Big Ten M5: 02.17.14 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on February 17th, 2014

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  1. Over the years, we’ve grown accustomed to getting Tom Izzo’s take on various subjects. He was very vocal when Illinois had fired head coach, Bruce Weber, and he usually doesn’t hesitate to offer his opinion about the general state of college basketball. So what’s the newest topic that Izzo has been sounding off about? Twitter. “We used to be able to go to a game and have a bad game, leave the game and you never heard about it,” Izzo said this week, when asked about his take on Twitter, during a post-game press conference. Generally speaking, Izzo’s players haven’t really gotten into trouble with their usage of their 140 characters on Twitter, but that doesn’t stop their coach from sharing his opinion.
  2. John Groce is trying his best to make changes in Champaign, but they haven’t yielded any results over the past few weeks, as the Illini have lost nine out of ten games. Having said that, the players appear to be hanging in there with their coach through the tough times. “The effort that they continue to give, the way they’ve fought, the fact that they come with their hard hat on every day, that motivates me,” Groce said. The offense has stumbled since early January, after they started the conference season with a 2-0 record. At this point, the best they can really do is show some improvement with their younger core of players – Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill – over the next few weeks. By doing that, at least the Illini could set themselves up for a decent season next year.
  3. The hits keep on coming for the Hoosiers. After getting pummeled by the Boilermakers on the road, Tom Crean indefinitely suspended sophomore forward, Hanner Perea over the weekend. Crean said, “The first things I told him were that we loved him and wanted to support him. We are disappointed in him but also disappointed for him. He knows he made some terrible choices which have turned into big mistakes.” Even though Perea has only averaged 3 PPG, the loss might affect the Hoosiers team more negatively off the court, than on the court. With the loss at Purdue, the Hoosiers need a couple of big wins over the next three weeks if they hope to make a run at the NCAAs.
  4. Nik Stauskas had only averaged 10 PPG over four games leading up to the big game against Wisconsin on Sunday. Before the game, John Beilein was urging Stauskas to increase his shot attempts to make sure he could shoot out of his slump. “He can do this,” Beilein said on Friday of Stauskas dealing with aggressive defenses. Against the Badgers, Stauskas struggled early on against the staunch defense from Josh Gasser and ended up with just 11 points from 11 shot attempts. This slump could very well only last a few more games before the sophomore sharpshooter heats up again in March, just in time for the NCAA tournament.
  5. After four years in the Big Ten, Aaron Craft may have thought that he had seen it all, but he might have seen something different during his last trip to Champaign on Saturday. The Orange Krush tried to make fun of Craft by adding, what they might have considered funny, details to the flyer that was handed out to the students before the game. It was a failed attempt because he scored 14 points in just 25 minutes as the Buckeyes continue to keep their hopes alive of receiving a top-5 seed in the NCAAs.
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Can Ohio State Find Enough Offense to Stay Off the Bubble?

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on February 1st, 2014

Dear Ohio State fans, it is finally time to have this conversation. I didn’t want to have this talk because, well, with a decade of Big Ten dominance on his side, it seemed silly to doubt head coach Thad Matta. I just assumed he’d turn it around sooner than later because things tend to work out for him more often than not. But after the Buckeyes’ one-point overtime loss to Penn State in Columbus and losses in five of their last six games, it’s apparent that this Ohio State team is not very good right now, and they are a likely bubble team as of today. I know that statement stings; heck, a few weeks ago I even wrote this article on how the Buckeyes may have the best road to the Big Ten championship. And to be honest, I’m not sure that Matta doesn’t find a way to salvage this season. In his 10 seasons in Columbus, he has two Final Four appearances, five regular season championships, and four Big Ten Tournament championships. But at the moment, this offense, and therefore this team, seems incapable of competing with the Big Ten elites.

After their home loss to Penn State, Thad Matta and his Buckeyes may be sweating it out selection Sunday.

After their home loss to Penn State, Thad Matta and his Buckeyes may be sweating it out on Selection Sunday.

