Recruiting Mishaps Showing Their Impact at Ohio State

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 9th, 2016

After Ohio State’s home overtime loss to Florida Atlantic earlier this week, along with the very real threat of missing a second consecutive NCAA Tournament, it is time to admit that something might be wrong in Columbus. Head coach Thad Matta is currently in the midst of the most difficult stretch of his 13-year career with the Buckeyes after a dominant run that included two Final Four appearances, three Elite Eights, five Sweet Sixteens and four Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. The program’s momentum clearly seems to have stalled, and we’re left to wonder if this is a permanent decline for the former rising star or a just an inevitable rough patch after several years of sustained success. One possible explanation for the recent downturn is related to Matta’s recruiting stumbles in recent years — mistakes which may not be evident to many — and the cascading effects they’ve had on the current roster.

Keita Bates-Diop (right) has been good, but not quite to the level of expectations he had as a Top 30 recuit (Jay LaPrete, AP).

Keita Bates-Diop (right) has been good, but not quite to the level of expectations of a top 30 recruit (Jay LaPrete, AP).

In his most successful years, Matta relied on top-tier talent to fill out his roster. Ohio State landed a top 10 recruiting class in five of the six cycles between 2006-11, populated by transcendent players like Greg Oden, Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger, first round talent like Mike Conley, Daequan Cook, Kosta Koufos and Byron Mullens, and college standouts like David Lighty, Jon Diebler, Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft. Matta’s 2012 and 2013 classes, however, fell outside the top 25. The effects of this lull in talent procurement were latent because Thomas and Craft played into their upperclassmen seasons. The Buckeyes bounced back with top 10 classes in 2014 and 2015, but for various reasons their results have been mixed.

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Thad Matta Trading Offense For Defense Determines Ohio State’s Fate

Posted by Jim Root on November 18th, 2016

The annual late-October release of KenPom’s preseason rankings is a sneaky-big holiday for college basketball fans. Though Ken Pomeroy himself admits that his system takes up to a month to work out the kinks and accumulate enough data to be reliable, it is still fun to see where teams fall given the effectiveness of his past rankings. One Big Ten team that turned heads this preseason was Ohio State, which came in at #13 despite not making the NCAA Tournament last year. A primary reason for that ranking was Pomeroy projecting the Buckeyes’ defense as the eighth-best in college basketball. The Buckeyes finished last season at 43rd in that metric, but KenPom heavily weighs coaching history and continuity of minutes. To those points: Thad Matta’s average defensive ranking at Ohio State in the last 12 years is #21, and the Buckeyes returned their top six players in minutes from last season. Still, jumping from a solid-not-spectacular 43rd to among-the-elite eighth would be a major leap. Is this group of Buckeyes capable of that level of defensive improvement?

matta-and-lyle

Matta needs Lyle to step up in order for the Buckeyes’ defense to truly thrive (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports).

Matta’s best defenses have come in various forms over the years. The 2011-12 squad, led by Jared Sullinger, dominated the defensive glass, while the 2013-14 team utilized the inimitable peskiness of Aaron Craft and the quick hands of Shannon Scott to force turnovers and harass perimeter shooters. This exhibits that Matta will mold his defense to the talent of his roster, and the strength of this year’s squad is definitely in its length and athleticism up and down the lineup. In the backcourt, JaQuan Lyle is a 6’5” point guard capable of guarding multiple positions, while Jae’Sean Tate, Keita Bates-Diop and Marc Loving are interchangeable parts on the wings and at the four. Up front, Trevor Thompson is one of the Big Ten’s best shot-blockers (7.3% block rate last season), or Matta can play freshman Micah Potter, who is more of a positionally-sound defender that can switch screens with the wings without much issue. On paper, using that length and versatility to switch almost every screen and bother drivers and shooters, the Buckeyes’ defense absolutely has top-10 potential.

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It’s Time to See What Ohio State’s JaQuan Lyle Is All About

Posted by Jerry Scherwin Jr. on November 17th, 2016

When JaQuan Lyle signed on the dotted line for Ohio State that cold January day back in 2015, I thought the Buckeyes were on the verge of doing something really special — yet again. Lyle was the last shoe to drop in a top-10 class (according to ESPN) that included four other four-star recruits, but there was never a question as to who was most important. The point guard just had that look to him. He was one of the most versatile point guards in the country with great size, plus-side athleticism, hidden strength and an innate ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands. If Frank Sinatra has the world on a string, Lyle has every Spalding. Admittedly, I fell in love with Lyle’s recruiting profiles and mix tapes. Despite the rocky road to get to Columbus, the kid looked like the next evolution of the Buckeyes’ point guard.

