Big Ten M5: 03.07.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 7th, 2014

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  1. Indiana more than likely saw their already slim NCAA Tournament hopes dashed by losing to Nebraska 70-60 on Wednesday night. Despite some flashes of quality play in some of their impressive wins they have gotten at home, this has really been a puzzling team to figure out through most of the season. Mediocre is a strong word to use for a team that lost two NBA lottery picks and two other senior starters, yet still has a 17-13 record. Inconsistent and unpredictable might be more apt terms to describe the 2013-14 Hoosiers. Their poor non-conference schedule hasn’t done them any favors as far as their resume goes, and it’s also lead to a team not being prepared for Big Ten play.
  2. Minnesota unexpectedly is losing a player who started 23 of their 30 games this season. Oto Osenieks is ending his basketball career after it was determined that a knee injury that he’s had multiple surgeries on simply is too damaged for him to continue on. Joey King has taken over the starting power forward spot, so look for he and Charles Buggs to continue getting the majority of the minutes at that spot.
  3. Ohio State faces a crucial test Sunday afternoon when they take on Michigan State. The game is significant because it’s Senior Day for Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. But Shannon Scott says that it’s more important to get the win “to get (us) into the best situation we can for the tournament.” Scott also said in the interview that he likes his role coming off the bench due to the fact that he can “fit in where (he) can and figure out what the team needs at the time and try and do it.” With Keith Appling of Michigan State having his best game in quite some time last night against Iowa, the Buckeyes will need big efforts from both Craft and Scott on Sunday night to make Senior Day a memorable one.
  4. Michigan’s sophomore class- especially Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III, and the injured Mitch McGary- garner most of the headlines and publicity for the recently-crowned Big Ten regular season champions. But you can’t overlook the contributions of freshmen Derrick Walton Jr, and Zak Irvin. They both have showed much more consistency as the season has gone along, and Coach John Beilein believes their improvement has been the key to turning things around after a shaky non-conference part of their season. Both have had played really well and they have both blended in seamlessly as the season has gone along. Michigan has had some outstanding players make substantial jumps between their first and second seasons in Ann Arbor, and if this trend continues, Walton and Irvin will be Big Ten mainstays for as long as they are donning the maize and blue.
  5. Switching over to the other Michigan school in the league, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling played their last game in East Lansing for Michigan State last night when they beat Iowa 86-76. The pair are victims of the program’s past success, as they and fellow senior Dan Chapman will have been the first senior class under Tom Izzo to have not played in a Final Four. It hardly seems fair that many will view their time with the program to have been unsuccessful unless they advance four spots into the bracket without taking a loss. The Spartans took a small step toward that goal however by impressively beating the Hawkeyes. Appling looked to be much more comfortable, and if he really is healthy finally, this team can be just as good as everyone thought in the preseason.
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Big Ten M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 31st, 2014

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  1. Michigan State sophomore Matt Costello has seen his role become much more important with Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson sidelined. He posted a double-double in the Spartans’ win against Iowa on Tuesday night, which led to Tom Izzo calling it “ the best game of his life.” Costello has done a great job blocking shots all season long, but it seems as though he’s getting more comfortable playing extended minutes. His rebounding will be sorely needed until the Spartans are back at full strength. It will be interesting to see if the former top-100 recruit can develop a back-to-the-basket game in his next two years in East Lansing.
  2. The B1G season went from strange to borderline wacky Wednesday night when supposed cellar dwellers (at least according to preseason rankings) Penn State and Northwestern won on the road against Ohio State and Wisconsin, respectively. Both of these teams were ranked in the top five nationally a mere three weeks ago. More on Ohio State in a moment, but Wisconsin’s issues can be traced to how well it’s letting other teams shoot the ball, and how poorly it’s shooting from behind the arc. Teams have been living in the paint in all four recent losses, and until the Badgers get that fixed, they’ll continue to hover around .500 in conference play.
  3. Ohio State also looked like a potential Final Four contender until recently, but they’ve arguably looked even worse than Wisconsin in the last couple of weeks. It’s disturbing that senior Lenzelle Smith Jr. was quoted as saying that the team “doesn’t care enough.” Maybe these quotes will spark something in the Buckeyes and they’ll play with more emotion going forward. But Smith and fellow senior Aaron Craft, who both started in the Final Four as sophomores, need to do more on the court in terms of providing senior leadership. Smith needs to shoot better and Craft — despite the free pass the national media seemingly gives him — needs to stop turning the ball over at what has been an alarming rate during their recent struggles.
  4. In happier news, Minnesota is one of the teams in the league that has outperformed against expectations so far. Everyone knows that the team has missed the inside presence and rebounding of the graduated Trevor Mbakwe, but that doesn’t mean that Oto Osenieks hasn’t played well as a stretch-four during his junior season. Osenieks isn’t ever going to average 10 rebounds a game, but he’s improved quite a bit since his last season under former coach Tubby Smith. This can mainly be viewed in his three-point shooting, as the lanky junior has gone from only hitting 2-of-26 as a sophomore, to 12-of-37 during the 2013-14 campaign.
  5. When Penn State jumped out to a 47-40 lead at halftime in its first league game against Michigan State, you could see that this team had the potential to jump up and bite some of the Big Ten heavyweights this season. And after an 0-6 start, the Nittany Lions have won their last two after Wednesday night’s victory in Columbus. They got this win despite many setbacks that should have doomed them to defeat, overcoming a huge free throw disparity and some questionable calls that went against them. After failing to close out the game in numerous close contests, it will be interesting to see whether getting this win can be a springboard for Penn State going forward.
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Big Ten M5: 01.15.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 15th, 2014

