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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Big Ten M5: 11.18.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 18th, 2013

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  1. Two lost recruits shouldn’t mean that the program is headed in the wrong direction and Illinois’ John Groce clearly understands that. He shot back at several critics at a press conference over the weekend and discussed next year’s recruiting class: Leron Black and Michael Finke. “I understand there was an article written about Illinois basketball being put in its place,” he said Saturday, referring to another newspaper’s headline. He added, “I’m going to tell you what place it’s in. It’s in a great place. That’s what place it’s in.” Black is not a shabby recruit for next season, even though he is only a top-50 consensus selection. Regardless of what happened over the past two days, Groce’s program is headed in the right direction, especially if the Illini manage to win 20 wins this year.
  2. While Groce didn’t get the prized recruit he went after, Indiana’s Tom Crean seems to believe that Justin Blackmon Jr. will be worth the wait. Crean said that he was stressed until the last minute about Blackmon’s recruitment, bug the freshman shouldn’t disappoint next season. The 6’3″ guard signed the letter of intent on Thursday and will likely start for Crean alongside Yogi Ferrell next year. “I think he’s just scratching the surface athletically,” Crean said. He added, “I think he’s just scratching the surface as a player. In my mind, we got the absolute best player in the state of Indiana, and there was no debate for us for a long, long time that he was that guy.
  3. In case you were out having a good time on Friday night and assumed that Michigan State would roll over Columbia, you were wrong. The Spartans struggled for most of the game before pulling out a 62-53 win at home. A loss would have been a major letdown after a huge win over Kentucky earlier last week. After the tough win over Columbia, Adreian Payne was vocal about the Spartans’ toughness. “I take it personal because rebounding is effort-related, and we’re not playing tough right now,” said Payne, who led the Spartans by grabbing 11 boards. It is very likely that Michigan State will be ranked #1 on Monday, but they will compete with Kansas for a few votes. A strong win against Columbia would have helped their case more, nonetheless, it is a great start to the season.
  4. Minnesota’s Richard Pitino is off to a good start after the first week of the season. The Gophers are 3-0 and they were impressive on the road by beating the Richmond Spiders 73-59. Pitino made some key changes on defense by implementing a full-court press and a zond defense which resulted in a 19-0 run to end the game. “We went zone because they were carving our man up really good,” Pitino said. He added, “We couldn’t get stops and we zone and it worked. Their man offense is really tough to guard, [coach Chris Mooney] is phenomenal.” The season will get tougher for Pitino as the Gophers head to Maui for the non-conference tournament next week.
  5. Last year’s Ohio State match-up with Marquette was cancelled due to weather conditions and the Buckeyes had to play a road game over the weekend. Aaron Craft showcased his overall game by scoring 10 points and dishing out 10 assists. Oh, he also pulled in seven rebounds. Craft continues to be a success for Thad Matta, but he’ll need LaQuinton Ross to step up very soon, if they want to remain competitive against formidable competition. Ross had no points and was 0-6 from the field against a tough Marquette defense. He has to average at least 13 PPG to complement Craft, otherwise, the Buckeyes won’t be able to compete for a Big Ten title.
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Minnesota’s Press is Somewhat Unique in the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 16th, 2013

Minnesota has gotten off to a pretty successful start in the Richard Pitino era, as the Gophers have beaten two not-so-horrible mid-majors in Lehigh and Montana so far. The Gophers were one of the more enigmatic Big Ten teams to try to figure out in the preseason. They are playing a much different system, and although they have some players back with experience, they’re incorporating several new pieces that make this a team to keep an eye on going forward. Everybody knows that two games does not a sample size make, but since it’s all we have to go with so far as Minnesota heads into its game today with Richmond, here’s are a few things I’ve observed in those two opening games.

Andre Hollins  is off to a good start for Minnesota.

Andre Hollins is off to a good start for Minnesota.

