Some Big Ten X-Factors That Will Shape the Conference Race

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 29th, 2014

It’s easy to sit here and write that players like Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell will be key factors in how the Big Ten race shapes up once conference play begins this week. It’s a little harder to dig deeper and find several of the league’s non-superstars who will also have significant roles in the final determinations. Is it the freshman who starts to understand the speed of the game and plays much better with a few games under his belt? Or is it the underachieving senior who plays with an increased urgency now that his career is coming to a close? Here’s a look at several non-household Big Ten players who will be key cogs for their teams over the next couple of months.

Bronson Koenig has played well after struggling early for Wisconsin. (Reuters)

Bronson Koenig has played well after struggling early for Wisconsin. (Reuters)

  • Bronson Koenig: The sophomore guard struggled in his first five games, only averaging 2.8 PPG on 33 percent shooting from the floor. Since then, he’s increased his output to 6.3 PPG on 40 percent shooting over seven games. The Badgers have not yet really replaced the three-point production of Ben Brust despite their 12-1 record, so Koenig will need to be a more consistent offensive option when he gets called upon.
  • Aaron Cosby: Illinois has done a good job in being less reliant on Rayvonte Rice this season. His usage rate has only dropped only a bit (from 26.6 to 25.8 percent), but his minutes are reduced as well (27.8 MPG). The Illini’s offense is therefore more balanced, and it will be even better if Aaron Cosby can regain his shooting touch. In Illini wins, Cosby has made 36.5 percent of his shots from distance. In three losses, he’s made only 20.0 percent. He’s done a good job contributing in other ways — like when he grabbed seven rebounds in a win against Missouri — but Cosby is in Champaign to make jump shots. If he can get things rolling and shoot like he did when he was at Seton Hall for his first two seasons (nearly 40 percent from three), Illinois will be hard to stop.

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Big Ten M5: 12.29.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 29th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. On Saturday, Indiana lost its final non-conference match-up to Georgetown in Madison Square Garden. In the second half, the game became a duel between two former teammates and Indianapolis natives, the Hoosiers’ Yogi Ferrell and the Hoyas’ D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Ferrell scored a team-high 27 points, including two three-pointers that helped the Hoosiers tie the game and send it to overtime. As Zach Osterman explains, there is no shame in losing to Georgetown on a neutral site — the disappointment stems from what would have been gained with a win. A win over a good Big East team would not only have given Indiana a big boost going into its conference schedule, but also earned them their first resume win and mitigated some of the stain from their bad loss to Eastern Washington. Now, the Hoosiers will have to overperform in Big Ten play in order to earn an NCAA bid.
  2. This weekend we also saw the return of Dez Wells when Maryland defeated Oakland. After missing five games with a wrist injury, Wells did not get the start but played 22 minutes, chipping in 10 points and four assists. The senior’s return adds to the momentum the Terrapins have built after going 12-1 in non-conference play. In Wells’ absence, Jake Layman has stepped up his production, emerging as a legitimate scoring option for Maryland; combine that with the standout play of freshman stud Melo Trimble and a healthy Wells and Evan Smotrycz, and Mark Turgeon now has a wealth of talent with which to develop his new rotation, shaping up Maryland to be a force in its first season in the Big Ten.
  3. The slate of Saturday games also included Minnesota’s convincing win against UNC-Wilmington. This was the Golden Gophers’ eighth victory in a row, and it caps off a nice finish to their non-conference schedule after starting 3-2 — they’re now 11-2 with losses only to Louisville and St. John’s (both in KenPom’s top 20). Richard Pitino’s pressure defense has once again been a big part of their success (defensive turnover rate of 28.0 percent, third in the country), but it’s their ability to share the ball that has really boosted the offense and overall play, as evidenced by the 66.2 percent of field goals made that come off of assists (fifth nationally). Minnesota will see if its collegial philosophy on offense will translate to a step up in competition when it starts Big Ten play Wednesday at Purdue.
  4. Now that the non-conference schedule season has wrapped up, it’s worth reviewing what has happened in the season thus far. We will have some look-back posts coming up here on the microsite, but the MaizeNBrew blog from SB Nation has compiled a pretty comprehensive version of its non-conference awards. Wisconsin was honored as the Best Team, while Northwestern shamefully beat out Rutgers to be named the Worst Team. Additionally, the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky was awarded midseason MVP, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell was Best Freshman, Maryland’s Jake Layman was Most Improved, Wisconsin/Duke was the best game of the non-conference season, Iowa over North Carolina was deemed the Best Win, and Michigan’s infamous defeat to NJIT was identified as the Worst Loss. There are many, many more awards in the article, and it serves as a good recap of the early part of the season for the Big Ten.
  5. Finally, fans have been grasping at straws to make sense of the “mushy middle”of this year’s Big Ten. It seems as if there is not much daylight between teams unless your name is Wisconsin (for good reason) or Northwestern and Rutgers (for not-so-good reasons). If you’re looking for some clarity, Jeff from the BasketballPredictions blog has updated his bracketology predictions to include Saturday’s results. His predictions and seedings reflect what he expects to occur by the end of the season. In it, he has eight Big Ten teams making the Dance: Wisconsin (#1 seed), Ohio State (#4), Maryland (#7), Illinois (#7), Iowa (#8), Michigan State (#9), Michigan (#11), and Minnesota (#12). This leaves out bubble-hopefuls Penn State (and their 12-1 record), Indiana, Nebraska and Purdue. These predictions seem to highlight how much uncertainty there is with any team’s record and/or performance in the non-conference, and that we’ll likely have a slugfest in the conference all season long for those precious NCAA Tournament bids. There are two exciting months of Big Ten play coming our way that will sort all of this out. Get excited!
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Three Takeaways as North Carolina Bests Ohio State

