Raise your hand if you had Maryland as the last ACC team still playing basketball in April. Sure, the Terrapins are only playing in the NIT, but for Mark Turgeon’s crew that means something. In Maryland’s most recent win against Alabama, the team showed flashes of the talent that many had predicted for it headed into the season. Specifically, Alex Len, who has disappeared for long stretches during the season, dominated the Crimson Tide on his way to a 15-point, 13-rebound and five-block performance to lead his team to a one-point win. The inconsistent Maryland that muddled its way through the conference schedule seems to have mostly disappeared. It’s a good thing too, because Iowa, the Terps’ next foe tonight in Madison Square Garden, is a bit of a ringer.
Alex Len is Playing Good Basketball Again (AP Photo)
According to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, the Hawkeyes currently rate as the 21st best team in the country, largely on the basis of its 19th-ranked defense (Maryland ranks 48th and 33rd, respectively). By these measures, Iowa is head and shoulders above its NIT fellows, and easily the best team to not make the NCAA Tournament this season. Like Maryland, Iowa sometimes struggles to shoot the ball consistently, but it plays such tough defense and rebounds so tenaciously that poor shooting is unlikely to sink the Hawkeyes. Unfortunately for the Terps, one of their greatest strengths is vulnerable to Iowa.
Sure it’s not as prestigious as the Big Dance, but one ACC team has already punched it’s ticket to a “final four” even if it isn’t the Final Four. Maryland narrowly defeated Alabama to claim the first berth in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden last night. Tonight Virginia will square off against Iowa for the privilege of challenging the Terps for a spot in the NIT Final. Of course, for Virginia to get there, the Cavaliers must defeat Iowa, a potentially very challenging task.
It’s Bedlam in College Park as the Terps Make the NIT Final Four — Or Not (Yahoo Sports).
By Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, Iowa is the best team in the country that wasn’t invited to the NCAA Tournament, with Virginia a close second. The two teams are quite similar: both feature stout defenses and unbalanced offenses that primarily feature two stars. While the Wahoos thrive on the sweet shooting of Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, the Hawkeyes get most of their offensive mileage out of the uncanny abilities of Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White to get to the free throw line. Together, the pair has combined for 320 made free throws this season. White, in particular, has a free throw rate of 86.6%, averaging nearly seven free throw attempts per game in less than 30 MPG. In 40 minutes, that projects to drawing 6.6 fouls per game. This doesn’t seem like a big deal for a team like Virginia, which is generally very good at avoiding fouls, but it could be a problem in terms of its front line depth. Freshmen Mike Tobey and Evan Nolte have been excellent complementary pieces for the Cavaliers, but both still foul too much. Averaging 4.1 and 4.6 fouls per 40 minutes, respectively, the two seem likely candidates for disqualification against the savvy play of White and Marble.
Still, the Cavaliers have two things that the Hawkeyes don’t: notably, home court advantage and Harris. Harris has had only a mild showing in the NIT so far, which, unfortunately for Iowa, may portend a big game due for the versatile guard. Iowa is likely the better team and the Hawkeyes probably expect to dominate the boards against Virginia, but between the offensive wizardry of Harris and the significant edge of playing in Charlottesville, Virginia has a very good chance to get to the NIT semifinals.
Then, if the Cavaliers can get to Madison Square Garden, they can look forward to a tilt with the same Terrapins whom they swept in conference play. A strong showing in the NIT doesn’t do much for conference pride, but it sure does a lot more than losing early in the NIT.
With the season getting under way, the Big Ten Microsite writers put their heads together and predicted who will come away with some conference hardware this season. Take a look:
Big Ten Player of the Year: Cody Zeller, Indiana — A pretty easy choice, all things considered. Zeller is the best player returning to the consensus No.1 team in the country, and a near unanimous selection to be an Associated Press preseason All-American. The sophomore center has it all — good hands, smarts, a nose for the ball around the basket, and runs the floor well. This is his award to lose.
All-Big Ten First Team: Cody Zeller, Indiana — see above; Trey Burke, Michigan — the conference’s best point guard who had a breakout season as a freshman and flirted with the NBA; Deshaun Thomas, OhioState — another AP preseason All-American poised to be a star with the departure of Jared Sullinger; Tim Frazier, Penn State — the conference’s most dangerous scorer, but with plenty of pressure on his shoulders; Drew Crawford, Northwestern — Crawford should be the go-to guy in Evanston this season, with the perimeter all to himself to do what he does best.
