Big Ten M5: 11.21.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on November 21st, 2014

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  1. Anyone who watched the Wisconsin game on Wednesday night saw what could have been the dunk of the season from Wisconsin-Green Bay guard Keifer Sykes. Sykes almost went full “Deandre Jordan on Brandon Knight” in his missed dunk attempt over preseason All-American Frank Kaminsky, causing the preseason All-American to take to Twitter after the game to talk about how the dunk “would have ruined my confidence as a basketball player.” This led to a very lighthearted exchange between the two players that you can read here. It’s nice to see two great players who both hail from Chicago being supportive and recognizing the skills that each of them possesses.
  2. Many of us here at the microsite had written off Indiana after a tumultuous offseason, but after their 74-68 win over #22 SMU in Bloomington last night, we may need to reevaluate this group. Freshman sensation James Blackmon Jr. led the way with 26 points. This game also marked the return of three players from their suspensions — Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson, and Emmett Holt. What once looked like a bleak future for Tom Crean may be turning brighter thanks to the outstanding play of Blackmon Jr. — who has now proven he can play at a high level against nationally relevant teams. The freshman may singlehandedly pull the Hoosiers from the valley it found itself in just a couple weeks back.
  3. In the midst of all the holiday tournaments going on either this weekend and next week, Michigan State announced that it will be part of the Wooden Legacy tournament next season. The other headliner in the field will be Arizona. Providence and Boise State also will be playing in Anaheim along with Boston College, Evansville, Santa Clara, and UC Irvine. The Spartans will lose two of their top three players from this year’s squad, but should return Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello next season.
  4. It’s not always going to be pretty basketball, but if you’re into watching a player just go completely “Kobe” and chuck shot after shot, look no further than Penn State and D.J. Newbill. The prolific scorer put up 35 points on 33 shots in the Nittany Lions’ 97-106 double-overtime loss to Charlotte. Newbill had a chance to score the game winner with an open lane to the basket in the dwindling seconds of the first overtime, but it was blocked by Charlotte. The 35-point total was the most for a Penn State player since 1995, but without many other options on this team — especially with Tim Frazier graduated — look for more nights like these from Newbill. It’ll be entertaining if nothing else.
  5. Maryland also struggled in its quest to stay undefeated, yet managed to pull away from Fordham to notch a win on Thursday night. Unlike Northwestern, their struggles were on the offensive end. This is what senior leader Dez Wells wanted however, as he spoke to wanting to see how the young team handled things when they weren’t hitting shots. They ended up winning this one on the defensive end, holding the Rams to only eight free throw attempts and to 30.6 percent shooting from the field. A game like this should help them, especially once conference play hits. They now know that they can still get a win even if things aren’t clicking on the offensive end of the court.
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Big Ten M5: 11.17.14 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on November 17th, 2014

