Big Ten Feast Week Primer

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 24th, 2014

Seven Big Ten teams will be competing in tournaments during Feast Week. Some are expected to do well, while others are looking to pick up some quality wins and defy preseason expectations. Here’s a primer for those hoops-obsessed fans who want to schedule some Big Ten basketball watching around their annoying relatives. The fun gets started later today in Maui, New York and Kansas City.

Progressive Legends Classic: (Monday and Tuesday)

Caris LeVert needs to continue to fill up the stat sheet if Michigan wants to win the Legends Classic. (Getty)

Caris LeVert needs to continue to fill up the stat sheet if Michigan wants to win the Legends Classic. (Getty)

  • Teams: Michigan, Oregon, VCU, Villanova
  • Favorite: Villanova
  • TV: ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU
  • Outlook: Michigan will face its first big-name opponents of the season when the Wolverines take on Oregon in the first game. Should they win, they’ll face off against the winner of the VCU-Villanova game after that. The perimeter trio of Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert will have to continue to score at a high level, as the trio is producing a robust 67.5 percent of Michigan’s points thus far this season.
  • Predicted Finish: First if they play Villanova; second if they play VCU.

CBE Hall of Fame Classic: (Monday and Tuesday)

  • Teams: Maryland, Arizona State, Iowa State, Alabama
  • Favorite: Iowa State
  • TV: ESPNU, ESPN2

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Three More Big Ten Players to Consider for the Wooden Award Watch List

Posted by Eric Clark on November 18th, 2014

The Wooden Award Top 50 watch list was released on Monday, tabbing seven Big Ten players – Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky, Nebraska’s Terran Petteway, Michigan State’s Branden Dawson, Michigan’s Caris LeVert, Maryland’s Dez Wells and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell. There were no surprises in those who were named to the list, but since only 50 total players received the honor in the first place, there are a number of other Big Ten players who could very well find themselves among the 25 finalists in January.

Denzel Valentine brings a veteran presence to an otherwise young MSU roster.

Denzel Valentine brings a veteran presence to an otherwise young MSU roster.

Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson are the only two returning starters at Michigan State and the former is one of the most versatile players in the Big Ten. Tom Izzo was not pleased with Valentine’s performance in the Spartans’ season opener versus Navy, criticizing the 6’5” junior for being reckless (Valentine turned the ball over three times and shot 20 percent from the field.) However, the very recklessness shown by Valentine may have been more indicative of the inexperience of many of the players around him. There’s little doubt that Valentine will turn it around — it was only one game, after all — he’s been praised for the vast improvements he made during the offseason. With Dawson and Valentine as the drivers of the Spartan squad, it’s not a stretch to tab both as potential Wooden finalists.

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Purdue’s Hot Start Brings Hope to Program

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 18th, 2014

From a distance, this weekend seemed like a relatively unremarkable start for the Big Ten. The teams that were expected to win won, and those that were expected to lose lost. But if you take a closer look, you’ll find that one team, with the help of an especially impressive freshman, turned some heads with its dominant weekend play. Purdue looked nothing like the team picked to finish 11th in the Big Ten, as predicted in the Preseason Media Poll, easily disposing of both of its opponents by a combined 60 points. Outstanding performances from certain players, especially freshman guard Vince Edwards, fueled Purdue’s offense to an average of 78.5 points in the two games, giving Boilermakers fans and some prognosticators reevaluating the trajectory of their season.

Vince Edwards has led Purdue to their hot start. (Jerry Schultheiss).

Vince Edwards has led Purdue to their hot start. (Jerry Schultheiss).

Edwards, a little-known freshman, was awarded this season’s inaugural Big Ten Freshman of the Week – ahead of a number of other high-profile freshmen like Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell – after averaging 19.5 points (including a 26-point outing against IUPUI), 8.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in his first two games. The freshman was so unheralded as a recruit that he failed to make both Scout’s and Rivals’s Top 100 rankings. The Middletown, Ohio, native has been a stat stuffer so far, but he hasn’t been the only major contributor. Sophomore Kendall Stephens has been deadly from the outside, evidenced by his 9-of-13 shooting from deep and 17.0 PPG average. A.J. Hammons already has eight blocks, if little else, and sophomore Raphael Davis and freshman Isaac Haas brought excellent performances to the season opener – Davis chipped in 13 points, while Haas contributed 11 points and eight rebounds. The Boilermakers’ hot start has been an impressive team effort thus far, which is in stark contrast to the underachieving unit we saw come out of the gates last year.