No surprise here: Indiana’s Cody Zeller is our preseason Big Ten Player of the Year (Sandra Dukes/US Presswire)
All-Big Ten Second Team: Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota — a constant double-double threat on the mend from ACL surgery; Aaron Craft, Ohio State — perhaps the best floor general and defensive player in the league; Keith Appling, Michigan State — a true scorer who can find his groove in Michigan State’s fast-paced offense; Brandon Paul, Illinois — the best player on an Illinois team trying to find itself; Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa — a big part of the resurgence in Iowa City.(Others considered: Mike Bruesewitz, Wisconsin; Derrick Nix, Michigan State; Terone Johnson, Purdue)
Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Craft, Ohio State — A predictable choice for a guy who has already won the award once and has been on the All-Big Ten Defensive Team each of his first two seasons in Columbus. Read the rest of this entry »
Exhibition games don’t mean much in the grand scheme of the season, but you get a good first look at the freshmen. Michigan State’s Gary Harris is arguably the most interesting freshman in the conference and will be scrutinized especially as Branden Dawson tries to get back to 100% after an ACL injury. After two exhibition games, Harris has impressed Tom Izzoon the offensive end of the court. He looked really good off the dribble in the game against Northwood and scored 14 points. However, he admits that he needs to be more effective on defense specifically against the pick-and-roll. Izzo will demand Harris’ improvement on defense but his offensive production will help the Spartans during the non-conference season.
Speaking of freshmen in the league, Purdue has a couple of good guards who are expected to contribute immediately. Even though Ronnie Johnson and Rapheal Davis were not ranked in the top 30 by Rivals coming out of high school, both of them have the talent to be very good players in the league. Each of the freshman guards scored 16 points in Purdue’s exhibition win over Newberry with Davis scoring all of his points in the second half. Ronnie Johnson may be the primary point guard in the rotation after the departure of Lewis Jackson but Davis will play a significant role off the bench. Guard Terone Johnson (9.1 PPG last season) will carry the offensive load for the Boilermakers; he scored 18 points in the exhibition.
As Matt Painter tries to incorporate new talent into the rotation, Bo Ryan has to figure out how to replace Josh Gasser at the point guard position. Every guard on the roster will need to help out with Gasser’s loss and the latest scrimmage in Madison has obviously led to more scrutiny of the guards. Redshirt freshman George Marshall has been impressive and appears to be the frontrunner to replace Gasser. Traevon Jackson‘s jumpers were a good sign and Ben Brust showed why his minutes will increase this season — Brust averaged 7.3 PPG in 21 MPG last season and is expected to play a key role in the backcourt. Ryan once again praised Frank Kaminsky, a forward who has a good jumper for a big guy which fits perfectly in the Ryan’s offensive system.
The Iowa Hawkeyes are considered a sleeper in the Big Ten mainly due to their underclassmen such as Aaron White (11.1 PPG) and Adam Woodbury. Junior wing Roy Devyn Marble (11.5 PPG) will be their primary scorer offensively, but Fran McCaffery believes that Eric May, the only senior with a scholarship on the roster, needs to be effective for Iowa to meet their lofty expectations this season. May averaged 4.3 PPG in 14.7 PPG last year but wants to be a lock-down defender for the Hawkeyes during his final season. May is supposed to be in “great shape” according to the coaches and Iowa will definitely need somebody to set the tempo on the defensive end after losing Matt Gatens to graduation. They will push the tempo and play a fast brand of basketball but if they are not able to defend, McCaffery’s team will fall short of making the NCAA Tournament.
Speaking of former Big Ten seniors, Illinois’ Mike Davis was drafted as the fifth overall player in the NBA Development League over the weekend. Davis had a solid career at Illinois as he averaged at least 11 PPG from his sophomore season on. He was not highly recruited out of high school but former Illini coach Bruce Weber appreciated his work ethic and intensity. Davis also averaged eight rebounds per game during the final three seasons, and he has the size (6’9″) to continue to play professional basketball at some level for a few years. He might not make the NBA but he can certainly work his way out of the Development League and possibly play in Europe for a few seasons.
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 Iowa Hawkeyes.
Where we left off: Last time we saw Iowa, the Hawkeyes were getting run over for 108 points by Oregon in the second round of the NIT. Of course, it was an accomplishment for the program to even get back to the NIT after a promising season, and now, with a number of stars back, Iowa is looking to take the next step to the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Fran McCaffery has done a good job of turning the team around, and now, in year three, expectations are high. Clearly McCaffery has his team on the right track, but is this the year Iowa finally makes it back to the NCAA Tournament? There is a lot of inexperience on parts of the court, but enough talent is certainly there for the Hawkeyes to make a run.
