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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Analyzing the Buckeyes’ Interior Presence: Amir Williams

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 8th, 2013

Ohio State’s offense has gone through several major transformations over the past few seasons. Despite considerable turnover among the players, Thad Matta has managed to turn the Buckeyes into a perennial contender for the Big Ten title and also the Final Four. Whether the offense ran through Greg Oden, Evan Turner or Jared Sullinger, the Buckeyes have always had a strong presence in the paint. Last season, however, was a bit of an exception because there was no dominant post player who could hold his own consistently during Big Ten competition. As a result, the Buckeyes ranked ninth in offensive rebounding (29.4%) in the Big Ten. This statistic shouldn’t be surprising considering that Matta lost the lottery pick Sullinger to the NBA, but they will need to pull up their rebounding this season if they want to compete with Michigan State and Michigan for the league title. The key player that needs to step up is Amir Williams.

Amir Williams (left) will need to average at least 7 RPG in order for the Buckeyes to compete for the Big Ten title this season.

Amir Williams (left) will need to average at least 7.0 RPG in order for the Buckeyes to compete for the Big Ten title this season.

Williams didn’t play much during his freshman season because Sullinger was the big man on campus, but he was expected to be a strong presence a year later. At 6’11, 250 pounds, Williams clearly has the size to have an impact in the paint but he had trouble staying on the floor because of sloppy defense. There were too many times last season when he went for the big block but picked up a silly foul instead. He wasn’t expected to score in the paint last year, but he was supposed to provide a strong rebounding presence as well. Because of his limited minutes, Matta relied on senior forward Evan Ravenel instead. Ravenel never looked for his shot much but played a key role in setting effective screens and cleaning the defensive glass during March when the Buckeyes made a run to the Elite Eight.

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Big Ten M5: 11.07.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 7th, 2013

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  1. In the first regular season contest for Nebraska in its brand new arena, the Cornhuskers’ leading returning scorer won’t be playing due to a suspension. Head coach Tim Miles announced yesterday that senior Ray Gallegos has been suspended for two games for a violation of team rules. Miles said he learned of the infraction before Monday’s exhibition game, but that Gallegos did not play in that game because of a hip injury. The suspension length was a coach’s decision and has Gallegos missing the season opener against Florida Gulf Coast tomorrow and Tuesday’s game against Western Illinois. The opening game loss of Gallegos, along with guard Deverell Biggs serving a three-game suspension for a DUI, could provide a problem against “Dunk City” and returning guard Brett Comer. The Eagles have a new coach, but some of the players who helped them get the moniker and upset top teams last season are back. It certainly doesn’t help Nebraska to be without its top returning scorer against a team that likes to score and run.
  2. There seems to be a consensus about the top teams and players in the Big Ten this season. NBCSports came out with its preseason report on the conference yesterday and Michigan State and the Spartans’ Gary Harris were seen as the top team and player. It also sees at least six teams–Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana–joining the Spartans in the NCAA tournament and potentially up to nine with Purdue, Illinois and Minnesota on the bubble. The most interesting question this piece raises, though, is whether Indiana‘s Yogi Ferrell might be the most important player in the conference. Ferrell certainly will play a big role in the Hoosiers’ success or struggles this season, but the team will also need improvement and solid play from guys like Will Sheehey and Jeremy Hollowell. Plus, there are lots of guys coming back to teams that have vastly bigger roles or need to have huge seasons for their team to be successful (see: Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III for Michigan just to start).
  3. Thad Matta has something new this season in his 10th year of being Ohio State’s head coach. Not only will he have to find some different scoring threats, but he’ll also have an experienced squad. Of course, this is something Matta is more than happy to have, as he exclaimed, “Thank god, huh. Two seniors! We’ve got two seniors this year!” With big question marks surrounding exactly who will score for the Buckeyes this season, it certainly helps to have guys around who have been in the program for years to fill that void. Outside of the two seniors in Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith, Jr., Ohio State also has seven juniors on the roster. This is the most experienced squad Matta has ever led, and we will get a good assessment of how far experience can go in helping a team without a surefire NBA lottery picks on its roster.
  4. Illinois has a young and new team, with only five players returning from last season’s squad. With this influx of freshmen and transfers, it appears John Groce is finding leadership and consistency from one of the newcomers. Graduate student Jon Ekey, a 5th year transfer from Illinois State, has proved he can provide the squad with an example on the court and in practice for the freshmen and others to follow. Ekey, a 6′ 7″ forward, is a career 36.5 percent 3-point shooter, so he shows versatility on the court, but his ability to help the freshmen adapt to the college game could be his biggest asset to this team. He wasn’t a star at Illinois State, averaging 6.4 points per game last season, but his ability to play multiple positions and lead will get him time on the court. With a lot of question marks surrounding exactly how much this team will need to grow and improve, it certainly is a good sign they have a player others can model themselves after.
  5. From unknown to hero to footnote, Spike Albrecht had quite a game in the NCAA Tournament Championship for Michigan. Now, following up his 17 point first half barrage, the Wolverines sophomore is trying to follow-up his momentary celebrity status by earning a starting spot in Michigan’s lineup. He’s currently in a battle with top-40 freshman Derrick Walton to see who gets the starting nod as both started one of the exhibition games. It’s tough to see the Spike the sensation maintaining the starting position over a potential All-Big Ten Freshman, but if he can provide leadership, push Walton and give solid minutes of the bench once again, Albrecht will have a chance to make some other memorable moments.
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Big Ten Coaches on the Not-So-Hot Seat, Part II

