Fresh Faces Emerging as Big Ten Injuries Pile Up

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 28th, 2015

Big Ten training staffs have been working overtime this season, as many notable names have already missed significant time with injuries. Just last weekend, Aaron White, Robert Johnson, Bishop Daniels, Brandon Taylor, and Mike Williams all suffered various ailments that could result in missed action. This piles on to the already large injury toll suffered by conference teams, with Illinois (Rayvonte Rice), Indiana (Hanner Mosquera-Perea), Michigan (Caris LeVert), and Wisconsin (Traveon Jackson) all losing key starters for multiple games. Injuries, of course, are a part of the game, but it means that others must step in and make contributions in their absences. Here’s a look at how some of these Big Ten understudies have performed with the resulting boost in minutes they’ve received.

Kendrick Nunn has stepped things up offensively in the wake of Rayvonte Rice being out of the lineup. (USA TODAY)

Kendrick Nunn has stepped things up offensively in the wake of Rayvonte Rice being out of the lineup. (USA TODAY)

  • Illinois has gone 3-3 since its star Rayvonte Rice went down in practice. The senior had been logging 11.1 shots per game before his injury, and his primary replacement, Kendrick Nunn, has barely left the court since (36.2 MPG in the six games that Rice hasn’t played). The sophomore has been productive in his absence, though, contributing 16.7 PPG along with 4.5 RPG and 1.3 SPG. Rice’s biggest improvement had been shooting from deep, where he got off to an insane 29-for-60 start, but Nunn has been equally adept from three-point range, making 18-of-39 attempts in six games. On balance, Nunn has effectively matched Rice’s production, but Illinois’ main problem right now is depth. Without Rice and with Aaron Cosby (also sidelined), John Groce is pretty much running a seven-man rotation right now. Should Nunn or forward Malcolm Hill struggle offensively, there really aren’t many other options.

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Big Ten M5: 01.26.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 26th, 2015

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  1. Illinois has dealt with a multitude of injuries this season, and Andy Patterson of Big Ten Powerhouse has broken down how the Illini have performed since they lost their star, Rayvonte Rice. Illinois’ best win of the season came the day after Rice’s inury was announced, a 64-57 home upset of Maryland. Since that point, though, they’ve gone 3-3 with losses to Nebraska, Indiana and Purdue. Kendrick Nunn’s scoring has skyrocketed but the team is getting little production from Nnanna Egwu. If Illinois wants to ultimately make the NCAA Tournament, he’s got to turn his season around; but with a loss in any of their two upcoming games against Penn State and Rutgers, they should consider themselves toast.
  2. Northwestern had a program-defining win over Maryland in College Park slip right through its fingers on Sunday night, blowing an 11-point lead in the final 4:32 of game action. The Wildcats are no strangers to close losses, having dropped their last three games by a total of five points. With such a young team, head coach Chris Collins should be worried that all of these heartbreaking defeats are killing his team’s morale. This team has shown several flashes of brilliance, but those moments have rarely occurred in the final minutes of the second half.
  3. Ohio State notched its first win over a ranked opponent this season on Sunday, topping No. 23 Indiana, 82-70. The Buckeyes used an unconventional method to grab their most impressive victory of the season by employing a smaller-than-usual lineup, replacing starting lineup mainstays Amir Williams and Marc Loving with smaller forwards Anthony Lee and Jae’Sean Tate. While Lee would only log six minutes, Tate scored 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the field. The smaller lineup came in part as a response to Indiana’s lack of center Hanner Mosquera-Perea – and head coach Thad Matta said his future lineups would hinge on the unique match-ups presented by other Big Ten foes, despite the success of this weekend’s lineup.
  4. Michigan took Wisconsin to the brink on Saturday night, eventually falling 69-64 to the Badgers in overtime. The loss, though, came with many positives for the Wolverines. Freshmen Mark Donnal, Ricky Doyle, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman all showed obvious improvement against a team likely to grab one of four No. 1 seeds in March’s NCAA Tournament. Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin led Michigan on the scoring front, but seemed to run out of gas in overtime. John Beilein’s team is showing solid improvement after losing players to both injury and the NBA, and this team should be very, very good in the near future.
  5. Nebraska’s Walter Pitchford was ejected during the Cornhuskers’ win over Michigan State on Sunday after throwing a punch at Matt Costello, but he won’t be looking at mandatory bench time meted by the Big Ten. At the time, the loss of Pitchford was seen as a major blow to Nebraska’s chances of beating the Spartans – he dropped 18 points in last season’s win – but the Huskers would prevail without him by a score of 79-77.
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Big Ten Bracketology Breakdown: January 22 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 23rd, 2015