Fran McCaffery Has His Team on the Right Track (credit: AP)
Positives: Iowa’s biggest strength this winter will be its depth, and in fact, that could represent the most difficult part of McCaffery’s job. The Hawkeyes may have a hard time finding playing time for everyone with so much returning experience and new talent. Junior guard Roy Devyn Marble and sophomore forward Aaron White are locks to start, and they’ll likely be joined by junior forward Melsahn Basabe and freshman point guard Mike Gesell, but after that, the distribution of minutes gets foggy. Junior forward Zach McCabe will likely see considerable minutes, as will freshman center Adam Woodbury, but sophomore center Gabe Olaseni, who McCaffery calls the team’s most improved player, will also be slated for some time. In the backcourt, sophomore shooting specialist Josh Oglesby, freshman point guard Anthony Clemmons and senior Eric May will all push for playing time. There are a lot of different looks that this team can show, and while it might be difficult to figure out playing time, that’s a very good problem to have.
Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery is very optimistic about this third year in the Big Ten. He strongly believes that the depth on his roster will put Iowa back on the map and ready to contend for a postseason bid to the NCAA Tournament. Tough to disagree with the coach because returning wings Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White averaged 11.5 PPG and 11.1 PPG, respectively, last season. Another wing Zach McCabe should increase his production from 7.8 PPG. In addition to the returnees, Iowa’s top 25 recruiting class consisting of center Adam Woodbury will be an important part of the rotation. Depth is key for McCaffery’s offense which is designed to push the tempo of the game and consistently attack the basket. Iowa’s 65.8 possessions per game was the best during the Big Ten season in 2011-12.
Another coach who is trying to push the tempo of the game is Illinois’ John Groce. The first-year coach would prefer to play an uptempo game but doesn’t believe he has the personnel yet to execute it. According to Groce, Illinois needs multiple guards who can comfortably handle the ball and strive for consistent movement. Returning guards Tracy Abrams (4.3 PPG) and Joseph Bertrand (6.5 PPG) have been working on their ball-handling skills but it might take some time for Illinois to reap the benefits on the court. The Illini averaged 63.6 possessions per game during the conference season but ranked towards the bottom of the league with a 20.9% turnover rate. The tempo will certainly increase in Champaign this season but the fans can only hope for the team to be more competitive than the 2011-12 disaster.
Penn State fans don’t necessarily pay attention to basketball until bowl season is done. But there are several reasons to be excited about Pat Chambers’ team this season and Onward State lists five of them. Senior guard Tim Frazier (18.8 PPG and 6.2 APG) is obviously the best player on the team and arguably the best guard in the Big Ten. But the development of a couple underclassmen – Ross Travis and Jermaine Marshall – will be key for Chambers in his rotation. Ross, who was a true freshman last year, averaged only 4.4 PPG but showed flashes of brilliance during certain plays. Marshall should build upon his 10.8 PPG to play second fiddle to Frazier on the offensive end. Nittany Lions fans don’t have high expectations but certainly hope for improvement over last year’s performance as Chambers continues to build a solid foundation in State College.
After a four-year hiatus, Purdue will bring back the Midnight Madness event to Mackey Arena tonight and the players are excited to resume this tradition on their home court. This is a very important event for the Boilermakers because there are several new faces on the team. Forwards Jay Simpson and A.J. Hammons hope to add some size to the frontcourt and will have ample opportunity to earn playing time. Another freshman guard, Ronnie Johnson, will join two other Johnsons – Terone (9.2 PPG) and Anthony (5.4 PPG) in the backcourt. Head coach Matt Painter is also hoping that the event will help with the recruitment of 2013 player the Boilermakers want, Bryson Scott. The event will incorporate both men’s and women’s basketball team along with the football team who will host Wisconsin on Saturday.
Purdue’s in-state rival Indiana will have their own event, “Hoosier Hysteria,” on October 20 in Assembly Hall. ESPN SportsCenter anchor and a former IU graduate Sage Steele will emcee the annual event. The event will also benefit charities as fans are encouraged to bring canned food items for the Hoosier Hills Food Bank. Both the women’s basketball coach, Curt Miller, and fifth-year head coach, Tom Crean, will address the fans and introduce their respective teams. There is plenty to celebrate in Bloomington nowadays as the Hoosiers are ranked #1 in the preseason polls by most publications. Sophomore forward Cody Zeller (15.6 PPG and 6.6 RPG) has been the center of media attention as he has been a consensus preseason All-American pick and may end up being a top five pick in next year’s NBA Draft Lottery as well.
Let’s not be fooled by the Matt Gatens Show we all witnessed at the end of the season. (Though, give credit where credit is due — he was fantastic.) This is a talented young club that is on the rise and has the potential to give some conference teams fits in the near future, given their fast-paced style of basketball in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten. But as good as this team was on the offensive end (third in the conference) it was even more dismal on the defensive end (last place). That discrepancy must improve for Iowa to have a shot at becoming a contender in the conference. Let’s take a look back at the year that was:
Matt Gatens was one of the Big Ten's best players down the stretch. (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)
In a nutshell: Fran McCaffery‘s run-and-gun style of offense is really starting to take shape in Iowa City, where the Hawkeyes averaged 73 PPG, third only behind Ohio State and Indiana. It helped that the Hawkeyes led the conference in steals, but the wins didn’t add up in spite of the offense due to the dismal defense (allowing 72.5 PPG). Gatens, who worked his way onto the All-Big Ten Third Team thanks to his team-best 15.7 PPG and late-season spurt, did all he could. He got some help from promising sophomores Melsahn Basabe and Roy Devyn Marble, who are sure to be key pieces in the future.