JaQuan Lyle (USA Today Images)

It’s Becoming JaQuan Lyle’s Time to Put Up or Shut Up (USA Today Images)

His freshman season was inconsistent. There were moments that reminded me of why I was the self-proclaimed captain of the Lyle hype machine. And then there were moments when Lyle looked lost, unhappy and uninterested. In a sport where prospects become stars by staying connected to that fine line that is consistency, Lyle’s play more closely resembled a kindergartner’s idea of mountains and hills. He was both infuriating and electric. And you could tell that it was getting to Thad Matta and the coaching staff (remember the Michigan State game in the Big Ten Tournament?). Despite the red flags that became rather prevalent, most of the media that surrounded the Ohio State basketball program kept their Lyle blinders on. I did too. That’s not to say that we all weren’t going into this season being cautious, but the agreed-upon ceiling for Lyle was just too high to fail.

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Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part III

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on April 8th, 2016

We continue to address key questions for each Big Ten team as they head into the offseason. Today we will tackle Michigan, Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Parts I and II can be found here and here.

Michigan (23-13, 10-8 Big Ten)

John Beilein will need a dominant presence in the paint to compete for the Big Ten title. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

John Beilein will need a dominant presence in the paint to compete for the Big Ten title. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

Will the Wolverines have any presence at all in the paint?

With the unexpected departure of Ricky Doyle, John Beilein suddenly has a dearth of big men on his roster. The Wolverines ranked 12th in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding percentage and badly need a big man who can consistently hold his own on the defensive glass. Michigan returns a lineup of athletic wings with excellent range on their jumpers, but it won’t rise to the top of the Big Ten standings without better rebounding — particularly on the defensive end of the floor.

Iowa (22-11, 12-6 Big Ten)

Can the Hawkeyes fill the huge void left by their four well-traveled seniors?

Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons and Adam Woodbury were the foundation of a Hawkeyes’ squad that spent over a third of this season ranked among the top 10. Peter Jok will be the team’s primary offensive weapon next season, but the rest of the roster will be very inexperienced. Dom Uhl showed good range in shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc; he is in line for a big increase in minutes and production.

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Michigan State Grows Stronger Ahead of Selection Sunday

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2016

Tom Izzo’s disappointment in the first half against Ohio State on Friday might be the best indication yet of just how well his Spartans are playing. Less than a week after beating the Buckeyes in East Lansing, Michigan State controlled the opening 20 minutes from start to finish, taking a seven-point lead into the locker room and holding its bubble-bound opponent to just 26 points on 27 shots. “I thought we got off to a bit of a sluggish start,” Izzo said. “We didn’t feel like we were in sync the whole first half.” His team went on to dominate, of course, winning by 27 points and completing a three-game season sweep of the Buckeyes by an average margin of 20.3 PPG. The victory was more than just a necessary step toward a Big Ten Tournament title, though. On a night when the threes weren’t falling, Michigan State – in one of its best defensive performances of the year – took an important stride toward invulnerability heading into the NCAA Tournament.

Denzel Valentine and the Spartans continue improving. (http://247sports.com/)

Denzel Valentine and the Spartans continue to get better. (http://247sports.com/)

Guard Bryn Forbes entered Friday as the nation’s best individual three-point shooter on the nation’s best three-point shooting team, having knocked down more than 50 percent of his 200 attempts from behind the arc. On nights that he and Denzel Valentine (a top 50 three-point shooter in his own right) get hot, Michigan State is incredibly difficult to beat. Friday was not one of those nights; the Spartans shot just 8-of-23 on three-point field goals, and Forbes never got going. For Izzo, it could not have worked out any better. “The best thing that happened was Bryn struggled, best thing for our future, because we had to learn to play without,” he said. Instead of blowing out the Buckeyes with lights-out perimeter shooting, the #2 seeded Spartans blew them out by pounding the glass and finding easy looks inside. Already a top 20 offensive and defensive rebounding team, Michigan State ripped down 14 offensive boards (41.2% OReb) and prevented many Ohio State second-chances on the other end. To score, the Spartans used a combination of high-percentage transition looks, easy put-backs and well-run set plays to blow open the lead after halftime, opening the final 20 minutes on a 14-2 run and never looking back. Spartan big men Deyonta Davis, Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling complemented Valentine’s predictably excellent play by combining for 27 points on 12-of-19 shooting. Junior guard Eron Harris, playing in his hometown for the first time since high school, poured in 13 points of his own. College basketball’s most efficient offense was as efficient as ever (1.27 points per possession), even without its usual perimeter prowess.

