Two Questions About Illinois vs. Minnesota

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) & Jonathan Batuello on February 19th, 2014

Two teams that are heading in opposite directions will face off on Wednesday night in Minneapolis. Illinois enters the game having lost nine out of the last ten games while Minnesota is trying to keep their NCAA hopes alive. The Big Ten microsite writers – Deepak Jayanti and Jonathan Batuello – discuss two important questions about the game:

Richard Pitino's Gophers can't afford to drop the game against Illinois if they want to keep their NCAA hopes alive.

Richard Pitino’s Gophers can’t afford to lose against Illinois if they want to keep their NCAA hopes alive.

How critical is Andre Hollins continued progression in his return from the ankle injury to Minnesota?

JB: The Gophers took a major skid without him when it lost three of four games. Since coming back he has had good and bad outings. He dropped 22 on Wisconsin, but was barely noticeable against Northwestern. It needs him to be in good form to win and continue on its path from bubble to NCAA Tournament team. What he does in comparison to Rayvonte Rice in this game will be instrumental in who wins. The importance of this game for Minnesota also can’t be understated. It’s three-game stretch after Illinois is at Ohio State, Iowa, and at Michigan, so it needs this win to avoid a potentially disastrous losing streak. Get this one, win one of those three and close out the season with a win against Penn State and it is at 20 wins and likely in the NCAA Tournament. Andre Hollins playing better and getting back to potentially All-Big Ten form will decide that fate.

DJ: Do the Gophers need a healthy Hollins to win a game in the NCAA Tournament? Yes. But they don’t really need him at 100% health to make the NCAAs because the offense runs through Deandre Mathieu and Maurice Walker now. Mathieu’s ability to get into the paint off the screens is a fierce weapon that defenses have struggled to stop over the past four games, as he averaged over 14 points per game during that stretch. Hollins’ three-point shooting will help the Gophers spread the floor but he doesn’t need to carry the offensive burden like he had to during the first few months of the season. Richard Pitino’s squad will make the tourney by pressing hard on defense with their depth, attacking the basket with Mathieu and finishing strong around the hoop with their big men.

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Is Maurice Walker the Cornerstone of Minnesota’s Postseason Hopes?

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 13th, 2014

Getting consistent inside play- specifically on offense- is something that most Big Ten teams have struggled with. You could look at every single team in the league and say “well they would have more wins right now if (insert pivotman from whichever team you’d like) would have scored more or gotten more rebounds. AJ Hammons, Amir Williams, and Alex Olah are just a few that have failed to consistently make an impact down low, while pick-and-pop players that are centers in name only like Frank Kaminsky, Donovon Jack and Walter Pitchford aren’t consistently lighting up scoreboards either. This is why people need to take a look at what Maurice Walker is doing right now for Minnesota.

Maurice Walker has been a force in the post for Minnesota in their last 6 games.   (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)

Maurice Walker has been a force in the post for Minnesota in their last 6 games. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)

There wasn’t really a “coming out party” so the speak with Walker. He hasn’t busted out for a 30 point-15 rebound game or anything. But despite the bulging stat lines he’s been producing, the Purdue game could be served as a marker in the sand for people to take notice and realize that this might be what he’s capable of producing for the rest of the year. This is the game where he took Hammons on and was able to consistently score on him in the deep post. He did so in some crucial situations in a game that took 15 minutes of overtime to settle. The Gophers were looking for him and he delivered, scoring 8 of his 17 points in overtime. Early in the season, there’s no way he would have even touched the ball in critical situations like that. This wasn’t just a one-time thing however. Despite the fact that Minnesota has lost 4 of their last 6, Walker has averaged 23.2 MPG. He’s shot 58.2% from the field, contributing double-figure point production in 4 of the 6. He’s shown a confident and consistent low-post game that many of the big men I mentioned in the first paragraph struggle with. Walker has gotten the ball in the deep post and displayed the ability to either go with a jump hook, or with quality footwork to maneuver his way to a layup.

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B1G Award Spotlight: Breaking Down the Coach of the Year Candidates

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 5th, 2014

Picking a Coach of the Year in the Big Ten right now would be nearly impossible. Because of the see-saw nature of the standings that will more than likely continue until the last league games are played on March 9, most any candidate is in danger of going on a several-game losing streak that would drastically alter the final picture. This post is meant as a brief look at the top candidates right now, with the extremely important caveat focusing on the phrase RIGHT NOW. Chances are this will change considerably over the next six weeks.

