Big Ten M5: 02.13.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on February 13th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. It appears this almost certainly will not be that year for Northwestern. The Wildcats have come close to making their first-ever NCAA Tournament in the past few years, but they’ve experienced a number of setbacks over the course of this season. The latest is particularly troublesome: Jared Swopshire, a graduate student and Louisville transfer, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Tuesday and will miss the remainder of the season. With senior Drew Crawford already suffering a season-ending injury (shoulder), the Wildcats are now even more shorthanded without their top scorer and top rebounder available. Offensively, this means more pressure on breakout player Reggie Hearn and Dave Soboloweski. As for rebounding, the Wildcats will need more of their bigs to step up and help Hearn (who by default becomes the team’s leading rebounder) on the glass.
  2. Nathan Palm writes that last year Ben Brust was somewhat of a bipolar player from the non-conference slate into Big Ten play. He was supposed to be a sharpshooter but he shot only 30 percent in Big Ten play. He impressed at times during Wisconsin’s non-conference schedule but fell off the map during conference games. This year has been a different story. Brust was the hero in a huge home win against Michigan last weekend, but he has come a long way in a number of different facets of the game. He’s started every Wisconsin game this season, averaging a team-high 34 minutes. His scoring average has risen by more than four points per game, and he trails only Jared Berggren in team scoring. Wisconsin’s strengths this season on paper are mostly in the frontcourt, but Brust has given the surprising Badgers another important offensive weapon.
  3. It’s been an up-and-down year for Illinois. The Fighting Illini surprised just about everybody by jumping out to a 12-0 start and beating Butler on its way to a Maui Invitational championship and Gonzaga in Spokane. But once Big Ten play hit, they took a serious dive. John Groce’s team lost six of seven games at one point before its latest resurgence, including wins against ranked foes in Indiana and Minnesota. So where do we place them now? Dave Wischnowsky says it’s still too soon to consider the Illini a lock for the NCAA Tournament, despite its slew of quality victories. The Illini have by and large fallen too far to compete for a Big Ten title, but can still do some major damage in the conference. Four of their last seven games are on the road, with contests remaining against Michigan and Ohio State. There’s more work for them to do.
  4. Here’s an unfamiliar role for Ohio State in recent years: the spoiler role. The Buckeyes may have fallen out of contention for a Big Ten title after their latest loss to Indiana over the weekend, but they can still manage to do plenty of damage. They’ve already got four conference losses, and the winner of the conference may have as few as three or four. It’s unlikely the Buckeyes will run the table, as they’ve proven to be quite vulnerable this year with games against Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan State remaining on the schedule. OSU may not be league title contenders this season, but this group is as talented as any in the league and it would not be wise for any team to take them lightly.
  5. Bob Knight is a legend of Indiana basketball. Yet the famed coach-turned-broadcaster doesn’t have a good relationship with the program, and he rubbed some salt in that wound when the Hoosiers traveled to Ohio State this weekend. ”I used to coach a little bit,” Knight said in a taped recording before the game,”and there’s nothing like Ohio State basketball.” Sorry, Bob, but Ohio State doesn’t have anything on Indiana basketball. And your feud with the program is just plain silly. Grow up.
