Wisconsin Looks Much More Perimeter Heavy This Season

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 8th, 2013

It’s not often that fast and Wisconsin basketball are used in the same sentence. Since Bo Ryan has been the head coach in Madison, the Badgers have been known for playing big men who execute a deliberate style on the offensive end coupled with strong, take-no-prisoners halfcourt defense. During the past five seasons, Wisconsin’s scoring average hasn’t landed in the top half of the Big Ten, and last season it sat at eighth after averaging 66.2 points a game. The Badgers have also ranked in the bottom 25 Division I teams for possessions per game during four of the past five seasons. Well, get ready for a new look Wisconsin squad. With the graduation of several interior players and the return of Josh Gasser from an ACL injury, the Badgers are likely to use three- and perhaps even four-guard lineups a lot more this season.

Ben Brust is one of many guards that Wisconsin will utilize this season.(Photo credit: Brian Snyder/Reuters).

Ben Brust is one of many guards that Wisconsin will utilize this season.(Photo credit: Brian Snyder/Reuters).

Exactly how often Wisconsin may use a perimeter-heavy lineup isn’t certain, but based on its current roster, the Badgers will be doing it early and often. With the graduations of Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz, the majority of the team’s inside presence is gone outside of Sam Dekker. Those three averaged a total of more than 26 points and 19 rebounds a game for the team, with the best returning inside player other than Dekker being Frank Kaminsky, who only averaged 10 minutes per game last season. This makes interior play a huge question mark for this team, but Ryan certainly has plenty of known commodities on the perimeter. As he said at Wisconsin’s media day, “You think 12 guards is a lot?. It just panned out this way. It keeps a very high competitive level in the backcourt and all our drills and all our possessions.”

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Introducing the RTC All-Big Ten First Team

Posted by Jonathan Batuello (@jcbatuello) on November 7th, 2013

With the college season now just a single day away, the Big Ten microsite got together and voted for the various Big Ten awards and how we thought the standings would shake out. Earlier this week we released our All-Big Ten Second Team, and today, we reveal who we believe to the be the five best players in the conference. Be sure to also check out the other preseason prediction pieces we’ve released choosing our top sixth men, Freshman of the Year and the conference standings (#12 to #9; #8 to #5) before the games get started for real on Friday night.

Here’s our preseason All-Big Ten First Team:

Gary Harris and Adreien Payne Lead our All-Big Ten First Team Selections

Gary Harris and Adreian Payne Lead our All-Big Ten First Team Selections

Gary Harris, Sophomore, Michigan State 6’4″ 210 lbs (12.9 PPG, 1.4 SPG, 45.6% FG, 41.1% 3FG). Gary Harris and Michigan State have the chance at a special season. He was the only unanimous selection to the first team by the Big Ten microsite writers, and we already covered his potential to be the conference’s Player of the Year this season. He was considered a lottery pick had he left for the NBA after last season, and now he appears to be injury-free for the first time in his collegiate career. If the sophomore can find a way to create more of his own scoring opportunities and get to the foul line more often to round out his game, he will be sitting on top of the conference from both an individual and a team basis.

Mitch McGary, Sophomore, Michigan, 6’10” 255 lbs. (7.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 59.8% FG). There are two big questions surrounding Mitch McGary right now. The first is when will McGary return to the court from his back problems? The second is if what we saw during the NCAA Tournament last season is something he will be able to sustain? During that magical run to the national title game, the sophomore big man made quite the impact and showed the promise that had him flirting with leaving for the NBA Draft. The early thinking on whether he can keep that going is yes, as McGary has been named to the Oscar Robertson trophy preseason watch list. If the burly center gets 100 percent healthy and continues to dominate in the paint and score at a high level like he did during last March, he’ll be a huge asset as the two teams from the Great Lakes State battle for the Big Ten banner.