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi released his latest Bracketology update on Thursday, tabbing six Big Ten teams in his projected field of 68. Lunardi had projected the Big Ten to snag eight spots back in November – but it’s no secret that the conference has underperformed against fairly lofty preseason expectations. Lunardi is usually spot-on with his predictions, nailing 67 of the 68 teams last season and correctly naming all 68 in 2013. Let’s take a deeper look at each of his relevant projections.

Wisconsin – No. 2 (East)

The Badgers have been pegged as a No. 2 seed for Lunardi’s last three editions of Bracketology, but they occupied the No. 1 seed in the East as late as January 5. That drop can be 100 percent attributed to the Badgers’ ugly loss to Rutgers, even without star Frank Kaminsky. While Kaminsky is now back in the lineup, point guard Traevon Jackson will be out for much of the remainder of the regular season. But in their first two games without him, Bronson Koenig has admirably filled in and alleviated some of Wisconsin’s worries at the point guard position with solid performances in easy wins over Nebraska and Iowa. The Badgers will face only four more teams ranked in KenPom’s top 50 in their last 12 games, so it appears that they’re essentially a lock for a No. 2 seed or better.

The Badgers struggled in their one game without Frank Kaminsky, but they've been dominant so far in the Big Ten. (Getty)

The Badgers struggled in their one game without Frank Kaminsky, but they’ve been dominant so far in the Big Ten. (Getty)

Maryland – No. 2 (South)

The Terrapins have been excellent in their first year in the Big Ten despite a blowout loss at Indiana on Thursday night. Lunardi had Maryland pegged as the No. 3 seed in the Midwest just over a week ago, but a dominant win over Michigan State in College Park earned them a bump up the ladder. While Lunardi didn’t tab the Terps as an NCAA Tournament team back in November, multiple players have stepped up for Mark Turgeon’s squad – Dez Wells has established himself as one of the conference’s premier defenders; freshman Melo Trimble has exceeded all expectations; and Jake Layman has cut back on his three-point attempts and instead established a solid inside and mid-range game. The Terps’ Big Ten championship dreams took a substantial hit in last night’s road loss, but they’re still a good pick for a top-three seed in any regional.

Indiana – No. 8 (Midwest)

The Hoosiers first entered Lunardi’s projections back on January 15 as a No. 9 seed following home victories over Ohio State and Penn State. Since then, they have won a tough away game at Illinois and thoroughly dominated Maryland last night at home. They’re bound to move up in Lunardi’s bracket if they can complete the season sweep of Ohio State on Sunday in a game that KenPom gives them a 22 percent chance to win. The Hoosiers have clearly recovered from a heavily publicized and troubling offseason as well as an early-season loss to Eastern Washington. Freshman James Blackmon has been fantastic and they’re now thriving under Yogi Ferrell’s leadership.

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Aaron Cosby’s Injury Hurts Illini But Not Insurmountably

Posted by Eric Clark on January 22nd, 2015

llinois’ season hasn’t exactly gone according to plan, as its roster has been ravaged by injuries on its way to a mediocre 13-7 overall record (3-4 Big Ten). News released prior to Wednesday night’s game against Purdue (a 66-57 win) revealed that junior guard Aaron Cosby tore the retina in his left eye early in Sunday’s 80-74 loss to Indiana, playing approximately 16 minutes with the injury. The Seton Hall transfer went 0-of-5 from three-point range in that game, but has been a solid contributor — 7.6 PPG, 3.6 RPG — for John Groce’s team all season. The junior is expected to miss the next two weeks.