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  1. Former Indiana coach Mike Davis will make his first return to Assembly Hall tonight since he resigned from the head coaching position at Indiana in 2006. Upon his hiring in 2000, Davis was immediately met with animosity from Bob Knight apologists, setting the tone for his tumultuous six-year tenure as the Hoosiers’ head coach. Indiana played for one national title under Davis in 2002 (losing to Maryland), but his teams went 42-38 in his final three seasons at the helm. Currently embattled head coach Tom Crean said he hopes Davis gets a “tremendous reception” tonight when he brings Texas Southern (0-1) to Bloomington – but Davis is guaranteed to be greeted with plenty of audible heckles as well.
  2. Michigan State skated by Navy on Friday night by a score of 64-59, raising a few eyebrows around the college basketball community. But according to Lansing State Journal‘s Graham Couch, that kind of close win could be beneficial for the Spartans in the long run. Tom Izzo inserted three new starters in his lineup (Travis Trice, Alvin Ellis III and Matt Costello), but he only got double-figure scoring from Trice and Branden Dawson. Head coach Tom Izzo said he needs to see more production from his returning starters, Denzel Valentine and Dawson, but it’s an absolute certainty that Izzo would much rather have the bump in the road come now than come later on in the season.
  3. Rutgers opened its season with a 17-point home loss to George Washington, getting beat in just about every relevant statistical category. Myles Mack led the Scarlet Knights with 14 points, but he didn’t get much help from his supporting cast. Freshman Mike Williams poured in 10 points off the bench, but no other Knights reached double figures. Junior Etou and newcomer Bishop Daniels went a combined 1-of-16 from the field and Kadeem Jack is on the mend, so there aren’t many positives for Rutgers fans right now – unless you count D.J. Foreman’s monstrous dunk. And that’s certainly worth something.
  4. Caris LeVert was excellent in Michigan’s season-opening win over Hillsdale on Saturday, notching 20 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in the Wolverines’ 92-68 victory. LeVert and point guard Spike Albrecht were both relatively unknown recruits coming out of high school, but the two are now Michigan’s permanent team captains for the 2014-15 season. LeVert was one of three Wolverines to score more than 20 points on Saturday, whereas Albrecht came off the bench to score four. Head coach John Beilein said Albrecht and starting point guard Derrick Walton Jr. will be on the court together a lot this season, a rare dual-point guard situation that you should keep your eye on.
  5. Purdue’s Vince Edwards, a true freshman, introduced himself to the Boilermakers faithful in a big way this weekend, scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds in his debut before turning around and dropping 26 points in a win over IUPUI on Sunday. Kendall Stephens shined alongside Edwards on Sunday, pouring in 24 points with six three-pointers as Purdue shot 50 percent from the field. The Boilermakers host Grambling State on Thursday before facing Kansas State in Maui on November 24. Purdue’s going to need more out of A.J. Hammons sooner than later, as the talented but enigmatic big man gathered a total of seven rebounds and scored only 11 points in his first two games.
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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #14 to #10

Posted by Eric Clark on November 11th, 2014

With college basketball’s regular season finally tipping off on Friday, the time has come for the Big Ten microsite writers to make their predictions public. We’ll begin by showcasing the five projected bottom-feeders of the Big Ten, the teams we forecast to finish from 14th to 10th.

14. Rutgers

  • What they do well: There won’t be many positives for Rutgers in its inaugural Big Ten season — especially after three would-be seniors transferred during the offseason – but it looks like head coach Eddie Jordan brought in a solid recruiting class. His prized recruit is junior Bishop Daniels, a transfer from ASA College in New York City. Daniels, a former Miami player, will help solidify Rutgers’ backcourt with last year’s leading scorer, Myles Mack.
  • What they don’t do well: Rebound. The Scarlet Knights only had two players average more than six rebounds per game last season (Kadeem Jack and Wally Judge), and Judge is no longer with the team. Rutgers was eighth in the AAC last season in rebounding margin, averaging 1.8 fewer rebounds per game than their opponents. Ten of the 12 Big Ten teams, on the other hand, had positive margins.
Myles Mack will be one of the lone bright spots in Rutgers' inaugural Big Ten season.

Myles Mack will be one of the lone bright spots in Rutgers’ inaugural Big Ten season.

  • Get to know: Kadeem Jack. Jack is Rutgers’ lone established presence in the post on an otherwise young and inexperienced roster. The 6’9″ senior grabbed almost seven rebounds per game last year and shot 50 percent from the field. He’s likely the only Big Ten-caliber forward on the team.
  • Why they’ll finish 14th: Rutgers lost three senior players via transfer and has only two players, Mack and Jack, who have proven that they’re ready for Big Ten basketball. Defenses will key on those two, leaving an inexperienced cast to do – or rather, try to do – most of the heavy lifting. Eddie Jordan will overuse the phrase “growing pains” this season.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: Bishop Daniels has no problem adjusting back to Division I basketball, and freshman Mike Williams establishes himself as one of the best long-range shooters in the conference. Kadeem Jack thrives down low with the outside presence of Jack, Daniels and Williams.