Posted by Walker Carey on December 20th, 2014

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between North Carolina and Ohio State at the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago.

North Carolina entered Saturday’s game against Ohio State looking to salvage what had so far been an uneven December. The Tar Heels kicked off the month by suffering a pretty surprising home defeat at the hands of Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. That defeat was especially alarming because it illustrated North Carolina’s offensive struggles, as the Tar Heels were an ice cold 27.9% from the field and an abysmal 17.4% from behind the three-point line. After a strong 44-point victory over East Carolina on December 7, North Carolina ran into the Kentucky buzzsaw in Lexington last Saturday. The Tar Heels struggled with Kentucky’s defensive pressure all afternoon, and turned the ball over 18 times in a 14-point loss. Against Ohio State on Saturday, Roy Williams‘s squad was finally able to put together a consistent 40 minutes of basketball against top competition, as North Carolina emerged with a 82-74 win. The following are three takeaways from Saturday’s action.

UNC (USA Today Images)

UNC Played a Strong Game in Chicago Today (USA Today Images)

  1. North Carolina came out strong. The Tar Heels were able to race out to a 12-point halftime lead due to a strong first half performance on both ends of the court. Led by Brice Johnson‘s eight points on 4-of-4 shooting, North Carolina scored 43 points in the opening stanza on 17-of-33 (51.5%) shooting from the field. The first half scoring was a very balanced effort as Johnson, Marcus Paige, Justin Jackson, J.P. Tokoto, Kennedy Meeks, and Joel Berry II all scored at least five points in the opening 20 minutes. On the defensive end of the court, North Carolina’s hard-nosed defense forced Ohio State into a very pedestrian 12-of-32 (37.5%) shooting in the first half. The backcourt of Shannon Scott and D’Angelo Russell was held to just seven first half points on 3-of-11 shooting. The Tar Heels also dominated the rebounding glass in the opening half, as they held a 23-15 advantage on the boards at the half. Ohio State was able to make this game a little closer than it probably should have been late in the second half, but the strong first half turned in by North Carolina created enough distance that the outcome was really never in question. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 12.17.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 17th, 2014

 