Junior Aaron Cosby suffered a torn retina in his left eye Saturday vs. Indiana. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Junior Aaron Cosby suffered a torn retina in his left eye Saturday vs. Indiana. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Illinois’ backcourt was one of the deepest in the Big Ten heading into this season with experienced guards Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice returning, young but seasoned sophomores Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn back, and transfers Ahmad Starks and Cosby entering. Abrams of course tore his ACL before the season even began, and Rice is currently sidelined with a broken hand. Hill has been solid – his high-water mark of 28 points and seven rebounds coming in the team’s upset of Maryland. Cosby was a 38.8 percent three-point shooter in his two years at Seton Hall and was expected to be a legitimate scoring threat but he has struggled from both long-range (31.1 percent) and inside the arc (25.9 percent). His turnover rate is also the second highest among Illini guards this season (15.3 percent). Despite all of those ugly offensive numbers, Illinois’s disappointing season will be worse for wear without him in the lineup for the next two weeks.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 20th, 2015

Points were relatively easy to come by in the Big Ten’s third weekend of play, as only three teams of the 12 with games failed to crack the 1.00 point per possession plateau. There were also some outstanding individual scoring games on display, with Penn State’s DJ Newbill (37 points) and Minnesota’s Andre Hollins (31 points) leading the way in that regard. From a team perspective, Purdue and Indiana got crucial road wins to stay among the top half of the league standings, while Maryland continued its outstanding start by dismantling Michigan State in College Park. Elsewhere, Minnesota is no longer winless in conference action, and Penn State remains the only team still looking for a conference win. Well, at least their freshman guard brings a celebrity cousin to the table.

Melo Trimble torched Michigan State as they knocked off the Spartans by 15 on Saturday. (David J. Philip/AP)

Melo Trimble torched Michigan State as his team knocked off the Spartans by 15 Saturday. (David J. Philip/AP)

Player of the Weekend: Melo Trimble has had issues at times in knocking down perimeter shots, but he had no such problems against Michigan State on Saturday. The freshman combo guard simply went off, scoring 24 points on 8-on-16 shooting from the field. He also hit six threes, five of which came in the first half. Trimble not only should be considered a c0-favorite with Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but he’s also making a legitimate case for First Team all-Big Ten consideration. Usually he’s a menace for opposing defenses with his keen ability to get to the free throw line, but he only shot two freebies in this game. Instead, he made nearly every shot from behind the arc that he took in the opening stanza. With Jake Layman scoring 23 himself and with Dez Wells capable of going off in any given game, Maryland is one of the few league teams with three legitimate threats on offense. That’s what makes the Terrapins so dangerous. Nothing I’ve said here can top watching this clip, so take a look for yourself. Rest in peace, Tum Tum.

Super Sub of the Weekend: AJ Hammons might win this award multiple times if Purdue keeps winning weekend games. The junior posted his second double-double in the last four games (and his third on the season) with 21 points and 12 rebounds against Penn State on Saturday. While those numbers are nice and all, the biggest takeaway from his effort was that his hustle essentially gave Purdue the opportunity to win the game in overtime. During the game the broadcasters raved about the game-tying three that Kendall Stephens made in the final seconds, but it was Hammons who spun through two Penn State defenders to somehow tip the ball on a missed free throw out to him so he could take the shot in the first place. It’s not a play he would have made in his first two seasons as a Boilermaker, but it shows how far he’s come. You don’t see it all statistically, but if you watch Purdue extensively, you can see all of the subtle improvements he’s made in his productiveness.