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Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky: The Next Jared Berggren?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 5th, 2013

Wisconsin does not function like most of the other perennial Top 25 teams. In this age of one-and-done factories, they actually have players that wait their turns as freshmen and sophomores before taking on bigger and more meaningful roles as upperclassmen. The latest player in this Madison assembly line is junior Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky is the next in a long line of pick-and-pop big men to take on a larger expected role now that he’s a junior. With the graduations of senior Badgers’ Ryan Evans, Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren, Kaminsky is the only post player on the roster who has any kind of experience, and his development will be a key factor in whether Bo Ryan’s team drops from its usual 20-plus win season. With an experienced backcourt and a rising star in sophomore Sam Dekker, how much production Wisconsin gets from Kaminsky will be the difference between having simply a good or a great season.

Frank Kaminsky will play a large part in how successful Wisconsin's season is this season. Frank Kaminsky will play a large part in how successful Wisconsin's season is this season.  (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Frank Kaminsky will play a large part in how successful Wisconsin’s season is this season. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

In his first two seasons, Kaminsky has shown flashes of being able to handle an expanded role. He has no problem being aggressive on the offensive end, as he has used 21.3 percent of Wisconsin possessions when he is on the floor. He also has shown no issue taking threes despite his 6’11” stature, shooting 80 triples out of a total of 154 field goal attempts in his his two-year career. His eFG% of 51.0 percent could be better, but it sits right at about the level of another very productive former Wisconsin big man, Keaton Nankivil, who also waited his turn. In looking at the numbers of the last two big men in Ryan’s swing offense, it’s a safe assumption that Kaminsky is due for a statistical jump across the board. Nankivil went from averaging 14 minutes, 4.5 points, 2.5 rebounds per game, and nine made threes, to 25 minutes, 8.1 points, 4.7 rebounds per game, and 24 threes as a junior. Berggren had an even greater statistical spike between his sophomore and junior years, going from 6.9 minutes, 2.4 points, 1.1 rebounds per game, and 22 threes, to 27.8 minutes, 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds per game, and 45 made threes. It’s safe to assume that Kaminsky is next in line to make the jump.

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Who’s the Best 3-Point Shooter in the Big Ten? An Analytical Look…

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 5th, 2013

The title of this post asks a pretty straightforward question: Who is the best shooter from deep in the Big Ten? Seems simple enough. But how do you define the “best” three-point shooter? Is it the player who makes the most threes? Is it the player who makes the highest percentage of his threes? Is it the shooting specialist who contributes the most to his team’s wins?  The best approach, of course, is to appreciate all three characteristics. So let’s do exactly that and look into the numbers.

Andre Hollins lit it up from deep last year.

Andre Hollins lit it up from deep last year. (AP)

First, we need to create a list of players in the Big Ten who meet certain criteria. For the purpose of this analysis, we will only include returning Big Ten players and use last season’s statistics for measurement. While we recognize that freshmen can be highly effective from long range right out of the gate — look no further than Michigan sophomore Nik Stauskas last year — we have no set methodology for projecting freshman output from their high school performance. Therefore, in the interest of convenience, no freshmen are included in this list. The next criterion is that players must have attempted at least 100 3-pointers last season and shot at least 30 percent from deep. This filters out players with a high percentage from a small sample size of 3-point attempts and gunners who put up too many bricks to be considered top-tier shooters.

The table below displays our initial list of candidates given those criteria, and their pertinent statistics from the 2012-13 season (from basketball-reference.com).

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Expectations on Sophomore Big Ten Stars Should Be Tempered

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on October 29th, 2013

This year’s sophomore class in the Big Ten includes a number of players who will have huge roles on their respective teams. Some are stepping into roles involving greater expectations, such as Yogi Ferrell at Indiana and Glenn Robinson III at Michigan, due to players leaving for graduation or the NBA. Others have a good bit of talent returning around them, like in the cases of Gary Harris at Michigan State and AJ Hammons at Purdue, and they will try to meld their skills into the team concept as they help their teams compete. There’s a common assumption that freshman college basketball players will make a “jump” in their learning curves between their first and second years in a program, but there’s a lot of dispute over just what that jump actually entails.