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan has struggled more than people thought coming off of a National Championship game appearance and an Elite Eight run in the last two seasons. One of the reasons for this season’s struggles has been the loss of key inside players Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. “Morford,” as the duo was nicknamed throughout Big Ten telecasts a year ago may have not been flashy, but they were consistent and did a good job defensively down low. The season is not a lost one yet for the Wolverines, but things will have to get much better on the defensive end of the floor with freshmen Marc Donnal and Ricky Doyle for this unit to even sniff the postseason success they have had recently.
  2. Michigan State plays four games in the next nine days, and they will look to avoid falling prey to an Eastern Michigan team that knocked off state-rival Michigan recently. How the Spartans attack Eastern’s 2-3 zone is just one of the interesting subplots to monitor in the coming days for Sparty. Freshman Javon Bess should make his debut tonight, which will give Tom Izzo some different looks as far as how he can set his rotation.
  3. Ohio State will get tested Saturday when they play North Carolina in Chicago. They have to play North Carolina A&T first on Wednesday, but playing on a neutral floor will be the last real test the team gets in non-conference play against a quality opponent. It will be worth noting whether the Buckeyes can handle a big team that makes its living on the offensive glass, especially since Marcus Paige has been struggling to shoot the ball. Amir Williams and Trey McDonald will have to have good days on the boards for Ohio State to prevail.
  4. Illinois already has more non-conference losses than they did last season, and Saturday’s loss to Oregon at the United Center in Chicago wasn’t exactly their best performance. Should Illini fans really be worried that this team might be destined for another NIT berth? Some disturbing trends from the loss to the Ducks were the fact that Rayvonte Rice had to resort to carrying the offense like he did for a good chunk of 2013-14, and the fact that Oregon was able to score in the paint seemingly at will. Losses to Villanova and Miami (Florida) weren’t bad losses from a resume perspective, but there were signs in those losses as well that this team might struggle later on. Illinois may need quite a few conference wins against Big Ten heavyweights to make the field of 68 for the second time in John Groce‘s tenure.
  5. Joe Lunardi hasn’t released anything yet, but Jerry Palm of CBS has seven Big Ten teams currently in his NCAA Tournament field. One surprise would have to be Penn State coming in as a number ten seed. Despite their 10-1 record, the Nittany Lions only win against a team projected to be in the field was against George Washington. It’s also worth noting that Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, and Purdue were left out of the field at this time. This saga will be an ongoing one all season, with the national perception of the league not nearly being as strong as it has been in recent seasons. The wins that would have carried more weight in the last couple of years might not mean as much as 2014 turns to 2015.
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RTC Weekly Primer: Don’t Sleep on Mid-December Games

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 16th, 2014

Every Monday (sometimes Tuesday), Henry Bushnell will provide a look ahead at the week to come. He’ll discuss the week’s top storylines, preview the three most prominent and compelling games, put a giant or two on upset alert, and decide which teams are in desperate need of a big week.

It’s a cold, dark Monday night in December. The holiday scent is in the air. Subpar football unwillingly seeps out of a TV. Winter threatens to envelop us – if it hasn’t already done so. On this cold, dark Monday night in December, college basketball doesn’t really matter. Or at least it seems like it doesn’t. The Monday evening slate is tinged with irrelevance. Duke sleepwalks over Elon, and not many take note. The sport still lurks in the distance. Lenses are still out of focus.

Exam Weeks Around the Nation Building Young Minds

Exam Weeks Around the Nation Building Young Minds

But this, my friends, is a time as important as any in college basketball. When the final weekend of February rolls around, we’ll be scrutinizing teams inside and out, but December matters too. Just ask a team like Cal, which barely missed out on the NCAA Tournament a year ago. Analysts rued their March losses to Arizona State and Utah, but how about that December loss to UC Santa Barbara? That hurt too. Or ask Southern Miss, which built up a solid résumé, but was left to wonder what might have been if it hadn’t slipped up against Western Kentucky during the week before Christmas. On that same day, December 18, 2013, NC State toppled Tennessee. The Wolfpack made the field as one of the last four teams in. That’s not a coincidence.

Don’t ignore this week. Even with those lenses somewhat out of focus, the results will come into plain sight soon enough. It doesn’t matter how you win; your performance doesn’t have to be aesthetic. Just get the job done. Statements can be made. They will not be forgotten.

Three for the Money

North Carolina vs. Ohio State | Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS

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Big Ten M5: 12.16.14 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on December 16th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Indiana had a solid weekend, destroying Grand Canyon by 28 points and turning the ball over only four times in the process. Prior to that win, the Hoosiers had been averaging 12.9 turnovers per game. Their relative lack of turnovers this season has been a godsend for head coach Tom Crean, as Indiana ranked 330th in the country in turnover percentage last year. This year, they’re turning the ball over on only 17 percent of their possessions, which ranks among the top 40 teams in the country.
  2. Iowa’s offensive limitations were exposed against Iowa State on Friday night as the Hawkeyes took a 15-point thumping at home against the Cyclones. Jordan Garretson of STATS.com reported that Iowa’s Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons rank 49th and 50th, respectively, in field goal percentage among Big Ten guards who have played at least eight games. There are only 65 guards that qualify for this metric, thus demonstrating the Hawkeyes’ poor performance from its backcourt so far this season. Iowa has leaned heavily on Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff and has had trouble establishing reliable threats from the three-point line — the Hawkeyes are shooting a chilly 30.3 percent from long-range, ranking 259th in the country.
  3. Graham Couch of the Lansing State Journal wrote a column about Michigan State freshman Tum Tum Nairn’s performance so far this season, comparing him favorably to Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis. Ignoring their scoring totals – Nairn has played over 20 minutes in seven games this season, yet his highest point total of the year is only three — the two are most comparable when considering their per-minute assist and turnover rates. The only thing hindering Nairn from becoming the Big Ten’s next big thing is confidence in his shooting, but he is going to have to become a scoring threat for the Spartans to reach their potential this season.
  4. It’s hard to find any positives in Michigan’s abysmal play over a two-week period that culminated in the Wolverines laying an egg on Saturday at Arizona, losing by 27 in a game that the Wildcats thoroughly dominated. John Beilein has essentially turned over the center position to the trio of Ricky Doyle, Mark Donnal and Max Bielfeldt, and it worked fairly well until the end of November. In the Wolverines’ last three games, however, they have averaged fewer than 10 points and five rebounds combined, a big reason for the team’s current slide. Beilein hopes that this current skid will help motivate his big men to perform more consistently, because the Wolverines need something from them on a nightly basis.
  5. Ohio State defeated Morehead State, 87-71, on Saturday, but head coach Thad Matta found plenty of deficiencies in the Buckeyes’ play regardless. His team turned the ball over 17 times and allowed the Eagles to shoot 61.3 percent from the floor, becoming the first team to shoot over 50 percent from the field against the Buckeyes this season. Outside of the team’s nine-point loss to Louisville, Thad Matta’s squad has blown through its early season schedule with all eight wins coming by double figures. The only glaring deficiency in Ohio State’s game right now is its free throw shooting, ranking 278th nationally in getting to the line and converting their chances. It’s safe to say that we don’t really know what kind of team Ohio State is right now – and we probably won’t find out until the first week of January at the start of Big Ten play.
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RTC Top 25: Week Four