13. Northwestern

  • What they do well: Defend – at least, better than the Wildcats used to. Head coach Chris Collins made a concerted effort to move away from the “open door policy” defense that plagued Northwestern in Bill Carmody’s final years at the helm. Collins’ team held opponents to a 41.1 percent field goal shooting last year, good enough for third in the conference.
  • What they don’t do well: Score. The Wildcats ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring last season, averaging 59.5 points per game. Illinois, which ranked second-to-last, averaged almost five more points per game. The Wildcats also were last in the Big Ten in field goal percentage.

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Big Ten M5: 11.10.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 10th, 2014

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  1. After numerous key losses from last year’s team, Denzel Valentine has to have a big season for Michigan State if Sparty wants to avoid falling back into the Big Ten pack. If preseason exhibitions are any indication, then Valentine is definitely in line for a huge season. He went for 24 points and 12 rebounds on 6-of-9 shooting from behind the arc in the Spartans’ first preseason tilt, then topped that off with a 15-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist triple-double over the weekend. Should he notch one of these stat lines in the regular season, he would join a select group of Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Draymond Green and Charlie Bell as the only Michigan State players to register one in a regular season game.
  2. Another preseason standout has been Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell. Russell enters college basketball with plenty of expectations, and he showed the reason behind them by leading the Buckeyes in scoring in a win over Walsh College, 77-37, on Sunday. In addition to his 17 points, he also chipped in eight rebounds and six assists for an all-around fantastic performance. Four Buckeyes went for double figures, including fellow freshman Ja’Sean Tate with 10 points. With so much experience on the roster, it will be interesting to see how Thad Matta manages his team if Russell is the team’s best offensive weapon. Will the seniors allow him to take the big shots late in games?
  3. Eddie Jordan is quietly putting together a solid recruiting class for Rutgers with his growing haul in the Class of 2015. Highly-rated point guard Corey Sanders is already in the fold, and now combo guard Justin Goode has also pledged his services to the Scarlet Knights. Goode joins his teammate at Hargrave Military Academy, Kejuan Johnson, in becoming the second recruit from the school to verbally commit to Rutgers in just the last week. With Myles Mack leaving after this season, having as many guards on the roster to choose from will help Jordan rebuild this long-suffering program.
  4. Even though it was against a Division II opponent, it has to be a good sign for Northwestern to score 102 points in a game — which is the exact output the Wildcats put up in their 50-point Friday night win against McKendree. Alex Olah led the team in scoring with 18 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. The team shot an absurd 72 percent from the field, and head coach Chris Collins used garbage time to mix different combinations of lineups with all the new players on the roster. The coach was pleased with the effort, saying, “We have a lot of guys who are really good players. I am really proud of our group.”
  5. The image of Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery stalking the officials on to the court in the Hawkeyes’ loss at Wisconsin last year was one of the most memorable and infamous moments of the Big Ten season. Having a son diagnosed with cancer will change one’s perspective, however, and McCaffery acknowledges that each possession on the basketball floor is not going to get him quite as upset as it probably would have in the past. Patrick McCaffery, now 6’5″, is currently dunking in junior high games. Recent blood work shows that he is cancer-free, and this is obviously outstanding news for the entire Iowa basketball family.
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A Rutgers Primer: Who Are These Guys?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 6th, 2014

Rutgers and Maryland enter the Big Ten fray after playing last season in the AAC and the ACC, respectively. While college basketball fans probably know something about Maryland from their time as an ACC heavyweight, those outside of the New York/New Jersey area that follow the B1G might not know quite as much about the Scarlet Knights. Personally, when I think Rutgers basketball, I think of this. It probably isn’t a good thing for someone as basketball-obsessed as me to think about a Saturday Night Live sketch when thinking about that program. That said, it’s a new season in a new league for the former members of the Big East and the AAC. Here’s some quick information about the program to get Big Ten fans ready for the newcomers.