Yogi Ferrell Leads a Strong Sophomore Group in the Big Ten

Yogi Ferrell Leads a Strong Sophomore Group in the Big Ten

How big of a jump can a team expect from players who already produced plenty as freshmen? The best way to analyze this would be to look at all Big Ten freshmen’s changes in their statistical profiles from their first to second years, but without going overboard with too much analysis on this, it makes just as much sense to review the all-Big Ten Freshman teams. As you can see below on the attached Excel sheet (click through to open the entire document), the devil is in the details. For freshmen who already substantially produced in their first collegiate year, the “jump” that we were expecting doesn’t really show up during their sophomore seasons.

All-B1G Freshman to Sophomore Stats

Increases in production are minimal from these players: an addition of less than one point per game, less than half an assist and less than a third of a rebound. In terms of shooting percentages, there is a notable decrease both overall and from the three-point line. For teams like Indiana and Michigan that are expecting big bumps from their returnees playing larger roles, these trends could be a sign of worry. In terms of points production, no single player had a greater than four-point per game increase and only four out of the 21 who stayed for their sophomore seasons saw an increase of more than two points per game.

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20 Questions: Does Sam Dekker Make Wisconsin a Final Four Contender?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 21st, 2013

seasonpreview-1

Semantics matter. And semantics makes this one a no-brainer, in so many ways. No, Sam Dekker does not make Wisconsin a Final Four contender. Now don’t get me wrong, Wisconsin may well indeed be a Final Four contender (a question I’ll get to later), but if so, it is not solely due to Dekker. First and foremost, basketball is a team sport that requires five competent players on the court playing well together. And even in the best of cases, one superstar coupled with four, well, schmucks, does not make for a Final Four team, no matter how good that superstar is. And at a place like Wisconsin with a coach like Bo Ryan, this goes double. Under Ryan’s swing offense, the Badgers are going to run sound fundamental offensive basketball, coupled with hard-nosed stingy defense on the other end of the court, and they are going to take what the opponent gives them. Sometimes that will mean Dekker will be able to have big nights, but on other occasions, Wisconsin is going to need big contributions elsewhere. Even if Dekker has the best year in the history of Wisconsin basketball, the Badgers will still need some help.

Sam Dekker Leading Wisconsin To A Final Four? There Are Plenty Of Reasons To Be Skeptical (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker Leading Wisconsin To A Final Four? There Are Plenty Of Reasons To Be Skeptical. (USA Today Sports)

The second thought about this question, even taking away the nitpicking first paragraph of my answer is this: What has Sam Dekker done so far to deserve anything approaching a “yes” answer here? I like Dekker’s game and I know damn well that one of the things that makes Ryan such a successful coach is his ability to get players to improve from year to year. So I fully expect him to significantly better his 9.6 point and 3.4 rebound per game averages from his freshman campaign. And clearly with Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren all gone from the Wisconsin front line, there is going to plenty of room for Dekker to pile up minutes and crank up the production. But the fact that those three seniors have graduated means this team is less likely to compete for a Final Four this season than last, a year in which, I might remind you, the Badgers got knocked out in their opening game of the NCAA Tournament. Even if Dekker goes out and averages something like the 19.4 points per game he dropped in Wisconsin’s summer trip to Canada (a nightly average which would be the best year out of a Wisconsin player since Alando Tucker won the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2007), he’s still going to need plenty of scoring help from the returning backcourt of Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson, along with Josh Gasser, who returns from a season lost to an ACL tear. And frankly, while we can expect Dekker to improve, can we really expect him as a sophomore to be as good or better than guys like Tucker or Jon Leuer were as seniors? I think not.