To say Ohio State’s resume is weak may be a bit too kind; the Buckeyes’ best win is against a Marquette team which is 12-9 and at .500 in the Big East. On the other side of the ledger, the Buckeyes now have bad losses against Nebraska and Penn State. Last week I pointed out that the team’s recent struggles can be traced back to its anemic offense. Before the Penn State game, their last five offensive performances were logged at 0.88, 0.96, 0.82, 0.90, and 1.02 points per possession. But lately, their defense — which has a current adjusted defensive efficiency of 0.89 points per possession and was #1 in the nation for most of the first half of the season — has not been nearly as dominant. In the same five games, Ohio State has allowed their opponents to score 1.01, 1.18, 0.99, 0.95, and 0.86 points per possession. The Buckeyes’ defense disappointed again on Wednesday night as they allowed 1.06 points per possession from Penn State — a team ranked eighth in the conference by offensive efficiency.

Buckeye fans, if you’re looking for hope, you may find it in the computer models that still think this team is among the top 25 in the country. Both KenPom and Sagarin have Ohio State ranked 21st and 17th in their national rankings, respectively. So if you’re of the belief that some of these latest losses are just the case of a slump combined with some bad luck, you aren’t completely without merit. But even if Matta’s defense rounds back into form, they’re going to need to upset a few of the better Big Ten teams to pad that resume and offset the bad losses. That’s a tall task to request from this offense.

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Ohio State’s Weak Inside Play Hurting the Buckeyes

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 21st, 2014

Maybe it is in fact time to wonder what is going on with Ohio State. Last week, this very B1G microsite said it wasn’t time to sound the alarm yet because the Buckeyes’ three losses were all to strong teams. After losing at Nebraska last night in a contest that gave the Cornhuskers their first win over a ranked opponent in two years and their Big Ten win of the season, the “good opponents” excuse necessarily flies out the window. The Buckeyes have now lost four straight games, and barring a perfect run for the rest of the conference season, they are likely out of the conference championship race. While the offense is still without question a struggle, Ohio State’s biggest concern is with its interior guys failing to contribute, specifically Amir Williams.

Amir Williams struggles in conference play have correlated with the Buckeyes' losing streak (Kirk Irwin, Getty).

Amir Williams struggles in conference play have correlated with the Buckeyes’ losing streak (Kirk Irwin, Getty).

Ohio State is already thin on the front line with Williams as the only known and trusted commodity, but in six Big Ten games he has not been strong. It is natural to expect some dropoff in his numbers against better competition, but his production has dropped significantly. He is scoring nearly two fewer points and rebounds per game and has only tallied seven total blocks. For a team that has to rely on him almost exclusively inside, this is a huge issue. Interior defense is another problem. Purdue’s AJ Hammons and Michigan State’s Adreian Payne killed the Buckeyes inside, but the primary reason the Cornhuskers were able to turn a 31-point loss into an eight-point win in just over two weeks is because they took advantage inside. Nebraska used 26 points in the paint to jump in front of the Buckeyes early, and as a result, Thad Matta was forced to switch to a smaller lineup with Williams on the bench in order to make a comeback push. It’s not exactly a good sign when you have to bench the only center on your team to give yourself a chance to win.

For a team that prides itself on defense and needs all the offensive production it can find, the struggles of Williams and stark lack of any suitable backup to him is concerning for Ohio State. Matta doesn’t need him to be an offensive star inside, but he needs to at least contribute defensively and grab some rebounds — where he has shown proficiency — to keep Ohio State in the game. Without his contributions, the narrative surrounding the Buckeyes’ struggles will quickly change to whether Matta can patch up things well enough to save the season.

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Ohio State’s Slow Big Ten Start Nothing to Worry About

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 17th, 2014

As Ohio State has surely found out, when you are considered a top-10 team and proceed to go out and lose three straight games, eyebrows will be raised. Heck, if the two-time defending NBA champions are going to be questioned for losing three in a row within an 82-game regular season, it’s hardly a shock that pundits will sound the alarm over a three-game Big Ten losing streak. Nevermind that any one of those three losses, in isolation, would be nowhere near concern-prompting, or that the Buckeyes are still owners of the second most efficient defense in all the land. If you listen to anyone outside of Columbus, Thad Matta’s team suddenly has questions to answer. The bleeding does need to stop (and soon), and even the most ardent of Buckeyes’ supporters will admit this team is far from perfectly constructed, but resist overreaction on this one. Today’s Buckeyes are the same team that ran out to that 15-0 start — Big Ten title contenders, still.