Eddie Jordan is in charge of trying to get Rutgers basketball back on solid ground after the Mike Rice tenure. (USATSI)

Eddie Jordan is in charge of trying to get Rutgers basketball back on solid ground after the Mike Rice tenure. (USATSI)

  • Last Season: The Scarlet Knights went 12-21 overall and 5-13 in the AAC. They were 6-7 in the non-conference portion of their schedule, losing to William & Mary and Farleigh Dickinson at home — for some context, Iowa beat Farleigh Dickinson 92-59. They started out 4-7 in conference play with their most impressive win coming when they beat Houston 93-70. They won a game in the AAC Tournament before bowing out to Louisville 92-31. They averaged 105.7 points per 100 possessions, which ranked 145th in the country. Only Illinois and Northwestern had worse per possession offensive numbers among Big Ten teams. They struggled even more on the defensive end, where they gave up 106.3 points per 100 possessions. That mark would have been dead last in the B1G, as only Iowa at 102.7 was in the same ballpark.

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Trick or Treat: Big Ten Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on October 31st, 2014

Happy Halloween microsite readers! For those of you in college or otherwise young enough to still enjoy this holiday, you’ve probably put a lot of thought into your costume and are on your way to some great costume party. For the slightly more aged, we have a more ornery disposition and our Halloween plans likely include dimming the lights and hiding from the trick-or-treaters. To those of my ilk, I sympathize with your reclusive ways. My gift to you is this post to read while you’re in the corner trying to shield the light from your tablet. For your enjoyment, I’ll throw out several random thoughts about the conference and declare whether they’ll end up being a trick or treat for Big Ten fans. Let’s begin.

Thank you, Maryland fans.

Thank you Maryland fans, forever.

The Big Ten will be the best conference in the country. TRICK. Sorry folks. I’m confident that the league will be in the discussion, but I’m not sure the bottom rung will be successful enough in the non-conference slate to avoid a drag on its overall RPI. Some of the middling teams – Illinois, Indiana and Maryland – have enough uncertainty around their lineups that it’s possible they could slide quickly in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, every team in the Big 12 looks strong, with the notable exception of atrocities like Texas Tech and TCU, and each has a reasonable shot at making the NCAA Tournament. I hope I’m wrong, but if it’s any consolation, I think the Big Ten will best the ACC and their stuffy buttoned-up fans once again. Honestly, who goes to football games dressed like this.

Maryland is joining the league. TREAT. The Terps may not be on the cusp of challenging for Final Fours and National Championships right now, but it’s a storied basketball program with a passionate fan base that should fit into the Big Ten nicely. Program highlights include a more recent National Championship than any other Big Ten school (2002) and well-known alums like Len Elmore, Joe Smith, Steve Francis, Juan Dixon and Steve Blake. Additionally, I’ve been to enough games at the “Comcastle” to know that the Terps will add another great home court experience to the league thanks to their riled up student section. Terrapin fans are also a creative bunch: The world will, for example, always be indebted to them for introducing us to “Scheyerface”. And Maryland fans, if you’re feeling a little anxious about the move to the new conference, like a mid-year transfer student on his first day at a new school, don’t be. Your program is attractive enough where fitting in won’t be a problem, even if you do have a funny accent (it’s “water”, not “wooder”, jeez).