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on October 30th, 2013

Yesterday, we examined why John Groce, Tom Crean and Fran McCaffery are currently not in danger of losing their jobs. Today, we continue our examination of the conference’s coaching landscape.  Specifically, we’ll explain why we expect the head men at Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue to be here next year.  Here’s our take:

Matt Painter's past success, and his very large contract, are among the reasons he'll be in the Big Ten for a while.

Matt Painter’s past successes, and his very large contract, are among the reasons why he’ll be in the Big Ten for a while.

Richard Pitino (Minnesota): This is Pitino’s first year as a head coach in the Big Ten and second year as the head coach of anything. He spent one year at Florida International before accepting the job at Minnesota, but while at FIU, Pitino led the Panthers to their best conference record in school history. He seemed on the way to turning around a program that had won only 26 of 65 games under NBA legend Isiah Thomas.  In April, he got an offer he couldn’t refuse: a chance to compete with the best in the business in the Big Ten. So he accepted and now is set to go through the ultimate learning experience as he coaches against the likes of Izzo, Matta and Ryan every week. Pitino will get the years of learning on the job he needs to try to build something special.  Minnesota wouldn’t make this type of hire without knowing it’ll be marathon and not a sprint. He’s obviously fine right now.

Tim Miles (Nebraska): I wrote a post last week detailing the situation at Nebraska. In short, Miles has been given state-of-the-art facilities and the resources to secure top-tier assistant coaches that can deliver talented recruits.  And while boosters will expect to see a return on the money they invested, they’re realistic about the task at hand and know it won’t happen overnight. It’ll be interesting to see how the Cornhuskers fare in this, Miles’ second year. If they are able to show noticeable improvement, he and his assistants can sell recruits on being a part of a “program on the rise.” Regardless, the administration is invested both in this program and Miles as the head coach — he’ll be given the appropriate time to turn the ship around.

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Big Ten Coaches on the Not-So-Hot Seat, Part I

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on October 29th, 2013

It’s that time of the year when fans get their usual dose of preseason predictions. One of the usual mechanisms in this onslaught is the “Coaches on the Hot Seat” list where writers identify those coaches whose job status relies on the success of their upcoming season. Each preseason in the Big Ten, previously successful coaches routinely find themselves on this list and almost never escape it. The conference is widely considered to have the best head coaches of any league which makes wins tough to come by. This competition leads to very good coaches experiencing disappointing seasons, finding themselves on the hot seat, and then eventually being fired. Last year, it was Tubby Smith at Minnesota who found himself without a job in April.  A national championship-winning coach at Kentucky, Smith led the Golden Gophers to their first NCAA Tournament win in 16 years (and, actually, longer since the NCAA vacated the 1996-97 season after charging Minnesota with academic fraud). The year before that, it was Bruce Weber at Illinois standing in the unemployment line. A former National Coach of the Year and NCAA Tournament runner-up, Weber won 100 more games than he lost over a nine-year stint. And there are others. All this goes to show that in this league, being a talented head coach might get you in the door, but it won’t save you from the hot seat.

Relax, Coach Crean.  You many have lost two NBA lottery picks.  But you're not going anywhere.

Relax, Coach Crean. You may have lost two NBA lottery picks. But you’re not going anywhere.

This year is a little different.  Barring any unforeseen scandals, there seems to be no Big Ten coaches who are in immediate danger of losing their jobs. So here at the RTC Big Ten microsite, we have instead decided to look at the coaches around the league and examine their current situations: Why are they not in danger of having to endure a sad and uncomfortable final press conference at the end of the year? In the interest of brevity, we will not review the likes of Tom Izzo, John Beilein, Thad Matta or Bo Ryan. Their current situations can be summed up in these words: They are awesome at coaching college basketball and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.  For the rest of the Big Ten’s eight coaches, things are a little more nuanced. Here’s why:

John Groce (Illinois): I listed in a previous post Groce’s accomplishments from last year. Those include a trip to the round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament from a roster that had all but given up the year before. But more importantly, Groce has secured quite a bit of outstanding talent for the future of his program. A bevy of promising transfers and recruits are set to join the Illini this year and next. His program is in a position to start challenging for Big Ten titles as early as 2014-15, and if Groce can land a commitment from Top 10 recruit Cliff Alexander next month, Illini fans can start dreaming even bigger. He’s in good shape.

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