’s second on the team in points per game, and leads in both rebounds per game and assists per game. He recorded a double-double in the opener against Southeastern Louisiana and did the same against Cornell. Tuesday, he had another double-double, this time leading the team in both points and rebounds with 20 and 12. Wisconsin needed someone to step up at guard in place of injured Josh Gasser, and it looks like the Badgers have found their guy.
  4. Ohio State’s team is full of young talent as it is, but the Buckeyes will be adding even more young stars in the coming years. This week, OSU got the commitments of 2014 forwards Jae’Sean Tate and Kieta Bates-Diop, both four-star recruits. Tate chose the Buckeyes over Michigan, while Bates-Diop chose them over Illinois, Michigan and Purdue. OSU just signed four-star forward Marc Loving and four-star guard Kameron Williams for the 2013 class, and are still on the board for some top 2014 prospects. It’s tough to judge recruits just based off their star ratings, but considering the other offers Tate and Bates-Diop had, this was a big win for OSU. The Buckeyes will have no shortage of talent in the years to come.
  5. Michigan has climbed to No. 4 in the rankings without playing anyone of not this year, but that changes when the Wolverines head to Madison Square Garden to face Pittsburgh in the 2K Sports Classic. After the matchup with the Panthers, Michigan will face either Kansas State or Delaware. This will be a chance for coach John Beilein to see how his young team performs on the big stage. He said that he hopes his team is ready after a week of fixing the “holes” they’ve had. There haven’t been too many holes for the Wolverines, who have dominated lesser competition behind star sophomore point guard Trey Burke, senior Tim Hardaway and freshmen Glenn Robinson III and Nick Stauskas. Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary have been impressive, as well, which is a tribute to this team’s outstanding depth. Now the Wolverines have to prove they can replicate that success on the big stage and against quality opponents. They’ll get that chance against Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
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