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  1. Ohio State head coach Thad Matta isn’t exactly known for utilizing a deep bench. But players like freshman Marc Loving have enabled Matta to play up to nine players this season instead of his usual six or seven. Loving has taken advantage of the opportunity he’s been given, especially in recent games. He was part of the group that helped the Buckeyes come back and force overtime in their close loss to Michigan State, showing the trust that Matta has in keeping him on the floor for long stretches. With five upperclassmen starters in the lineup, he also has the advantage of coming in without the expectations that other freshman in the league are saddled with.
  2. Keith Appling has gotten incrementally better through his four seasons at Michigan State. This is why some media members like ESPN‘s Dan Dakich believe that he’s in the driver’s seat for B1G Player of the Year honors. With fellow senior Adreian Payne out indefinitely with a sprained foot, head coach Tom Izzo needs Appling and his leadership now more than ever. He’s delivered to the tune of 16.4 PPG, 4.6 APG, and 48 percent shooting from three so far. If he continues to put up those numbers and the Spartans finish in the top three in league play, there’s no reason why he couldn’t come away with such postseason honors.
  3. As Minnesota jumps into an extremely arduous stretch of their schedule, questions have been raised about how the Gophers can get more production from stretch fours Oto Osenieks and Joey King. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune‘s Amelia Bayno broke down how each player has performed in advanced statistical categories in order to answer the question about which player should start. The numbers show that there isn’t a significant difference between the two. In watching the Gophers play, King seems like he could make more of an impact if given more minutes, but for now Richard Pitino is going to stick with the same lineup he’s been going with.
  4. After playing reasonably well in the non-conference part of the schedule, the Illinois bench that consists of five freshman has essentially hit a bit of a “rookie wall.” Players like Jaylon Tate and Malcolm Hill have both showed flashes of players who can contribute all season, but they’ve been non-factors thus far in league play. Tate looked like he was going to challenge the then-struggling Tracy Abrams for the starting point guard spot in the first 10 games, but has now gone to getting only three minutes in the loss to Northwestern Sunday night. If Illinois continues to fail to get any production from these first-year players, they will continue to struggle in Big Ten play.
  5. Glenn Robinson III did not get off to the greatest of starts this season, which resulted in him as the scapegoat for Michigan losing some early games. He’s turned things around quite nicely as of late, averaging 16.2 PPG on 59.5 percent shooting in his last eight games. So what’s the secret to Robinson’s successful turnaround? In letting him tell it, he’s been playing better because he’s smiling more. After talking to his high school coach, Robinson decided that if he played more relaxed and with more positive energy, he would contribute more. It’s hard to argue with the results, as Michigan won again Tuesday night to move to 4-0 in conference play.
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Big Ten M5: 10.25.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on October 25th, 2013