John Beilein has his team atop the Big 10 standings, and has to be considered a Coach of the Year candidate.

John Beilein has his team atop the Big 10 standings, and has to be considered a Coach of the Year candidate.

John Beilein: Michigan has turned things around after an 8-4 non-conference record dropped the Wolverines out of the Top 25 and without their preseason All-American Mitch McGary in the lineup. They’ve proceeded to go 8-1 since then, with wins over Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin to bolster their resume. Beilein has replaced McGary with “Morford,” the moniker given to the two-headed monster at center consisting of Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. Both players have been highly effective, and Beilein deserves credit for bringing Horford off the bench after some trouble with early fouls. Kudos are also in order for his patience with freshman Derrick Walton Jr, who really struggled in November and December. Beilein could have panicked and gone instead with veteran Spike Albrecht, but sticking with Walton has paid off to the tune of a 55.6 percent mark from three-point land and only 1.7 turnovers per game in league action.

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Big Ten M5: 01.23.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 23rd, 2014

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  1. When people think of Big Ten basketball, most tend to associate the league with defense, ugly play and low-scoring games. Northwestern has certainly gotten that formula down pat lately. In its last four games — including its double-overtime victory over Purdue — the Wildcats have played ugly and won three of them. It’s quite the change from earlier in the year, as Northwestern all of a sudden has a chance to push for a .500 overall record and a possible NIT berth. Chris Collins came to Evanston wanting to build a defensive-oriented squad and this team is starting to buy in and take on that identity. Its brutal offense may still be lacking, but if Northwestern can limit possessions and hold every team to under 60 points, it has a chance to make some kind of a postseason tournament this year. Would anyone have predicted that just a few short weeks ago?
  2. It is without question that Michigan State is a better team with Adreian Payne on the floor. Despite not playing in the last four games and remaining unbeaten in league play, Tom Izzo still has a tough decision to make on Saturday. With first place in the conference on the line, Sparty hosts Michigan and Izzo does not yet know whether Payne will play. This obviously can’t be an easy decision, but even a slightly hobbled Payne would be huge for the team. The biggest issue is the potential risk involved — if Payne plays and further aggravates the injury, how big of a blow could that be for a team aspiring to win not only a Big Ten title but a national championship?
  3. This wasn’t the start Indiana wanted to its Big Ten conference season. The Hoosiers now sit at 2-4, but that includes games against three teams that were ranked in the top five at the time. Indiana only faces two more current top 10 team in the rest of the conference season (at home against Iowa; away against Wisconsin) so the push for the NCAA Tournament is on. The Hoosiers likely would not be invited as of today, so it can’t afford to lose too many more games. The positive of not playing as many elite teams is obvious in that wins will be easier to come by; the drawback, of course, is that the chance for another marquee win is also diminished.
  4. Richard Pitino has had plenty of experience with big-time programs, but his inaugural Big Ten experience has been  exceptional for the first-year Minnesota head coach. The quotes in the story bring an interesting perspective on the league and how it compares to other conferences. He highlights how Big Ten arenas create a unique experience: “Not every place had home courts like Iowa had, like Nebraska had last night against Ohio State, or like we have. These are the best home courts in all of college basketball.” The arena experience is certainly something that gives additional credence to the idea that the Big Ten is one of the toughest conferences to win in all of college basketball.
  5. It was unreasonable to think Nebraska would go winless in the Big Ten this season. The Cornhuskers had been close in nearly every game to start the conference season, but nobody saw its first victory coming against the likes of Ohio State as it did on Monday night. Tim Miles’ team sprung the upset to land its first win against the Buckeyes since Thad Matta got to Columbus 10 years ago. It did so with strong inside play and contributions from nearly the entire team, which was especially prevalent on the foul line as the Cornhuskers went 20-of-26 there. With all the close losses and a big confidence-building win over the Buckeyes, don’t be surprised if Nebraska pulls another big upset before the conference season is over. Minnesota and Indiana will both visit Lincoln in the coming week.
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Three Thoughts on Michigan’s Road Win at Minnesota