Wins Haven't Come As Easily In The Early Part Of The Big Ten Season For Aaron Craft And Ohio State

Wins Haven’t Come As Easily In The Early Part Of The Big Ten Season For Aaron Craft And Ohio State

There is no sugarcoating this fact: Ohio State is not a good offensive basketball team. Besides an impressively low steal percentage-against (helpful mainly for setting up that lethally efficient halfcourt defense), there is no true strength within its offensive statistical profile. When DeShaun Thomas and his prodigious offensive production departed for the professional ranks last offseason, most suspected the Buckeyes would struggle to score points as a result. There was hope that junior LaQuinton Ross might be ready to assume a good chunk of Thomas’ production, but while Ross is the Bucks’ leading scorer at 14.1 points per game, he has proven not to be another Thomas. Ross has shot the ball well from three-point range (41%), but a higher-than-preferred turnover rate (12.5%), paired with middling percentages on two-point field goals (44%) and from the charity stripe (68%) has left, for Thad Matta and his offensively challenged team, a lot to be desired. While the optimist would suggest Ross has some room for growth here in the back end of the season (he does have the natural tools to make it happen), the realist here will remind you that we aren’t talking about a player five games into his freshman season. To a large extent, Ross likely is what he is; namely, not DeShaun Thomas. With a dearth of offensive options elsewhere on the roster, that reality also means that the Buckeyes won’t be redefining themselves anytime soon. This isn’t, and won’t become, an elite offensive unit.

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Big Ten M5: 01.16.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 16th, 2014

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  1. Rushing the court debates are always fun in college basketball. It’s what the name of this website comes from, after all, so after Indiana rushed the court after knocking off Wisconsin Tuesday night, it sparked some outrage and debate among, well, basically everyone who follows college basketball. The reaction piece linked by ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan may be the best way to look at it, too. Sure, maybe Indiana has too much tradition and the win last night didn’t “deserve” a court rush. But really, of all things to get riled up and worried about, the “rules” of when and when not to do so may be the most silly. Frankly, it’s college students enjoying a big win and carrying their emotions out onto the court. Who cares if it doesn’t fit your “rules,” because as Brennan says it, “They aren’t lisning (sic) to your rules. They’re too busy having fun.”
  2. Here we go again with Illinois. Last season the Illini came out of the gate strong and had everybody wondering if they could squeeze their way into discussion for the Big Ten title race before collapsing. This season, they once again started the year surprsingly well, but after a loss to Purdue last night, it’s a three-game losing streak that has everyone wondering if they will be making a slide just like last season. The key to the loss last night was specifically in the starters not producing enough outside of a slightly hobbled Rayvonte Rice. Nnanna Egwu, Jon Ekey and Joseph Betrand combined for 17 points against the Boilermakers and this is following a total team disaster offensively against Northwestern. For Illinois to get back on track and keep its potential for the NCAA Tournament alive this will have to change quickly.
  3. Northwestern was hopeful it could pull off “deja vu” against Michigan State. Not only did it want to replicate an upset from two years ago, but also the upset it pulled over Illinois this past week. With Michigan State hobbled, the Wildcats hung around before ultimately falling by 14, but it did get some high praise from Tom Izzo after the game. The Spartans head coach said it was the best defense he had seen from a Northwestern team in years, marking that’s the sign of a good coach. That’s pretty high praise for Chris Collins.
  4. On the other side of the Illinois loss was what we have all come to expect from Purdue‘s AJ Hammons. The center has constantly been called a potential lottery pick and dominant player in the conference. Yet, despite all the physical tools he hasn’t put it together and been consistent enough. Last night, though, he reminded everyone why the high praise is there as he helped Purdue to its best win of the season. Hammons final stat line of 17 points, eight rebounds and three blocks shows the key to Purdue’s win and potentially it’s NCAA Tournament hopes. If he can play like that every game, the Boilermakers may not be dead and NIT bound just yet.
  5. It wasn’t a good week for Ohio State. Two losses to two of the top teams in the Big Ten certainly isn’t what the Buckeyes had in mind. Still, despite the bad week, Thad Matta realizes there is still plenty of season left to play. This reaction is certainly the best possible one (at least publicly) the head coach can have with his team. It’s a veteran group that will need to respond quickly with its trip to Minnesota tonight, and it should understand two back-to-back losses don’t derail its hopes for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament or even the hopes for competing in the Big Ten. It is unlikely the conference winner will finish with just two losses, so the Buckeyes have plenty of season left to turn it around.
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Big Ten Competition Will Exceed Expectations