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Big Ten M5: Halloween Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 31st, 2014

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  1. It was always going to be a rough introduction into the Big Ten for Rutgers, given that last year the Scarlet Knights weren’t competitive in a mediocre American Athletic Conference. If they are going to turn things around, the effort will need to be led by one of their senior leaders, Kadeem Jack. So head coach Eddie Jordan must be more than a little concerned that last year’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer has been unable to practice due to a wrist injury. Jack is expected to be healthy by the first game of the season against George Washington, but Jordan needs to hope that’s the case as his team is going to need all the wins it can get for a shot at a postseason tournament.
  2. In East Lansing, Michigan State is also dealing with the injury bug. Tom Izzo’s team will lose freshman Javon Bess for at least a month as he will have surgery on his injured foot. Though not a heralded recruit, he seemed to have already earned some respect from his fellow teammates and coach. Izzo called him a “diamond in the rough” while Denzel Valentine said his loss is “gonna be big [to us].” His injury chips at the Spartans’ depth, something the Spartans would like to have as they make their way through another tough non-conference schedule with opponents like Duke, Georgia Tech, Kansas and Notre Dame slated.
  3. The season hasn’t even started, but Richard Pitino is already dealing with some off-the-court issues, as Minnesota dismissed junior Zach Lofton on Wednesday with no specific explanation given for his cause for dismissal. The 6’4″ wing had transferred to Minnesota from Illinois State, where he averaged 11.3 PPG and 3.0 RPG last season. His dismissal has no effect with respect to this season, as Lofton would have had to redshirt this year anyway. But it’s certainly not ideal and leaves a hole in Pitino’s lineup for the 2015-16 season that he will need to fill. Not a great start for the Golden Gophers.
  4. Earlier in the week, SBNation released its Top 100 players list. Yesterday, CBSSports.com did likewise. One big difference between the two lists was with the ranking of Sam Dekker, who came in at #5 on the latter as opposed to #33 on the former. Another huge difference in ranking was Ohio State’s freshman D’Angelo Russell, who was listed all the way up at #44 on CBS and was left off the list altogether on SBNation. They reached some consensus, however, with Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Michigan’s Caris Levert as top 10 players. Finally, while SBNation put 15 B1G players on its list, CBS was more bearish on the conference’s talent with only 11 players. These lists make for fun fodder, but honestly, it’ll be nice just to get through all this and focus on the games.
  5. Lastly, Indiana’s Tom Crean is trying to get his Hoosiers squad ready for game shape this week. The Hoosiers lost some key players from last year’s squad, such as Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Noah Vonleh, four-year contributor Will Sheehey, and a bunch of transfers. This lack in continuity is showing as the coach has to impress upon his squad to avoid “defensive fatigue”. While the Hoosiers lost a bunch of talent, they also brought in a quality freshmen class. Crean will need to get his star point guard, Yogi Ferrell, to whip those youngsters in shape if they’re to avoid another disappointing season.
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Big Ten M5: 10.24.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 24th, 2014