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 3rd, 2014

About one year ago, an undefeated Michigan squad went to Minneapolis to face a Gophers team that was also ranked in the top-15 of the national polls. Both teams were highly touted before the match-up, and ultimately Trey Burke’s team muscled its way to an 83-75 win. One year later, the game was equally important, but for different reasons. John Beilein’s team needed to prove that it could survive a tough Big Ten road trip without Mitch McGary available, and Richard Pitino’s Gophers needed to prove that its 11-2 non-conference record was not just a result of a soft schedule. Even though the game last night was not nationally important, it was instrumental for each team to tip off the conference season with a strong start. Each team played like it mattered, so the following are three thoughts from a sneaky good game which resulted in a 63-60 Michigan victory.

John Beilein's Wolverines pulled out a tough win no the road against Minnesota.

John Beilein’s Wolverines pulled out a tough win no the road against Minnesota.

  1. McGary’s absence was felt on the defensive glass. The Michigan front line of Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford was outrebounded by 10 on the offensive glass. The Gophers were all over the boards on the weak side because Horford consistently lost his man off the pick-and-roll, leading to several easy layups by Elliott Eliason. Horford and Morgan regularly pounced on the penetrating guards, leaving their men completely open either for rebounds or easy dropoff passes. Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu racked up seven assists, most of them to the big men in the paint in those situations. With McGary on the shelf, it’ll take some time for Horford to get used to these defensive sets and become more comfortable with how to communicate during the pick-and-roll. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 12.19.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 19th, 2013

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  1. We weren’t the only folks who thought Memphis‘ effort Tuesday night was commendable. The Tigers played very well in a one-possession loss to almost-full-strength Florida and came back from multiple large deficits to make a game of it. Rob Dauster is right; this loss shouldn’t feed in to the “Memphis can’t win the big game” narrative because the Tigers are much better and tougher and experienced than they have been in the past. Their recruiting class outside of Austin Nichols has done little this season, but that hasn’t been a big deal because all of Memphis’ veterans are playing so well. Joe Jackson was terrific and he has outplayed expectations slightly this year as the leader of Josh Pastner’s band. The Tigers showed a lot of moxie in fighting back against one of the most athletic teams in the country and they proved they are a legitimate Top 25 team along the way.
  2. UConn was anxious to get back to work last night against Stanford after 12 days off and maybe the extended break wasn’t a good thing as the Huskies couldn’t shoot the ball at all in the second half as the Cardinal held on late for a two-point win. UConn’s high-wire act was bound to bite them at some point and Stanford is a good team, but it was still disappointing considering the Huskies led by as much as 13 in the game. Shabazz Napier had his worst game of the season offensively and neither Omar Calhoun nor Ryan Boatright picked up any of the slack. The Huskies need to shoot well to win and that unpredictability is why many still don’t consider them a true national title contender despite the fact that they have still only one loss. You’ve got to give uneasy credit to whomever put together UConn’s schedule this season, because things don’t get any easier when the Huskies cross the country this weekend to play at Washington.
  3. I agree and disagree with what Kevin Ware had to say about the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry being “old and boring.” The larger point he is making is true. The rivalry is about the fans more than anything else, and the media obviously overhypes it. The fringe of both fan bases is the closest thing to SEC football lunacy in college basketball and I’m not sure there have been more “that’s sounds like it could be true” rumors that have passed through the ether of the message boards. I am not complaining, it’s a fantastic rivalry to write about and watch, but I’m not buying Ware’s “most players aren’t from here” remarks. The players may hail from the Southwest or the Northeast but I just can’t believe that this game doesn’t mean more to them than any other non-conference game, and nearly all conference games as well. I will buy that players don’t hate each other as individuals, but they are competitors and they will be more hyped to play the Wildcats than they were to play Missouri State, even if they couch their quotes in feigned indifference.
  4. When Richard Pitino took the job at Minnesota, you just knew that father and son were going to find a way to play each other. Well now it’s happened sooner than most expected as the two teams will open next season on a military base in Puerto Rico and the Pitino family television pieces are already writing themselves. The two have played each other before when Louisville thumped Florida International last season, but the younger Pitino should have considerably more talent at his disposal in Minneapolis next season. Yeah, it is a little bit cheesy and the novelty will wear off eventually, but I am all for a little father-son rivalry, so maybe I will be secretly pulling for the Golden Gophers.
  5. Cincinnati’s offense this season can be best summed up by coach Mick Cronin explaining that he thought it was better in the team’s 44-43 win Tuesday over Pittsburgh because they rebounded more of their missed shots. Offensive rebounds are nice and all, but the Bearcats aren’t going to win a lot of games by fiercely grabbing offensive rebounds only to be followed by another missed jump shot. They aren’t exactly an offensive machine, but Cronin also hinted that some of his inexperienced players like Jermaine Sanders and Shaquille Thomas need to become more confident shooters. Of course it would also be nice if senior leader Justin Jackson played with some consistency too.
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Morning Five: 12.19.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 19th, 2013