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First Weekend Observations From the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 17th, 2014

The Big Ten tipped things off along with the rest of the country this weekend in the form of a whopping 18 games in three days. Minnesota and Rutgers were the only two conference teams that lost, but they also played two teams in Louisville and George Washington, respectively, that should make some noise nationally. While it would be next to impossible to have seen all 18 games in some capacity, here’s some of what we observed on this end.

James Blackmon Jr lead the way offensively in Indiana's huge opening win. (Matt Detrich, Indy Star)

James Blackmon Jr lead the way offensively in Indiana’s huge opening win. (Matt Detrich, Indy Star)

  • Indiana Could be Fun to Watch: A team effective field goal percentage of 75.4 percent will not be duplicated for the whole season, but the Hoosiers played a really fun brand of offensive basketball in their throttling of Mississippi Valley State, 116-65, on Friday night. Freshman James Blackmon, Jr looks to be the real deal, and Robert Johnson (15 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals) might not be far behind. Max Hoetzel also was impressive, displaying the versatility at times to serve as a point forward. The Hoosiers did a really nice job moving without the ball and creating offensive spacing, which lead to many of their 23 three-point attempts being wide-open looks. They will get tested playing SMU at home on Thursday night (after tonight’s Mike Davis reunion with Texas Southern), but the contrast in styles and the return of Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson to the lineup will make it worth watching.
  • Michigan State Needs to Find a Post Presence: Michigan State seemed to be sleepwalking through a good chunk of its five-point win over Navy on Friday night, and it wasn’t just from turning the ball over 18 times. The Spartans allowed Navy to score way too easily inside the paint, causing the game to be much closer than it should have been given the size and talent differential on display. With Jahlil Okafor and Duke looming for Tom Izzo’s team on Tuesday night, Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling will have to be much bigger factors on the defensive end of the floor. Denzel Valentine won’t play as poorly as he did that night, but the Spartans’ offense looked disjointed other than the times when Travis Trice got open looks (5-of-6 from three). Michigan State will eventually get things right and still be a factor in the B1G race, but it might take some time if they can’t prevent those easy inside looks.

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Big Ten M5: 11.17.14 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on November 17th, 2014

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  1. Former Indiana coach Mike Davis will make his first return to Assembly Hall tonight since he resigned from the head coaching position at Indiana in 2006. Upon his hiring in 2000, Davis was immediately met with animosity from Bob Knight apologists, setting the tone for his tumultuous six-year tenure as the Hoosiers’ head coach. Indiana played for one national title under Davis in 2002 (losing to Maryland), but his teams went 42-38 in his final three seasons at the helm. Currently embattled head coach Tom Crean said he hopes Davis gets a “tremendous reception” tonight when he brings Texas Southern (0-1) to Bloomington – but Davis is guaranteed to be greeted with plenty of audible heckles as well.
  2. Michigan State skated by Navy on Friday night by a score of 64-59, raising a few eyebrows around the college basketball community. But according to Lansing State Journal‘s Graham Couch, that kind of close win could be beneficial for the Spartans in the long run. Tom Izzo inserted three new starters in his lineup (Travis Trice, Alvin Ellis III and Matt Costello), but he only got double-figure scoring from Trice and Branden Dawson. Head coach Tom Izzo said he needs to see more production from his returning starters, Denzel Valentine and Dawson, but it’s an absolute certainty that Izzo would much rather have the bump in the road come now than come later on in the season.
  3. Rutgers opened its season with a 17-point home loss to George Washington, getting beat in just about every relevant statistical category. Myles Mack led the Scarlet Knights with 14 points, but he didn’t get much help from his supporting cast. Freshman Mike Williams poured in 10 points off the bench, but no other Knights reached double figures. Junior Etou and newcomer Bishop Daniels went a combined 1-of-16 from the field and Kadeem Jack is on the mend, so there aren’t many positives for Rutgers fans right now – unless you count D.J. Foreman’s monstrous dunk. And that’s certainly worth something.
  4. Caris LeVert was excellent in Michigan’s season-opening win over Hillsdale on Saturday, notching 20 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in the Wolverines’ 92-68 victory. LeVert and point guard Spike Albrecht were both relatively unknown recruits coming out of high school, but the two are now Michigan’s permanent team captains for the 2014-15 season. LeVert was one of three Wolverines to score more than 20 points on Saturday, whereas Albrecht came off the bench to score four. Head coach John Beilein said Albrecht and starting point guard Derrick Walton Jr. will be on the court together a lot this season, a rare dual-point guard situation that you should keep your eye on.
  5. Purdue’s Vince Edwards, a true freshman, introduced himself to the Boilermakers faithful in a big way this weekend, scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds in his debut before turning around and dropping 26 points in a win over IUPUI on Sunday. Kendall Stephens shined alongside Edwards on Sunday, pouring in 24 points with six three-pointers as Purdue shot 50 percent from the field. The Boilermakers host Grambling State on Thursday before facing Kansas State in Maui on November 24. Purdue’s going to need more out of A.J. Hammons sooner than later, as the talented but enigmatic big man gathered a total of seven rebounds and scored only 11 points in his first two games.
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AJ Hammons: RTC Big Ten’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 12th, 2014