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 10th, 2014

Trey Burke is now running the pick-and-roll for the Utah Jazz. Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller are currently trying to improve the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Bobcats, a year removed from dominating college basketball. About a week ago, one of the biggest questions about the Big Ten was about the lack of star power in the league this season. The aforementioned trio of players dominated headlines last year and this season’s biggest returning star, Mitch McGary, will not be around for most of the season due to an injury. Still, after the first week of the conference schedule, it is safe to say that despite the lack of star power, the level of competition between teams in the league will not be any different than it has been. There might not be several NBA lottery picks on these 12 squads, but teams shouldn’t take any conference match-up for granted. A handful of key games over the last week-plus have shown everyone just how competitive this league will be over the next 10 weeks.

Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes almost pulled off an upset win in East Lansing.  (Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes almost pulled off an upset win in East Lansing. (Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

If you turned off the Michigan State – Ohio State game Tuesday night because the Buckeyes were down by 17 late in the second half, you made a big mistake. Sure, the Buckeyes’ offense isn’t pretty in the least, but there is something to be said about the way they muscled their way back into the game. And yes, part of the comeback was allowed by the Spartans’ lackadaisical attitude during the final six minutes, but it was still impressive to see Thad Matta’s team storm back without their main offensive weapons on the court. Both LaQuinton Ross (13.7 PPG) and Lenzelle Smith Jr. (12.7 PPG) were on the bench with just 12 points combined while Aaron Craft and Sam Thompson tied the game by scoring in transition and playing tough defense. During last season’s game in East Lansing, Shannon Scott put up a horrible shot during the final possession of an incredible game. Ironically, he almost won the game this time with a steal and transition layup during the final five seconds of regulation. The star power for Ohio State may not be there right now, but players such as Mark Loving are growing up right in front of our eyes during these games and could end up as household names by the end of March.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode VII

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 8th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball. 

Baylor Fails To Live Up To The Hype

When I saw the national polls come out this week I was stunned to see Baylor ranked No. 7. Yes, the Bears were 12-1 heading into last night’s Big 12 opener at Iowa State, but I was surprised more pollsters were not able to see through their smoke and mirrors. I rated Baylor No. 19 in the latest RTC Top 25 and thought it was generous given its resume. Of the team’s 12 wins, just three have been quality: Two came in Dallas against Colorado and Kentucky (certainly very fine wins) and one in Maui against Dayton. In other words, Baylor had yet to beat a great team away from home and last night’s game was actually its first true road contest of the season. Scott Drew’s team didn’t exactly validate its lofty ranking after being torched in the second half at Hilton Coliseum last night. BU’s interior defense, normally a strength, was horrendous against the Cyclones, particularly in transition. It almost seems as if Baylor was unprepared for Iowa State’s up-tempo style of basketball. Baylor is not a bad team by any stretch but there just isn’t enough consistency from game to game to warrant such a high ranking. The Bears do a lot of things well and a handful of things poorly. That keeps their ceiling low, despite a ton of talent on the roster.

Kenny Chery and Baylor have some shortcomings to address

Kenny Chery and Baylor have some shortcomings to address

Iowa State is For Real, But Just How Good are the Cyclones?

Speaking of Iowa State, how about the job Fred Hoiberg has done in Ames? In only his fourth year he has made his alma mater relevant in leading it to a top 10 ranking this week. The Cyclones are legitimate and DeAndre Kane is a big reason why. The Marshall transfer is making the most of his one year in Ames as one of the country’s best all-around players. After a season-high 30 points against Baylor last night, Kane seems to be getting even better. Hoiberg really can’t ask for much more from a senior who can run the team, rebound and score efficiently. Iowa State is obviously terrific at home but I would like to see this team perform on the road against better competition before I fully buy in. Don’t get me wrong, the Cyclones are a sure fire top 20 team in my view. However, their toughest road test to date was against a 9-7 BYU team in Provo. With five of their next nine games on the road, the Cyclones will be challenged in a big way against the likes of Kansas and Oklahoma State, as well as upstarts Texas and Oklahoma. While I believe Iowa State is very good, we will know a heck of a lot more about it when the calendar flips to February.