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  1. Late on Tuesday night a video of Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson ranting went viral. By now, most of you have seen it. If you haven’t, we posted the clip on our Tumblr account. Outside of the amusing aspect of seeing Hinson rant, the one thing that caught our attention was the universal applause that Hinson has received. When we say universal we mean we have not seen a single media member criticize Hinson for his comments. We are not contrarian enough to go against that tide, but we do find it curious how coaches are able to go to the media and criticize the effort of a player (or group of players). However, when those same players exceed expectations the coach is praised for getting the best out of those players. If being able to motivate your players is a trait that generates applause, then failing to do so should also lead to an equal degree of criticism. Now, this is hardly the first time that a coach has gone off on his players (Pat Knight at Lamar comes to mind) so the long-term narrative around Hinson’s rant will probably be determined by how his players react to it.
  2. North Carolina has been one of the most confusing teams in the country so far this season. They have without question the three best wins in the country so far knocking off preseason #1-2-3 (Michigan State-Kentucky-Louisville), but also have a pair of home losses coming against Belmont and UAB. The most common excuse for the Tar Heels has been that they have had to adjust to playing without P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald. Yesterday one of those problems was solved when the NCAA cleared McDonald to play. That announcement by itself is interesting on some level, but the most interesting aspect of the release was that UNC only submitted their request on December 11 and it is the only request from the school meaning that the school has not even approached the NCAA about a ruling on Hairston. Late last night the school said it hoped to have the Hairston issue resolved by the end of the week, but based on what we have heard we would not expect Hairston to return this season. It is also worth pointing out how long it took UNC to submit since many individuals–fans, media, and coaches–have been critical of how long the NCAA took to reach a decision when in fact it was UNC that took a long time.
  3. We saw it coming as soon as Alex Murphy announced that he was transferring from Duke and yesterday Murphy confirmed that he would be transferring to Florida. Murphy, who entered Duke a year early at the behest of Mike Krzyzewski, never became a regular in the Blue Devil rotation and although the Gators aren’t that far behind Blue Devils in terms of talent the change of venue and system might give Murphy a better chance to play. One of the more interesting aspects of Murphy’s transfer is that he was essentially pushed by the Duke coaching staff to leave high school a year early to help bolster the team’s depth, but it may have hurt his development as a player.
  4. While many of the early season made-for-TV events have fallen apart as the gimmicks that they are one event that appears to have staying power is the Armed Forces Classic, which is played at US military bases across the country. Yesterday, ESPN announced some of its schedule for the games for the next three years. The 2014 game will be played in Puerto Rico and will feature a father-son match-up when Rick Pitino (Louisville) will face-off against Richard Pitino (Minnesota). The 2015 event is completely up in the air both in terms of location and teams, but the 2016 event promises to be a particularly special one as it will be held in Pearl Harbor less than a month away from the 75th anniversary of the attack that propelled the US into World War II.
  5. It might be a little late for Christmas this year, but if you have at least $100,000 lying around and a Duke fan that you want to impress then Christian Laettner‘s jersey from the 1992 East Regional Final against Kentucky might be the perfect gift. According to Leland.com, they are auctioning off Laettner’s jersey from that game, which they claim to have authenticated through a variety of methods. The owner of the jersey reportedly had a relationship with Laettner and was given the jersey at the end of the 1991-92 season. Laettner has not commented on the auction yet, but given the reputation of the auction house we won’t question its authenticity. We will be interested to see just how high the final sale price will be as we can imagine there are plenty of Duke graduates who would love to hang that somewhere in their office.
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Big Ten M5: 12.12.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 12th, 2013

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

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 28th, 2013

Ed. note: Minnesota finished up its Maui Invitational trip with an 83-68 win over D-II Chaminade on Wednesday afternoon.

