RTC Weekly Primer: Who Can Make a Run in March?

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 24th, 2015

It happens every year. Every single year. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but more often than not, there comes a time in a college basketball season when the entire hoops world witnesses the birth of something. It can begin with a bang; but it can also begin innocuously. It can occur in plain sight; but it can also be the tree in the middle of a deserted forest. This birth, of course, is the preliminary stage of a postseason run. And the run, of course, is the one that in a few weeks time will be the talk of college basketball. Back in 2011, it was Shelvin Mack, Brad Stevens and Butler. In 2012, it was Lorenzo Brown and NC State. In 2013, it was very nearly Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss. A season ago, it was Jordan McRae and the upstart Tennessee Volunteers. NCAA Tournament runs usually don’t just appear out of thin air. Typically, there’s a backstory. In 2015, the time has come for those backstories to develop. Next month’s headlines will start formulating themselves right now.

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Who will those headlines be written about this year? Who will be the team that sees everything come together at the right time? Who will be that team? It’s time to start considering some possibilities:

  • Georgetown – The Hoyas aren’t exactly in the same category as the Butlers and Ole Misses of years past, but they seem to be flying somewhat under the radar. Georgetown has the pieces to make a run. The Hoyas are a top-20 defensive team, boast an occasionally dominant post presence in senior center Josh Smith, and have a guard in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera who can take over a game. After getting smoked by Villanova a couple weeks ago, they’ve now won three straight and have the week off to prepare for St. John’s in Madison Square Garden on Saturday. That’s the kind of win that could propel the Hoyas to a #4 or #5 seed and their first Sweet Sixteen (or better) run since 2007.
  • Indiana – Another team that is solidly in the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers certainly will never be considered a Cinderella story. But most projections have them as a #8 or #9 seed right now, meaning they aren’t being discussed as a legitimate contender either. This team has notable flaws in its personnel and it has a coach who many have questioned in recent years. But it’s also arguably got the most lethal backcourt in the country — just the type of thing that can carry a team on a surprising journey through March. The Hoosiers, which have struggled on the road but have been dynamite at home, travel to Northwestern on Wednesday night before a two-game home swing featuring Iowa and Michigan State. It’s really the perfect slate to build some March momentum.

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Analyzing the Big Ten Race For the Top Four Seeds

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on February 24th, 2015

Let’s face it — barring serious injury to another Wisconsin player, the Badgers have all but won the Big Ten regular season. Bo Ryan’s club is 13-1 and comfortably in first place with a three-game lead and four games left in its schedule. While three of those upcoming contests are away from Madison, Wisconsin will be favored in all four games. But that presumed fact at the top of the standings doesn’t mean there’s no excitement to be found in the final two weeks of the regular season. Seven other Big Ten teams are currently vying to finish as one of the three remaining top seeds: IllinoisIndiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue. A top-four finish isn’t just ceremonial, either, as it gives a team a coveted double-bye in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament. That means a team’s first game (on Friday March 13) will come against a team that played the day before (perhaps even twice before), and will need only three wins in three days to be crowned tournament champions. Needless to say, it’s quite the advantage. The table below, provided by Daniel Borup and using KenPom’s win percentages, shows the current probabilities of each Big Ten team finishing at each of the 14 seed lines. After the table is a team-by-team synopsis on each of those squads vying for a top-four seed.

btt probabilities

Source: Daniel Borup

  • Illinois (1% likelihood of a top four finish). The Illini are mathematically still in contention for a top-four seed but a home loss to Michigan State on Sunday really set them back. Now the Illini may need to pull an upset either at Iowa or Purdue to ensure that they’re even on the right side of the bubble.
  • Indiana (11%). The Hoosiers currently sit at fifth place and have three games left — at Northwestern, Iowa and Michigan State. They’ll likely need to run the table on those to have a chance to catch up to Purdue or Michigan State. If they can accomplish that, they’ll still need the Spartans to tumble as Indiana owns the tiebreaker over Michigan State but not the Boilermakers.
  • Iowa (19%). Though two games back of fourth place, the Hawkeyes have a fairly manageable schedule still ahead of them: Illinois, at Penn State, at Indiana and Northwestern. That gives Iowa a fighting chance as two of the teams currently in the top four — Purdue and Michigan State — both have challenging schedules ahead. The problem is that Iowa has run so hot and cold all season — as evidenced by their win at Ohio State and home loss to Minnesota — that it’s hard to put much faith in this team.