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Three Questions on Ohio State at Michigan State

Posted by Jonathan Batuello & Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 7th, 2014

The Big Ten already gave us a Top 25 match-up over the weekend, but tonight it rewards us with a top five game, as No. 3 Ohio State travels to No. 5 Michigan State for a 9:00 PM tip at the Breslin Center. Both teams started the conference slate at 2-0 and this game could be instrumental in how the race eventually shakes out. This is especially important when you consider that both of these teams will play Wisconsin only once at the Kohl Center (Bo Ryan thanks the schedule-makers), so any loss is huge. To get ready for the Big Ten’s biggest game of the year so far, Big Ten microsite writers Deepak Jayanti and Jonathan Batuello got together to answer three key questions going into the game.

Adreian Payne will be key inside for the Spartans as they host Ohio State in the biggest game of the young Big Ten season tonight (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

Adreian Payne will be key inside for the Spartans as they host Ohio State in the biggest game of the young Big Ten season tonight (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

1. Michigan State likes to get into transition while Ohio State would prefer to win with its defense. So, who sets and controls the pace in this game?

  • Deepak Jayanti: Last season, the average number of possessions over the three games between these two teams was 60. The average number of possessions per game in Division I basketball was 65.1, so clearly things tend to slow down when these two defensive-minded teams face off. The Buckeyes’ depth at the guard position will create issues for Michigan State’s Keith Appling because there will be fresh legs guarding him throughout and preventing him from picking up the tempo in transition. Between Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson, Thad Matta will rotate his guards against the Michigan State backcourt to help dictate the overall tempo. Without those easy transition baskets, Appling will have to beat Craft off the dribble in the half-court which could be challenging and give an advantage to Ohio State in this game.
  • Jonathan Batuello: Michigan State would love to have its guards get out on the break to limit Ohio State’s defense getting set, but it’s likely that this game will slow down. The biggest reason for this is that both teams play smart offensive basketball that leads to highly efficient scoring. It is much more challenging for teams to get out in transition when your opponent converts, and Ohio State boasts an effective field goal percent of 53.7 percent (45th nationally) and Michigan State is even better at 55.2 percent (18th). For Sparty to push tempo it needs turnovers and missed shots, and Ohio State doesn’t commit many miscues (approximately 10 per game) nor have many ice cold shooting nights. Therefore, expect Michigan State to focus on winning the game using smart possessions instead of trying to create extra ones.

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Big Ten M5: 01.07.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 7th, 2014

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  1. For the second year in a row and the first time this season, Illinois has cracked the AP Top 25. John Groce was lauded for turning around the Illini last season, but what he has been able to do this year with this roster is more impressive. This is a deeply flawed team. They do not shoot the ball well from deep, have no semblance of an inside scoring threat, and do not get to the free throw line very often. They do, however, play excellent defense and get offensive rebounds, which, along with Groce’s philosophy of Toughness and Togetherness (T-N-T), have kept the Illini competitive against more talented teams. A huge test awaits them on Wednesday when they head up to Madison to play undefeated Wisconsin.
  2. In the preseason, everyone named Gary Harris as the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year. But the sophomore star has been hampered by injuries and has not made the impact most of us thought he would by this point of the season. Despite these setbacks, Harris has managed to lead the Spartans in scoring and appears poised to live up to the expectations we all placed on him. This past weekend, the Indiana native returned to his home state to play the Hoosiers and scored 26 points. After the game, Harris made it clear he’s ready to take off, saying about his performance: “I was more aggressive with my shot. I was ready to shoot more.”
  3. For college basketball diehards like us, we know how impressive the job Thad Matta has done at Ohio State has been. But for most of the sports-watching general public, Ohio State will always be associated with football dominance. Matta knows this and is OK with it. In ESPN.com‘s Dana O’Neil’s interview with him, the Buckeyes’ head coach made it known that he is concentrated on his players and becoming the best basketball program Ohio State can be. That’s not always true for an occupation as eg0-driven as coaching high level sports, as some coaches would prefer to be the main attraction at their respective school. But Matta seems to know his place in the grand scheme of things in Columbus and that suits him just fine.
  4. Michigan‘s season has not gone as it had hoped. In addition to having four losses already, they also lost Mitch McGary to back surgery for an indefinite amount of time. While no one on the roster can replicate what McGary does when he’s 100 percent, Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan have managed to fill the role admirably with their two very different styles. Horford has a more advanced offensive game, while Morgan commands the defense. What both players provide that McGary may not have had, is the leadership that comes with experience. Both upperclassmen have been with the program not just during its very successful season in 2012-13, but with some of the missed opportunities from seasons past. Their tenure gives them the perspective needed to lead this team through adversity.
  5. On Monday, Fran McCaffery once again apologized for his Sunday outburst when his Hawkeyes were playing Wisconsin. It’s not the first such explosion for the Iowa head coach, as he has had a previous episode of slamming chairs. Apparently, this latest incident was a step too far for McCaffery’s boss, athletic director Gary Barta, who made a strong statement where he said that his coach “crossed the line of acceptable behavior” with his conduct. It’s unclear whether McCaffery’s ejection had any real effect on Sunday’s game (besides the five immediate free throws) or the season going forward, but not angering your boss should be reason enough for him to change his behavior and keep his cool on the sidelines going forward.
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Big Ten M5: New Year’s Day Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 1st, 2014