AJ Hammons wasn’t supposed to still be playing basketball in West Lafayette this season — the junior was supposed to have taken his considerable size and skills to the NBA two seasons ago. And although he’s flashed snippets of what had NBA scouts drooling, uneven play and a questionable motor have been the more lasting images of his first two seasons at Purdue. Now with a deeper team surrounding him in what some are calling a make-or-break season for head coach Matt Painter, Hammons needs to produce at consistently high level. Still, even with the up-and-down nature to his play, Hammons managed to lead the Big Ten in blocks last season. We expect his development to result in greater maturity and drive this year, making him our Big Ten microsite Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.

AJ Hammons will once again hold the Boilermakers NCAA Tournament hopes in his hands this season. (Purdue Exponent)

AJ Hammons will once again hold the Boilermakers’ NCAA Tournament hopes in his hands. (Purdue Exponent)

Hammons has averaged 2.5 blocks per game in his two seasons in West Lafayette, including a whopping 3.1 rejections per contest despite only playing 25 MPG last season. Among power conference players, only St. John’s Chris Obekpa and UConn’s Amida Brimah logged a better block rate than Hammons’ 13.31 percent. He also finished fifth in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding rate, doing so at a 22.7 percent clip. He was able to manage these numbers without a capable backup, meaning that in many situations he had to worry about foul trouble inhibiting his aggressiveness. With another year of maturity and a security blanket behind him in the name of 7’2″ freshman reserve Isaac Haas, Hammons can finally play aggressively when he’s on the court. This will enable the burly center to contest even more shots at the rim and to hit the glass even harder. Even with his shot-blocking prowess inside, Purdue ranked 101st in defensive two-point field goal percentage at 46.6 percent a season ago. Look for this number to decrease quite a bit this year. Barring injury, Hammons should become the 17th member of the 200-block club within the non-conference part of the schedule, and he only needs 67 blocks to crack the Big Ten’s all-time top 1o.

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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #14 to #10

Posted by Eric Clark on November 11th, 2014

With college basketball’s regular season finally tipping off on Friday, the time has come for the Big Ten microsite writers to make their predictions public. We’ll begin by showcasing the five projected bottom-feeders of the Big Ten, the teams we forecast to finish from 14th to 10th.

14. Rutgers

  • What they do well: There won’t be many positives for Rutgers in its inaugural Big Ten season — especially after three would-be seniors transferred during the offseason – but it looks like head coach Eddie Jordan brought in a solid recruiting class. His prized recruit is junior Bishop Daniels, a transfer from ASA College in New York City. Daniels, a former Miami player, will help solidify Rutgers’ backcourt with last year’s leading scorer, Myles Mack.
  • What they don’t do well: Rebound. The Scarlet Knights only had two players average more than six rebounds per game last season (Kadeem Jack and Wally Judge), and Judge is no longer with the team. Rutgers was eighth in the AAC last season in rebounding margin, averaging 1.8 fewer rebounds per game than their opponents. Ten of the 12 Big Ten teams, on the other hand, had positive margins.
Myles Mack will be one of the lone bright spots in Rutgers' inaugural Big Ten season.