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Big Ten M5: 02.20.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 20th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. After a miserable 0-5 start in the Big Ten, Minnesota was always a long shot to make a run at an at-large bid. Despite the terrible start, Richard Pitino’s team managed to fight back and win five of its next seven games. But the Golden Gophers’ postseason dreams effectively came to an end on Wednesday night when they suffered their worst lost of the season to Northwestern at home. For the second straight game, Minnesota let a team get hot from the perimeter as the Wildcats hit 15 three-pointers in the game. Now, at 5-9 in the conference, the Gophers are likely headed for the NIT or worse. Pitino will need to figure out what went wrong during the offseason and fix it quick as he’ll enter year three in Minnesota with no NCAA Tournament appearances.
  2. On Thursday, Purdue got its best win of the season when the Boilermakers topped its intrastate rival, Indiana, by four points in Bloomington. A.J. Hammons was tremendous in the game on both sides of the court, evidenced by his 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting and four blocks. Purdue’s guards were able to aggressively blanket Indiana’s shooters because of the rim protection Hammons provided all night. The result was that the usually deadly-from-deep Hoosiers were held to 31 percent from the three-point line and one of the best offenses in the country only managed 0.96 points per possession. While the Boilermakers are still on bubble, they finally have a signature win to counter some bad losses from earlier in the season.
  3. With 14 teams and 18 games, unbalanced schedules are a part of life in the new and super-sized Big Ten. Because of this, and the fact that rivalries are not protected for basketball, we as fans miss out on some great home-and-home battles against historic foes. Matt Brown from SBNation makes the argument that the Big Ten should forego the rotating schedule and lock in key games each and every year. It would make sense from the Big Ten’s perspective too, as these games would bring in more impressive ratings and demand better TV slots. It’s tough to argue with the logic, but the greater expansion of leagues throughout the sport has made that just short of impossible in this framework.
  4. Don’t let anyone tell you bad decisions aren’t contagious. After Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott trotted out the idea of reinstating freshmen ineligibility, the Big Ten followed suit saying it’s gauging the interests of its members about the possibility of implementing the rule once again. On Thursday, Maryland’s president, Wallace Loh, said “If they do well because they spend more time, get more academic advising … their freshman year, they’re going to graduate”. That’s quite a lot of hypocrisy to choke down from the president of a university who left their historic (and geographically sensible) conference for a more lucrative one in the Midwest. Next time Maryland flies 1,200 miles to Nebraska on a school night to play a 9:00 PM ET game, they should ask themselves if that may be negative factor for the student-athletes’ academics.
  5. Finally, on Thursday ESPN released Joe Lunardi’s newest brackets, and seven Big Ten schools are projected to make the Big Dance. Wisconsin (#2 seed), Maryland (#5), Ohio State (#7), Indiana (#7), Michigan State (#8), Iowa (#10), and Illinois (#11). Purdue is missing from the field as of right now, but this projection does not include the Boilermakers’ big win at Indiana on Thursday night. By the next time Lunardi updates his brackets, there may be eight teams in the field, which would undoubtedly make this another successful season for the league.
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The Purdue Paradox: Second in the Big Ten and Headed to the NIT?