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Big Ten M5: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 16th, 2015

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  1. Given the Big Ten’s balance this season, it’s widely accepted that if a team can hold home court and win just a few road games, it will likely finish in the top third of the league. On Wednesday night, Illinois got its needed road win at Northwestern with a 72-67 victory. They were led by Kendrick Nunn (25 points) and Aaron Cobsy (19), each of whom gave their most impressive performances of the season. This is an especially encouraging sign for Cosby, who before this game had been nothing short of awful in the shooting department (18-of-74 in the last 10 games). With leading scorer Rayvonte Rice out with an injury until at least February, the Illini need one or more of their guards to produce in each and every game. If Nunn, Cosby and Malcolm Hill can become more consistent, this team can still be on the bubble when Rice gets back.
  2. In case there was any doubt about Frank Kaminsky’s impact after Wisconsin’s loss to Rutgers without him in the lineup, we were reminded of his greatness once again when he returned from concussion symptoms to lead the Badgers to a 70-55 win over Nebraska Thursday night. The senior center scored 22 points and grabbed five rebounds while providing an effective presence on defense. The Badgers will still be shorthanded for several more weeks while point guard Traevon Jackson heals from a foot injury, but Bronson Koenig was able to slide into Jackson’s spot effectively with 11 points against the Cornhuskers. As long as Wisconsin has Kaminsky in the lineup, the Badgers should have no serious challenger for the Big Ten championship.
  3. The Wooden Award Midseason list was released on Wednesday, and four players from the Big Ten made the cut: Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell and Maryland’s Melo Trimble. Three of the four players were expected to be national names in the preseason, but the freshman Trimble’s inclusion highlights just how integral the dynamic point guard has been to the Terrapins’ success. The snubs include the Big Ten’s two leading scorers: Penn State’s D.J. Newbill and Nebraska’s Terran Pettaway. Both players were likely hurt because of their teams’ disappointing play this season, underscoring how team success ultimately factors into decisions about individual awards. It’s also why the Big Ten’s best chance to win the Wooden Award lies with Kaminsky as he leads the Badgers to a possible conference and National Championship.
  4. One of the biggest surprises of the season has been Maryland’s impressive play leading to a 16-2 record and the an early lead with Wisconsin at 4-1 in the conference standings. Like all Mark Turgeon-coached teams, the Terps’ strength lies in their defense (19th in the nation). Not nearly talked about enough, though, has been Maryland’s rebounding performance during conference play. It made a big statement by outrebounding Michigan State two weeks ago, a program that prides itself in how hard it gets after the boards. The secret has been getting players like Jake Layman to commit to rebounding, regardless of position. Thus far, the Terps have won the rebounding battle in three of their first five conference games and all three ended in wins. They’ll have to keep it up this weekend as they once again face a Spartans team that will be looking to redeem themselves.
  5. Finally, Joe Lunardi updated his brackets on ESPN.com yesterday. According to his projections, the Big Ten has six teams currently in the field: Wisconsin (#2 seed), Maryland (#3), Iowa (#8), Michigan State (#8), Ohio State (#8), and Indiana (#9). This would land the conference fourth in bids, with the ACC, Big 12, and Big East each getting more. Given the Big Ten’s lackluster performance in the non-conference schedule and the likelihood that they will continue to beat up on one another, things are unlikely to change much in this regard by Selection Sunday. Bummer.
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Big Ten M5: 01.12.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 12th, 2015