Myles Mack will be one of the lone bright spots in Rutgers’ inaugural Big Ten season.

  • Get to know: Kadeem Jack. Jack is Rutgers’ lone established presence in the post on an otherwise young and inexperienced roster. The 6’9″ senior grabbed almost seven rebounds per game last year and shot 50 percent from the field. He’s likely the only Big Ten-caliber forward on the team.
  • Why they’ll finish 14th: Rutgers lost three senior players via transfer and has only two players, Mack and Jack, who have proven that they’re ready for Big Ten basketball. Defenses will key on those two, leaving an inexperienced cast to do – or rather, try to do – most of the heavy lifting. Eddie Jordan will overuse the phrase “growing pains” this season.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: Bishop Daniels has no problem adjusting back to Division I basketball, and freshman Mike Williams establishes himself as one of the best long-range shooters in the conference. Kadeem Jack thrives down low with the outside presence of Jack, Daniels and Williams.

13. Northwestern

  • What they do well: Defend – at least, better than the Wildcats used to. Head coach Chris Collins made a concerted effort to move away from the “open door policy” defense that plagued Northwestern in Bill Carmody’s final years at the helm. Collins’ team held opponents to a 41.1 percent field goal shooting last year, good enough for third in the conference.
  • What they don’t do well: Score. The Wildcats ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring last season, averaging 59.5 points per game. Illinois, which ranked second-to-last, averaged almost five more points per game. The Wildcats also were last in the Big Ten in field goal percentage.

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Big Ten M5: 11.05.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 5th, 2014

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  1. By now, everyone who follows college basketball on a regular basis has probably heard about all the off-the-court chaos at Indiana. This was already going to be a challenging season in Bloomington for head coach Tom Crean, but now with these other issues plaguing his team, it could turn out to be the most difficult season of his career. The only thing right now that will likely make all the noise go away is if the Hoosiers figure out a way to overachieve on the court — Crean may need a 20-win season and an NCAA Tournament berth to keep his job. With the overall parity in this season’s Big Ten, however, this could be a significant uphill battle.
  2. Isaac Haas is the biggest name of the five-man class that Purdue brought in this season, but 5’10” point guard PJ Thompson showed in the Boilermakers’ scrimmage on Sunday that he may be ready to contribute as well. The freshman led the team in assists and steals in Purdue’s 89-52 victory over California (PA). Thompson has plenty of competition at the point guard spot with Jon Octeus and Bryson Scott also on board, but his contributions will only make the team’s depth that much stronger.
  3. Defensive intensity has long been the hallmark of Tom Izzo-coached teams, with Michigan State often playing a rugged, bruising style that led to numerous Final Four trips with him at the helm. This offseason he focused more on the offensive end of the floor, and it showed in the Spartans’ first exhibition game. His team put up 97 points in a win over The Masters — whatever that is — but it also gave up 19 points in the first eight minutes of the game, leaving the veteran coach less than impressed with his team’s effort on that end of the floor. The loss of Gary Harris to the NBA leaves Izzo without one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, so Bryn Forbes or Alvin Ellis III will have to show that they can learn to lock down the perimeter as the head coach tries to figure out his rotation.
  4. Former Iowa great Roy Marble received devastating news in August when he learned that he has terminal cancer. Marble at the time lived in Iowa, where he was seen at many Hawkeyes’ home games cheering on his son Devyn Marble over the last few years. He’s now relocated back to his hometown of Flint, Michigan, to be closer to his family. His youngest son Carlo Marble — a potential Division I football and basketball recruit — has enrolled at Sexton High School in Flint. His basketball coach there is Carlton Valentine, the father of Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Marble family and Iowa as they deal with this horrible ordeal.
  5. ESPN has been unveiling its top 100 player rankings, and their latest edition (players #11-#19) had a distinct B1G flavor to it as Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell (#17), Nebraska’s Terran Petteway (#16), Michigan State’s Branden Dawson (#15), and Michigan’s Caris LeVert (#13) made the list. Each of these players is likely to make an appearance on our own all-league teams that will be coming out in the next week. Twelve Big Ten players have been named on the countdown so far, and it’s highly likely that Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky will land in the top 10 soon.
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Big Ten M5: 10.29.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 29th, 2014

