Big Ten M5: 02.06.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on February 6th, 2014

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  1. Michigan certainly responded well to its first Big Ten loss last night by simply crushing Nebraska. The Wolverines have come back well from adversity in general since conference play started, and a lot of that has to do with Derrick Walton Jr.‘s progression. The freshman point guard started the season slowly, but since Big Ten play began he has seen his scoring rise by nearly three points per game while reducing his turnovers. His jumper and decision-making have also improved dramatically as he has grown more accustomed to the college game. His play down the stretch needs to continue this way, and if it does, Michigan will remain in contention for the Big Ten title against bitter rival Michigan State.
  2. The dark horse status that many gave to Penn State coming into this season didn’t start out so well. The Nittany Lions are now on a three-game winning streak, however, thanks to plenty of impressive numbers. Some of the most notable statistics include that of Brandon Taylor, who in the winning streak has averaged 15 points per game and 46.7 percent from three-point range, and 20.0 PPG for DJ Newbill. With a tough test at Michigan State coming tonight, Penn State will need both players to continue their recent strong play. The Lions are unlikely to win in East Lansing, of course, but if Penn State stays close with Sparty it sends a message to the rest of a muddled Big Ten that this team will compete the rest of the way.
  3. There were multiple reasons for Wisconsin‘s recent skid. One prominent reason was Sam Dekker struggling offensively, but he seems to have came out of his slump after hitting 4-of-7 three-pointers against Illinois. While Wisconsin has plenty of players who can score and take over the game when needed, Dekker’s impact as a versatile forward is extremely important. The Badgers are much more effective when Dekker can exploit the match-up issues he causes by bombing away from the outside. For a team relying so much more on its offense this season, Bo Ryan’s team needs its star to make sure his struggles are completely done.
  4. If you wanted 55 minutes of, well, uninspiring basketball, then Purdue‘s triple-overtime win over Minnesota last night was a real treat. The Boilermakers got the victory despite nearly giving it away with multiple missed free throws in regulation and the first two overtimes. Part of this problem is the Boilermakers’ stark lack of leadership and that its best leader, Travis Carroll, rarely sees action. Carroll does his job well, working against AJ Hammons in practice and playing hard when called upon. But even if Purdue lacks a more productive on-court senior leader, there has been time for some of the underclassmen to mature and take over those duties. Plenty of teams rely on young talent to not only be competitive but win conference and national titles. Matt Painter needs to find his on-court leadership somewhere or there will be more games like last night where the Boilermakers nearly blow what appeared to be an assured win.
  5. Ohio State certainly needed things to start going well again. With a pair of wins against Wisconsin and Iowa this week, it appears the Buckeyes got the morale boost and confidence that they desired. It came at a critical time for Ohio State, too. With a few more losses, what seemed like a team competing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament could have quickly found itself on the bubble. The players’ comments after beating Iowa seems to bear out that they believe they will win the close games coming down the stretch. For a team that relies so heavily on its defense, the confidence to believe it will score late in close games is absolutely crucial.
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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 Postseason Watch: 01.10.14 Edition

Posted by Jonahtan Batuello on January 10th, 2014

Selection Sunday is always on everyone’s minds as conference season gets underway. So, with 10 days of Big Ten play already done, now is a good time to start a weekly look at where conference teams’ postseason chances are currently sitting. Joe Lunardi has released a new Bracketology (as well as RTC’s Daniel Evans) so why shouldn’t we start putting out our own thoughts as well? The teams will be put into tiers depending on where they currently stand, and we will give you a look at what’s coming up in the next week that’s of importance (along with the KenPom rankings and RPI according to ESPN (it should be noted these rankings do not include last night’s games even though the commentary does). Feel free to tell us how wrong we are in the comments and through social media, but here is your first Big Ten Postseason Watch of the conference season.

