What Are Big Ten Teams Seeking This Weekend?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 19th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

While it’s unlikely that all seven Big Ten teams will still be around at the end of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, each has something to gain from even just one win. None of the matchups on Thursday and Friday are overly imposing, and in actuality, many of them seem to be pretty equal. The Round of 32 could be a different story, but here’s what each team has on the line with a quality opening weekend performance:

Troy Williams will need to play well for IU to advance.   (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

Troy Williams will need to play well for Indiana to advance. (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

  • Indiana: This NCAA Tournament appearance is all about showing that the program hasn’t hit a wall under head coach Tom Crean and it’s about quieting the critics that have been out in full force this year. A win over a Wichita State squad with plenty of excellent experience in four starters who made the Final Four two seasons ago would be a nice victory for a team with no seniors and almost no size. Winning a second game against fellow blue-blood Kansas would give the Hoosiers valuable March experience to build upon with a great majority of the team scheduled to return next season.
  • Iowa: Iowa can regain some of the credibility it lost from last season’s nosedive. The Hawkeyes still have some problems with consistency although they’ve been slightly better in closing out the 2014-15 campaign. Fran McCaffery‘s team avoided the First Four this time around but it still has a difficult opener against the Atlantic 10 regular season champion, Davidson. Just being back in March Madness, though, isn’t good enough for Hawkeyes fans. Mostly the same cast of characters played significant minutes in last season’s opening round loss to Tennessee, so winning a game or two here will show that this talented crew didn’t underachieve during its time in Iowa City. McCaffery doesn’t have to face the same amount of pressure that someone like Crean does at Indiana, but losing early in March once again won’t exactly help him either.
  • Maryland: The Terrapins were ranked for most of the season, eventually making their way into the top 10 at the end of the year. Despite how Maryland fared in the polls, they ended up with only a #4 seed and have a challenging road to the Sweet Sixteen. This means that they need to get to the second weekend to show the committee and others that they were justifiably ranked where they were. They were the second best team in the conference for much of the season, but an early flame-out in March would give the critics of Big Ten basketball plenty of ammunition in saying that the league didn’t deserve seven bids. The Terps need to avoid the upset bug and make a solid run.

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Previewing Ohio State vs. Purdue: Focus on the Supporting Casts

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 4th, 2015

If you were asked to pick the players who will be key performers in tonight’s battle between 6-3 teams Purdue and Ohio State, names like D’Angelo Russell, AJ Hammons, and Shannon Scott would probably be your first answers. Certainly those players will have an impact on the outcome of this important mid-conference season game, but there are also a few other names who will be important as well. Three players in tonight’s battle who log heavy minutes have been trending up over the last two weeks, and here’s who each is poised to make a meaningful impact.

Raphael Davis has carried his share of the weight this season for Purdue. (Mike Fenner, Indianapolis Star)

Raphael Davis has carried his share of the weight this season for Purdue. (Mike Fenner, Indianapolis Star)

  • Raphael Davis, Purdue: Davis has been Purdue’s defensive go-to-guy, as he’s able to guard the gamut from point guards to power forwards. He may face his biggest challenge of the season tonight, though, as he’ll likely have the primary responsibility in trying to shut down the Buckeyes’ Russell. He has proven capable of harassing Michigan’s Caris LeVert, among others, this season, but his focus shouldn’t necessarily be to completely shut the star freshman down. Russell is seemingly getting any shot he wants within the Ohio State offense, so if Davis can force him right and be physical with him without fouling, the Buckeyes will struggle to put points on the board.
  • Jae’Sean Tate, Ohio State: Tate should be mentioned on any list of the B1G’s top freshmen after his play since entering Ohio State’s starting lineup. He’s accounted for 12.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and 51.4 percent shooting from the field since becoming a starter. Much like Davis, Tate brings great energy and tenaciousness that will be vastly important tonight. He’ll likely have to bang with both Hammons and Isaac Haas at some point, and despite giving up considerable height, may be able to use his quickness to get to the rim and to create some second-chance opportunities.

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Big Ten Point Guard Title Belt: Update #1

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 28th, 2015

On January 10, the B1G point guard title belt was introduced in an effort to determine (unofficially) which player is the best floor general in the league. Since then, a series of injuries and inconsistent play have resulted in the mythical belt already changing hands four times. Volatility is enhanced by the fact that one-game sample sizes lend themselves to frequent changes, but only one player has been able earn the belt and keep it. Here’s a brief rundown on how the belt changed hands over the past couple of weeks and which point guard presently holds the title.