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  1. Obviously, the biggest change this season is the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the league as the Big Ten made the final chess move in this round of conference expansion. Tom Dienhart wrote a nice piece about how expansion may reclaim some east coast favorability for the conference. Now that the as-currently-constructed Big East is no longer the dominant college hoops brand, it leaves a vacuum in the most populous corner of the country. It’s no coincidence that the Big Ten is having their conference tournament in Washington, DC in 2017. They are battling the ACC for the Northeast’s eyes and recruits. And now that they have three teams in the area — and added even more markets to their TV network — they have the footprint to compete.
  2. The Terrapins and Scarlet Knights may be the freshest faces in the league this season, but Chris Collins is still pretty new as he enters his second season as Northwestern‘s head coach. ESPN‘s Myron Metcalf spent some time with the former Duke assistant in Evanston, and asked him when he thought the Wildcats would make the NCAA Tournament. “I definitely think it is [around the corner]. When that happens I don’t know.” That’s as optimistic as you can be for something that’s never happened, EVER. But Collins has reasons to be optimistic, they were a Top 15 team in the country in adjusted defensive rating last season, they return four of their five starters, and Top 100 recruit Vic Law joins their squad. Pair that with everyone besides Wisconsin being a little bit down from last season, there just might be an opening for these Wildcats to make history.
  3. Michigan lost a good amount of its backcourt from last season. This year, all eyes will be on Caris Levert to make up for the loss in scoring and for Derrick Walton Jr. to run the team’s offense. But not as much attention has been paid to the other likely backcourt starter, Zak Irvin. The sophomore and former Mr. Indiana was extremely effective from the outside in limited minutes, but provided little of anything else. However, Wolverine fans had to be happy to hear that he was dominant on the offensive end in Michigan’s European summer tour. If he can expand his game to inside the perimeter, it’ll give this team another dynamic scorer and make our predictions of Michigan basketball taking a step back seem foolish.
  4. I’ve never been to a Midnight Madness, but I’ve heard from those who have attended that after the pomp and circumstance, it’s not really anything to write home about. If there was an exception to this rule, I bet it would lie in Bloomington with Hoosier Hysteria. Indiana has the crazy fan base and history to electrify such an event. One thing that may have me watching is the slam dunk contest with their ridiculous athletes. Now, if only Tom Crean can get those athletes to play as one offensive unit, the Hoosiers may be celebrating at end of the season like they’ll be celebrating on Friday.
  5. Finally, it was rumored that Tom Izzo had the opportunity to leave Michigan State this past offseason and coach an NBA team. He ended up staying for many reasons, but perhaps one of them is the job Mark Dantonio is doing with the football team.  As much of a legend Izzo is in East Lansing, the money will always follow football. So it’s probably not a coincident that Michigan State received its largest single donation of $10 million while the football team seems to be on its way to a consecutive conference championship. Basketball will actually get a plurality of that money for capital improvement in the Breslin Center, but there should be no doubt that the money comes in easier when you have a successful football program that excites big donors.
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Big Ten M5: 10.22.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 22nd, 2014

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  1. Wisconsin has been justifiably more in the spotlight than any other Big Ten team this preseason, and that’s mostly because the Badgers return four starters from a team that made the Final Four. Despite heightened expectations in Madison, Bo Ryan is just happy to get another chance at his first Division I National Championship. The Badgers’ head coach is “the same coach, he’s always as hard on us if we’re winning games, and if we’re losing games,” according to senior Frank Kaminsky. Wisconsin scaled back its preseason work slightly this year, but the consistency of Ryan combined with his veteran cast makes it hard to bet against Wisconsin playing deep into March once again this season.
  2. Caris LeVert had a breakout season last year, and with all that Michigan lost from its Elite Eight team last year, he will need to take another couple of steps forward for the Wolverines to be back in the mix for a B1G title. LeVert will now be the primary option for John Beilein’s offense, as Michigan will continue to play outside-in running his system. It will be up to LeVert, Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin to step into bigger roles because of the team’s inexperience down low, but the freshmen big men will have an easier transition playing in a system that won’t feature them in much of a scoring role.
  3. Rutgers is now a part of the Big Ten, but it’s not because of anything the school has done that’s noteworthy on the basketball court. The Scarlet Knights are still shaking off the stink of the Mike Rice scandal, but there is a bigger problem than that, according to Dave White of SBNation. The facilities are in grave need of an upgrade, and recruits will only take Rutgers seriously once significant improvements are made. The Rutgers football program has been respectable in recent years, and much of that is due to a complete renovation of their facilities. They need to look no further than the basketball program at Lincoln, Nebraska, to see what a new coach and upgrades to the arena and locker rooms can do. Eddie Jordan might be the right coach for the Scarlet Knights with his NBA pedigree, but they will need more than just him to compete in the Big Ten.
  4. Tim Miles is starting to make a great deal of headway in recruiting the state of Illinois. He has already secured verbal commitments from Class of 2015 members Glynn Watson from St Joseph’s in Westchester, and Edward Morrow from Chicago powerhouse Simeon. Now he has 2016 forward Isaiah Roby also in the fold. Roby hails from Dixon, Illinois, and is a 6’8″ forward with a versatile skill set. He joins Keanu Pinder in the 2016 Nebraska class so far.
  5. There’s a great deal of pressure on Maryland and Mark Turgeon this season as he looks to guide the Terrapins to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his tenure at the school. Even with the recent injury to probable starter Evan Smotrycz, Turgeon is still upbeat and excited about his team. The injury to the veteran will give him an opportunity to provide more minutes to the freshman class he’s assembled. If he chooses to go small, freshman guards Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens are in line to see more minutes, and Turgeon also mentioned that freshman guard Melo Trimble will more than likely be his starting point guard.
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Ten Offseason Storylines From the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 15th, 2014