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Morning Five: 08.29.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 29th, 2013

morning5

  1. It’s not very often that a piece of random news floors us, but the revelation that former Washington State, Iowa and USC head coach George Raveling has in his possession a copy of one of Martin Luther King’s original “I Have a Dream” speeches is nothing short of astonishing. CBS News reported on Tuesday that the 76-year old coach and media personality — then an assistant coach at Villanova — was one of the volunteer security marshals standing on the Mall near King 50 years ago when he delivered his rousing speech, and that King handed him a copy of it as he stepped off the podium. One expert on genuine historical documents estimated that Raveling’s copy could be worth as much as $20-25 million on the open market, given that King’s most famous speech was given at the height of the civil rights movement. It is sometimes so beautifully strange how life intersects with itself.
  2. And on that note, we move to eligibility issues. The NCAA ruled Wednesday on the case of former Louisville and Florida International forward Rakeem Buckles, a fifth-year senior who had applied for a transfer waiver (based on FIU’s postseason ban) to play at Minnesota this season. If his appeal is denied, Buckles will be forced into a precarious situation where if he stays at Minnesota he risks gambling that the NCAA will allow him a sixth year of eligibility in 2014-15 (no slam dunk), or he will have to return to FIU this season to play in a no-win situation there. For Minnesota, a team facing a significant rebuilding project inside after losing most of its frontcourt talent, Buckles was expected to help man the interior for new head coach Richard Pitino. Now all he can do is cross his fingers and hope for the best.
  3. We mentioned the Lindy’s top 10 rankings in yesterday’s M5, and that created a bit of a firestorm on Twitter as a result. But the truth is that in today’s college basketball environment there are no teams in any year that don’t come in with weaknesses. The most experienced teams are short on talent; and the most talented teams are short on experience. As a result, your preseason top 10 might look a good bit different than ours, and even splitting the difference, there’s a better than reasonable chance that both of us will be completely wrong. The Sporting News yesterday released its 16 regional magazine covers, in the process also unveiling its preseason top 10, and needless to say, there were fewer surprises than with Lindy’s. Mike DeCourcy took time to break down each team’s glaring weakness, and as we’ve said before, even using the dreaded slideshow format, he gives great analysis that makes it worth the click-throughs. Although we’re still not sold on North Carolina, fellas, just for the record.
  4. One of the teams we do believe in next season is Duke, and it goes without saying that Mike Krzyzewski will mold his personnel into a tightly-knit unit that maximizes the talent it can put on the floor. One of K’s all-time great point guards — and there have been several — was Bobby Hurley, and as the standard by which most of the others are measured, he is about to begin his first season as a Division I head coach at the University of Buffalo. ESPN.com‘s Dana O’Neil writes that Hurley the head coach is truthfully in no hurry to get his young charges started on their first season with him at the helm — in fact, he wants as much time as possible to set goals and expectations. Of course, there’s no telling whether the superb floor game and team leadership that Hurley possessed in spades at Duke can effectively translate to players two decades later who have barely heard of him, but if there’s any of the brand-new coaches we’d be willing on betting on, it would probably be this one. The guy has always been a winner.
  5. Where is Canada? We feel like there’s a South Park reference in that question somewhere, but that didn’t stop Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker from doing an ad lib Jaywalking-style Q&A with his teammates about all things above the border. It’s more cute than clever, but we will give it up for the #goodjobgoodeffort of somehow bringing Ryan Gosling into the mix.  But that’s enough from us, enjoy your Thursday, the starting date of the college football season, and feel free to start it off with the video.