After taking over the primary point guard responsibilities from the injured Traveon jackson, Bronson Koenig has been solid. (AP)

After taking over the primary point guard responsibilities from the injured Traveon jackson, Bronson Koenig has been solid. (AP)

  • January 10: Michigan 62, Minnesota 57. In his first game as the belt-holder, Minnesota’s Deandre Mathieu struggled to the tune of a disastrous individual offensive rating of 30.0 — going scoreless and turning the ball over five times in 29 minutes. Meanwhile, Michigan’s Derrick Walton, Jr went 3-of-4 from behind the arc en route to a 15-point performance. The sophomore only notched three assists against two turnovers, but his 136.0 offensive rating was the highest on his team in the victory.
  • January 13: Ohio State 71, Michigan 52. Walton’s reign at the top was a short one, as Ohio State convincingly beat the Wolverines in their Super Tuesday match-up in Columbus. The Buckeyes’ Shannon Scott notched seven points and eight assists to go along with only one turnover, and even though he didn’t shoot the ball very well (3-of-9 from the field), he outplayed Walton, who posted a dismal offensive rating of 43.0 with two points (1-of-7 shooting) and two assists.

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Introducing the Big Ten Point Guard Title Belt

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 8th, 2015

Point guard play has been the difference in many games involving Big Ten teams this season, but if fans who follow the league were asked to name its best floor general, several different answers would be given. Do you value a scoring guard like Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell or do you fancy a pass-first type like Ohio State’s Shannon Scott. Each team around the conference has a point guard who impacts the team’s bottom line by how or well or poorly they play on a given night, so how do you determine which player is the best? It’s a tricky question, but one that I’ve decided to tackle here. Per KenPom’s metrics, considering all point guards who have played at least 50.0 percent of their teams’ available minutes, there are 18 eligible Big Ten players. That group was then rank-ordered into five categories: free throw percentage; assist-to-turnover ratio; assist rate; effective field goal percentage; and steal rate.

Shannon Scott is one of the best point guards in the B1G, but is he the best?(AP)

Shannon Scott is one of the best point guards in the B1G, but is he the best?(AP)

These five metrics could arguably be tweaked or weighted by importance, but each represents a valuable commodity for someone who has the ball in his hands for a good portion of the game. Good point guards need to make free throws; they are expected to get their teammates involved; and they have to either be a capable shooter from behind the arc or get into the lane for high percentage shots. Defensively, a point guard needs to be able to pressure and irritate their assignments, and while steal rate isn’t a perfect indicator, individual defensive metrics are notoriously difficult to compare. Keeping in mind that statistics are only one part of the equation in evaluating players, after compiling the rankings, the top five came out as follows (in no particular order):

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Three Takeaways as North Carolina Bests Ohio State

Posted by Walker Carey on December 20th, 2014

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between North Carolina and Ohio State at the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago.

North Carolina entered Saturday’s game against Ohio State looking to salvage what had so far been an uneven December. The Tar Heels kicked off the month by suffering a pretty surprising home defeat at the hands of Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. That defeat was especially alarming because it illustrated North Carolina’s offensive struggles, as the Tar Heels were an ice cold 27.9% from the field and an abysmal 17.4% from behind the three-point line. After a strong 44-point victory over East Carolina on December 7, North Carolina ran into the Kentucky buzzsaw in Lexington last Saturday. The Tar Heels struggled with Kentucky’s defensive pressure all afternoon, and turned the ball over 18 times in a 14-point loss. Against Ohio State on Saturday, Roy Williams‘s squad was finally able to put together a consistent 40 minutes of basketball against top competition, as North Carolina emerged with a 82-74 win. The following are three takeaways from Saturday’s action.