Overachievement: The Big Ten had absolutely no shortage of impact freshmen (see Trey Burke, Cody Zeller, Branden Dawson, et al) but Aaron White was a somewhat unexpected yet consistent force for Iowa. He averaged 10.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game as a newcomer and, in a few more years, could definitely show Big Ten Player of the Year-type talent. He was rated by Rivals as just a three-star recruit out of high school, but showed his big-game mettle by scoring 47 points in Iowa’s two NIT games. Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s a breakdown on how things went down in the Big Ten tournament’s first day of action:
Matt Gatens led Iowa to a big win over Illinois (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)
Iowa 64 – Illinois 61
The skinny: It’s been a tough season for Illini fans, and now (some would say thankfully) it is over. Myers Leonard was a force down low for Illinois, scoring 18 points and grabbing six boards, but Brandon Paul struggled his way to four points on 2-11 shooting. Meanwhile, Matt Gatens continued his solid senior season with 20 points to lead the Hawkeyes, but it was his defense on Paul that really was the difference in this contest for Iowa. Head coach Fran McCaffery complained earlier this week about Gatens not being included on the all-Big Ten defensive team, and the senior looked every bit an elite-level stopper in this match-up. All-Big Ten freshman Aaron White had 13 points and 9 rebounds including a key offensive board with about 40 seconds left after a missed free throw by Roy Devyn Marble that helped seal the game for Iowa.
Up next: The #8-seed Hawkeyes will face #1-seed Michigan State at noon today. Iowa only played the Spartans once this season, falling 95-61 in a game at East Lansing on January 10.
It’s been a relatively quiet week around the Mountain West as teams took a bit of a break to celebrate the holidays. However, despite just eight games in the past week, we’ve had three fairly significant injuries. Boise State was the team hardest hit, as it lost freshman wing Igor Hadziomerovic to a broken foot and will likely play the rest of the season without him, while fellow freshman Anthony Drmic, the team’s leading scorer, missed the Broncos’ visit to Iowa with a sprained ankle. Meanwhile, Air Force lost is leading scorer, Michael Lyons, early in its visit to Spokane to face Gonzaga to a sprained ankle of his own. He never returned to a game in which the Falcons possibly could have challenged the Bulldogs, and the worst-case scenario for Lyons is not a good one. Since he sustained a high-ankle sprain, he could miss as many as six weeks, but a lot depends on how he reacts. It is possible he could be back as soon as this weekend, but ideally he would be back by January 14 when the Falcons travel to Boise State to open the conference season.
Another prominent MW player missed a game this week for a different reason, however, as New Mexico’s Kendall Williams sat out the Lobos’ Thursday game against UMKC as punishment from head coach Steve Alford for a poor academic fall semester. Williams is not in any way academically ineligible, and certainly the Lobos did just fine without him against middling competition, but give credit to Alford for laying down the law.
Team of the Week
UNLV – The Runnin’ Rebels take this honor down for the second straight week on the strength of its demolition of California on Friday. UNLV used a 31-12 run to close the first half to build a 20-point halftime lead, then led by as many as 27 in the second half before coasting home to a 17-point win. Anthony Marshall led the way in style with 22 points, nine rebounds, and three steals, while Oscar Bellfield handed out 11 assists and the Rebels dominated every facet of the game. UNLV still has to travel to Hawaii and Cal State Bakersfield in their non-conference (along with hosting Central Arkansas), but if everything holds up, they should enter conference play with a 16-2 record, including wins over North Carolina, Illinois and California and a good shot at a solid seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Dorian Green Had A Career Game For CSU Against Northern Colorado, Knocking Down Eight Threes (photo credit: Sam Noblett, The Rocky Mountain Collegian)
Player of the Week
Dorian Green, Jr, Colorado State – Green caught absolute fire Thursday night for the Rams, hitting eight-of-ten three-pointers and 11-of-16 from the field while exploding for a career-high 36 points in a win over Northern Colorado. After an excellent freshman season in Fort Collins, Green took a step back last season, seeing his scoring and shooting numbers take a healthy dip. But in his third season, Green has been rock-solid shooting the ball, hitting 58.7% of his three-point attempts this year. He’s also picked up his rebounding numbers for the third year running, (even adding his first-career double-digit rebounding game against Duke a couple weeks back) while helping out with the ballhandling duties and providing an explosive offensive threat in a Ram backcourt made up of multiple excellent shooters.