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  1. Northwestern surprised many people last season with the transformation it made halfway through conference play, leading to road wins against Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Drew Crawford was the most important player on that team, so it should be shocking to no one that head coach Chris Collins is still trying to figure out how the Wildcats are going to replace him. Two likely candidates are JerShon Cobb and freshman Vic Law. Cobb topped 20 or more points four times as a junior, while Law is one of the most gifted players coming into the program in quite a while. Northwestern has more depth than last season, but whether the Wildcats can collectively replace one of the best players in the Big Ten is worth watching.
  2. Purdue received its first Class of 2016 pledge on Tuesday, as Indianapolis Tech point guard CJ Walker chose the Boilermakers over Butler and Cincinnati. Walker won a class 4A championship as a sophomore, where he shot 51 percent from the field and averaged 3.2 assists per game. Walker should join Bryson Scott and fellow Indianapolis native PJ Thompson at the point guard spot for the 2016-17 campaign.
  3. Illinois and head coach John Groce have gotten some highly-rated players from Chicago and elsewhere in the state of Illinois. Kendrick Nunn, Jaylon Tate and Malcom Hill are three that come to mind, for example, from his first recruiting class. But one former Illini great thinks that Groce has more work to do. Deon Thomas – the school’s all-time leading scorer and the state’s Mr. Basketball in 1989 from Chicago’s Simeon High School — says that talents like Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander would have stayed home and played for Illinois in the past. He cites AAU culture as a leading factor for Chicago kids choosing to play outside the state. Groce has made some nice headway with in-state kids, but it will take a top-15 type of player from Chicago staying close to home for many Illini fans to truly believe in his recruiting abilities.
  4. Ken Pomeroy released his preseason rankings to the masses on Sunday night and the Big Ten put 13 of its 14 teams among the top 80 in the country. One theme in the ratings is how balanced and equal teams #2 through #11 in the standings could be this season. As an example of how tight things are, Michigan State comes in at second in the league and 12th nationally while Purdue is 11th in the conference but 40th nationally. Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, Minnesota and Illinois are all ranked between #32-#38 in the nation. The equality of the teams in the middle of the pack makes predicting the Big Ten race largely a guessing game, and the first set of Pomeroy numbers seem to show that, outside of Wisconsin, he feels that the rest of the league is wide open.
  5. Tis the season for lists and preseason superlatives, and the Big Ten was well represented in SBNation‘s list of the top 100 college basketball players. Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky (#8) and Michigan’s Caris LeVert (#9) both cracked the top 10 nationally, while Nebraska’s Terran Petteway (#15) and Michigan State’s Branden Dawson (#26) made it into the top 30. All told, 15 B1G players made the cut, which left the league tied for second among power conferences with the Big 12. The SEC had the most players on this list with 16, six of whom play for Kentucky alone. The post also listed 50 more players who just missed the cut, which included Penn State senior guard DJ Newbill and Wisconsin sophomore Nigel Hayes.
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Big Ten M5: 10.21.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on October 21st, 2014