UNC (USA Today Images)

UNC Played a Strong Game in Chicago Today (USA Today Images)

  1. North Carolina came out strong. The Tar Heels were able to race out to a 12-point halftime lead due to a strong first half performance on both ends of the court. Led by Brice Johnson‘s eight points on 4-of-4 shooting, North Carolina scored 43 points in the opening stanza on 17-of-33 (51.5%) shooting from the field. The first half scoring was a very balanced effort as Johnson, Marcus Paige, Justin Jackson, J.P. Tokoto, Kennedy Meeks, and Joel Berry II all scored at least five points in the opening 20 minutes. On the defensive end of the court, North Carolina’s hard-nosed defense forced Ohio State into a very pedestrian 12-of-32 (37.5%) shooting in the first half. The backcourt of Shannon Scott and D’Angelo Russell was held to just seven first half points on 3-of-11 shooting. The Tar Heels also dominated the rebounding glass in the opening half, as they held a 23-15 advantage on the boards at the half. Ohio State was able to make this game a little closer than it probably should have been late in the second half, but the strong first half turned in by North Carolina created enough distance that the outcome was really never in question. Read the rest of this entry »
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Tonight’s ACC/Big Ten Feature: Previewing Ohio State vs. Louisville

Posted by Brendan Brody and Brett Thompson on December 2nd, 2014

As the ACC and the Big Ten teams get together on the hardwood this week, the ACC and Big Ten microsites (Brendan Brody and Brett Thompson, specifically) have also decided to team up to break down some of the key questions for a few of the games. What follows is a look at tonight’s featured battle between two power programs: the Buckeyes and the Cardinals.

Brendan Brody: Louisville’s defensive numbers have been absurd this season, but Ohio State brings in eight rotation players who are currently shooting over 50 percent from the floor. Why will Louisville’s defense shut down these Buckeyes?

Brett Thompson: Despite the strong play of Louisville’s defense thus far, Rick Pitino is concerned with how well Ohio State has shot the ball on the offensive end (63.5% eFG). Look for the Cards to implement several zone looks along with their patented pressure to confuse the Buckeyes, but if Ohio State continues to knock down threes at a superb 41.8 percent clip, Louisville will be forced to man up on the shooters. How have the Buckeyes been so efficient offensively this season, and will that continue against a Louisville defense that ranks first in defensive efficiency nationally?

Shannon Scott is leading the Big Ten in assists, but will be tested by Louisville's pressure. (AP)

Shannon Scott is leading the Big Ten in assists, but he will be tested by Louisville’s pressure. (AP)

BB: It begins and ends with the play of Shannon Scott. And it’s not just the fact that he’s averaging an ungodly 10.4 assists per game, but it’s also that he’s been magnificent at getting everyone quality looks. The team is shooting such a high percentage because Scott is putting everyone in great position to make shots well within their respective comfort zones. If Scott can handle the Louisville pressure well enough to avoid turning the ball over excessively, Ohio State can make the Cardinals pay for it in the half-court. On the other end of the floor, the Buckeyes don’t really have anyone to match up with the Cardinals’ Montrezl Harrell, but the Louisville perimeter players (Chris Jones, Terry Rozier and Wayne Blackshear) have struggled shooting the ball this season. Which of these three is most likely to break out and help Harrell score?