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  1. Senior guards can be a great asset to a coach who is under the pressure of leading his team to a Final Four. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo is hoping that senior guard Russell Byrd can provide maturity for the Spartans, both on and off the floor. Byrd averaged just over one point per game last season, but is eager to contribute to the #2 Spartans. He was plagued with injuries during his first two seasons in East Lansing, but is finally healthy enough to help Izzo reach a Final Four. “Russell Byrd [is] much healthier, much more confident,” Izzo said Tuesday during the Spartans’ media day. Even though Byrd may not see more than 10 minutes per game this season, his positive attitude and senior leadership should help the Spartans push toward March.
  2. No other player will be under more scrutiny in the Big Ten this season than Michigan’s Mitch McGary. After a slow start to his freshman campaign, he stepped up during the last six weeks of the 2012-13 season to help the Wolverines get to the Final Four. To make things more interesting, he chose to come back for his sophomore season with the intention to dominate the conference and lead his team to Arlington. He can definitely meet those high expectations, provided he is healthy, but he has had a few issues with his back during the offseason. Heading into November, McGary says that his back is no longer an issue. He said, “There’s no timetable for me being back. We’re just being cautious right now and we’ll see what happens in the future.” The 6’10” forward will be expected to carry a heavier offensive burden on a more consistent basis this year as the Wolverines adapt to life after NPOY Trey Burke.
  3. While McGary will be the best forward in the Big Ten, Minnesota’s Oto Osenieks will have to earn his playing time on the Gophers this season. The 6’8″ forward averaged 9.1 minutes per game and shot 29.7% from the field – a virtual non-factor for the Gophers last season. But new head coach Richard Pitino remains optimistic about his improvement and believes that the forward can contribute offensively this year. Pitino said, “he was fighting for every single rebound. He’s another guy that has really responded to kind of the challenge. And I thought he did a really nice job defensively.” Andre Hollins (14.6 PPG) will be one of the best scoring guards in the Big Ten, but Pitino will need any help he can get from other players, and Osenieks could chip in at some point this year.
  4. Remember when Matt Painter’s Boilermakers were a dominant Big Ten team? That was only a couple of seasons ago, but Purdue really struggled to score last season. Painter is hoping for a return to relevance with a strong and diverse backcourt. Ronnie Johnson, Sterling Carter, and Bryson Scott will see significant minutes to complement Terone Johnson’s (13.5 PPG) scoring and leadership this season. Carter, a transfer, shot 39% from beyond the arc at Seattle and Painter believes his shooting touch will help the Boilermakers: “He can come off screens and shoot shots with people on him and make them.” Johnson is also quite sneaky off of pick-and-roll action, averaging 10.1 points per game last year using a nice-looking floater in the painted area. This team could surprise.
  5. While Purdue has two new guards in the backcourt, Illinois returns two of their own — Joseph Bertrand and Tracy Abrams – who played significant minutes during John Groce’s first season in Champaign. Both are expected to start, but Groce said that there are a couple of starting spots up in the air as the Illini gear up for their exhibition games. Rayvonte Rice, a transfer guard from Drake, is likely to take one spot as a third guard because of his offensive capabilities. The fifth position is also up in the air and it is possible that Groce will choose to go with a fourth guard instead of another forward. Nnanna Egwu, another returnee, will be the primary big man for the Illini this season.
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Big Ten Team Previews: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Posted by KTrahan on October 24th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Minnesota Golden Gophers. 

Where We Left Off: Minnesota’s 2011-12 season can best be described as streaky. The Gophers started the year 12-1, but lost their first four conference games before a three-game winning streak that included a good win at Indiana. Minnesota then traded wins and losses before ending the regular season on a 1-6 slide. However, the Gophers got hot in the Big Ten Tournament, knocking off Northwestern and nearly doing the same to Michigan. They then made a great run in the NIT, including a win against Washington before losing in the championship game to Stanford. It certainly was an up-and-down year, but it ended with plenty of promise.

Tubby’s Minnesota Teams Can Never Seem to Get Healthy and Eligible at the Same Time (AP)

Positives: This could be one of the most talented teams that Tubby Smith has had in Minnesota, and some — including yours truly — see the Gophers as a sleeper in the Big Ten title race. Sixth-year senior Trevor Mbakwe will be the face of the team, and the Gophers got a huge break when he avoided jail time after a parole violation for a summer DUI. This is a versatile team, which will allow the Gophers to play several big or small lineups. Talented young players such as Andre Hollins, Joe Coleman and Elliott Eliason will be complemented by more experienced players, such as Julian Welch, Rodney Williams, and Mbakwe.

Negatives: Can this team be consistent? Of course, a lot of last year’s on-court issues can be blamed on Mbakwe’s injury before conference play. The Gophers were forced to throw a number of talented freshmen into action, and while there were bright spots early — particularly the win against Indiana — it took awhile for things to come together. Can Minnesota take advantage of the experience gained by its younger players last year, or will inconsistency continue to be the story of a team that can’t get over the hump?

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RTC Summer Updates: Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 8th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Big Ten correspondent, Will Green.