Things were going so nicely for first-year head coach Richard Pitino and his Golden Gophers. They had won their first five games in convincing fashion; junior guard Andre Hollins was looking like a possible Big Ten Player of the Year candidate; and they had just taken it to top-ranked Syracuse losing only in the final minutes of their opening round game at the Maui Invitational. They entered their second game in Maui against an Arkansas team who had lost its most electric player in B.J. Young and was not expected to make the NCAA Tournament.  In fact, according to KenPom, the Gophers were expected to win the game by a 10-point margin. Things went as planned in the first half as Minnesota took a five-point lead to the locker room, but after that point, the bottom fell off for Pitino’s squad. The Gophers’ ineffective half-court defense allowed the Razorbacks to come back and win the game, 87-73, and the game tape it created may haunt them throughout the rest of the season.

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Richard Pitino is trying to implement his father’s pressure defense in Minnesota, but its the half-court defense that may cost him.

As one of our fellow RTC Big Ten microsite columnists pointed out earlier this season, the press defense is a feature Pitino is trying to instill at Minnesota. Pitino learned the art of applying  a press from one of the best in the business, his father Rick Pitino. This focus on the press has helped them blow some lesser talented teams out in the early schedule, but it was a complete disaster in the second half against Arkansas. The Razorbacks scored 11 points off turnovers in the second half, but the remaining 41 points were scored in the half-court. Once Arkansas figured out how to break Minnesota’s press and began their offensive sets, they exposed Minnesota’s zone defense.  Unlike Syracuse, the Razorbacks had more than one shooter capable of dropping threes over the zone (four different Razorbacks hit from deep in the second half). They confused Minnesota by switching from attacking with three-pointers and drives, and the Gophers were completely feckless in stopping either. The Razorbacks’ 76 percent true shooting percentage (5-of-7 3FGs, 17-of-28 FGs, 13-of-14 FTs) for the second half was easily the team’s best of the year. The Gophers have been working on their press defense all season, but perhaps as a result, they seem to have completely forgotten what to do when they’re in the half-court.

Last year, Louisville provided a prime example of an elite team winning the National Championship while implementing the press on a consistent basis. So this isn’t a gimmick Pitino is trying to enable to mask some other defensive deficiencies. But the Big Ten is at its heart a half-court league, and Minnesota will find itself in numerous situations where it will have to rely on half-court defense to win games. If they can’t shore up that defense enough to at least provide some element of resistance, the conference schedule will expose this Minnesota team night in and night out.

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Big Ten M5: 11.27.13 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 27th, 2013