One question mark about Minnesota was its obvious lack of size, and the Gophers have started the year by going with a three-guard lineup in DeAndre Mathieu, Andre Hollins, and Austin Hollins. But whether this will hurt them once they hit the league schedule remains to be seen. One of their potential options in the low post, Maurice Walker, is suspended for six gamesEliott Eliason has shown early on, however, that he can be a force by altering shots and hitting the glass. So far he’s been the only true big man on the floor, and if he can continue to come close to getting 23.8 percent of the Gophers’ offensive rebounds and blocking shots at a 17.9 percent clip, he will go a long way toward alleviating these concerns (unsustainable numbers, but good ones nevertheless). He’ll never be Kevin McHale on the low block, but he’s shown so far that he can mix it up and get after the Gopher misses. Joey King and Oto Osenieks are more European-type big men, so while they’ll help some, it will be interesting to see what comes about from the Walker-Eliason combination once the suspended player comes back.

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Big Ten M5: 11.15.13 Edition

Posted by Max Jakubowski on November 15th, 2013

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  1. Friday at 4:00 PM ET marks a huge day for Illinois as five-star forward Cliff Alexander will announce his college decision — he is down to Illinois, Kansas, DePaul, and Memphis. The Chicago native has his decision in mind and most believe it will be either Illinois or Kansas. Kansas has long been the favorite for Alexander, with Jayhawks’ assistant Jerrance Howard recruiting him since he was an eighth-grader. But Illinois and John Groce have made a late surge and have some momentum. If Alexander puts on the Illini hat Friday, it will not only represent Groce’s growing recruiting presence in Chicago, but will also signal that Illinois is ready to get back to being a national power.
  2. Along with Alexander, elite Class of 2014 prospects Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Stanley Johnson will also announce Friday afternoon. Besides Illinois for Alexander, no other Big Ten team is in the running for these three recruits. But that doesn’t mean the Big Ten is done recruiting top prospects this year. Indiana is heavily pursuing point guard JaQuan Lyle, a former Louisville commitment. Minnesota and Rashad Vaughn have mutual interest. Vaughn, a shooting guard from Golden Valley, Minnesota, would be Richard Pitino’s first major recruit during his short tenure as a head coach. Also look out for Ohio State to continue to pursue consensus top five player Myles Turner, a center who has been compared favorably to former NPOY Anthony Davis.  The Buckeyes already have one of the nation’s best 2014 recruiting classes and all that is missing is a talented big man like Turner.
  3. Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans are coming off a huge Tuesday night victory over Kentucky. Despite the monster win, Izzo is not pleased with his team’s effort on the boards. Adreian Payne battled foul trouble in the second half and that limited his effectiveness. Izzo desperately needs either Matt Costello, Gavin Schilling or Alex Gauna to become a consistent rebounder who the Spartans can lean on to average at least seven boards a game beyond Payne’s production. Gary Harris is another player who Izzo wants to see increase his rebounding activity.  He only averaged 2.5 rebounds per game last season.
  4. Iowa has found a stud player via the transfer hub in Jarrod UthoffWith two scholarships open for the class of 2014, head coach Fran McCaffery said he might turn to the transfer trail to fill them again. Transfers have become increasingly important to college programs, especially when they can get waivers to play right away. Don’t be shocked to see Iowa possibly pick up two graduate students for next season who will be granted immediate eligibility.
  5. There are two major games involving Big Ten teams this weekend. First, #10 Ohio State goes to Milwaukee to take on #17 Marquette Saturday. Look out for the important match-up in the post between Amir Williams and Davante Gardner. Gardner was a first team all-Big East preseason selection and will be a handful for Williams, who has never lived up to his McDonald’s All America hype. On Sunday, #7 Michigan travels to Ames to take on Iowa State. Both teams will each be without a key player, though — Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim is out with a bad left knee and Michigan’s Mitch McGary is not expected to play due to a nagging back injury. It’s not a huge deal now, but each team clearly needs its respective injured player to get healthy by the time conference play starts.
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Big Ten M5: Opening Day Edition