Readers’ Take

Summer Storylines 

  • Sully’s Back, But With Demands – In the year 2011, in the age of ‘now,’ in a profit-first educate-yourself-later society, amidst a flittering of teenage NBA draft picks, ferocious freshman phenomenon Jared Sullinger decided to stay in school. How quaint. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing quaint about Sullinger, his (rightly) assumed sense of on-court leadership, his brutally physical style of play, or that Ja Rule-esque snarl that makes him look like a squirrel who just ate a questionable nut. But seriously, it’s highly unlikely that anyone other than Jordan Taylor will stand in the way of Sullinger winning the Big Ten Player of the Year Award, and rightfully so. He has spent the better part of the off-season slimming down and getting faster. The best player on the best team in the conference simply can’t suffer a slump; he’s worked too hard and has clearly made a commitment to improving his game before leaving for the pros. The question is less about what Sullinger’s level of performance will be than it is about the effect his performance will have on other members of his team. Last year, his 17 /10 were a reflection of consistent contribution that was also part of a greater team-wide cohesion. Jon Diebler, David Lighty and even Dallas Lauderdale each had pronounced and vital roles on last year’s team. They’re all gone now. While some of the supporting cast and several new stars-in-the-making will join Sullinger, will increased reliance upon him make OSU more of a one-man show? Or will the Buckeyes continue to roll out a team-focused squad with four scorers in double figures and a core group of five guys who notch 30 minutes a game? Whatever happens, Sullinger will be back and he will be better than last year. Consider yourself warned.
  • Welcome, Nebraska – On July 1, Nebraska officially joined the B1G, an acronym whose ludicrousness we continue to subconsciously validate by pronouncing it ‘Bih-one-ggg’. If you’re scoring at home, UNL’s entry makes for 12 teams in the Big Ten, a conference that shouldn’t be confused with the Big 12, which only has ten teams now since Nebraska left it. Now that we’ve all scratched our heads for second, we should pause to consider how massive the amount of potential football revenue must have been to persuade the intransigent Big Ten to alter its ranks. The Cornhuskers’ inclusion marks only the second change in league makeup since the 1950s. So how will the other 11 schools adjust to the adjustment? Football-wise, they should all watch their backs. On the basketball court, though, it probably won’t have a big (or should we say, a ‘B1G’) impact. Sadly for Husker fans, their roundball team loses two of their top three scorers and has some major offensive issues to solve in a league whose tempo of play limits even the country’s very best offenses. Head coach Doc Sadler continues to recruit a healthy mix of transfers and high school players, but over his five-year tenure nine of them have left due to reasons other than matriculation or the NBA. Nebraska has had some encouraging moments in recent years, including a five game improvement in Big 12 play from 2009 to 2010 (from 2-14 to 7-9). The team’s defensive efficiency would’ve finished fourth and it’s adjusted tempo would’ve finished fourth slowest in last year’s Big Ten. In some respects, Nebraska feels like a perfect match for the conference. And yet, for many of those same reasons, it might be a little out-matched in its first few years.
  • Ed DeChellis Leaves For Navy – Nowadays, stories like these are rarer than that bloody slice of carpaccio you once had at a fancy restaurant: a coach leaving a higher paying, higher-infrastructure, higher strength-of-schedule situation for a middle of the pack team in a unambiguously low-major conference. Make no mistake: Ed DeChellis didn’t become the new head coach at Navy. He stopped being the head coach at Penn State. Unless they’re ousted via scandal or especially egregious results you simply don’t hear about power six coaches voluntarily leaving for a “lesser” job. And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Or is it? The answer to that question centers around just how much “less” of a job the Navy coaching position really is, and if anything DeChellis might have done warranted the move. The wink-wink nudge-nudge consensus is that while DeChellis didn’t necessarily knock anyone’s socks off, the school refuses to take basketball seriously. Some have lambasted the athletic department’s commitment to DeChellis and the program overall at a school that’s known best for intense linebackers and an 84 year-old Italian-American man. It will be interesting to observe new head coach Patrick Chambersin his first few seasons and see whether or not he runs into a similar set of struggles as DeChellis did during his tenure. If the holistic drawbacks of coaching in University Park really outweigh the benefits to the extent that someone would walk away from the position, then PSU has bigger problems to fix than figuring out how to win in the Big Ten this season. But if anyone can overcome whatever said “drawbacks” may or may not be, it’s Chambers.

    The Buckeyes, led by big man Jared Sullinger, are easy favorites in the Big Ten.

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