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Big Ten M5: 03.06.13 Edition

Posted by jnowak on March 6th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. When your NCAA Tournament hopes went out the window months ago, and there’s only a teeny-tiny chance you’ll be playing any postseason basketball at all, you have to focus on other ways to get something out of the season. That’s an unfamiliar feeling for Purdue, but it’s becoming a reality during this rebuilding season. While searching for the smaller things to get excited about, Matt Painter has found pleasure in the Boilermakers’ stretch of three games following their off-week. They’ve won two of the three, including an improbable win in Madison on Sunday against Wisconsin. “I think anytime you get extra time in the gym to get shots up, it helps,” Painter said. “My point to them was this is something you should always do, and I think coming from a team standpoint, it helps us.” The Boilermakers can use all the good mojo they can muster with tough games against Michigan and Minnesota remaining before the Big Ten Tournament.
  2. Cody Zeller may not be the National Player of the Year, or even the Big Ten Player of the Year, that we thought he’d be at the beginning of this season. But Tom Crean believes what many others still believe to be true — Zeller’s time in Bloomington may still be short, so he advises Hoosier fans to enjoy watching the center in an Indiana jersey while they can.  The Hoosiers are likely to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and should make a good run at the school’s first national title since 1987. The closer they get, the more likely Zeller is to bolt for the NBA. He’ll almost certainly be a lottery pick. So as Assembly Hall honored the team’s seniors on Tuesday night against Ohio State, was it also the last time Zeller set foot on the floor as a player?
  3. It’s impossible to have the conversation about the Big Ten’s talented freshmen this year without talking about Wisconsin‘s Sam Dekker. It’s not often that Bo Ryan lands a high-profile recruit, and it’s not often that a freshman makes his way into the Wisconsin playing rotation, but Dekker is clearly a special player. He joins Josh Gasser, Alando Tucker, and Devin Harris as the only players to ever start for Ryan in their first year, and he leads all Big Ten sixth men with 9.6 PPG this year. He’s been blanketed at times in the rotation by Ryan Evans, but you can believe we will be seeing plenty of this young player for many years to come.
  4. Keith Appling has been known as Michigan State‘s closer, and one of the Spartans’ best defenders (and, at times, both). Now, he’s struggling in both of those departments. The junior guard was better against Michigan on Sunday, but is still mired in a bit of a funk that has gone on while the Spartans have dropped three straight. It’s no coincidence that as Appling’s play has declined, the Spartans have continued to lose. And the perception of them also has continued to slip. “Things just haven’t been going my way lately, but I’m a mentally tough person,” Appling said. “So, I don’t let it bother me too much. I just watch the film and try to grow from it.” It’s no secret that if the Spartans are going to make one of their patented March runs, they need Appling play more like himself.
  5. There were plenty of differences between Michigan State’s romp over rival Michigan a few weeks ago and the Wolverines’ close win on Sunday in Ann Arbor. But few were more significant than the play of Michigan freshman Mitch McGary, who had four points and four turnovers in the first meeting, then turned around and had 11 points and four boards (three offensive) in 21 minutes of the rematch. Derrick Nix dominated the Wolverines inside in the first meeting, either by scoring or kicking back out to find the Spartans’ guards, but the Michigan State big man was rendered mostly ineffective on Sunday and much of that credit has to go to McGary. The Wolverines have always had one of the best backcourts in the country, but if they can get consistent play from the freshman, they are back to being a national title contender.
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Previewing Wisconsin-Ohio State: All Eyes on Deshaun Thomas

Posted by jnowak on January 29th, 2013

Here are a few coinciding items pertinent to Tuesday night’s Wisconsin-Ohio State game:

  1. Wisconsin is one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten.
  2. Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas is one of the best, if not the best, scorer in the Big Ten.
  3. Beyond Thomas, Ohio State doesn’t have much consistent scoring to rely upon.
This man is the focal point for Ohio State every game. Wisconsin should have that in its scouting report Tuesday.

This man is the focal point for Ohio State every game. Wisconsin should have that in its scouting report Tuesday.

That, in a nutshell, is what to keep an eye on Tuesday when the two teams meet in Columbus. Wisconsin has been an enigma this season, struggling through most of its non-conference schedule before apparently getting its act together at the beginning of Big Ten play. But they’ve suffered some puzzling losses while also managing to win back-to-back games without eclipsing 50 points for the first time in 16 years. Ohio State, meanwhile, has won most of the games it’s been expected to, but faltered in most of the marquee match-ups. In a talent-laden conference like this one, that’s not going to get them very far this year. But on a smaller scale, let’s take a slightly closer look at Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas conundrum and how it impacts both these teams.