We’re about a month away from Big Ten basketball once again being a part of our lives. Things at the B1G microsite have been quiet since then, but that doesn’t mean nothing has happened since last April. So here’s a quick refresher to get everybody back up to speed since we last saw Wisconsin lose a heart-breaker to Kentucky in the Final Four. These 10 offseason storylines are in no particular order, but they will impact what will happen this season.

Frank Kaminsky came back to school for his senior season to lead a veteran Wisconsin team with a chance to go back to the  Final Four. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Frank Kaminsky came back to school for his senior season to lead a veteran Wisconsin team with a chance to go back to the
Final Four. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker Returned to School: Postseason souting reports had Kaminsky going everywhere from #15 to #45 in the NBA Draft, even after a regular season where he led the Badgers in scoring and contributed NCAA Tournament averages of 16.4 PPG and 5.8 RPG on 55 percent shooting from the field. Dekker probably could have pursued NBA riches as well, but they both came back to Madison, making the Badgers — with two other returning starters in Josh Gasser and Traveon Jackson — an almost unanimous conference favorite.
  • Gary Harris and a Quartet of Michigan Players Didn’t: Things aren’t quite as rosy in East Lansing or Ann Arbor as far as preseason outlooks go. That’s because to the surprise of almost no one Gary Harris departed for the NBA after his sophomore year. This means that the Spartans will be without three of their four double-figure scorers from last season’s Elite Eight team. Meanwhile, Michigan is rebuilding things from scratch after the early NBA departures of sophomores Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary. None of the trio was ever a sure thing to jump to the pros, but things got especially wonky when it was learned that McGary would be suspended for the entire 2014-15 season due to a positive drug test during the NCAA tournament. Another Michigan gut punch was the transfer of Jon Horford to Florida, leaving the Wolverines with almost no experience on the front line heading into this season.

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AAC Tournament: Wednesday Recap/Thursday Preview

Posted by Will Tucker on March 13th, 2014

With the first round of the AAC Tournament in the books, we take a look at a few of the big takeaways from Wednesday night, as well as story lines to keep in mind on Thursday.

What went down on Wednesday

  • Rutgers completed a three-win sweep of South Florida, making the Bulls the only AAC team who failed to beat the Scarlet Knights this season. It was a frustrating loss for USF fans, whose team missed six consecutive free throws in the second half and couldn’t quite get over the hump. Victor Rudd had 22 points and seven rebounds but ended his USF career on a low note, losing an offensive rebound on a missed Rutgers free throw that all but sealed the deal for Eddie Jordan’s club.
  • UCF won, in spite of Donnie Jones. From the moment when Isaiah Sykes nailed a long three while getting hit in the face late in regulation, Temple seemed destined to let another close game slip away. But Jones kept the Owls in the game, inexplicably benching his best player and hot hand for the first three minutes of the first overtime and two minutes of the second overtime. Sykes had amassed 32 of his career-high 36 points in regulation, including six crucial points in the closing minutes, but it was senior forward Tristan Spurlock who saved the day with his defense in overtime, highlighted by two blocks in 20 seconds. For Temple, it was a merciful end to a season full of near misses.