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Big Ten M5: 01.03.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on January 3rd, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Wisconsin guard Ben Brust injured his lower leg during practice on Wednesday but is supposedly “fine” after going through a few tests. Brust is averaging 11.8 PPG and 6.8 RPG as the starting guard while playing a very important role in the Badgers’ offense after the loss of Josh Gasser for the season. The junior guard will be ready to play against Penn State to open conference play on Thursday in Madison. Bo Ryan needs his experience and three-point shooting (42% 3FG) during Big Ten play in order to finish in the top half of the league and win 10 games.
  2. Wolverines’ guard Tim Hardaway Jr. is questionable for Michigan’s conference opener against Northwestern on Thursday. He was on the sidelines with an ankle brace against Central Michigan over the weekend and the UM training staff will not be sure about his status until Thursday’s practice. Hardaway had started 81 games in a row in the maize and blue but his streak was snapped on Saturday. He is averaging 15.8 PPG but has not practiced since last week. The Wildcats will be seeking some revenge after their overtime loss to the Wolverines the last time they met in Evanston during the 2011-12 season.
  3. While John Beilein might miss his best wing on Thursday night, Northwestern’s Bill Carmody will not have his best forward on Thursday either as Reggie Hearn hasn’t practiced since twisting his ankle against Stanford on December 21. Hearn had been averaging 14.5 PPG and 5.5 RPG this season and had clearly stepped up since Drew Crawford was declared out for the season, scoring 18 points in a tough loss to the Cardinal in Evanston. The Wildcats have a very tough schedule ahead – five out of their first six games are against Big Ten teams currently ranked in the top 11 teams of the AP poll. When the head coach was asked about Hearn’s injury, Carmody replied, “Three weeks ago, we had Drew and Reggie and they gave me 30 a game. Who are you going to get it from?” Sophomore guard Dave Sobolewski (11.3 PPG) and Jared Swopshire (8.8 PPG) will need to carry the offensive load while Hearn is out.
  4. Tom Izzo‘s big frontcourt of Derrick Nix, Adreian Payne, and Branden Dawson did not work too well against Minnesota earlier this week as the Spartans lost 76-63 in Minneapolis. Izzo said “Payne did not play very well” because he could not stay out of foul trouble. Nix shot just 5-of-15 from the field in scoring 10 points and appeared to be too “relaxed” in the second half as he missed a couple of easy shots around the basket. The Spartans play the Boilermakers on Saturday which won’t be an easy game especially after Painter’s team beat Illinois at home to open the conference season. A little bit of home-cooking should help Nix and Payne after a rough outing on the road against a Gophers team that at this point looks like a solid candidate to win the Big Ten title.
  5. Speaking of Minnesota, the Gophers made a bold statement in their win against the Spartans. The Star Tribune’s Amelia Rayno outlines the key factors from their big win on New Year’s Eve. Tubby Smith’s squad showed that they are tough by holding Michigan State to just 32 rebounds and dominating the glass, with Trevor Mbakwe leading the charge by pulling down 12 rebounds in just 28 minutes. Depth is a huge asset for Smith but he chose not to use it during the game as Julian Welch only played four minutes. The Barn will be a tough place to win for visiting teams this season but the Gophers need to prove that they can be as effective on the road if they want to compete for a conference title.
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Next Year Looking More and More Like “The Year” For Northwestern