There are essentially two ways you can play Ohio State. You can let Thomas get somewhere around his scoring average — he scores a Big Ten-best 20.0 PPG — while limiting the rest of the Buckeyes. Lenzelle Smith Jr., LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson are all possible second scoring options (with all due respect to Aaron Craft, who is a terrific point guard, but that is not his role), though none have performed with any consistency. Only one of them averages in double-figures (Smith, just barely, with 10.2 PPG) and, consequently, the Buckeyes are one of just two conference teams without two players in the Big Ten’s top 30 in scoring (Purdue is the other). Yes, Penn State, winless in Big Ten play, has two players in the league’s top seven. And Nebraska, nearly as bad as the Nittany Lions, has three in the top 20. But I digress.

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Evaluating Big Ten Freshmen After the Non-Conference Season: Part Two

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on January 4th, 2013

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

In case you missed it earlier this week, we evaluated the freshmen from Indiana, Michigan and Iowa after the non-conference season. Today, we look into the true freshmen from Michigan State, Wisconsin and Purdue.

Gary Harris has shown flashes of brilliance so far but is capable of more for Michigan State (Detroit News)

Gary Harris has shown flashes of brilliance so far but is capable of more for Michigan State (Detroit News)

Michigan State: Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine

Harris has been a tease with the Spartans so far this season. He has shown flashes of brilliance such as against Kansas when he scored 18 points by consistently cutting to the hoop to make easy layups. Since that game, however, he has not been overly impressive with his scoring because he has settled for the three-point shot too much. Harris can improve his long-range shooting from 31% but his main strength lies in the ability to score around the basket. Against the Gophers he was 1-of-5 from beyond the arc but needs to better play to his strengths during the conference season. Overall, he hasn’t disappointed with his 12.3 PPG in 26.5 MPG but he will continue to be called upon to pick up some scoring slack especially if Keith Appling draws the best defending guard from the opposition. While Harris’ role is clearly defined, his fellow freshmen guard Valentine has been a jack of all trades for Tom Izzo. Valentine can best be described as a “grinder” with his style of play. His statistics aren’t impressive – just 6.0 PPG in 22.3 MPG, but Valentine is an excellent rebounder for a guard (4.3 RPG) and has shown a knack for playing excellent defense. Rarely do you find a player who will impress Izzo as a freshman because Michigan State always has great upperclassmen, but you can tell that Valentine will be a special player in East Lansing by the time he leaves campus. Expect him to average about 23 MPG and help the Spartans on the defensive end during the rigorous Big Ten season.

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Examining Some Warning Signs for Wisconsin’s Defense

Posted by KTrahan on November 28th, 2012

Defense has always been a hallmark of Wisconsin’s formula for success. By keeping scores low and turnovers to a minimum, the Badgers are able to win games year after year. But this season, Bo Ryan’s team has struggled to defend other top teams. The problem isn’t turnovers or a lack of offense; rather, as BTN.com’s Big Ten Geeks writes, the Badgers have struggled with defensive rebounding and fouling too much. Wisconsin has done well against opponents it physically out-matches — the Badgers defeated Southeastern Louisiana, Cornell and Presbyterian by an average of 39 points each — but the team has struggled against opponents that can earn easy second-chance points. Wisconsin was out-rebounded by 18 against Florida and two against Creighton, while Florida got to the free throw line six more times than the Badgers, and Creighton got there 10 more times. Florida and Creighton are both very good teams, so losses in those games aren’t terrible for the Badgers’ postseason resume, but their defensive rebounding and fouling issues could lead to more trouble down the road.