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AAC M5: 03.06.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 6th, 2014

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  1. Russ Smith made his case for AAC Player of the Year last night by guiding Louisville to an 84-71 victory over SMU, stringing together a 26-point, six-rebound, five-assist performance in a very inhospitable Moody Coliseum. WDRB [Louisville] columnist Rick Bozich recalls that Larry Brown was quick to dismiss comparisons between Smith and his former player Allen Iverson at AAC Media Day last October. Louisville’s senior guard gave Brown more than a few reasons to reconsider, though, after he orchestrated a masterful second half to hand SMU its first and only home loss of the season – on senior night, no less. That Smith tallied 22 of his game-high 26 points over the course of 10 minutes while hitting 6-of-6 three-point attempts from ludicrous distances was made all the more impressive by the sight of him periodically scrambling courtside to vomit into a trash can. It’s scary to imagine what other feats Smith might have accomplished had he not been suffering from a stomach virus.
  2. It might not have been obvious from his production on the court, but Louisville point guard Chris Jones was also suffering last night, although from far deeper wounds after his brother was fatally shot in Memphis last weekend. Demetrius Ray, a best friend to Jones and the son of his stepfather, died during the Cardinals’ game in the FedEx Forum on Saturday, which Jones learned of from his mother immediately after the team’s 72-66 loss. The junior college transfer admitted that he had spent much of this week crying in his room, but said he had also resolved to honor Ray by dedicating the season to him. “I’m doing what he wanted me to do,” Jones said after recording 21 points and six steals in his best performance of the season. “He wanted us to win the whole thing.” Louisville’s upcoming regular season finale against UConn represents a meeting of point guards who have recently experienced personal tragedies, as Ryan Boatright’s cousin was fatally shot in his hometown of Aurora, Illinois, in January.
  3. Rutgers fell short of playing spoiler to Shabazz Napier’s senior night, as UConn pulled out a 69-63 victory in which the Huskies’ All-American candidate ran up 26 points, four assists and three steals. The Scarlet Knights are now 0-5 at Gampel since their last win there in 1972, a record that may stand until the end of time now that Rutgers is headed for the Big Ten. Nonetheless, Jerry Carino of New Jersey Hoops Haven writes that the performance stood out as the most promising of any of the Scarlet Knights’ 11 road games this season — of which they have lost 10. Rutgers outrebounded UConn by nine, played frustrating interior defense, and had an opportunity to make it a one-possession game with 50 seconds left. “We’re not up for moral victories, winning is always No. 1,” said coach Eddie Jordan. “But 1-A is having a competitive spirit — our drive, our demeanor, how we compete. So 1-A was there.” Jordan added, “No one’s giving up. This was one of our most competitive games of the year. We’re not close to conceding the season.” Upperclassmen Wally Judge and Myles Mack reiterated their coach’s optimism, and Judge described the effort as “a turnaround from a lot of the selfishness that we’ve seen before.”
  4. In yesterday’s AAC Bracket Watch, RTC writer C.D. Bradley notes that there are still a lot of potential quality wins on the table to help Louisville, Cincinnati, SMU, UConn and Memphis improve their NCAA Tournament seeding. With each team still scheduled to play one or two of the other four in their remaining regular season games, and another top-half match-up almost unavoidable in the conference tournament, each squad has the opportunity to boost its resume with the addition of one or two quality wins to close out the season.
  5. With Doug Woolard on his way out as USF athletic director, Voodoo Five has put together an “odds board” speculating on the leading candidates to replace him. Rumored to be leading the pack with 3/1 odds is Texas Tech Deputy athletic director Joe Parker, who apparently has an existing relationship with the search firm working with USF. Parker previously did a long stint in the athletic department at Michigan, where he was apparently issued a letter of reprimand in connection with NCAA violations committed by the football program under Rich Rodriguez. Other front-runners reportedly include Fresno State AD Tom Boeh (7/1 odds), FSU Senior Associate Athletic Director, Monk Bonasorte (8/1), Auburn Executive Associate Athletic Director, Tim Jackson (15/1), and, interestingly, Dick Clark Productions Executive Vice President, Greg Economou.
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