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Big Ten Tournament Takeaways: Friday Night

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2016

After Purdue’s blowout victory over Illinois in Friday’s afternoon session, Michigan State and Maryland followed suit with a pair of drubbings of their own. The Spartans used a 14-2 run early in the second half to ease past Ohio State, 81-54, while the Terrapins shot the lights out against Nebraska on their way to an 11-point victory in the late game. Here are four takeaways from quarterfinal Friday in the Big Ten Tournament.

Maryland took care of business against Nebraska on Friday (Kiichiro Sato, Lincoln Journal Star)

Maryland took care of business against Nebraska on Friday. (Kiichiro Sato, Lincoln Journal Star)

Michigan State: The Spartans won by 27 points despite shooting poorly for a large stretch of the contest – which probably says something about just how good they are right now. Denzel Valentine was his usual versatile self, scoring 19 points to go along with nine rebounds and eight assists, but it was the play of Deyonta Davis (12 points, seven rebounds), Matt Costello (10 points) and Eron Harris (13 points) – along with stellar defense from start to finish – that made the difference. Watching Iowa and Indiana go down early in the tournament may have also had something to do with the Spartans’ dominant victory: “We saw that those two teams didn’t come out with as much fire as they had throughout the season… we had to be ready to play today,” Costello said afterwards. Next up for Michigan State is a rematch of last season’s Big Ten semifinal against Maryland.

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Big Ten M5: 01.06.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 6th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. On Monday, the Big Ten awarded both its Player and Freshman of the Week to the same person for the first time this season: Maryland’s Diamond Stone. The Milwaukee native shot a scorching 73.7 percent from the floor in two games last week, with his coming-out party (39 points and 12 rebounds) occurring last Wednesday in the Terps’ comeback win against Penn State. As Stone continues to improve, so too do the Terps’ Final Four prospects.
  2. Indiana received some devastating news hours before its tipoff against Wisconsin last night when it learned that James Blackmon, Jr. — the team’s second-leading scorer — would miss the remainder of the season after surgery on his right knee. The sophomore guard has been out since the start of conference play, and although it has not yet affected the Hoosiers record, Tom Crean’s team will miss his prolific scoring and elite defense.
  3. Despite the bad news, Indiana protected its home court and earned a tough 59-58 win over the Badgers to move to 3-0 in conference play. Yogi Ferrell led all players with 19 points as Indiana has now won eight straight games with two of their next three against teams outside of the KenPom top 100 (Illinois and Minnesota). This scheduling gift should allow Indiana some time to recalibrate its rotation now that the Hoosiers know Blackmon won’t be returning.
  4. In the late game on Tuesday night, Iowa comfortably beat Nebraska behind Jarrod Uthoff’s 25 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks. The Hawkeyes have put together the most impressive start to conference play at 3-0 with wins over Michigan State and at Purdue. Those performances have garnered Iowa a place back in the Top 25 and strong consideration as a legitimate contender for the Big Ten championship. Iowa will take this coming weekend off before it faces a hungry Michigan State squad that is expecting Denzel Valentine back in the lineup next Thursday.
  5. Finally, Indiana and Iowa aren’t the only Big Ten teams riding winning streaks. Ohio State has now won six straight games, including a victory against #9 Kentucky, that puts the Buckeyes at 10-5 on the season. The Buckeyes have played a weaker schedule to date — including conference wins over Illinois and Minnesota — but will be tested in the next couple weeks as four of their next five games are on the road (including trips to Maryland and Purdue). Then we’ll know whether Thad Matta’s team has really turned a corner this season or simply took advantage of a soft schedule to put some wins together. Their first exam will come tonight at Northwestern.
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Let’s Play Big Ten Secret Santa…

Posted by Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) on December 25th, 2015

Your class, company, or family probably plays Secret Santa during the holidays. To get in the giving spirit this Christmas, we’ll play Secret Santa with the Big Ten’s 14 teams and coaches. As much fun as it would be to give Richard Pitino more hair gel or Tom Izzo some stilts, we’ll stick to practical basketball-related gifts that each Big Ten coach would be thrilled to unwrap.