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  1. Over the course of 153 non-conference games some things have changed since the preseason, and some have stayed the same. In Gary Parrish’s comprehensive look at how things may or may not have been altered through the course of the season so far, the main point seems to be that the league is just as strong top-to-bottom as it has been in prior years. While there may not be a supposed juggernaut like Indiana last season, the league could get the 7-8 NCAA bids that they have become accustomed to, depending on how conference play shakes out.
  2. Speaking of Indiana, the Hoosiers fell to Illinois in overtime yesterday afternoon 83-80. This loss begins the start of what very well could be a season where Indiana lives on the bubble for the majority of the season. They blew their only chances in the beginning of the season to get a quality resume win, and with the loss to the Illini today, Indiana fans might need to start to worry a little bit about the fate of this extremely young and talented team.
  3. Thad Matta is known for using a smaller bench once conference play rolls around, and this came into play in the Buckeyes’ 78-69 conference-opening victory at Purdue. Matta primarily played seven players, and he really didn’t go with either Amir Williams or Trey McDonald very often. This is despite the fact that Williams has the second best plus/minus per minute of any player on the roster. Matta said that he is comfortable giving nine players quality minutes, but if either the big men, or Amadeo Della Valle are ineffective, he has no problem shrinking his bench and using different lineup combinations.
  4. Purdue was essentially done in by their lack of being able to finish around the basket in their loss on Tuesday to Ohio State. Matt Painter stressed that this Purdue team “is better than it was two weeks ago,” and they really did look like a potential factor in the league during a solid chunk of this contest. They got 18 points and 16 rebounds from A.J. Hammons, but he also turned the ball over 4 times in the second half. For Purdue to really improve, they’re going to need to get more perimeter shooting, as making 21.4% percent of their threes will only draw more attention to Hammons on the inside.
  5. It was a sad day for followers of the Michigan Wolverines, as their former coach, Johnny Orr, passed away at the age of 86. Orr is more known for his exploits as the head coach at Iowa State, but he still leads Michigan in wins at 209. Orr took Michigan to the National Championship game in 1976, and his death brought about many glowing quotes from his contemporaries in the game. The man who brought “Hilton Magic” to Ames obviously made an impact at Michigan as well.
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Otskey’s Observations: Episode VI

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on December 18th, 2013

Battle For Iowa Lived Up To Its Billing

For my money, the best game in recent days was Iowa State’s thrilling win over Iowa on Friday night at Hilton Coliseum. This game was the true essence of what college basketball is all about. It was a heated in-state rivalry between two quality teams in a crazy atmosphere, smack dab in the middle of a basketball-crazed state. It is simple: This was a fun game, period. Although Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones came away victorious, you may be somewhat surprised to find out that my biggest impression taken from this game was just how good Iowa is. I actually thought the Hawkeyes were the better team for most of this contest. Don’t get me wrong, Iowa State played really well. After all, it beat a team I thought was very impressive so that should tell you something about the Cyclones as well. I thought Iowa had a terrific game plan and evidence of top-notch coaching and scouting was present throughout the game.