Posted by Max Jakubowski on November 8th, 2013

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  1. The dawn of a new season is finally upon us. Friday marks the first game for nine Big Ten teams, plus three other teams will begin their seasons on Saturday. Here is a schedule for your viewing pleasure. The biggest game Friday in the Big Ten will be Wisconsin’s contest with St. John’s. A win would be a résumé builder for either of these teams, as both are expected to make the NCAA Tournament. A player to watch in this game for the Badgers is John Gasser. He missed all of last season with an ACL injury.
  2. Speaking of injuries, Michigan’s Mitch McGary has been officially ruled out for Friday’s game and his future status is still unknown. McGary has been dealing with a lower back injury since September, and there are rumblings that the preseason First Team All-American could be sidelined until conference play. If that turns out to be true, the Wolverines will be extremely shorthanded in the frontcourt for the next two months. Non-conference games against Iowa State, Arizona, Duke, Stanford and the Puerto Rico Tipoff could provide Michigan with some major problems.
  3. It’s never too early for bracketology. Both CBS and ESPN released their preseason brackets this week, and ESPN included Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Iowa from the league while CBS had the same six plus Purdue. The Big Ten is expected to get anywhere between six and eight bids this year. Also noteworthy was that Michigan State was a projected #1 seed in both brackets. A number one seed for Tom Izzo and the Spartans would mean they would most likely go through the Midwest Regional in Indianapolis.
  4. Illinois was in neither of the bracketology projections and may not get back there again this season, but they are surely headed in the right direction. Head coach John Groce has a great group of transfers who will be eligible next year and also brings in another nationally-ranked recruiting class. That recruiting class may climb even higher if Groce can land Chicago product Cliff Alexander, a five-star power forward who is expected to choose among a small group that includes the Illini. Illinois may regress this season, but the long-term future does look extra bright in Champaign.
  5. Five-star prospect Reid Travis will announce his college destination today with Duke, Stanford, and Minnesota as his finalists. Duke had long been considered the front-runner, but the Golden Gophers have had a huge momentum swing lately.  Travis, an extremely athletic power forward, would be a huge pickup for coach Richard Pitino and his staff. Scouts have likened his game to C-list celebrity Kris Humphries, who by the way, played his collegiate ball at Minnesota after de-committing from Duke. Coincidence? I think not.
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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #12 to #9

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 6th, 2013

With just a couple days before the regular season tips off, it’s time to get down to how the five of us on the microsite feel that the 12 teams will shake out once the season gets rolling. What follows are the teams that we picked to finish in the bottom third of the league. Before the games tip off for real on Friday, we will show you teams #8-#5, and then close it out with teams #4-#1. Feel free to let the debates, arguments and discussions about how much or little we know what we’re talking about.

12. Nebraska

  • What they do Well: Nebraska does not turn the ball over, as it ranked 30th last season nationally in turnover rate. This is partially due to playing at a slow tempo, but their guards take care of the ball.
  • What they don’t do well: They do not get many second chance opportunities, as they ranked 319th last season in offensive rebounding rate.
  • Get to knowShavon Shields. Shields made a decent impact last year, as he was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week twice. He and fellow wing David Rivers will need to step up to offset the losses of Brandon Ubel and Dylan Talley.
Sparkly new arena and facilities aside, we at the microsite aren't buying Nebraska as a contender this season.

Sparkly new arena and facilities aside, we at the microsite aren’t buying Nebraska as a contender this season.

  • Why they’ll finish 12th: Tim Miles looks like one of the better young coaches in the land, but with this being one of the best and deepest conferences in the country yet again, they simply don’t have enough quality depth to compete just yet. Teams will exploit their lack of quality size and kill them on the boards.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: Tai Webster turns out to be much better than advertised, and he and Ray Gallegos will be able to produce on the perimeter, shooting a high percentage and taking care of the ball. Florida castoff Walter Pitchford uses his 6’10″ frame to remedy the Huskers problem with offensive rebounding.

10 (tie). Northwestern

  • What they do well: Like Nebraska, the Wildcats are used to playing at a slow tempo to their advantage, ranking 37th nationally in turnover rate. This may or may not be the same strength this year as they look to play faster.
  • What they don’t do well: Northwestern ranked 337th in offensive block rate, meaning that they really struggled in finishing at the rim.
  • Get to know: Alex Olah. If Northwestern can get anything from this 7-foot Romanian, they’ll be balanced enough with their guards to surpass expectations in Collins’ first season at the helm.
  • Why they’ll finish 10th: There will be too much uncertainty as the players adjust to playing at a quicker tempo, transitioning from Bill Carmody and his Princeton offense to a more up-tempo style of play that Collins is implementing.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: The return of Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb will lead to a better perimeter attack more athleticism. Olah becomes a physical presence inside that they will need to create extra possessions.