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  1. Tom Izzo should be on top of the world with the start he’s gotten off to, and while he’s happy about a number of things with his team, he’s also not a fan of the one-and-done college basketball culture today. In an interview that came out Tuesday afternoon, Izzo talked about how he feels sorry for Kentucky’s players and how they’re viewed if they don’t go right to the NBA after one year of college. Izzo also commented on a number of things related to his own team, including the improvement of Keith Appling and the potential of Denzel Valentine. Appling has been a perfect catalyst for the Spartans’ fast-paced offense so far, and has been essential as the team works through the shooting slump of Gary Harris. Valentine is in the running for B1G Sixth Man of the Year, and shows off a versatile game much like former Spartan great Draymond Green.
  2. Minnesota took a tough loss in Maui on Tuesday afternoon, falling 87-73 to Arkansas. It was a somewhat unique match-up for the Gophers because Arkansas is also a team that likes to employ pressure defense and force turnovers. The Razorbacks essentially beat the Gophers at their own game, causing 16 miscues. Minnesota also had trouble with Arkansas’ size, which is something that could be a problem down the road. What the loss showed is that the team will have to get much more out of Joey King, Oto Osenicks, and the recently reinstated Maurice Walker to really get anywhere significant in the postseason.
  3. Illinois  head coach John Groce went over things with his freshmen as basic as how to dress for a flight and how to eat and sleep on the road in advance of their first road trip of the season to take on UNLV Tuesday night. While the Illini has some veterans on the squad, there are also five freshman who see the court a decent amount of the time. It’s easy in Groce’s situation to take things like going over travel etiquette for granted, but he must have done something right in this instance. Freshman Jaylon Tate led the team with five assists as they squeaked out a 61-59 win in the waning seconds. There was no word on whether said freshmen met Groce’s expectations in terms of in-flight decorum, however.
  4. College Basketball Talk announced its Player of the Year power rankings, and Keith Appling came in ninth in their 10-person list. He was the only B1G player selected, with Aaron Craft making it in the “others” category. While trying to avoid doing things like blasting Rob Dauster on Twitter, asking him if he’s ever seen Tim Frazier play, this list shows that Appling is making an impact nationally and people are starting to take notice. Averaging 16.8 points and 5.7 assists per game, all the while shooting 57.1 percent from three for the top-ranked team in the country, should definitely put Appling in the running for postseason superlatives if those numbers stay consistent.
  5. It’s far too early to talk about next season with the present one only being less than three weeks old, but apparently a Louisville-Minnesota tilt is being lined up for the beginning of the 2014-15 season. Furthermore, Rick Pitino said that things are being finalized to play the game on an aircraft carrier (let’s hope indoors). One takeaway was how eager he sounded to play against his son. Usually coaches don’t like playing against someone they are close to, but maybe the Pitino family is wired differently than most others in the coaching fraternity. One thing for sure is that the game would be entertaining, as both high-pressure defenses would make for a chaotic thrill ride for 40 minutes.
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AAC M5: 11.27.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on November 27th, 2013

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  1. We have the early clubhouse leader for worst loss of the year by any AAC team. Rutgers somehow fell short of the low expectations of, well, everyone by losing to Farleigh Dickinson 73-72. How bad a loss was this? Well, FDU was 1-6 entering the game. The one win was against the Caldwell Cougars, a Division II squad, in the season opener. One of the losses was also to a Division II team, Metro State. Their one game against a power conference school was 100-50 loss to Arizona. There are 351 teams in Division I, and KenPom.com ranked FDU #349, giving them only a 4 percent chance of beating Rutgers, who he had pegged as the worst AAC team before the loss. This will be hard to … bottom? More importantly, it will serve as yet another anchor on not just Rutgers’ RPI, which clearly won’t matter much to them this year, but to the RPIs of all the AAC teams who face the Scarlet Knights twice. Adding insult to injury, the only reason Rutgers played FDU was that it lost to Drexel last week, denying itself a trip to MSG for the preaseason NIT final four. Simply brutal.
  2. Rick Pitino revealed Tuesday that Louisville and Minnesota, coached by his son Richard, might open next season squaring off on a American military base. Pitino told WDRB’s Rick Bozich that the deal isn’t done, but if it works out they may play in Puerto Rico. That would be a nice addition to what is setting up as an outstanding slate for the Cardinals next year: a home date with Kentucky, Indiana in New York for the Jimmy V Classic, presumably another Big Ten opponent in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and capped with their inaugural season in the ACC. While that’s very exciting for fans (and Pitinos), it underscores the weakness of this year’s schedule, which offers Kentucky, North Carolina and … Southern Miss? It’s interesting that the non-conference schedule would appear more difficult when they will be playing in the presumably tougher ACC.
  3. In other scheduling news, Cincinnati fans might get a glimpse of both the present and the past next Thanksgiving weekend. The Bearcats will be playing in the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida, a year from this weekend, opening against Middle Tennessee. Depending on outcomes, they could face Ole Miss in the final; the Rebels are coached by Andy Kennedy, who took over as Cincinnati’s interim coach after Bob Huggins was fired in 2005, and who gave way to Mick Cronin when he left for Oxford after that season. With all the turmoil, Cronin struggled early before righting the ship and reaching three straight NCAA tournaments and counting. Kennedy made his first tournament last season, but managed to make it to the Sweet 16. We’d take Cronin, but we understand some Bearcat fans may disagree.
  4. J.J. Richardson says he is happier with his situation as a member of the Houston Cougars, but still has some regrets about transferring from Pittsburgh after two seasons. So he was happy to reunite with his old teammates this week at the Legend’s Classic in Brooklyn. Richardson and his old mates had hoped to square off on the floor, but Pitt won its opener while Houston dropped two games, so the reunion was limited to off time at the team hotel. Richardson’s mixed emotions about his transfer are understandable; while he’s getting more minutes and shots as a Cougar, the senior is averaging only 2 points and 1.5 rebounds this season. He is closer to home, but it would appear he’s much farther from an NCAA tournament.
  5. Connecticut has secured its first commitment of the 2015 class with a pledge from the amazingly named Prince Ali, a four-star point guard from Florida. No word yet on whether Jasmine or the Genie will be part of a package deal. Seriously, it probably can only help coach Kevin Ollie in the recruiting efforts for guards to point at Shabazz Napier, a player who was good under Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun but has blossomed and become great under Ollie the past two seasons.
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Big Ten M5: 11.25.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 25th, 2013