Devyn Marble

Devyn Marble and his mates were outstanding. But Iowa State was just a little bit better. (AP)

One specific example of great scouting came late in the first half when Roy Devyn Marble got in the middle of a dribble hand-off by Georges Niang and broke it up, leading to two Iowa points on the other end. Marble read the play perfectly and it paid off for his team. Fran McCaffery’s squad excelled in transition and got almost anything it wanted offensively on the low block with Aaron White leading the charge. Iowa ran some beautiful half-court sets that resulted in plenty of clean looks, especially for White and Marble. The Hawkeyes dominated the glass (but did not take full advantage of it) and answered the bell nearly every time Iowa State put together a charge, except for the final minute where it wound up costing them the game. Iowa simply didn’t make the plays it needed to win late, highlighted by Mike Gesell’s two missed free throws. McCaffery and his team can learn a lot from this game but in the end it is on the players to step up and lead down the stretch. Whether that’s Marble (most likely), White, Gesell, or someone else, Iowa needs someone to be “the man” in order to take the next step and contend at the very highest level in the Big Ten.

Michigan Back On Track?

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Big Ten M5: 11.14.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 14th, 2013

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  1. National Letters of Intent were beginning to be signed yesterday with several Big Ten programs reeling in top talent. One of the best classes in the conference belongs to Northwestern as head coach Chris Collins signed four solid recruits. Collins’ first class is highlighted by forward Victor Law, rated No. 86 by Rivals, who Collins was more than happy to build a class around. The class is rounded out with three other 3-star players, including guard Bryant McIntosh, who turned down offers to play for Memphis, Purdue, Iowa and Clemson, among others. The group provides Collins with a strong first recruiting class and shows promise for the Wildcats’ future. As the head coach attempts to get the program to its first NCAA tournament berth, this recruiting class could prove to be the turning point as he likely picked up two starters from day one.
  2. Michigan certainly can’t wait to get Mitch McGary back from injury, but for now, it helps to have a player like Jon Horford who can step into the starting line-up. The redshirt junior has experience in the system and understands his role, which was on display in Michigan’s latest game where he scored nine points along with grabbing 15 rebounds against South Carolina State. The Wolverines would certainly prefer to have Horford in a backup role to McGary, but his increased playing time now could be crucial later in the season should he ever be called upon for large minutes. Horford isn’t as versatile offensively, but on a team that has plenty of scorers and shooters on the outside, his ability to grab rebounds and get some points down low complement the rest of the team well.
  3. It wasn’t the normal home opener for Wisconsin on Tuesday against No. 11 Florida. With an impressive performance, though, the Badgers showed they will be able to compete with the best this season. This early season slate certainly is one of the most challenging Bo Ryan has ever had for his team. It has given a good chance to see what the Badgers have after the loss of its three big men from last season’s squad and the early answer is plenty. The team has gotten out in transition more as Billy Donovan noted in the article, willing to use their guards compared to just slashing, cutting and battling down low in a half court set. If Wisconsin can get some more points along with their always stingy defense, don’t be surprised if once again we are talking about this squad playing some important games in the Big Ten race come February and March.
  4. Ohio State has started the season 2-0, but a few problems have already come up for the Buckeyes. Most notably in their 79-69 win over Ohio was rebounding, which was 34-33 in favor of Ohio State. Thad Matta has really pressed defense with this group realizing its offense could need some work, so it has to be troubling that the rotations on the defensive end are causing issues with rebounding. With players rotating away from the basket the Buckeyes were left vulnerable on the glass as no player had more than four defensive rebounds. This is a problem that needs to be fixed quickly with the game against No. 17 Marquette Saturday, which had 21 offensive rebounds alone in its last win.
  5. Purdue‘s Ronnie Johnson had a wake-up call earlier this year when freshman Bryson Scott started over him in the Boilermakers’ first exhibition game. Since then, Johnson has used the team competition to push himself. It’s showed early on as he hit the game-winning free throws in Purdue’s first game and scored 11 points with four assists to only one turnover in the win last night against Central Connecticut State. Johnson is a player some expect to have a breakout season for the Boilermakers, so anything to help push him more is certainly a good thing. It also helps Purdue overall to have back-ups who force the starters to play well to keep their spot, but don’t expect to see Johnson losing it any time soon either.
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