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on February 19th, 2015

On Sunday, Purdue defeated Nebraska in Mackey Arena to move its record to 17-9 overall and 9-4 in Big Ten play, which puts the Boilermakers in a tie for second place with Maryland and Michigan State. That’s something no one could have foreseen on December 31 when the Boilermakers entered league play at 8-5. If you take a closer look at the standings, you’ll see teams like Ohio State, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa trailing them. Yet, according to Bracketmatrix.com, all of these teams are currently projected to make the NCAA Tournament while Purdue is one of first four teams out. How can this be? Simple, it’s because North Florida and Gardner-Webb, two teams that rank outside the RPI top 150, got the better of Matt Painter‘s team in non-conference play and have become glaring stains on their resume. And unfortunately for Purdue, these two losses threaten to tank what has been a great and much needed bounceback season for this program.

Hammons

A.J. Hammons has led the Boilermakers to second place in the Big Ten, but they still find themselves outside the bubble.

After two consecutive years of subpar basketball, Purdue finds itself closing in on 20 wins and an upper-tier conference finish. From a bird’s-eye view, this is the kind of season Painter needed in order to stave off calls for his firing. But the NCAA Selection Committee has made it clear that games in December, when the Boilermakers went 4-4, are just as valuable to an NCAA Tournament resume as those in January and February. Against North Florida on December 6, Purdue was in control for the first 37 minutes of the game before its interior defense collapsed and allowed the Ospreys to go on a run of layups to earn their first ever win over a Big Ten school. Against Gardner-Webb, Purdue once again collapsed in the second half as the Bulldogs went 14-of-25 from the three-point line to steal a victory. Those bad losses are haunting Purdue in the worst way right now.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 17th, 2015

Valentine’s Day weekend in the Big Ten was dominated by love for the three-pointer. Indiana showed its affection for the trifecta by bombing away to the tune of a school-record 18 makes against Minnesota. Purdue was able to nail eight threes of its own in a key win against Nebraska, including four from a struggling Kendall Stephens. Northwestern hit on nine attempts from long distance in its surprising upset of Iowa. Finally, Michigan State’s aptly-named Denzel Valentine broke hearts all over the Buckeye State by hitting a game-winning three in the waning seconds of its win. Here are the rest of the highs and lows from an interesting weekend around the league.

Troy Williams led Indiana in reboudning as they dominated the glass against Minnesota.  (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

Troy Williams led Indiana in reboudning as the Hoosiers dominated the glass against Minnesota. (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

  • Player of the Weekend: In a weekend full of great performances, Indiana’s Troy Williams gets this weekend’s nod in that he managed to do his usual work on the glass (nine boards) while also scoring 19 points on a very efficient 10 field goal attempts. The sophomore also tripled his three-point output for the season, hitting both of his attempts after entering the game only 1-of-6 on the year. If Williams can add a long-range shot to his offensive arsenal, he will be a certain first-round pick whenever he chooses to leave Bloomington for the professional ranks.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Chicago Catholic League alumnus and Northwestern freshman Scottie Lindsey has largely struggled to adapt to Big Ten play. Heralded as a knockdown outside shooter, the lanky swingman didn’t hurt Iowa over the weekend with his shooting prowess. Instead, Lindsey subbed for fellow freshman Vic Law (foul trouble) and played a season-high 38 minutes off the bench. He contributed seven points, six rebounds, a couple assists and three of his team’s 13 blocks as the Wildcats notched a win that they desperately needed.

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RTC Weekly Primer: UNC-Duke, No. 1 Seeds, and a Tight Bubble