Santa has a variety of interesting presents for Big Ten teams to unwrap

Santa has a variety of interesting presents for Big Ten teams to unwrap

Here are the gifts we gave each coach and team (in alphabetical order):

  • Illinois (John Groce): This is one of the easier teams to shop for: The injury bug has cursed Illinois, so it gets healthy players from Santa. The Fighting Illini are playing this season without their starting point guard (Tracy Abrams), power forward (Leron Black) and center (Mike Thorne, Jr.).
  • Indiana (Tom Crean): Another easy team to shop for. If you haven’t heard of Indiana’s horrific defensive efforts, you’ve been living under a rock. The Hoosiers gave up 70 points to Kennesaw State and 72 to Alcorn State, respectively. Those teams rank 322 and 349 in the KenPom ranks, and average 64.1 and 60.3 PPG, respectively. Crean needs to start thinking of new ways to get his players to play better defense. Santa gives him a “D-Fense” sign that he can throw at players after bad defensive efforts. Better loosen up your arm, Tom.
  • Iowa (Fran McCaffery): The Hawkeyes aren’t elite in any one area, but don’t have a lot of gaping holes. They do struggle to get to the foul line, with a 25.8 free throw rate, which ranks 337th in the nation, per KenPom. Santa gives Iowa more free throw chances, especially to Peter Jok. The junior wing is Iowa’s second-leading scorer, but has attempted just 23 free throws.
  • Maryland (Mark Turgeon): The one knock on the Terps has been turnovers. They turn it over on 20 percent of their possessions and have six players who turn the ball over at least 19 percent of their used possessions. Maryland finds sturdy handles under its tree this year.

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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 12.19.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 19th, 2015

After a quiet week for the league, this weekend storms in with some great games. The centerpiece of the next two days will be the Crossroads Classic, an event that takes the four most prestigious programs from the country’s most basketball-rich state and pairs them together in Indianapolis. It’s turned into one of the premier events before conference plays begins. Here is your weekend preview:

The Crossroads Classic

The Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis is upon us once again this Saturday.

  • Northwestern at Depaul (Saturday, 2:00 PM ET, FS1). People may not have noticed, but Northwestern is 9-1 with its sole loss against North Carolina–a game which was at least competitive in the first half. Not many have jumped on the Wildcats’ bandwagon because their schedule as of today has been laughable. Only two of their wins have come from teams ranked higher than #175 on KenPom and both those wins came in overtime. A win at DePaul (5-5) wouldn’t convert many to be believers, but it would represent Northwestern’s best win of the season (given their light schedule thus far).
  • Notre Dame vs Indiana (Saturday, 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2). This is the opener to the Crossroads Classic and Mike Brey decided to turn up the heat to it when he said yesterday that Notre Dame was the most consistent program in the state, “and it isn’t close”. It’s not certain whether his statement was a direct shot at their upcoming opponents, the only blueblood program in the state, or it was just innocuous praise for himself and assistant coaches. Either way, it should be a highly entertaining and frenetic game as both these teams have Top 5 offenses paired with pedestrian defenses. The game might come down to whoever makes the most threes or who has the most transition points. Grab the popcorn before you watch this one.

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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 12.11.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 11th, 2015

The college football championships are now in the books, which means basketball has center stage for a while. There are just under three weeks left in the non-conference portion of the schedule, so teams are still looking to notch a few resume-enhancing wins before conference play begins at the end of the month. Luckily for Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Nebraska this weekend, they will have those opportunities against top 100 teams this weekend. Here is your weekend preview of those four games.

Mark Loving (left) leads a very mediocre Buckeyes unit into Stoors on Saturday.

Mark Loving (left) leads a mediocre Buckeyes unit into Storrs on Saturday.

  • Ohio State at Connecticut (Saturday, 12:00 PM ET, CBS). The Huskies are coming off a tough loss at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, possibly because their coach, Kevin Ollie, received an ill-timed technical in the latter stages of the game. They’ll get another shot against a Big Ten team when the Buckeyes visit Gampel Pavilion on Saturday afternoon. Thad Matta’s young squad has looked its age as the Buckeyes commit a turnover in one out of every five possessions so far this season. If Ohio State can’t protect the ball against a very good Connecticut defense, they’ll slip below .500 with a record of 4-5, something that hasn’t happened this late in the season during the Matta era.
  • Marquette at Wisconsin (Saturday, 1:30 PM ET, ESPN2). If you haven’t yet heard, this version of Wisconsin isn’t your typical Bo Ryan team. Rather, this team, to the consternation of its head coach, shies away from three-pointers in favor of mid-range jumpers. Therefore, this rivalry game may rely on which player wins the battle in the paint between the Badgers’ Nigel Hayes and the Golden Eagles’ Henry Ellenson. While the freshman is bigger and more naturally gifted, the upperclassman knows how to take over a game — Hayes scored 32 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a recent loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Look for whoever wins this individual battle to set the tone for the rest of his team.

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