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Big Ten M5: 11.04.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 4th, 2013

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  1. It is clear that Michigan State‘s upcoming season will be something special. Anything short of a Final Four will be considered a disappointment because Tom Izzo’s roster is loaded with stars such as Gary Harris and Adreian Payne. But what about next year? It appears that the 2014-15 season may not be able to meet high expectations because the incoming freshmen class doesn’t have elite talent. There are a couple of players ranked in the top 100, such as Javon Bess, but Izzo will need some offensive talent after departure of Payne and the potential exit of Harris. It is likely that Harris will leave for the NBA and after the graduation of Keith Appling, Spartans will need some young talent to pick up the pieces.
  2. Speaking of Tom Izzo, he has a very interesting relationship with Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan. Over the years, both of the coaches have been very close in head-to-head match-ups and they compete for the Big Ten title every season. At the Big Ten Media Day, Ryan was asked about his conversation with Izzo before the day had begun, and Ryan was fairly humorous with his response. When asked about their breakfast together, Ryan responded, “I ate scrambled eggs. I watched him, he ate the potatoes and bacon. I didn’t know if it was a Northern Michigan thing or what. “The Badgers may not be a Final Four favorite, but they’ll give Michigan State a run for their money during the conference season. It is a known fact that Ryan’s squads have never finished worse than fourth in the conference standings and this year won’t be any different.
  3. Recruiting has been smooth for Tom Crean over the past two years. After commits from Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh, it appears that the Hoosier recruiting machine was on a roll, but he did not have a signature recruit for the 2014-15 season. James Blackmon Jr. committed to Indiana and he will be an excellent guard for Crean next season. With Blackmon, Crean has his fourth straight class with a McDonald’s All-American in Bloomington – a streak that should continue if Indiana makes the NCAA Tournament again this year. With Vonleh and Yogi Ferrell, the Hoosiers should return to the postseason again and Crean will pick up where he left with with regards to recruiting as well.
  4. More on the recruiting front, top-5 forward for the 2014-15 class, Cliff Alexander, eliminated Michigan State as a potential candidate. After this recent move, his final list is down to Illinois, Kansas, DePaul, and Memphis. Alexander is a 6’8″ forward who would immediately make either Kansas or Illinois a contender for the Final Four. John Groce already has two top-40 recruits for next season and if Alexander were to pick Illinois, they will not just make the Tournament, but they will make a serious run at the Final Four. Alexander is the third top-five recruit to reject Michigan State; Jahil Okafor and Tyus Jones being the other ones who considered the Spartans at one point.
  5. Tyus Jones did not seriously consider Minnesota because the program is in transition, as new head coach, Richard Pitino, is trying to make his mark in Minneapolis. His similarities to his father, Rick, continue to be documented and will be analyzed further as he coaches at the big stage in the Big Ten. “People ask me all the time, ‘Was it tough being Rick Pitino’s son?’ ” Richard said. “And it’s not. I’m extremely proud to be his son. I’m extremely fortunate to be his son. I embrace it every single day. I would be silly to hide from it.” Pitino will create his own identity in Minnesota, but will have to figure out a way to stay relevant in the Big Ten this year. Andre Hollins will be one of the best scoring guards in the league, but outside of his contribution, Pitino will have to find other ways to put up some points.
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Big Ten M5: 11.01.13 Edition