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 17th, 2015

They say time flies when you’re having fun, so by the transitive property, they might as well say time flies during college basketball season. But seriously, this season seems to have sped by. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s because a busy schedule has eaten up my down time. Maybe it’s something subconscious. But I genuinely feel like conference play just started and yet we’re already approaching March. The logical explanation for that? Maybe it’s because the overarching narratives of the season have been in constant flux. Or — another way of putting it — maybe it’s because Selection Sunday is just 25 days away and we really only know one thing: Kentucky is good. Really good. After that, everything is tight — tight with two heavily enunciated ‘t’s. According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, eight teams have a 25 percent or greater chance at a No. 1 seed, but only Kentucky’s odds surpass 60 percent. And moving down the hierarchy, there’s just so much additional uncertainty. There’s been a definitive top eight for over a month now, and nobody below that threshold appears too intent on breaking into it. Teams like Iowa State and North Carolina have invariably followed up big wins with baffling losses, and teams like Utah and Louisville simply haven’t separated themselves in a meaningful way. Even further down the Top 25, the bubble is nothing more than a mess. But that’s the case every year. And even as all-encompassing as it is right now, there are bound to be teams that stage late surges to put themselves in contention. There are also bound to be teams that spin out of control in the other direction. To put it succinctly… there is bound to be madness. That might as well be a slogan for college hoops in general, but especially this year.

The Only Thing We Know For Certain is that Kentucky is Really Good (USA Today Images)

The Only Thing We Know For Certain is that Kentucky is Really Good (USA Today Images)

One for the Money

North Carolina at Duke | Wednesday, 9:00 PM EST, ESPN

No matter which team you root for, no matter where you live, there’s only one game this week that is must-watch television. And even if Dickie V. won’t be on the call, you have to tune in for the first of two battles between North Carolina and Duke. When you think of college sports, almost all of the notions of amateur athletics are embodied by the Tobacco Road rivalry. Games are played with passion and intensity. They are played with unrelenting pressure and in front of hostile crowds. They are played enveloped by the shadows of history, in front of legends and ghosts of years past. They are laden with folklore and religiously maintained traditions. They turn the otherwise forgotten into heroes and the otherwise successful into villains. The Duke-Carolina games are as singularly powerful as nearly any regular season game in any sport, and this year’s annual rite of passage begins Wednesday night.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 10th, 2015

The weekend before Valentine’s Day in the Big Ten was hardly easy on the eyes. Only five teams were able to crack the the 1.00 points per possession mark, and 10 of the 14 league teams had double-figure turnovers. As an example, Nebraska only managed 13 first half points en route to a 29.4 percent shooting performance in its ugly loss to Penn State. Maryland found itself down by a score of 23-2 to Iowa before finally waking up to make the score a little more respectable (71-55). All in all, it wasn’t a good weekend if you were looking for aesthetically pleasing hoops. As always, though, there were a few highlights and solid performances, so here are some of the best.

D'Angelo Russell and his freshmen cohorts lead Ohio State's efforts in their win Sunday over Rutgers. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

D’Angelo Russell and his freshmen cohorts lead Ohio State’s efforts in their win Sunday over Rutgers. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

  • Player of the Weekend: D’Angelo Russell continues to strengthen his candidacies for both Big Ten Player of the Year and National Player of the Year, notching Ohio State’s first triple-double since Evan Turner recorded one in 2010. We can probably just go ahead and make it a post rule that if someone earns a triple-double and his team wins, he will end up with the Player of the Weekend award. Russell didn’t make the handful of spectacular plays that he’s become known for in this game, but he continued to just put up numbers in an efficient way. He scored a ‘quiet’ 23 points, including 17 in the first half on only 13 attempts. He also had six rebounds and seven assists by halftime, making it almost a forgone conclusion that the triple-double was imminent. Granted, all of this production came against Rutgers, but a Player of the Year race that once looked like an easy win for Frank Kaminsky has now become much more competitive. The March 8 tilt between the two stars in Columbus might ultimately decide the award.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Ohio State freshmen accounted for 61 of the Buckeyes’ 79 points on Sunday night, and Keita Bates-Diop enjoyed his most productive game of the season. Stepping in because Marc Loving was still suspended, Bates-Diop boosted his confidence by hitting two threes early in the first half. From there, he managed to either tie or post career-bests in all five major statistical categories. He tied a career-high in points (19) and assists (three), and set career-highs with his nine rebounds, two steals and three blocks. Not bad for 19 minutes of action. The Buckeyes are getting great contributions from their freshmen right now, and Thad Matta’s first-year players may decide how far this team goes.