Fighting for a No. 1 seed

The Badgers are well on their way to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament (AP)

The Badgers are well on their way to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament (AP)

  • Michigan State (KenPom #9; RPI #10): The thrilling home win over Ohio State puts the Spartans in line to earn a No. 1 seed. This next week is mainly about getting healthy as Tom Izzo’s team depth is severely lacking. If Sparty is healthy, games versus Minnesota and at Northwestern shouldn’t be too much trouble.
  • Ohio State (KenPom #1; RPI #7): Losing its first game of the conference season certainly hurts the Buckeyes when angling for a top seed. Its best chance for a statement win is now gone but Ohio State doesn’t have much time to relax. Iowa comes to Value City Arena this week and then a trip to The Barn isn’t a guaranteed win with the Golden Gophers needing a marquee win for its NCAA Tournament hopes.
  • Wisconsin (KenPom #3; RPI #1): The Badgers are well on their way to a top seed come March if it can continue to take care of business. Fran McCaffery helped them win at home, and then they easily took care of Illinois. Now, Wisconsin heads to Bloomington where Bo Ryan has owned Tom Crean. With its favorable schedule, Wisconsin looks like the best bet to become a top NCAA seed from the conference.

Playing to improve its seed

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New Year’s Resolution For Power Conference Teams? No More Cupcakes – Conference Play Is Here

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 4th, 2014

With conference play arriving almost everywhere this weekend (it’s about time!), let’s take a peek at some of the major Saturday (and a few Sunday) games and storylines in college basketball’s seven major conferences.

Say What You Want About The AAC, But The New League Will Pose A New Challenge For Memphis: Real Tests In January And February. The First Of Those Examinations Comes Today Against Cincinnati.

Say What You Want About The AAC, But The Recently-Birthed League Will Pose A New Challenge For Memphis: Real Tests In January And February. The First Of Those Examinations Comes Today Against Cincinnati.

AAC. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the first-ever weekend of American Athletic Conference basketball! OK, so maybe it isn’t that exciting, but an old Conference USA matchup does offer the league a headlining game on 2014’s first Saturday. Cincinnati visits Memphis (12:00 ET, ESPN2) in an early match-up of presumed upper-echelon AAC teams, but look elsewhere if you seek a battle of stylistic comrades; the deliberate, defensively stout Bearcats (286th nationally in tempo, eighth in defensive efficiency) will look to put the clamps on an explosive Memphis squad that rarely presses the pause button (39th nationally in tempo, 19th in offensive efficiency). UConn and SMU, both 0-1 in league play, offer an alternate viewing option (2:00 ET, ESPNU), and with a visit to Louisville coming next, Larry Brown’s SMU team would be well served to get a win Saturday to avoid staring down the barrel of an 0-3 league start.

ACC. Will there be life after Jerian Grant for Notre Dame? If yes, then a visit from Duke (4:00 ET, CBS) will offer the Irish the chance to provide a more convincing affirmation than they offered in their first game without Grant – a gut-check overtime victory over Canisius. Garrick Sherman should have a chance to exploit the smallish Duke interior, no matter what Doug Gottlieb thinks about his beard. Elsewhere, Pitt and Syracuse join Notre Dame in making their ACC debuts. The Panthers visit NC State (12:00 ET, ESPN3), while the Orange play host to Miami (2:00 ET, ESPN3). And if you like defense, two of the nation’s 10 most efficient defensive units are set to meet in Tallahassee; Virginia and Florida State (5:00 ET, ESPN2) will tussle in a race to 50 between ACC sleepers.

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Anatomy of a Collapse: How Penn State Blew a Golden Opportunity Against Michigan State

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 3rd, 2014

As many B1G fans were watching the ending of the Illinois-Indiana game on Tuesday night, they may have been missing a good chunk of the Michigan State-Penn State first half. The Nittany Lions put quite a scare in Sparty, as they jumped out to a 47-40 advantage at halftime. This was largely based upon a torrid start from the three-point line (7-of-12), with a 10-of-10 performance at the free throw line and nine Michigan State miscues contributing factors. As an example, the Spartans had a 1:05 stretch at the end of the half where they turned the ball over on five possessions in a row, leading to an 8-0 Penn State run that put the score at 45-33. Michigan State went closed out the half strong, but Penn State was still in the driver’s seat. So after Michigan State went on to win the game, 79-63, by holding Penn State to 16 points in the second half (0.43 points per possession), what exactly went wrong?