Posted by KTrahan on December 18th, 2012

Every year, the question remains the same for a Northwestern team perpetually on the bubble: Can the Wildcats sneak into the NCAA Tournament? Last summer, it certainly seemed like this could be the year that NU would make the Big Dance for the first time in school history. Bill Carmody finally had two big men, an impressive recruiting class, a graduate transfer, and a solid group of returning stars including Drew Crawford, Dave Sobolewski, Reggie Hearn and JerShon Cobb.

The Loss of Drew Crawford Leaves Northwestern Searching For Answers

The Loss of Drew Crawford Leaves Northwestern Searching For Answers

However, things don’t always go as planned in college basketball, and NU certainly learned that quickly this year. Cobb was suspended for the season due to academic problems, the new players haven’t adjusted as quickly as fans had hoped, and Crawford wasn’t playing at all like himself. Now, we at least have an answer for the latter issue, as NU announced over the weekend that Crawford will miss the remainder of the season to have surgery on a torn labrum. Adding Crawford’s injury to the doubts following an inconsistent start to the season, it’s looking more and more like this won’t be “the year” for the Wildcats. But could that be a good thing for NU?

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Two Key Observations From Northwestern’s Huge Win Over Baylor

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 5th, 2012

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

Northwestern visited Baylor Tuesday night after losing a game to Illinois-Chicago over the weekend, a bad loss on the Wildcats’ resume in their quest to finally receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament. While a 20-point loss to Maryland at home in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge looks bad on paper, a defeat to an opponent who will likely be competing for a bid in March can be written off as an anomaly. Baylor, on the other hand, was coming off a surprising road win at Kentucky over the weekend. The Bears controlled the tempo against the Wildcats and convincingly beat them by forcing numerous tough shots, 64-55. Tuesday night’s match-up between these teams meant more to Northwestern than the Bears and they played like it, utilizing a heightened sense of urgency right from the tip. Their defense was excellent for a majority of the game and even though they struggled to hold on during the last five minutes, a 74-70 road win against a potential top five seed in March potentially neutralizes the bad loss to the Flames when evaluating their non-conference performance. Here are two key observations from the Wildcats’ big road win:

Drew Crawford played with a sense of urgency against Baylor on Tuesday night.

  1. Alex Olah played a perfect role in the half court: Olah was heavily involved in the offense during the second half. He was active around the high post and helped move the ball from one side of the court to the other as the Wildcats set up the backdoor cuts which are an integral part of their Princeton offense. Olah racked up six assists during the game and he was involved in most of the plays that resulted in scores on those cuts. There were a handful of plays where Olah received the ball from Dave Sobolewski at the top of the key, took a couple of dribbles towards the other side of the court, and handed it to Drew Crawford or Reggie Hearn on the perimeter. The play usually then resulted in either Crawford or Hearn receiving the pass while the other slid towards the basket during the handoff. Hearn had a couple of easy layups using this backdoor as Baylor’s Brady Heslip was thoroughly confused with the cutting movement among the three Wildcats. When Heslip or A.J. Walton tried to play the backdoor cuts conservatively by staying back, the play resulted in Crawford nailing two key three-pointers from the perimeter because his defender gave him space. Olah also held his ground in the low post while defending Isaiah Austin who is taller but lacks the weight to back down for easy baskets in the paint. Because Austin was forced away from the paint, he had to settle for mid-range jumpers and only scored eight points. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Team Previews: Northwestern Wildcats

Posted by KTrahan on October 18th, 2012

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

Where we left off: The NIT. Again. For yet another year, Northwestern inched closer to the NCAA Tournament — this year closer than ever — and the Wildcats fell short again. NU’s season was defined by close losses to Michigan (twice), Ohio State, Indiana and Illinois. Had the Cats won just one more of those games, they could have potentially made the Tournament. Heck, if they had just beaten Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament — another close loss — maybe they could have gotten there. Now, with a number of new faces, they begin this season firmly on the bubble once again.

Positives: I did an interview with coach Bill Carmody earlier in the offseason and he remarked that, with its new lineup, NU will “have some scoring inside.” That will be a much-needed addition after last year’s centers — Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti — struggled mightily. This year, 7’0″ freshman Alex Olah is expected to start at center and the Wildcats will also have 7’2″ freshman center Chier Ajou, who provides depth, even if he doesn’t play much initially. Additionally, senior Drew Crawford returns and Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire is expected to make a big impact right away. It will be a very big frontcourt for NU, something that has seemingly happened overnight and hasn’t occurred in Evanston for a long time.

Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire (ball) will be a key player to watch for Northwestern fans this season (Chicago Tribune)

Negatives: Can this team play defense? The Wildcats have added a lot of potential inside scoring with Swopshire and Olah, but the jury is out on whether the team can defend and grab rebounds, unlike last year’s squad. The perimeter defense is questionable, as well, as the team’s best perimeter defender — JerShon Cobb — was suspended for the year. And can this team find someone to take the last shot? Last year it was Crawford, and even though that didn’t work very well, this year it seems likely to be either Crawford or Swopshire. The Big Ten will be very strong again this year, meaning NU will be involved in a lot of close games. It must find a way to make big shots and play good defense in crunch time.