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Big Ten M5: 02.05.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 6th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. On Wednesday night, Purdue got an important 60-58 win over Ohio State. Why was it important? Not only did it stretch the Boilermakers’ winning streak to four games, it also moved their conference record to 7-3, their best start since the 2007-08 season. If Purdue can win the rest of its home games (Nebraska, Rutgers, and Illinois), they’ll guarantee themselves at least 10 wins in conference play. To get serious consideration in March for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, they’ll need to compensate for their two bad losses against Vanderbilt and Gardner-Webb. A win against the ranked Buckeyes goes a long way toward eliminating some of the stink on their resume.
  2. One factor that may have played into Ohio State’s loss was that sophomore forward Marc Loving was not on the court. The sophomore and second-leading scorer did not make the trip to West Lafayette, as he has been suspended indefinitely for disciplinary reasons. The specifics of his cause for suspension were not released by the school, but his absence threatens the Buckeyes’ pursuit for a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. Loving was beginning to emerge as one of the the best shooters in the Big Ten, as evidenced by his 53.2% shooting from deep. But now that he’s on the sidelines, Ohio State will become even more of a one-man show, starring D’Angelo Russell, than it’s already been.
  3. Also on Wednesday, Maryland managed to fend off Penn State in College Park. While the Terrapins are still hovering near the top of the Big Ten standings, stud freshman Melo Trimble has hit a bit of a slump with only seven combined points in his last couple games. It’s lucky for Mark Turgeon that he has a senior leader like Dez Wells, who contributed 23 points and seven rebounds, to pick up the slack. He also managed to get the home crowd off its feet with this monster dunk. On Sunday, Maryland heads to Iowa City for a key game with the Hawkeyes. They’ll need Wells to continue to make big plays and for Trimble to wake up out of his slumber if they hope to notch their third conference road win.
  4. On Thursday, Iowa snapped its three-game losing streak with a 72-54 victory at Michigan. The Hawkeyes were able to take advantage of the shallow depth of the injury-ridden Wolverines and walked out of Ann Arbor with an important road win. This bodes well for Fran McCaffery’s group, as his team has a favorable schedule the rest of the way. It’s too early to predict that Iowa is over the hump, but a strong finish would certainly be a departure from what last season when the Hawkeyes imploded and exited the NCAA Tournament in the First Four. This year, the Hawkeyes could actually enter the postseason with some real momentum.
  5. After Indiana started off Big Ten play at 5-1, the Hoosiers have dropped three of their last four games and are coming off an embarrassing loss to Wisconsin. Alex Bozich from Inside the Hall takes a deep dive into the makeup of this up-and-down team with a player-by-player breakdown. Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr., and Troy Williams lead the way when it comes to filling out the stat sheets, but given the fact Indiana has allowed over 1.2 points per possession in each of their last three losses, they may need Hanner Mosquera-Perea back from injury to provide some semblance of a defensive presence inside.
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Previewing Ohio State vs. Purdue: Focus on the Supporting Casts

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 4th, 2015

If you were asked to pick the players who will be key performers in tonight’s battle between 6-3 teams Purdue and Ohio State, names like D’Angelo Russell, AJ Hammons, and Shannon Scott would probably be your first answers. Certainly those players will have an impact on the outcome of this important mid-conference season game, but there are also a few other names who will be important as well. Three players in tonight’s battle who log heavy minutes have been trending up over the last two weeks, and here’s who each is poised to make a meaningful impact.