Tim Frazier had an off night against Michigan State. (theschoolphilly.com)

Tim Frazier had an off night against Michigan State (Photo credit: theschoolphilly.com).

Let’s break down the half into sections.

  • 20:00-17:23: Things began to unravel early, as Donovon Jack picked up his third foul in the first minute. This forced Penn State to go with three guards. Tim Frazier sandwiched a missed runner between two turnovers and Gary Harris scored eight of Michigan State’s 10 points to start the half. He hit two wide-open threes and one could sense a bit of a momentum shift. Penn State burned a quick timeout as they went from seven up to down three all within the first 2:37 of the half. Read the rest of this entry »
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Re-Ranking the Big Ten Heading into Conference Play

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 31st, 2013

With the conference season now upon us, the writers at the microsite decided it would be a good idea to re-rank how we believe the teams will finish in the race to a Big Ten championship. The conference has to this point laid a solid claim as the best league in the nation, so it will be another grueling 18-game process for some lucky team win the crown. We’ve learned a decent amount about every school’ strengths and weaknesses by now — including just how good Ohio State’s defense appears to be, and how Michigan may not be ready to repeat its postseason performance from last year — but teams don’t truly reveal themselves until they start seeing their old familiar foes in conference play. Here are how the microsite writers believe the teams will pan out with a few notes on what has changed since before the season began.

Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes are the pick to win the Big Ten (Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes are the pick to win the Big Ten. (Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

  1. Ohio State: Everyone knew the Buckeyes’ defense would be good, but it has been much better than expected. Ken Pomeroy ranks them as the most efficient defense in the country, so that keeps Ohio State in every game regardless of how the offense is playing. They’ve also gotten enough scoring from everyone (six players average more than 7.0 PPG), and LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith are starting to become reliable scorers every night out.
  2. Wisconsin: One of the biggest surprises of this college basketball season, the Badgers have become a force offensively as well as defensively. Bo Ryan’s squad has shown a propensity to win every style of game this season and unearthed a huge bright spot in Frank Kaminsky. Wisconsin ranks in the top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency while playing one of the most challenging non-conference slates in the country, so don’t think for a minute that its early success will peter out. Read the rest of this entry »
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Additions of Oglesby, Johnson & Dickerson Will Help Iowa and Penn State

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 31st, 2013

Iowa and Penn State both got better within the last couple of weeks, as each team welcomed back a player who had been out of the lineup. The Hawkeyes’ Josh Oglesby returned after missing about six weeks due to a foot injury. Meanwhile, in Happy Valley, the Nittany Lions debuted Pitt transfer John Johnson and SMU transfer Jordan Dickerson. Both players had to sit out the first semester due to transfer rules. The additions of these players to both programs will help tremendously as B1G conference play tips off later today.

Josh Ogelsby will add even more depth to the Iowa bench with his return from injury(AP).

Josh Oglesby will add even more depth to the Iowa bench with his return from injury(AP).

Oglesby had a memorable debut in an unremarkable game, hitting the first four three-pointers he took in Iowa’s last game, a blowout victory two Sundays ago against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. This was covered in a previous post on the microsite, but Oglesby simply makes a very deep team even deeper — Iowa has no worries of foul trouble becoming a concern because they can and will utilize 11 players. The Hawkeyes can already match up and play different lineup combinations depending on the opponent, but the return of the junior wing simply adds to their flexibility. The team can play big or small with an almost infinite amount of lineup combinations. The Hawkeyes are currently sixth in the league in three-point percentage at 36.4 percent, and although he won’t go 4-of-5 from deep every game, Oglesby’s shooting skill can push this number closer to 40 percent with enough playing time. If Fran McCaffery needs defense and speed, he can give Peter Jok more minutes; but if he wants to spread the floor in the half-court and get perimeter shooting, he can call Oglesby’s number. Oglesby looked like he was fully healed last Sunday, playing 20 minutes and not showing any real signs of rust from his injured foot. This Iowa team that is already off to an impressive 11-2 start just got quite a bit better.