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  1. The biggest news of the weekend was Rutgers 67-62 upset win over Wisconsin Although the Badgers were without Frank Kaminsky (concussion-like symptoms) and lost Traevon Jackson during the game, the Scarlet Knights second Big Ten win is still a quality one. Those injuries, however, could continue to hurt the Badgers beyond today’s loss. Benjamin Worgull of Scout.com reported that assistant coach Greg Gard said Jackson’s foot injury isn’t good and he’ll have it evaluated further back in Madison. Kaminsky‘s presence was certainly missed as Rutgers, the worst-shooting team in the conference, drained shots at a 66.7% clip in the second half on Sunday. If there was any doubt that Kaminsky is the engine that makes this team go, it was emphatically erased on Sunday.’
  2. Illinois’ loss of Rayvonte Rice didn’t seem to hurt them in last Wednesday’s win over Maryland, but he was sorely missed after Sunday’s loss at Nebraska. The Illini play great defense with or without Rice, as they hold the 36th best defensive efficiency rating in the country and have yet to allow an opponent to score over 80 points this season. Their offense is another story – they shot 27.3 percent from the field on Sunday. The Champaign Room said Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby’s play simply has to get better in order for the Illini to have any success the rest of the year. The two are shooting 32.6 and 28.5 percent from the field this year respectively.
  3. Maryland added some girth to its frontcourt this weekend as Ivan Bender, a forward from Bosnia and Herzegovina was granted immediate eligibility. Bender, who stands at 6-foot-9, averaged 14.3 points and 9 rebounds per game with KK Split of the Junior Euroleague. The Terrapins already have junior Jake Layman and senior Evan Smotrycz at power forward, so it’s unlikely that he’ll crack any playing time right away in that position. They are quite young at the center position, however, playing sophomore Damonte Dodd and freshman Michal Cekovsky a majority of the time. It won’t be a surprise if Mark Turgeon decides to redshirt Bender, effectively staggering the eligibility of all of his big men.
  4. Northwestern fell at the hands of Michigan State in overtime on Sunday, but it seems the Wildcats picked an infamous moral victory, even if they won’t admit it. But that moral victory shouldn’t be enough for Northwestern -they should have won the game, but they again fell victim to ‘hero ball’ writes Inside NU’s Henry Bushnell. Had the Wildcats operated their offense like they did for the first 39 minutes of the game for the entire 40, head coach Chris Collins might be tabbing Sunday’s game as a signature victory for the program. In the end, it seems that Northwestern just got tired and opted for one-on-one matchups versus team basketball late in the second half and in overtime – and it cost them the game. But the ‘Cats are young, and this experience will certainly serve them well in the future.
  5. Michigan and Minnesota faced off on Saturday, two programs seemingly headed in opposite directions after the non-conference slate at the end December. Michigan was reeling from losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan while Minnesota was high off of an 11-2 non-conference record. The directions of those teams seemed to have flipped though, as the Wolverines downed the Gophers, pushing Michigan’s Big Ten record to 3-1 and dropping Minnesota’s to 0-4. Richard Pitino didn’t offer any answers to his team’s struggles after the game, but he had better figure some out. While the Gophers are considered one of the best passing teams in the country, the rest of their game is not up-to-par. And with a matchup with Rutgers looming, Minnesota may have its hands full with a confident team fresh off of a monumental upset.
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Big Ten M5: 01.09.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 9th, 2015