Posted by Max Jakubowski on November 1st, 2013

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  1. The Big Ten held their annual media day in Chicago on Thursday.  Michigan State was the unanimous #1, followed by Michigan and Ohio State. For some unusual reason, the conference only releases the top three teams. It would have been interesting to see where teams like Iowa and Purdue were ranked, especially since they are expected to compete for a NCAA Tournament berths. The Preseason All Big Ten team was announced as well, with Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary, Michigan State’s Gary Harris and Adreian Payne, Ohio State’s Aaron Craft and Penn State’s Tim Frazier making the roster. One glaring omission was Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker.
  2. Richard Pitino of Minnesota and Chris Collins of Northwestern took in their first Big Ten Media Day Thursday.  Both coaches are facing up hill challenges this year but are also building for the future.  Pitino is finally out of the shadow from his Hall of Fame father, Rick, after landing a major Division 1 job at Minnesota.  Pitino recently picked up another commitment this week, building upon an already strong 2014 class.  Collins also announced that he will not totally blow up the Princeton offense that has long been Northwestern’s calling card.  Collins is focusing on getting his team prepared defensively first before he moves to configure Northwestern’s offensive sets.
  3. Nebraska finished at the bottom of the conference last season and was picked to do the same again.  That’s not keeping coach Tim Miles from saying that he expects more from his team this year.  Miles believes he has enough fight on his team to not finish 12th again.  The Cornhuskers return their second leading scoring from last year in Ray Gallegos, but others will need to step up to avoid another last place finish.
  4. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo opened up about how Chicago has been a tough recruiting ground for the Spartans recently.  The Spartans lost out on Jabari Parker last year, even after Izzo recruited him very aggressively.  If losing out on Parker wasn’t bad enough, Izzo went 0-3 for the 2014 class out of Chicago, losing out on Tyler Ulis (Kentucky), Jahlil Okafor (undecided), and now Cliff Alexander.  There were reports that Alexander might take an unofficial visit to East Lansing this weekend, but those reports were all but dashed when Alexander said he has “no relationship” with Izzo and the Spartans.
  5. While Michigan State is struggling in the recruiting department, Indiana picked up a major score Thursday, re-securing a commitment from James Blackmon Jr. Blackmon had actually committed to Indiana three years ago but decomitted back in August.  Kentucky was long to be presumed the front-runner, but Tom Crean made a late surge to bring Blackmon back to Bloomington.  Blackmon joins an Indiana recruiting class that includes fellow top 100 recruits Robert Johnson and Max Hoetzel.
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Big Ten Coaches on the Not-So-Hot Seat, Part II

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on October 30th, 2013

Yesterday, we examined why John Groce, Tom Crean and Fran McCaffery are currently not in danger of losing their jobs. Today, we continue our examination of the conference’s coaching landscape.  Specifically, we’ll explain why we expect the head men at Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue to be here next year.  Here’s our take:

Matt Painter's past success, and his very large contract, are among the reasons he'll be in the Big Ten for a while.

Matt Painter’s past successes, and his very large contract, are among the reasons why he’ll be in the Big Ten for a while.

Richard Pitino (Minnesota): This is Pitino’s first year as a head coach in the Big Ten and second year as the head coach of anything. He spent one year at Florida International before accepting the job at Minnesota, but while at FIU, Pitino led the Panthers to their best conference record in school history. He seemed on the way to turning around a program that had won only 26 of 65 games under NBA legend Isiah Thomas.  In April, he got an offer he couldn’t refuse: a chance to compete with the best in the business in the Big Ten. So he accepted and now is set to go through the ultimate learning experience as he coaches against the likes of Izzo, Matta and Ryan every week. Pitino will get the years of learning on the job he needs to try to build something special.  Minnesota wouldn’t make this type of hire without knowing it’ll be marathon and not a sprint. He’s obviously fine right now.

Tim Miles (Nebraska): I wrote a post last week detailing the situation at Nebraska. In short, Miles has been given state-of-the-art facilities and the resources to secure top-tier assistant coaches that can deliver talented recruits.  And while boosters will expect to see a return on the money they invested, they’re realistic about the task at hand and know it won’t happen overnight. It’ll be interesting to see how the Cornhuskers fare in this, Miles’ second year. If they are able to show noticeable improvement, he and his assistants can sell recruits on being a part of a “program on the rise.” Regardless, the administration is invested both in this program and Miles as the head coach — he’ll be given the appropriate time to turn the ship around.

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