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Examining Big Ten Non-Conference Strength of Schedules

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 21st, 2013

With opinions forming on various teams’ chances at winning a Big Ten title and advancing deep into March, it seemed like a good time to take a harder look at the league’s overall non-conference strength of schedule. With just over a week to go until the conference season opens up on New Year’s Eve, and some big games upcoming for B1G teams this weekend on slate (Michigan State at Texas, Notre Dame at Ohio State, Illinois at Missouri, Stanford at Michigan, and Purdue at West Virginia), now is as good a time as any. At this point, non-conference strength of schedule is relatively settled and we can begin to examine if a team’s current record is symptomatic of a particularly weak or strong slate.

Big Ten NCSOS

Above you can see the RPI-based strength of schedule rankings for Big Ten teams from both CBSSports and ESPN. It should be noted almost every site has some differences in RPI rankings right now, but as much as we all might hate that it matters for NCAA Tournament purposes, that’s the reality we have to consider. Here are a few notes from an examination of the rankings.

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Big Ten M5: 12.18.13 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 18th, 2013

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  1. The up-and-down early part of Derrick Walton Jr.‘s college career took another turn on Saturday in Michigan’s loss to Arizona. Walton only played 14 minutes and contributed one point, one assist, and one turnover. John Beilein still has faith in his rookie point guard, though, and he will still be the starter when the Wolverines take on Stanford on Saturday. The fact that Walton hasn’t quite been what Michigan has expected so far is minimized by the play of Spike Albrecht, though. There’s no Darius Morris or Trey Burke to lead the way, but Michigan still has a chance to go far in March if the combination of Albrecht and Walton Jr. can be effective.
  2. The success Wisconsin has had so far has been the story of the B1G so far, and maybe the biggest story nationally in the first six weeks of the season. The major reason for this success is, of course, the coaching talent of Bo Ryan. Ryan runs one of the unique programs in the country, mainly because he preaches and practices the same fundamentals that many other coaches tend to gloss over. This is why the running joke in the preseason every year seems to be to avoid placing Wisconsin lower than fourth no matter who his players are. Ryan’s system and attention to detail is probably worth 18-20 wins a season by itself, but now that he has it in place and the talent on this year’s unit, you can see why the Badgers are 12-0 and the number-one ranked team in the RPI.
  3. Penn State blew a golden opportunity on Saturday, as the Nittany Lions let Princeton come back from a 20- point deficit to beat them in overtime. This overshadowed the team’s return to its old on-campus arena, the Rec Center. The Nittany Lions got a tremendous turnout at the gate, and the game seemed to bring some excitement to a program that hasn’t always been that popular in the shadow of a formerly dominant football program. The biggest takeaway from this game and some of the other losses B1G teams suffered on Saturday was that the middle pack of the league is still wide open. Minnesota, Illinois, Penn State, Nebraska  and Purdue are all pretty equal, and the games when they play against each will go a long way to determining which teams go where in the postseason.
  4. Despite the success Indiana has enjoyed in the last two seasons and the success he had previously at Marquette, Tom Crean still has his fair share of critics. But the Hoosiers’ head coach was his own worst critic after Indiana lost to Notre Dame in Indianapolis on Saturday. Crean mainly thought his team did a poor job of getting the ball inside to center Noah Vonleh. The Hoosiers are not a great or even a good long-distance shooting team, and with a lack of great big men in the league, a renewed emphasis on pounding the ball inside will lead to better looks for shooters that need clean looks. The Notre Dame loss could serve as something of a wake-up call in terms of strategy and potentially turn the Hoosiers’ season around.
  5. Ohio State is winning, and they are winning with one of the best defensive teams in the country. One of its key contributors has been Shannon Scott, who along with fellow point guard Aaron Craft, is averaging over two steals per game. The Buckeyes have already had some notable defensive performances, highlighted by holding Marquette to 19 percent shooting from the field in its own building. On Saturday the Buckeyes held North Dakota State’s Marshall Bjorkland, the NCAA’s active field goal percentage leader, to a ‘mere’ 50 percent shooting, which is significantly less than his career mark of 66.6 percent. Defense is the primary reason why Ohio State is ranked second in the country and will have as good of a chance as any team in the B1G to cut down the nets in April.
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O26 Weekly Awards: Princeton, Augustine Rubit, Joe Scott & NDSU…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 17th, 2013