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  1. On Wednesday night, two conference unbeatens met as Purdue went to the Kohl Center to battle Wisconsin, with the Boilermakers falling just short in a seven-point loss. Despite the defeat, Purdue took some positives from the game, such as their effort in outrebounding the Badgers by five. Matt Painter can take some level of pride as his team came close to upsetting a national title contender on the road, something not many figured it was capable of doing this season. The Boilermakers’ impressive 2-1 start to conference play means that their hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament is within reach, but they shouldn’t get complacent because they have another tough match-up on Saturday hosting Maryland.
  2. It had been a rough week for Illinois going into Wednesday night’s game against #9 Maryland. The Illini were coming off an 0-2 start in conference play and had just lost their leading scorer and rebounder, Rayvonte Rice, to an injury for at least three weeks. So it’s only natural — given the way that Big Ten play has made so little sense this season — that they shock everyone with a 64-57 victory over the Terps. The Illini were down early but blew up late with a one-man show from Malcolm Hill taking over the game (Hill scored 18 of his 28 points in the second half). It was Illinois’ defense, though, that carried the day in holding Maryland to 36.5 percent shooting and limiting super frosh Melo Trimble to only three free throw attempts (five fewer than his season average). That defense is going to have to continue its newfound effectiveness for the Illini to stay afloat until their senior leader returns.
  3. After last night’s 75-61 defeat of Iowa at the hands of a can’t-miss Michigan State squad, Wisconsin remains the only undefeated team in conference play. This game was a tale of two halves, as the Spartans went into halftime down by 11 points but came surging back with a 25-9 run after the break. The difference was Michigan State’s perimeter game, in which the Spartans made 12 three-pointers and shot at a 70 percent clip — Travis Trice, in particular, was 7-of-8 from deep. This now makes it two blowout wins in a row for the Spartans, as they are starting to look more like the Tom Izzo teams we’re accustomed to seeing.
  4. Indiana will prepare for an important game in Bloomington hosting Ohio State this weekend, as a win over a ranked opponent will mitigate some of the effects from the drubbing Michigan State gave them. Given the Hoosiers’ up-and-down season to go along with the preseason off-court issues, chatter about Tom Crean‘s status on the hot seat has not subsided much. But The Crimson Quarry blog wrote an article using Nebraska football as an example to explain why removing Indiana’s head coach of six years may not be a wise decision. This could be sage advice, as we see every year that it is becoming more difficult to lure desirable coaches from comfortable situations. Look no further than the examples of Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens consistently spurning every college offer that was put in front of them over the past few years.
  5. Finally, the season premiere of The Journey will be on the BTN at 10:30 PM ET after this weekend’s games. If you follow this site, you most likely are already familiar with the program, but in case you’re not, it’s definitely worth watching or recording. It is as well-produced of a series as any other program on television and it takes you deep into off-court storylines of the coaches and players we watch every week. It is must-watch TV every Sunday night.
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Morning Five: 01.09.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 9th, 2015

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  1. Illinois suffered a huge loss when Rayvonte Rice, the team’s leading scorer, broke his left hand in practice on Monday. Rice, who was averaging 17.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, is expected to miss the next three to six weeks, but that all depends on how he responds to the surgery. For Illinois, which managed to knock off Maryland in its first game without Rice, they now face an uphill battle if they hope to make it to the NCAA Tournament. While their win against Maryland (and the relatively weak Big Ten this year) might give Illinois fans a reason to believe they will be able to survive Rice’s absence, the reality is that they probably lack the firepower now to be competitive with the top of the conference.
  2. It takes a lot for a rehearsed recruiting announcement to catch our attention, but when you announce that you are committing to a different school than you actually are, we notice. So when Carlton Bragg, a five-star forward in the class of 2015, announced that he was going to Kentucky, but put a Kansas cap on (he is going to Kansas…we think) it caught our attention. Bragg could find himself in a crowded Kansas frontcourt, but for now he does not appear to have any issues with that saying, “I don’t really care for minutes, I just want to be part of the team.” For what its worth, Bragg isn’t the first Kansas commit to confuse people during his announcement as Cliff Alexander faked out Illinois fans last year by reaching for their hat before going for a Kansas hat. Unlike last year, we doubt that there will be much sympathy for Kentucky fans who finally missed out on a big-name target.
  3. If Syracuse fans were hoping that DaJuan Coleman could be the missing piece to help turn their season around, they can forget about that now as the junior center has opted to officially redshirt this year. The news should not be that big of a surprise since Coleman has not played in a year after injuring his knee on January 7, 2014. Although Coleman’s prior production (4.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last season) might not seem worth noting, he was a big-time prospect coming out of high school and a great deal of his poor production can be traced back to his injuries. His redshirt could help Syracuse going forward by giving them more experience in the frontcourt in coming years.
  4. It looks like we may have seen the last of Kuran Iverson in a Memphis uniform. The 6’9″ sophomore, who had been averaging 4.6 points and 1.9 rebounds per game, was suspended for two games earlier this week for an unspecified violation of team rules. He compounded that infraction by retweeting a tweet critical of Josh Pastner although he subsequently deleted that retweet. We don’t know much about Iverson’s background in terms of legal issues and his interactions with Pastner, but we would be surprised to see him in a Memphis jersey again.
  5. Proponents of increasing benefits for student-athletes appear to have received a small victory as the NCAA is trying a pilot program where they will pay for travel for the families of players competing in the men’s and women’s Final Four. The families of players competing in the college football title game will also be provided with this benefit. The football players will be allotted $3,000 (from the College Football Playoff not the NCAA) to cover their family’s expenses (travel, accommodations, meals, etc) while basketball players will receive $4,000 from the NCAA for those expenses. We are not sure how this will be enforced as players can definitely find ways to take advantage of this particularly if their families live near the venues, but overall it appears to be a victory for student-athletes albeit a very small subsection of them.
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Big Ten M5: 01.07.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 7th, 2015