It’s Hard to Believe That Bo Ryan’s Team is Struggling Defensively

No matter how Wisconsin defends, though, the Badgers will continue to struggle if they give teams extra possessions and frequently puts them on the line. Losing to Top 25 teams this early in the season may not matter all that much, but if this becomes a pattern, it could spell trouble for the Badgers down the road. We all know how tough  the Big Ten is this year, so Wisconsin won’t have as many chances to beat up on weaker teams once it gets into league play in January. The Badgers must use the rest of the non-conference slate to prepare for the coming uptick in competition, starting with consecutive games against Virginia and California, then later, a game against Marquette. That should give us a better understanding of where this Wisconsin team is headed.

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Big Ten M5: 11.28.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on November 28th, 2012

  1. One of the most surprising things about Minnesota‘s fantastic start has been what it’s been able to do considering Trevor Mbakwe‘s contribution (or lack thereof). The senior and former All-Big Ten forward has been practically a non-factor at times for the Gophers as he comes back from an injury that sidelined him for most of the 2011-12 season and a tumultuous offseason. To counter that counter-production, the team has relied on other scorers, and some lesser-known role players like Andre Ingram and Maverick Ahanmisi. Ingram, a senior, has turned into a sort of do-everything glue guy that handles a lot of the dirty work Mbakwe typically does and is just “a real hard worker” as teammate Andre Hollins told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Ahanmisi has filled a critical role as well as the team’s backup point guard.
  2. When it comes to shooting — either good or bad — teams often revert to the mean. And that’s what can make relying heavily on the three-point shot so difficult: When it’s good, it’s good. When it’s not, it can really cause problems. Illinois has jumped out to a fast start largely thanks to hot shooting from long distance but, as Loren Tate puts it, it’s live by the three and die by the three. The Illini used threes to beat Gardner-Webb and Hawaii at the last moment, and as a whole, are averaging almost 15 more points per game this season thanks to five additional three-point buckets. But can they sustain that pace through the remainder of the non-conference slate and into Big Ten play? History says that’s probably unlikely.
  3. When All-American center Jared Sullinger was on his way out, there was sure to be a considerable void in Ohio State‘s frontcourt. Part of that burden could be shouldered by the versatile Deshaun Thomas, but some of it would also have to fall onto former McDonald’s All-American and now-sophomore Amir Williams. His minutes have more than doubled (from 6.6 MPG to 13.5), and his point production has gone up accordingly (from 1.7 PPG to 3.5) but it’s still not enough to keep opponents honest in the paint. He contributed a vital nine minutes in last year’s Elite Eight win against Syracuse, leaving fans optimistic about this season, but since then, there hasn’t been much improvement. And coach Thad Matta is waiting.
  4. Tom Izzo recognizes the value of conference expansion. It improves the Big Ten’s footprint, which now reaches to the East Coast thanks to Rutgers and Maryland. It’s a huge revenue boost, largely thanks to the Big Ten Network and its new market reach. But with that comes negative consequences too; namely, the value placed on the regular season conference title. That will surely be diluted with a 14-team league (soon to be 16?) and teams not having the opportunity to play each other regularly. Simply put, the more teams in the conference, the more one-time meetings over the course of a year and the harder it is to really evaluate which team is the best during the regular season. The conference tournament is already a tough enough litmus test, but now the regular season title is becoming even more diluted.
  5. Wisconsin freshman Sam Dekker was heralded as one of the best recruits in the Bo Ryan era, and he’s found a way to stay motivated early on. The problem is, the Badgers’ early season losses that are fueling his fire. Wisconsin has already dropped two games, and they seem to be eating away at the former five-star recruit. Dekker is averaging 19.8 MPG this season and after a 10-point loss to Creighton, he responded with season highs in points (19) and minutes (26) in a victory against Arkansas. “Winning is everything to me,” Dekker said, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “I am crushed when we lose… Going out and losing to two teams already in the first six games, if that’s not telling you that you have to get into the gym and work harder, I don’t know what is.”
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