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Northwestern’s Lack of Rebounding Becoming a Huge Factor

Posted by rtmsf on March 1st, 2012

Bill Hupp is an RTC correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp). He filed this report following Northwestern’s last-second loss to Ohio State on Wednesday night.

Purple Pain

It was hard to tell if the cheers erupting from Northwestern students after consecutive rebounds by the Wildcats on Wednesday night were sarcastic or an ironic roar acknowledging the event’s rarity. As has been the case in most games this season, Northwestern was dominated on the backboards in their 75-73 last-second loss to Ohio State. At the half, the Buckeyes were outrebounding the ‘Cats 22-5, as interior beasts DeShaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger had 25 of the Buckeyes’ 39 points (and OSU had poured in 20 points in the paint). “They killed us on a second-chance shots in the first half,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody admitted. “They destroyed us on the backboards.” With Northwestern employing their trademark 1-3-1 zone, OSU used their superior size and athleticism to outrebound the Wildcats 44-18, grab 20 offensive boards (11 by Sullinger) and score 20 second chance points.

Drew Crawford And Northwestern Are Sitting Right On The Bubble (AP)

Still, Ohio State Coach Thad Matta dismissed the gaudy rebounding differential as largely irrelevant. “That’s misleading because a lot of teams do that and don’t beat them,” Matta said. “[But] we felt we could do a heck of a job rebounding if they played their 1-3-1 zone.” If the NCAA Tournament bubble upon which Northwestern firmly sits does burst, the Wildcats will look back and point to poor post play this season as a major reason. It’s not a question of work ethic as Davide Curletti, Luka Mirkovic, John Shurna, and Drew Crawford all battle and scrap down low. But the foursome are finer, more finesse players, athletes not equipped to sustain success against the rigors of conference post play.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.29.12

Posted by EJacoby on February 29th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

It’s another big Wednesday night in college hoops. Three bubble teams have home games against top 15 opponents, so we will see who really wants to earn their way into an at-large bid. Let’s jump into the breakdowns:

#8 Marquette at Cincinnati – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)

Cincinnati Will be Fired Up at Home Against #8 Marquette (AP Photo/A. Behrman)

  • Buzz Williams’ team continues to impress. Even a suspension of four of its best players for at least one half couldn’t stop Marquette from winning at West Virginia last Friday. Now the Golden Eagles will look to add another quality road win to an already sparkling resume. Jae Crowder’s campaign for Big East Player of the Year is gaining steam as he ranks in the top 10 in the conference in points per game (17.6), rebounds per game (7.7), steals per game (2.9), field-goal percentage (52.4%), and offensive rating (123.9). He and Darius Johnson-Odom are the most potent and consistent one-two punch in the league, and they both have versatile games that should thrive against the Cincinnati zone defense. Marquette leads the conference in scoring but must adapt to the Bearcat attack that plays at a slow pace and limits turnovers.
  • The last time the Bearcats were on national television, they had another ranked Big East foe at home in what Rick Pitino called the best home court advantage his team had faced all season. Cincinnati will look to mimic that environment in this game, facing the high-flying Golden Eagles. To slow down Marquette, Cincinnati needs a big game from its veteran guards who can control pace and hit shots. As a team, the Bearcats commit just 9.6 turnovers per game, best in the conference, and they score 31.5% of their points from the three-point line. Dion Dixon, Cashmere Wright, and Sean Kilpatrick will win or lose this game for Cincy. It will be up to Yancy Gates to keep the Marquette defense honest inside as well as trying to shut down Crowder in the paint.
  • This game is a pick’em in Vegas, which feels accurate. Cincinnati will be fired up on Senior Night and a win over a top 10 opponent will guarantee its entrance into the Big Dance, but Marquette has been simply fantastic in Big East play, winning 12 of its last 13 games in a variety of fashions. As a believer in this Bearcats team, I think they pull this one out and lock up a postseason bid.
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