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  1. Preseason lists for this award and watch lists for that honor are being released in earnest. When it comes to a very specific list, plenty of Big Ten players are honored on the All-Indiana College Basketball Team, consisting of players from the Hoosier State who compete at the collegiate level. The first team includes Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Michigan State’s Branden Dawson, and perhaps a debatable player to some in Purdue’s AJ Hammons. The second team includes Michigan’s Zak Irvin, while three Honorable Mentions in Indiana’s James Blackmon, Jr. and Purdue’s Basil Smotherman and Raphael Davis. The team exhibits all the Indiana talent that is scattered across Big Ten rosters beyond just those playing for the in-state Hoosiers and Boilermakers.
  2. Minnesota is a team with some intrigue surrounding it entering this season. The Golden Gophers return four starters from its NIT Championship squad and it has raised some hopes and created high expectations for this year’s team. Some of these projections make sense and seem legitimate, such as Andre Hollins making an All-Big Ten team; but others, like Elliot Eliason leading the conference in rebounds and blocks, are a little more unrealistic. The biggest question to answer for Minnesota fans is whether the Gophers can make the NCAA Tournament and push forward to the second weekend of action. To accomplish such a feat, the team will need Hollins to really improve with the losses of Malik Smith and Austin Hollins. He has the skill set and talent to do so, but it will take a very strong campaign for Minnesota to rise to become a player at the top of the Big Ten and nationally.
  3. With the loss of Noah Vonleh to the NBA, it is no secret that Indiana has some major question marks on its interior this year. One player hoping to provide an answer, however, is Devin Davis. He is one of the few interior players the Hoosiers have returning with experience. The best thing going for Davis may just be that he isn’t a dominant offensive force but he is a strong rebounder. With this year’s team likely looking to rely on its perimeter play to propel the offense, a solid defender underneath who can also attack the boards fits very well. While Davis will likely sit behind Hanner Mosquera-Perea in Tom Crean’s rotation, his style could be beneficial and result in a significant number of minutes throughout the season.
  4. There are high hopes in Wisconsin this season, so to get ready for the year, why not start debating the past? What would you rate as the Badgers’ top play of the past 10 years? While this list goes with Bo Ryan making his first Final Four, personally the Ben Brust half-courter against Michigan would top my list. The real question for Wisconsin fans is whether this list will include more big plays from the upcoming season, and at what stakes? Certainly there could be a few leading to Big Ten and national accolades.
  5. Ever wondered what was in Lebron James’ locker? How about what is in his locker at Ohio State? Yes, Lebron James has a locker inside Ohio State’s locker room, right next to Amir Williams. He doesn’t use it, given that he’s a 29-year old professional and all, but the Buckeyes display Nike gear with his name on it to help appeal to recruits when they come to visit Columbus. Not a bad ploy to use despite King James never playing at Ohio State, or college anywhere, for that matter.
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Big Ten M5: 10.20.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 20th, 2014

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  1. Maryland received some bad news over the weekend when it found out that starting forward Evan Smotrycz will be out of action from four to six weeks with a broken foot. Smotrycz averaged 11.0 PPG and 6.0 RPG last season after transferring from Michigan. He was expected to be a starter for Mark Turgeon’s team again this season, but now he will probably miss key non-conference games against Arizona State and Virginia if he misses the full six weeks. This puts Jon Graham and possibly freshman Michal Cekovsky in line to pick up some of his minutes, at least in the short term.
  2. Not many Big Ten teams had flashy Midnight Madness spectacles like the Kentuckys and UConns of the world, but a couple of schools held public intra-squad scrimmages over the weekend. Purdue was one such team that did so, and the Boilermakers put forth an intriguing lineup with giants AJ Hammons and freshman Isaac Haas on the floor together at the same time. While this unit would definitely lack in quickness if used during the regular season, it could potentially work in small stretches of game action. The major takeaway from this occurrence, however, is that should Hammons get into foul trouble during the season — a fair assumption, given that he had 12 games of four fouls or more last year — it looks as though Matt Painter won’t hesitate to spell him with the 7’2″ Haas.
  3. Nebraska is in the midst of a highly successful football season right now, as the Huskers currently sit at 6-1 with running back Ameer Abdullah sneaking up the list of Heisman favorites. Despite all of that, Cornhuskers basketball is generating a good deal of its own hype heading into the season. Preseason first team All-Big Ten forward Terran Petteway was quoted at media day as saying “now everybody is going to be coming for us.” The Huskers surpassed expectations and then some last year, so it will be interesting to see what happens when they go from being the hunter to the hunted in 2014-15.
  4. Branden Dawson has to have a great senior season if Michigan State hopes to exceed expectations after losing three talented starters, and playing summer ball against former All-American Draymond Green has helped prepare him to take on a greater burden during this year’s campaign. Head coach Tom Izzo stated that if Dawson can bring consistent energy to the lineup, then he’ll have a big year as a leader. One would think that an all-conference season from Dawson will answer many of the questions people have about Michigan State in a transition year.
  5. Another B1G senior who is under the microscope this season is Ohio State swingman Sam Thompson. Thompson has primarily been known for his highlight reel dunks and incredible athleticism during his previous three seasons in Columbus, but the Buckeyes need offense with their top three scorers no longer on the roster. Thompson’s shooting percentages dropped across the board from his sophomore to his junior season, and as a senior he needs to provide more than just athleticism on a team that ranked 128th in offensive efficiency last year. Fellow seniors Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and Trey McDonald all will have different roles on the team from last season, and whether Thompson in particular can blossom into a more complete player may determine if the Buckeyes are capable of making another deep NCAA Tournament run for Thad Matta.
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Big Ten M5: 10.17.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 17th, 2014