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Big Ten M5: 11.24.14 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on November 24th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell and Shannon Scott shined in Sunday’s demolishing of Sacred Heart. Russell dropped 32 points on the Pioneers, with 30 of them coming in before the 15-minute mark of the second half while Scott set the Ohio State single-game assist record with 16. Russell has lived up to his billing as a premiere scoring option for the Buckeyes, leading the team in scoring in two of its first three games. He did struggle against Marquette this week, scoring only six points and surrendering seven turnovers – but that’s not all that surprising for a freshman’s first test against an opponent from a power conference. Scott has looked fantastic thus far for Ohio State, filling Aaron Craft’s role as distributor with minimal problems. But it’s early – and the Buckeyes will have two games against less-than-spectacular teams before they travel to No. 7 Louisville to take on the Cardinals – so wait until at least December 2 before crowning Russell as the Big Ten’s freshman of the year and Scott as All-Big Ten first team.
  2. Iowa fell flat in the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden last week, dropping games with Texas and Syracuse. Turnovers were a huge problem for the Hawkeyes as they surrendered a combined 33 against the Longhorns and Orange. Head coach Fran McCaffery still has plenty of confidence in his team as they approach a six-day home stretch where they’ll play Pepperdine, Northern Illinois and Longwood – but Iowa  has to pick up at least one win against North Carolina and Iowa State in early-December to keep its NCAA resume in good shape before Big Ten play starts.
  3. Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon looks like a genius after bringing graduate transfer Richaud Pack in from North Carolina A&T, as Pack has established himself as a veteran leader among the likes of senior Dez Wells and junior Jake Layman. According to Roman Stubbs of The Washington Post, Pack has undertaken the role as a defensive stopper for the Terrapins, regularly guarding the opponent’s most prolific scorer. Maryland faces its first real test of the 2014-15 season tonight as they host Arizona State, a team that has struggled offensively so far – they squeaked by Bethune-Cookman by a score of 49-39 last week, and the Sun Devils currently rank 119th in the country in offensive efficiency. No matter Arizona State’s track record, Monday marks Pack and freshman Melo Trimble’s first taste of a power conference foe as Terrapins, so the game will be worth keeping an eye on.
  4. Nebraska fell to Rhode Island on Saturday, a game in which the Huskers were thoroughly dominated on the boards – Rhode Island grabbed 49 rebounds to Nebraska’s 36. Head coach Tim Miles expressed his concern for his team’s rebounding after their 19-point season-opening win over Northern Kentucky, but the Huskers have yet to show improvement as they currently rank 319th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (23%). The Huskers face Nebraska-Omaha on Tuesday, which may look like a mismatch to the untrained eye – but the Mavericks are coming off of an eight-point victory over Marquette and currently rank 25th in offensive rebounding percentage (41.4%). It is absolutely crucial that Nebraska takes a step in the right direction on Tuesday, but this isn’t the type of problem that can be solved in one game.
  5. D.J. Newbill was a workhorse for Penn State in the Charleston Classic, scoring 83 points in three games including 22 in the Nittany Lions’ 63-61 win over USC on Sunday. Newbill is tied for the conference lead in scoring with Terran Petteway, as both are averaging 24 points per contest. Newbill has been particularly good from long range early on, going 14-for-27 from the three-point line. It’s no surprise that he’s carrying Penn State so far this season, but freshman Shep Garner’s play has been. Garner is only playing 66.7 percent of his team’s minutes compared to Newbill’s 93.3 percent, but Garner’s offensive rating is 2.2 points higher. Garner’s shooting 46.4 percent from the three-point line, making up for junior Brandon Taylor’s abysmal 6-for-25 line from long range. Penn State faces teams ranked in the 100’s of Pomeroy’s rankings in their next five contests before facing No. 57 George Washington, so it’s tough to tell if Penn State will be able to make any noise in Big Ten play just yet.
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Three Thoughts on Ohio State’s Win Over Marquette

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 19th, 2014

Ohio State cruised to a 74-63 win over Marquette on Tuesday night in a game that wasn’t quite that close. It doesn’t take long to see that Thad Matta’s team is clearly a different team stylistically than last year’s unit, as the Buckeyes played differently on both the defensive and offensive ends of the floor. With an abundance of shooters at its disposal, Ohio State got out in transition and shot the ball very well from the perimeter (53.3% from three). The defense was also a much different look from the Aaron Craft-led pressure man-to-man of the past several years. Here are some other quick observations from the win.

Thad Matta has made tweaked his system a bit as 2014-15 has started. (AP)

Thad Matta has tweaked his system a bit as this season has started. (AP)

  • Shannon Scott Looks Comfortable as the Primary Ball-handler: The senior has started off passing the ball on fire, as he’s hit double figures in assists in both Ohio State games — good for an astonishing 56.0 percent assist rate. Against Marquette, the Buckeyes showed tremendous spacing all night, making things very easy for Scott to simply pick his options to find the open man. Without having to share the point guard spot this season, he finally looks like he’s free to be himself out there. He’s never been a knock-down shooter, but he’s quick and can get to the basket. He and Craft were great together defensively, but they weren’t the best offensive options on the other end of the floor. Now with only one point guard to direct things, there is room for a shooter like D’Angelo Russell or Kam Williams for Scott to find on his drive-and-kicks.

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Introducing the RTC All-Big Ten Third Team

Posted by Eric Clark on November 12th, 2014

College basketball makes its return on Friday, and the Big Ten microsite’s writing crew has come together and formally voted on their preseason All-Big Ten teams. Having already released our pick for Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, we’ll release the rest of our preseason projections later this week.

RTC All-Big Ten Third Team

Shavon Shields, junior, Nebraska 6’7”, 221 lbs. (12.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 44.3% FG). Terran Petteway is the obvious catalyst for the Huskers, but Shields, a Big Ten honorable mention selection last year, will be his primary sidekick. Standing at 6’7”, Shields can pose significant match-up problems at the two-guard spot. The Olathe, Kansas, native ranked 11th in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding last season, pulling down over four caroms per game while leading Nebraska with 5.8 boards per game. His ability to get to the basket is what makes him truly indispensible, while all his work on the boards from the wing positions are gravy.