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  1. Nebraska has gotten off to a sloppy start in conference play after dropping another game to Iowa on Monday night. A big part of the Cornhuskers’ problem is a lack of depth, as they currently play (mostly) seven players. Next season might be a different story, however, as Tim Miles’ squad recently received its fourth commitment from the Class of 2015 in Australian shooting guard Jack McVeigh. With recruits like Glynn Watson and Edward Morrow coming into the program from Chicago, and Kansas transfer Andrew White eligible after sitting out this season, depth will not be an issue with Nebraska next season. As for this year’s team, it might still be a bit premature to declare this a lost season in Lincoln, but at 8-6 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten, it’s getting rather close to that point.
  2. Maryland was considered questionable to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid before the season began, but after a 14-1 start including two wins in conference play, the Terps are now listed as no less than a #5 seed in various bracketologies on different sites. Dave Tucker of Testudo Times maintains that there’s still a long way to go before the Terps have proved anything yet, but pointed out that things have shifted quite a bit to where Maryland fans are complaining about mock seedings as opposed to worrying about an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Illinois has had a rough 24 hours given the recent news that Rayvonte Rice has been lost to a broken hand for up to six weeks. The show must go on, however, and the Illini won’t exactly start out with an easy grace period having to play Maryland in Champaign Wednesday night. Someone needs to replace Rice’s 17.2 PPG and 48 percent shooting from three, and the most likely candidates are Kendrick Nunn and Aaron Cosby, both of whom need to take advantage of the available shots with Rice out of the lineup. If they can’t hold down the fort beginning with this game against the rising Terps, things look bleak for the Illini going forward.
  4. Sam Dekker is back, and Wisconsin is reaping the benefits of his return. Dekker didn’t miss any games despite an ankle injury in the preseason, but he’s back in the sense that he’s returned to being the offensive weapon that many expected him to become. In his last six games, the junior forward has made 11-of-22 of his three-point attempts, bringing his overall field goal percentage for the season up to a sterling 54.2 percent. That balky ankle is finally healed, which has allowed him to get better lift and feel more comfortable in shooting the ball. Wisconsin can reasonably make a claim to having the best frontcourt in all of college basketball, and that case is bolstered when Dekker plays like he has been.
  5. Even after starting Big Ten play with a 2-0 record, Purdue head coach Matt Painter is still figuring things out with his rotation. Bryson Scott is perhaps the clearest example of this idea, after he went from starting against Minnesota to not playing at all against Michigan. The sophomore point guard has struggled to find consistency, but teammates like Raphael Davis and AJ Hammons still believe in him. He is a solid perimeter defender who has a knack for getting into the lane off the dribble, but Jon Octeus brings senior leadership and athleticism that Painter trusts in key situations. With a deep roster and two other point guards on hand, minutes aren’t always going to be readily available for the growing player.
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John Groce’s January Drearier Than Usual With Rice Injury

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 6th, 2015

It appears safe to say that January may not be John Groce’s favorite month. In the two and a half seasons he’s spent as the head coach at Illinois, the 43-year old Indiana native has gone 3-13 in the first month of the year, including Saturday’s loss to Ohio State. Things will not get any easier for him in coming weeks as news was released today that his leading scorer, Rayvonte Rice, will be sidelined for five to six weeks with a broken hand that he sustained during Monday’s practice. This is a devastating blow to Groce and his already-struggling offense as the Illini now have to slog through much of the rest of Big Ten play without their best offensive player.