It was final exams for many schools across the country this past week, meaning a relatively light college hoops schedule leading up to Saturday. But once the weekend kicked into gear, there proved to be plenty of intriguing match-ups, weird semi-neutral court games played in NBA arenas, standout performances and altogether surprising results to pass out weekly awards to deserving O26 performers. Heck, even the thinly-populated weekday slate offered up a noteworthy upset and a fine example of early-season coaching.

O26 Team of the Week

T.J. Bray and Princeton will be Ivy League contenders this season. (Mel Evans/Associated Press)

T.J. Bray and Princeton will be Ivy League contenders this season. (Mel Evans/Associated Press)

Princeton. It is official: the Ivy League has two legitimate contenders in 2013-14. For all the recognition Harvard has received nationally — which is certainly well deserved, considering the team’s loaded roster and excellent start to the season — there has been another Ivy squad lurking under the radar, playing great basketball and looking like a bona fide threat to challenge the Crimson this year. That team is Princeton, and last week was its ‘hello, world’ moment. It started Wednesday night in Piscataway when the Tigers took on Route 1 rival Rutgers, a team starving for a victory in the wake of three straight losses. After trading leads for much of the contest, Princeton took firm control of things at around the 10-minute mark by doing what it has done so often this season — calmly finding seams in the opposition, penetrating and kicking out for open threes on the perimeter. In all, the Tigers hit 16 of their 34 attempts from behind the arc, and T.J. Bray — the senior point guard who was suspended for the previous game — scored 15 of his 23 points in the final nine minutes to put the game away for Mitch Henderson’s seasoned group. The 78-73 victory was a nice one, moving Princeton to 7-1 and furthering its case as the best team in New Jersey. Yet, it was Saturday’s win at Penn State that turned the heads of many college basketball fans.

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Ranking the Big Ten Coaching Positions

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 13th, 2013

In the always debatable world of athletics and rankings, a recent post from Will Leitch at Sports on Earth discussed the top college basketball coaching jobs. The column included quite a few Big Ten programs, with five among the top 25 and two in the “just missing the cut” line. This prompted the obvious follow-up question of how would we rate the 12 coaching positions in the Big Ten. Remember that we aren’t just talking about the history and quality of the programs (measured in national titles and draft picks), but the coaching position itself. There is a difference. For this analysis, we examined each program’s history and recent success, its facilities, commitment to basketball, recruiting ease, coaching salary (where available, as Northwestern and Penn State do not report salaries), the normal pressure of the position, fan support, location, academics and more. All in all, it’s a lot to take in, but if all coaching positions in the conference came open tomorrow, what would be the most appealing spots for prospective coaches to move in and take over? Feel free to tell us how we are wrong.

Tom Crean sits in the top coaching position in the Big Ten (AP).

Tom Crean sits in the top coaching position in the Big Ten (AP).

  1. Indiana. The “blue blood” of Big Ten basketball has quite the history in terms of conference championships, Final Fours and national titles. It has tremendous support within the Hoosier State and sits in arguably the biggest recruiting hotbed of the nation. Assembly Hall is an historic venue and its lack of modern conveniences will recede as a critique as the Hoosiers look to start a renovation campaign soon. Tom Crean also earns plenty in salary, ranking second in the conference only behind Tom Izzo. A small drawback may be the pressure of the position, as some fans are already starting to question Tom Crean’s likelihood of bringing a national title to Bloomington. Still, it’s the top job in the Big Ten.
  2. Michigan State. Izzo gets paid the most of any coach in the Big Ten and his big competitor in the state is a football school at Michigan. He may not face much pressure given all of his success there, but for a new coach the honeymoon period probably wouldn’t last very long. The Breslin Center is a good arena and Sparty’s fan support is near the top of the list for all schools. Include the successes of the past with Magic Johnson’s championship team and Izzo’s Flintstones along with its recruiting location near Detroit and not far from Chicago and Indiana, and Michigan State represents as an attractive national position when the job reopens. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 12.12.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 12th, 2013