Raphael Davis has carried his share of the weight this season for Purdue. (Mike Fenner, Indianapolis Star)

Raphael Davis has carried his share of the weight this season for Purdue. (Mike Fenner, Indianapolis Star)

  • Raphael Davis, Purdue: Davis has been Purdue’s defensive go-to-guy, as he’s able to guard the gamut from point guards to power forwards. He may face his biggest challenge of the season tonight, though, as he’ll likely have the primary responsibility in trying to shut down the Buckeyes’ Russell. He has proven capable of harassing Michigan’s Caris LeVert, among others, this season, but his focus shouldn’t necessarily be to completely shut the star freshman down. Russell is seemingly getting any shot he wants within the Ohio State offense, so if Davis can force him right and be physical with him without fouling, the Buckeyes will struggle to put points on the board.
  • Jae’Sean Tate, Ohio State: Tate should be mentioned on any list of the B1G’s top freshmen after his play since entering Ohio State’s starting lineup. He’s accounted for 12.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and 51.4 percent shooting from the field since becoming a starter. Much like Davis, Tate brings great energy and tenaciousness that will be vastly important tonight. He’ll likely have to bang with both Hammons and Isaac Haas at some point, and despite giving up considerable height, may be able to use his quickness to get to the rim and to create some second-chance opportunities.

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Big Ten Post-Super Bowl Reset

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 3rd, 2015

New England knocked off Seattle in one of the most thrilling Super Bowls of the last 20 years on Sunday night. Ohio State shocked the world in the first-ever College Football Playoff by barely making the field and then defeating the two favorites. All of you pigskin- obsessed sports fans now have a clear void in your life until next August. Have no fear, though, as Big Ten basketball is the elixir for your post-football withdrawal. Here’s a quick look at what’s happened through the first couple months of the regular season to get you up to speed.

Frank Kaminsky (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky Has Played Like an All-American This Year (Getty)

  • Wisconsin’s Dominance: If the last time you checked in with Wisconsin was while watching last year’s Final Four, you’ll find that the Badgers have shown that they have all the pieces in place to make a return trip. Bo Ryan’s team has only suffered two losses (to Duke and Rutgers) en route to a 19-2 overall mark (7-1 Big Ten), and the most efficient offensive team in America boasts likely Big Ten Player of the Year (and All-American), Frank Kaminsky. The Badgers are currently missing point guard Traveon Jackson with an injury until the end of the month, but Bronson Koenig has stepped in admirably and there’s a realistic chance the Badgers are headed for a 17-1 Big Ten record and a #1 NCAA Tournament seed.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 27th, 2015

Two things that stuck out from a busy seven-game weekend in the B1G both involved Iowa. Fran McCaffery’s squad reentered last week’s Top 25 only to drop two games and potentially lose Aaron White to a shoulder stinger. Luckily, the team does not play again until Saturday in a rematch against Wisconsin. But the star senior may miss some time, becoming the fourth key upperclassmen to get injured once conference play has started. They may have lost to Purdue on Saturday anyway, but with White only playing seven minutes, things were made a bit more difficult for the Hawkeyes to steal a game in West Lafayette. Because of this result and that Nebraska beat Michigan State, there are now four teams tied for sixth place with identical 4-3 records and eight teams sit only two games behind first-place Wisconsin. While the league is down from the last couple years, there is still a great deal of parity within its midsection. Things have gotten even more equal with the injuries, making the last six weeks of conference play that much more interesting.

D'Angelo Russell continues notched a double-double on Sunday as Ohio State beat Indiana. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

D’Angelo Russell continues notched a double-double on Sunday as Ohio State beat Indiana. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