John Groce's Illinois faces a pivotal game against Indiana to kick off the conference season.

John Groce faces his most difficult challenge yet with Rice out for the remainder of Big Ten play.

Rice’s injury may turn out to be the final wave that capsizes the boat on the Illini’s unfortunate and disappointing season. While a quick look at their resume may not visibly show a sinking team, this squad has not lived up to preseason expectations. With the introduction of two sharpshooting transfers in Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby and an additional year of development for the sophomore duo of Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, this season’s Illini were supposed to have resolved last season’s offensive inadequacies. Things initially went according to plan early, but Starks and Cosby have gone cold from the field since December (a combined 31 percent from the field in the last eight games), and Nunn, who started the season injured, has never returned to the same level of play he showed at the end of last season. Hill may be the only player who has lived up to his expected billing, but he too has managed to disappear in a few games.

The only constant for Illinois had been Rice, and now they are without their rock. The Illini will miss more than his scoring, as the senior guard provides contributions all over the court — 6.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG, and 48.3% 3FG — but perhaps the most telling statistic that shows his impact is the gulf between his Player Efficiency Rating (31.9) and the next best player, Hill’s (22.5). Now, midway through a trying season, Groce will need to reinvent his roster with the same players who have disappointed him all season. In order to salvage something out of it, someone will have to emerge in the next six weeks to help mitigate the loss of Rice. Otherwise, this winter of Illini discontent will last a lot longer than just January in Champaign.

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RTC Rewind: Drubbings, Drama, and Misfortune in Michigan

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 22nd, 2014

If you’re a fan of the sport, you know the feeling: of the impossible-to-keep-up-with, full slate of games; of the constant twists and turns; of the incessant storylines. It’s the feeling of conference play. It’s the feeling of a mid-January Saturday. It’s the feeling of a day on which college basketball is king. In an awkward, premature way, that’s kind of what this past Saturday felt like. It didn’t have the same intensity. It didn’t have the same weight or meaning. But, if you were so inclined, you could have plopped yourself on a couch and let college basketball gloriously eat away your entire day. And given how the day and the games played out, you would’ve been happy with your decision.

It Was That Kind of Day For Steve Alford's UCLA Team (USA Today Images)

It Was That Kind of Day For Steve Alford’s UCLA Team (USA Today Images)

Or, at the very least, happier than Steve Alford.

Headliner: Insanity in Philly. They used to meet at the Garden on Fridays in mid-March. They used to battle on Big Mondays in February; on Saturdays in January. Rather unfortunately, they no longer do. But whereas for others, conference realignment has terminated great rivalries, Syracuse and Villanova play on. And even if they do so in mid-December, we should all be thankful that that is the case. Saturday showed us why.

Saturday also showed us why you NEVER, EVER LEAVE A BASKETBALL GAME EARLY unless the result is entirely out of question. Hundreds of spectators had already filed out of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia when undefeated Villanova trailed unranked Syracuse by five with 17 seconds to play. The Orange had led wire to wire, and it appeared as if the Wildcats’ valiant comeback attempt would fall just short. But then chaos ensued. Josh Hart hit a 3. Trevor Cooney fell down. A pass intended for Rakeem Christmas was broken up. Players scrambled. The ball found Ryan Arcidiacono. He found JayVaughn Pinkston. He found the basket. The place exploded. Villanova students jumped up and down, mobbing each other out of sheer joy. When overtime began, they hadn’t yet stopped. There were still five extra minutes to play, but, even though Jay Wright’s team still hadn’t held one lead all game, the result seemed inevitable. Villanova was going to stay unbeaten.

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