Posted by Walker Carey on December 15th, 2014

Fresh off last weekend’s plethora of upsets, this college basketball season experienced its first week of relative chalk. To illustrate that, the top 16 teams in the RTC25 fell in exactly the same order as they were last week. The only notable RTC25 teams to suffer defeats and take tumbles were #19 North Carolina and #25 Butler. The Tar Heels dropped two spots after being thoroughly outmanned in a 14-point loss Saturday at Kentucky. The Bulldogs fell eight spots after getting tripped up Sunday in Knoxville against a feisty Tennessee squad. You should know by now that a week like this is not the norm in college basketball, and you should expect more weeks of upsets as the season progresses.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

rtc25 12.15.14 Quick n’ Dirty Analysis.

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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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Big Ten M5: 11.24.14 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on November 24th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell and Shannon Scott shined in Sunday’s demolishing of Sacred Heart. Russell dropped 32 points on the Pioneers, with 30 of them coming in before the 15-minute mark of the second half while Scott set the Ohio State single-game assist record with 16. Russell has lived up to his billing as a premiere scoring option for the Buckeyes, leading the team in scoring in two of its first three games. He did struggle against Marquette this week, scoring only six points and surrendering seven turnovers – but that’s not all that surprising for a freshman’s first test against an opponent from a power conference. Scott has looked fantastic thus far for Ohio State, filling Aaron Craft’s role as distributor with minimal problems. But it’s early – and the Buckeyes will have two games against less-than-spectacular teams before they travel to No. 7 Louisville to take on the Cardinals – so wait until at least December 2 before crowning Russell as the Big Ten’s freshman of the year and Scott as All-Big Ten first team.
  2. Iowa fell flat in the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden last week, dropping games with Texas and Syracuse. Turnovers were a huge problem for the Hawkeyes as they surrendered a combined 33 against the Longhorns and Orange. Head coach Fran McCaffery still has plenty of confidence in his team as they approach a six-day home stretch where they’ll play Pepperdine, Northern Illinois and Longwood – but Iowa  has to pick up at least one win against North Carolina and Iowa State in early-December to keep its NCAA resume in good shape before Big Ten play starts.
  3. Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon looks like a genius after bringing graduate transfer Richaud Pack in from North Carolina A&T, as Pack has established himself as a veteran leader among the likes of senior Dez Wells and junior Jake Layman. According to Roman Stubbs of The Washington Post, Pack has undertaken the role as a defensive stopper for the Terrapins, regularly guarding the opponent’s most prolific scorer. Maryland faces its first real test of the 2014-15 season tonight as they host Arizona State, a team that has struggled offensively so far – they squeaked by Bethune-Cookman by a score of 49-39 last week, and the Sun Devils currently rank 119th in the country in offensive efficiency. No matter Arizona State’s track record, Monday marks Pack and freshman Melo Trimble’s first taste of a power conference foe as Terrapins, so the game will be worth keeping an eye on.
  4. Nebraska fell to Rhode Island on Saturday, a game in which the Huskers were thoroughly dominated on the boards – Rhode Island grabbed 49 rebounds to Nebraska’s 36. Head coach Tim Miles expressed his concern for his team’s rebounding after their 19-point season-opening win over Northern Kentucky, but the Huskers have yet to show improvement as they currently rank 319th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (23%). The Huskers face Nebraska-Omaha on Tuesday, which may look like a mismatch to the untrained eye – but the Mavericks are coming off of an eight-point victory over Marquette and currently rank 25th in offensive rebounding percentage (41.4%). It is absolutely crucial that Nebraska takes a step in the right direction on Tuesday, but this isn’t the type of problem that can be solved in one game.
  5. D.J. Newbill was a workhorse for Penn State in the Charleston Classic, scoring 83 points in three games including 22 in the Nittany Lions’ 63-61 win over USC on Sunday. Newbill is tied for the conference lead in scoring with Terran Petteway, as both are averaging 24 points per contest. Newbill has been particularly good from long range early on, going 14-for-27 from the three-point line. It’s no surprise that he’s carrying Penn State so far this season, but freshman Shep Garner’s play has been. Garner is only playing 66.7 percent of his team’s minutes compared to Newbill’s 93.3 percent, but Garner’s offensive rating is 2.2 points higher. Garner’s shooting 46.4 percent from the three-point line, making up for junior Brandon Taylor’s abysmal 6-for-25 line from long range. Penn State faces teams ranked in the 100’s of Pomeroy’s rankings in their next five contests before facing No. 57 George Washington, so it’s tough to tell if Penn State will be able to make any noise in Big Ten play just yet.
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Three Thoughts on Ohio State’s Win Over Marquette