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  1. As Tom Izzo enters his 20th season as head coach at Michigan State, he’ll have to deal with the losses of three major contributors from last season — Keith Appling, Gary Harris, and Adreian Payne. With only an average recruiting class entering East Lansing, he’ll have to rely on players from last year’s roster to improve. Specifically, the Spartans will look to senior Branden Dawson to keep them competitive in the B1G and possibly challenge for a conference championship. On Thursday at the Big Ten Media Day in Chicago, Izzo said that he’s trying to get Dawson to mold his game like another former Spartan standout, Draymond Green. With the significant loss in production from last year, it would certainly help if Dawson played like Green — who averaged a double-double his final year — this season.
  2. As mentioned, yesterday was Big Ten Media Day, and these events usually produce some notable quotes from the assembled coaches. One comment that caught my attention was Michigan head coach John Beilein’s response to a question about the presumed gap between Wisconsin and the other teams in the conference, stating that “the rest of the league is not far behind on a national stage.” It seems like Beilein is confident that, by the end of the season, several other Big Ten teams will join the national conversation, and maybe Wisconsin won’t run away with the conference championship after all. It’s not an outlandish statement by any stretch, because with coaches like Beilein, Izzo, and Thad Matta in the league, it is always difficult for any team — no matter how talented or experienced — to run away with the conference title.
  3. Of all the familiar faces that left the Big Ten this offseason, the most recognizable of those was probably that of the Buckeyes’ Aaron Craft. The highly decorated four-year player’s strength were intangibles like leadership and tenacity that could not be measured in a stat line. Shannon Scott, a 6’1″ senior guard who averaged 26.9 MPG last season, will attempt to replace Craft at the point guard slot this season. Scott’s numbers weren’t too far removed from Craft’s contributions in 2013-14, so his ability to produce is not really in question. But taking a leadership role could be an issue for Craft’s replacement, as Thad Matta stated on Thursday, “he’s always played a supportive role from teams he’s been on in high school to AAU to here.” The Buckeyes have a nice group of talent once again this season, but if Scott can’t effectively take an on-court leadership role, the Buckeyes will struggle to regain national power status.
  4. One familiar face that did return was Purdue big man and conference-leading shot-blocker, A.J. Hammons. While Hammons improved his block and defensive rebounding percentages from his freshman to sophomore seasons, he did not improve nearly as much offensively. Therefore it must be reassuring to Matt Painter to hear Hammons say that he realizes he has to be more of a leader on offense or Purdue won’t go very far this year. If the Boilermakers have any shot of making a run at the NCAA Tournament — and possibly saving Painter’s job — it will require Hammons to be the focal point of the team on both ends of the court.
  5. Finally, Illinois fans received sad news on Wednesday when they learned former assistant coach and Peoria High School legend, Wayne McClain, had passed away. On Thursday we learned even more about what seemed like the coach’s sudden death. McClain had been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013, but only he and his doctors knew about it — not even his wife nor his son Sergio, who played at Illinois from 1997-2001. The younger McClain only found out about his illness by looking through his late father’s smart phone and reading a journal he had written. Wayne McClain was apparently telling his family that he was going to regular doctor visits when he was actually receiving chemotherapy. When his options for treatment ran out, he still kept his illness a secret. It’s hard to imagine most people doing the same, but from reading interviews with his former players and colleagues, McClain seemed to be dedicated to selflessly helping others and not making things about himself. The basketball world seemed to lose a good one this week. Rest in peace, coach.
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