Shavon Shields Leads the RTC Big Ten Preseason Third Team  (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Shavon Shields Leads the RTC Big Ten Preseason Third Team (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Rayvonte Rice, senior, Illinois 6’4”, 230 lbs. (15.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.66 SPG). Rice made waves in his first season of play at Illinois (he redshirted the 2012-13 campaign due to NCAA transfer rules), leading the team in points and pulling down 210 rebounds, just one shy of the team high. Rice will be counted on even more this season after Tracy Abrams was lost for the season with a knee injury. If Rice can improve upon his three-point percentage (29.5%), he’ll be a far more dangerous player this season. Pairing a solid long-range game with his size, strength and overall toughness would serve the Illini well come postseason crunch time.

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The Five Best Big Ten Non-Conference Games

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 11th, 2014

We’re just a few days away from the first official tip-offs of the season, which will mean that the non-conference portion of the season has begun. Most fans will watch their team play some little-known school for an easy win over the weekend, but there is an excellent slate of non-conference games involving Big Ten teams on the horizon. The five best of those games are listed below. A couple caveats: (1) no games from the Big Ten/ACC Challenge were included because we’ll cover that event in full later this month; and (2) the annual rivalry match-ups (e.g., Illinois-Missouri, Iowa-Iowa State, etc.) were also removed, since those games have already been discussed ad nauseam. This list represents the best of the rest.

The following list is in chronological order and displays each team’s expected record (according to Kenpom) at the time of the game.

Minnesota (0-0) vs Louisville (0-0)

Armed Forces Classic – Aguadilla, PR – Friday, November 14: Minnesota fans will be in for a treat on opening night as the Gophers will headline ESPN’s coverage against the Cardinals at U.S Air Station Borinquen in Puerto Rico. This will arguably be the best match-up of the night, pitting two teams from power conferences in a father/son battle with Richard Pitino taking on his dad, Rick, for the second time in his short career. The Golden Gophers play a similar style as Louisville — including the Pitino family’s patented pressing defense — but they are outmatched in talent. Still, with returning starters such as Deandre Mathieu, Andre Hollins and Elliott Eliason available, young Pitino could be poised to catch his father’s team by surprise and make it interesting. Honestly, just be happy that this game is not taking place on an aircraft carrier.

Michigan State (1-0) vs Duke (2-0)

These two legends face off again as Michigan State battles Duke in their early non-conference schedule. (AP)

These two legends face off again as Michigan State battles Duke. (AP)

Champions Classic – Indianapolis, IN – Tuesday, November 18: The Champions Classic has become an early-season staple as the unofficial marquee event to tip off college basketball. It’s been a successful series as four elite programs — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, and Michigan State — have rotated match-ups to play each other over a three-year period. This season the Spartans draw Duke and their trio of super freshmen — Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow. But what the Blue Devils have in talent, they lack in experience. An early game like this gives Michigan State a golden opportunity to notch a resume-building win against a team that could end up as a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ohio State Seniors Must Take on New Roles This Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 23rd, 2014

This will be the first Ohio State basketball team without Aaron Craft on the roster since 2010, despite the fact that it seems like he was the Buckeyes’ point guard since the turn of the century. He and Lenzelle Smith Jr. started on teams that reached the Final Four and Elite Eight in consecutive seasons and manned the backcourt in Columbus for the last three years. Combine this with the loss of leading scorer LaQuinton Ross and the Buckeyes have numerous question marks heading into this year’s campaign. Freshmen like D’angelo Russell and JaSean Tate will certainly help offensively and returnee Marc Loving showed signs last year that he could become a double-figure scorer at some point in his Buckeyes’ career. But this team will only go as far as its senior class — Shannon Scott, Amir Williams, Sam Thompson, Trey McDonald and Anthony Lee — will take them. After a disappointing 25-10 mark as a result of a questionable offense (10th in the B1Gin offensive efficiency), the seniors need to prove that they can continue to defend at an elite level without the services of the best on-ball defender in the country, and that they can actually find better ways to put some points on the board.