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 19th, 2014

Ohio State cruised to a 74-63 win over Marquette on Tuesday night in a game that wasn’t quite that close. It doesn’t take long to see that Thad Matta’s team is clearly a different team stylistically than last year’s unit, as the Buckeyes played differently on both the defensive and offensive ends of the floor. With an abundance of shooters at its disposal, Ohio State got out in transition and shot the ball very well from the perimeter (53.3% from three). The defense was also a much different look from the Aaron Craft-led pressure man-to-man of the past several years. Here are some other quick observations from the win.

Thad Matta has made tweaked his system a bit as 2014-15 has started. (AP)

Thad Matta has tweaked his system a bit as this season has started. (AP)

  • Shannon Scott Looks Comfortable as the Primary Ball-handler: The senior has started off passing the ball on fire, as he’s hit double figures in assists in both Ohio State games — good for an astonishing 56.0 percent assist rate. Against Marquette, the Buckeyes showed tremendous spacing all night, making things very easy for Scott to simply pick his options to find the open man. Without having to share the point guard spot this season, he finally looks like he’s free to be himself out there. He’s never been a knock-down shooter, but he’s quick and can get to the basket. He and Craft were great together defensively, but they weren’t the best offensive options on the other end of the floor. Now with only one point guard to direct things, there is room for a shooter like D’Angelo Russell or Kam Williams for Scott to find on his drive-and-kicks.

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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #4 to #1

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 14th, 2014

RTC finishes our preseason Big Ten rankings today with spots #4 through #1. The bottom tier of teams, #14 to #10, released earlier this week, and the mid-tier teams, also released earlier this week, provide depth to the conference. But it’s these four squads in the top tier that will likely be fighting to win the conference title and lock down high seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

4. Ohio State

  • What they do well: A little bit of everything, is that too vague? There is nothing that sticks out as special about these Buckeyes, but they will play the solid all-around basketball of Thad Matta. Shannon Scott will push the tempo and control the offense while D’Angelo Russell could be the offensive spark that it needs this season. Overall, the Buckeyes will minimize mistakes and play good defense.
  • What they don’t do well: Score during crunch time. The Buckeyes had trouble finding key buckets during the last two minutes of games last season and unless Russell becomes a true go-to guy, they will have the same issues again.

    Mark could be a key contributor in the frontcourt for Ohio State this season. (thelantern.com)

    Mark Loving could be a key contributor in the frontcourt for Ohio State this season. (thelantern.com)

  • Get to know: Mark Loving. Russell will be the highlight during the non-conference season but Loving could be the super sophomore that helps this team get off to a good start and compete for the conference crown. He has the ability to rebound and stretch the floor from the four position.
  • Why they’ll finish 4th: They don’t have enough talent to leapfrog into the top three, but they should win 10 to 12 Big Ten games this year.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: If Russell, Scott and Loving can each average 12 PPG or more, the Buckeyes can push themselves into a real contending spot. Loving’s contributions will very important because Matta’s team has struggled to find consistent offense over the past two seasons. Read the rest of this entry »
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