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  1. Tom Izzo isn’t necessarily a reticent person. While everybody in the college hoops world has chimed in on their view about the new rules changes on defense, Izzo has been relatively quiet; but he fears for the overall hoops style under the new rules that were instituted during the offseason.  “I just feel bad. I feel bad for the officials,” Izzo said. He added, “And you know what the problem is? We’ve played in more games that haven’t been like this. We’ve taken six free throws in one game. Twelve. Ten.” The inconsistency bothers him during the young season and he is concerned that the officials may not be able to figure out by the time the games count in the conference season. His team’s bruising style may be hurt under the new rules but it is unclear if his players will be able to to adapt over the next few weeks.
  2. It is tough to follow in a legend’s footsteps but Richard Pitino has his job cut out. While Rick Pitino’s Cardinals are the defending national champions, his son, Richard, has to find a way to balance the senior’s impact on his own coaching style. Richard understands that and is trying to balance his dad’s legacy, while maintaining his own style. “Tell them to watch the national championship game because the team that won the national title plays that style,” Richard said. “I believe in the style of play, and it’s been proven to win and we’re going to hang our hat on it.” When asked about his dad’s style of play, the younger Pitino responded, “I believe in the style of play, and its been proven to win and we’re going to hang our hate on it.” Guard, Andre Hollins, will be one his explosive scorers, but the tweaks on defense may pay off over the season as the Gophers could mix up the defensive schemes between a zone and a full-court press.
  3. We know that Aaron Craft will have a huge impact on Ohio State this season, but he needs help. Craft, by no means, is a great offensive player and he needs junior forward, LaQuinton Ross, to chip in on the offensive end. Last season, Deshuan Thomas averaged more than 15 points per game and Ross is expected to fill in Thomas’ shoes, but hasn’t found his rhythm yet. After two weeks, he has averaged only 7 points per game and is struggling to find his role in the offense. I think Q is a great basketball player and we need him to play well,” Matta said. “But you’ve got to, and not just Q, you’ve got to respect the game and you’ve got to respect the opponents. Without Ross, the Buckeyes don’t stand a chance to compete for the Big Ten title.
  4. Is there such a thing as a “good loss?” It can be debated but a young team could benefit from a close loss early in the season. Indiana features two freshmen, Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams, and should benefit from close games during the first two months of the season because they can make the improvements by conference season. Tom Crean hopes that his team will learn from the the close loss to Connecticut. When you play great teams, the margin for error … is so small. You can’t give them easy baskets,” Crean said.He added, ” We’ve got to grow mentally as fast as we can.” The Hoosiers will eventually figure out how to use Ferrell and Vonleh together and when they do, they could contend for a top-3 finish in the Big Ten.
  5. Northwestern’s head coach, Chris Collins, can’t avoid comparisons to the football coach, Pat Fitzgerald because Fitzgerald has been moderately successful in Evanston. Fitzgerald doesn’t recruit great talent to Evanston, but he does an excellent of job competing in the Big Ten and has averaged at least 6 wins over the past few seasons. Collins has a different challenge because the basketball culture in Evanston isn’t ready for a transformation yet, but he is certainly ready to handle the diversity. After a 2-2 start, Collins has his task set out for the season, but he has time to make the changes in Evanston.
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