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  1. It’s been a question all year when discussing Ohio State. Everyone knows how strong the Buckeyes’ defense is, but are they be able to score enough points on the other end to become a Final Four team? Replacing DeShaun Thomas was a huge question mark coming into the year, but through the first quarter of the season, at least, LaQuinton Ross has matched his production. Last night Ross scored only nine points in the team’s 86-48 win over Bryant, but as Ross’ recent production has been on an uptick lately, so too has his team’s scoring capability and potential ceiling. If he has in fact turned a corner and is rapidly becoming the team’s offensive leader, then Thad Matta’s team is well on its way to becoming a legitimate Final Four contender.
  2. Indiana cruised in its most recent win against Oakland, but a potential key player off the bench is starting to emerge. Freshman Luke Fischer has finally healed from a torn labrum in his left shoulder and is no longer wearing a brace. Thanks to being healthy over the past two games, Fischer has notched season highs in minutes and scored 12 points, nearly half of his season total of 25. Granted, these games were blowout wins for the Hoosiers against inferior competition, but Fischer came into this season with a lot of unrealized potential. Some thought Fischer could start at the five for Indiana next to Noah Vonleh, and he is just now starting to show why in the past two games. If he emerges and gives Indiana another strong piece inside he could help alleviate some pressure on Vonleh and give the Hoosiers some quality post minutes off the bench.
  3. It’s impossible to really know at such an early point, but with the good start Minnesota has enjoyed and if Richard Pitino quickly builds the Golden Gophers program up in the next two or three years, would he be likely to stay in Minneapolis or leave for a more traditional, high-powered program? According to his father and Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, “he could die at this program.” The elder Pitino was in town this week to watch his son’s team win on Tuesday night and gave some interesting insights into his son’s career choice. The father had urged him to stay on board as an assistant at Louisville and follow him there as the next head coach in several years, but the son wanted to blaze his own trail. That has to be a good sign for Minnesota fans because if young Pitino is successful he could potentially stay at the school and become a long-term fixture that leads the program routinely to the top of the Big Ten.
  4. Maybe it’s time to start thinking of Penn State as more than a cellar-dweller or a team that could pull off an upset or two in Big Ten play. After a loss to a mediocre Bucknell team in its second game of the season, the Nittany Lions have now won six of eight and pushed their record to 8-3 following last night’s 68-59 win over Duquesne in a neutral site game. This opponent was another middling team, but Penn State’s only other losses were to a very talented Pittsburgh team and a three-point loss to a solid Ole Miss squad. Last night’s win was just another that exhibits that this team could challenge for a top-half finish in the B1G. Most impressively may be Penn State giving up 24 free throws to the Dukes yet still winning the game. It’s also good that Tim Frazier only scored 11 points but had 13 assists, giving credence to the notion that role players are stepping up around the Nittany Lions’ talented backcourt duo. If Penn State wins its next game against 7-1 Princeton, everyone will have to start putting this team on its dark horse radar.
  5. Another game, another high-scorer for Wisconsin. The Badgers have proven to be a very well-balanced and talented squad this season, as Ben Brust led the team in its 78-52 win over UW-Milwaukee last night. Every time out it seems like someone different is taking control of the team, with Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky, Traevon Jackson or Josh Gasser trading positions. Brust is just another dimension to the effectiveness of the Badgers as it has gotten off to its best start at 11-0 since 1993-94. This team has shown it can do just about anything in Bo Ryan’s motion offense, with every player versatile enough to hit shots outside or play inside. With five strong scorers in its starting lineup, this could be the year Wisconsin goes from a consistently good team to a Final Four contender. It also helps that it has shown it can play different styles this season, already notching wins in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and more than 100 points. That’s quite the spectrum of game styles to win them all.
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