Shannon Scott will take over the primary ball-handling duties for Ohio State this season.  (Andy Manis, AP)

Shannon Scott will take over the primary ball-handling duties for Ohio State this season.
(Andy Manis, AP)

At this point it’s probably safe to say that Williams will never be a dominant force on the offensive end. He is, however, useful as a rim-protector, finishing fourth  in the league last season in blocks. McDonald made strides last season as a backup big man, showing that even though he too lacks offensive polish, he can contribute on the defensive end and on the glass. Both players foul far too often (a combined 11.1 fouls per 40 minutes),  but if the pair can stay on the court long enough to combine for about 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks per game, then they’ll have done their job as a tandem. Thompson saw his numbers drop across the board last season, and much like with Williams, it’s tempting to just assume that he is who he is at this point in his career. Even if he does nothing to improve his offensive numbers, Thompson can improve his team if he becomes a lockdown perimeter defender (which he has the athleticism to do) and if he increases his rebounding output. At 6’7″, only two conference players at the same size or taller (Will Sheehey and Joey King) had a lower defensive rebounding rate than Thompson last season. He did shoot 40.4 percent from deep as a sophomore, but he slipped back down to 35.5 percent last year. If he can knock down about 38 percent of his attempts from three and add to his rebounding totals, he should be on the floor for Thad Matta at crunch time.

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Big Ten M5: 10.17.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 17th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. As Tom Izzo enters his 20th season as head coach at Michigan State, he’ll have to deal with the losses of three major contributors from last season — Keith Appling, Gary Harris, and Adreian Payne. With only an average recruiting class entering East Lansing, he’ll have to rely on players from last year’s roster to improve. Specifically, the Spartans will look to senior Branden Dawson to keep them competitive in the B1G and possibly challenge for a conference championship. On Thursday at the Big Ten Media Day in Chicago, Izzo said that he’s trying to get Dawson to mold his game like another former Spartan standout, Draymond Green. With the significant loss in production from last year, it would certainly help if Dawson played like Green — who averaged a double-double his final year — this season.
  2. As mentioned, yesterday was Big Ten Media Day, and these events usually produce some notable quotes from the assembled coaches. One comment that caught my attention was Michigan head coach John Beilein’s response to a question about the presumed gap between Wisconsin and the other teams in the conference, stating that “the rest of the league is not far behind on a national stage.” It seems like Beilein is confident that, by the end of the season, several other Big Ten teams will join the national conversation, and maybe Wisconsin won’t run away with the conference championship after all. It’s not an outlandish statement by any stretch, because with coaches like Beilein, Izzo, and Thad Matta in the league, it is always difficult for any team — no matter how talented or experienced — to run away with the conference title.
  3. Of all the familiar faces that left the Big Ten this offseason, the most recognizable of those was probably that of the Buckeyes’ Aaron Craft. The highly decorated four-year player’s strength were intangibles like leadership and tenacity that could not be measured in a stat line. Shannon Scott, a 6’1″ senior guard who averaged 26.9 MPG last season, will attempt to replace Craft at the point guard slot this season. Scott’s numbers weren’t too far removed from Craft’s contributions in 2013-14, so his ability to produce is not really in question. But taking a leadership role could be an issue for Craft’s replacement, as Thad Matta stated on Thursday, “he’s always played a supportive role from teams he’s been on in high school to AAU to here.” The Buckeyes have a nice group of talent once again this season, but if Scott can’t effectively take an on-court leadership role, the Buckeyes will struggle to regain national power status.
  4. One familiar face that did return was Purdue big man and conference-leading shot-blocker, A.J. Hammons. While Hammons improved his block and defensive rebounding percentages from his freshman to sophomore seasons, he did not improve nearly as much offensively. Therefore it must be reassuring to Matt Painter to hear Hammons say that he realizes he has to be more of a leader on offense or Purdue won’t go very far this year. If the Boilermakers have any shot of making a run at the NCAA Tournament — and possibly saving Painter’s job — it will require Hammons to be the focal point of the team on both ends of the court.
  5. Finally, Illinois fans received sad news on Wednesday when they learned former assistant coach and Peoria High School legend, Wayne McClain, had passed away. On Thursday we learned even more about what seemed like the coach’s sudden death. McClain had been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013, but only he and his doctors knew about it — not even his wife nor his son Sergio, who played at Illinois from 1997-2001. The younger McClain only found out about his illness by looking through his late father’s smart phone and reading a journal he had written. Wayne McClain was apparently telling his family that he was going to regular doctor visits when he was actually receiving chemotherapy. When his options for treatment ran out, he still kept his illness a secret. It’s hard to imagine most people doing the same, but from reading interviews with his former players and colleagues, McClain seemed to be dedicated to selflessly helping others and not making things about himself. The basketball world seemed to lose a good one this week. Rest in peace, coach.
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