Player of the Weekend: D’Angelo Russell had just an all-around outstanding week, but Sunday was special in the fact that it didn’t seem so special. There was no dynamic outside shooting like the first half of the Minnesota game, nor were there any highlight reel no-look passes.Instead the freshman has become so good that he can quietly put up a line that includes 22 points and ten assists against a ranked team without it being much of a surprise anymore. He was able to get to the basket at will, he continued to be really proficient at helping the team on the boards (six rebounds), and he even chipped in with two steals. It also appeared that with the emergence of fellow first-year player Jae’Sean Tate, Thad Matta has decided that in order for this Buckeye unit to advance deep into March, he needs the freshmen more than his quintet of seniors who have failed to be consistent. With a 25.8 PPG average in his last four games, Russell has shown that he’s peaking at the just the right time.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Basil Smotherman had gotten lost in the rotation at Purdue, with Vince Edwards taking the majority of the minutes at the power forward slot. After starting 16 games as a freshman last season, Smotherman had only averaged a paltry 6.2 MPG in Big Ten games prior to Saturday’s matchup against Iowa. This changed as he notched an extremely productive 25 minutes Saturday. He scored a season-high 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting. He also added six rebounds, two of which came in the last minute of the game on the defensive backboards with Iowa attempting a furious comeback. Purdue has one of the deepest rosters in the whole league, and if they could ever get everyone playing well at the same time and contributing in different ways, this could still be a NCAA Tournament team.

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Big Ten M5: 01.21.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 21st, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Freshmen have made much more of an impact this season than last year. Because of this, it’s difficult to truly pick an All-Freshman Team. BTN’s Shon Morris took a stab at it anyway, as he named five guards to his list. Wooden Award Semi-Finalists Melo Trimble and D’Angelo Russell made the cut, along with Indiana guard James Blackmon Jr, Northwestern guard Bryant McIntosh, and Minnesota’s Nate Mason. If there was anything to quibble with here, it would potentially be the exclusion of Purdue first-year players Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas. Both have kind of tailed off as of late in terms of production however, as the quintet of guards have had more of an impact in conference play.
  2. Indiana coach Tom Crean doesn’t necessarily have many fans in the media, and articles written about him are usually slanted toward the negative. Things weren’t helped by the train wreck of a 2013-14 season, and the turmoil that surrounded the team before this season even started. The Hoosiers have exceeded expectations in starting 14-4, and Crean deserves a good deal of credit for the way his squad has performed. Indianan has a rough stretch of games coming up, but finishing in the top five in the league and making the NCAA Tournament should not only enable Crean to not have to worry about his job, but also could put him in contention for Big Ten Coach of the Year.
  3. Purdue can pick up another conference win tonight when they take on Illinois in West Lafayette. After a sluggish start against Penn State that took a miraculous shot to force overtime, the Boilermakers are trying to figure out how to get off to better starts. They’ve trailed in each Big Ten game so far, and the catalysts for the poor starts have been a lack of communication on defense and too many turnovers. With Illinois desperate to stay in the hunt until Rayvonte Rice returns, Purdue can’t afford to let Illinois shoot the lights out in the first stanza like they did against Indiana. Locking down on defense for 40 minutes like Purdue teams of old will determine how far this team can go.
  4. Michigan State has struggled at times this season, and whether or not they turn things around by March remains to be seen. That doesn’t mean that fans of the green and white should get too upset according to Graham Couch of the Lansing State-Journal. Being upset at this non-top 25 unit shows just how good the program has been under Tom Izzo. There’s been some recruiting misses of the highly-publicized variety (Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander, Tyus Jones), and lesser-hyped players that have become really good (Monte Morris, Tyler Ulis). But the fact that this year’s team could still turn things around, combined with a 2015-16 team that has a chance to be really solid should be enough for fans to tolerate the struggles of this team.
  5. College Basketball Talk listed some of the surprises and disappointments so far this season, and B1G teams made the cut on both lists. Maryland made an appearance as one of bigger surprises, with Coach Mark Turgeon being mentioned as a possible National Coach of the Year candidate. As far as disappointments, both Michigan and Nebraska were considered. Both teams won last night, and have a combined 8-5 mark in conference play right now. But they both started the season in the top 25, losing that distinction by playing poorly in the early going. The B1G as a whole has been disappointing, and the dip from both of these squads has played a large role in its demise.
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