It was always going to be a rough introduction into the Big Ten for Rutgers, given that last year the Scarlet Knights weren’t competitive in a mediocre American Athletic Conference. If they are going to turn things around, the effort will need to be led by one of their senior leaders, Kadeem Jack. So head coach Eddie Jordan must be more than a little concerned that last year’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer has been unable to practice due to a wrist injury. Jack is expected to be healthy by the first game of the season against George Washington, but Jordan needs to hope that’s the case as his team is going to need all the wins it can get for a shot at a postseason tournament.
In East Lansing, Michigan State is also dealing with the injury bug. Tom Izzo’s team will lose freshman Javon Bess for at least a month as he will have surgery on his injured foot. Though not a heralded recruit, he seemed to have already earned some respect from his fellow teammates and coach. Izzo called him a “diamond in the rough” while Denzel Valentine said his loss is “gonna be big [to us].” His injury chips at the Spartans’ depth, something the Spartans would like to have as they make their way through another tough non-conference schedule with opponents like Duke, Georgia Tech, Kansas and Notre Dame slated.
The season hasn’t even started, but Richard Pitino is already dealing with some off-the-court issues, as Minnesotadismissed junior Zach Lofton on Wednesday with no specific explanation given for his cause for dismissal. The 6’4″ wing had transferred to Minnesota from Illinois State, where he averaged 11.3 PPG and 3.0 RPG last season. His dismissal has no effect with respect to this season, as Lofton would have had to redshirt this year anyway. But it’s certainly not ideal and leaves a hole in Pitino’s lineup for the 2015-16 season that he will need to fill. Not a great start for the Golden Gophers.
Earlier in the week, SBNation released its Top 100 players list. Yesterday, CBSSports.comdid likewise. One big difference between the two lists was with the ranking of Sam Dekker, who came in at #5 on the latter as opposed to #33 on the former. Another huge difference in ranking was Ohio State’s freshman D’Angelo Russell, who was listed all the way up at #44 on CBS and was left off the list altogether on SBNation. They reached some consensus, however, with Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Michigan’s Caris Levert as top 10 players. Finally, while SBNation put 15 B1G players on its list, CBS was more bearish on the conference’s talent with only 11 players. These lists make for fun fodder, but honestly, it’ll be nice just to get through all this and focus on the games.
Lastly, Indiana’s Tom Crean is trying to get his Hoosiers squad ready for game shape this week. The Hoosierslost some key players from last year’s squad, such as Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Noah Vonleh, four-year contributor Will Sheehey, and a bunch of transfers. This lack in continuity is showing as the coach has to impress upon his squad to avoid “defensive fatigue”. While the Hoosiers lost a bunch of talent, they also brought in a quality freshmen class. Crean will need to get his star point guard, Yogi Ferrell, to whip those youngsters in shape if they’re to avoid another disappointing season.
Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.
Five Things I Loved This Week
I LOVED… Ohio State. Maybe I’m jumping on the bandwagon too early, but I grew to really enjoy this team by the end of last year and feel strongly that they have two unique pieces in Aaron Craft and DeShaun Thomas. An elite (albeit annoying, in my view) point guard and a versatile wing scorer are two of the more important components in the college game, and any team that possesses them has a chance to be a tough out.
I LOVED… as I do every year, trying to figure out how deep this Gonzaga team can go. Each season I really get a kick out of trying to imagine the Zags playing against good competition all year, eventually accepting the reality that they don’t, and then trying to piece together a mental image of what team will show up in March when they inevitably get hit in the mouth by a legit squad with good guards. Still, it’s hard not to like Mark Few’s lineup this season. Not many teams will shoot it better than Gary Bell, Jr. and Kevin Pangos, and even though Elias Harris is turning 32 or so next week, he’s an active presence on the glass to complement a VERY underrated Sam Dower. I guess the Zags can’t be a sleeper in the traditional sense, but this might be their best (and most well-balanced) team in a while.
I LOVED… Tom Creanshowing no shame with his stick of Wrigley’s finest. How can you not love this? If strict adherence to the five-second rule and the world’s weirdest/creepiest Tweet ever doesn’t appeal to this generation’s high-schoolers, I don’t know what does.
I LOVED… reading this Sports Illustrated article on Michigan’s Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Glenn Robinson III. It seems like we get plenty of stories every year about father-son relationships gone bad, but this was a rather refreshing example of two kids that have really gone about things the right way and made it through the tougher parts of living in the shadows of their NBA All-Star dads. Read the rest of this entry »
The Wolverines have won their first five games comfortably on their way to the Preseason NIT crown. Part of the reason for that comfort level is that John Beilein is very satisfied with junior Tim Hardaway Jr‘s performance after the first two weeks of basketball. Hardaway’s offense, despite averaging over 14 PPG last season, was a question for the Wolverines coming into the year because of his poor shot selection. He shot only 28% from beyond the arc last year and was notorious for bad shot selection during certain games during the conference season. But he has shot 47% from deep this year and more importantly has averaged 6.8 RPG to exhibit an overall improvement to his game. Hardaway’s diversified skill set on the floor combined with the emergence of Glenn Robinson III provides the Wolverines multiple good scoring options on the offensive end.
While John Beilein has several offensive options at his disposal, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta is still trying to find some consistency after the Buckeyes’ first four games. Matta is hoping that his team can be more consistent, specifically sophomores Amir Williams and Laquinton Ross — both have averaged double-figure minutes but need to step up if the Buckeyes hope to compete with the likes of Indiana and Michigan in the Big Ten. Ross in particular might be on the “verge” of breaking out per Matta and he is often compared to DeShaun Thomas’ tendencies during his freshman season. Matta has been pushing Williams to practice harder and improve his defensive intensity as well. Both of the sophomores will have an opportunity to crack the starting lineup if they can continue to improve with every game.
Coaches are looking beyond offensive contributions during the first few games of the season. Illinois head coach John Groce is not just happy about his team’s offensive production in Maui (the Illini averaged over 70 points in each game), but he knows that his team can have an off night but still come back to win in different ways. For example, the Illini came back from a 13-point deficit against Hawaii on the road to win in overtime prior to the Maui Invitational run. Traveling though multiple time zones and playing in a hostile environment is not an easy task in itself but his senior guards, Brandon Paul and D.J.Richardson, showed a tremendous amount of toughness in a gutsy win. After the Maui invitational, Illinois clearly experienced a bit of a hangover against Gardner-Webb but found a way to beat them by a point on Sunday night. Groce understands that it will take some time for his team to become more consistent but pulling out close wins proves to him that these Illini are a confident and gritty bunch.
Speaking of gritty and tough players, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo always expects those qualities in his team captains. According to the head coach, captain Russell Byrd is struggling offensively which makes it tougher for him to lead. Byrd is shooting just 22% from the field and has only made two of his fifteen attempts from beyond the arc. Without star freshman Gary Harris in the lineup, the Spartans dodged a big upset at home over the weekend against UL-Lafayette as they won, 63-60, in East Lansing. Byrd was responsible for four of the Spartans’ 20 turnovers during the nailbiter, but his contributions will be very important over the next few games until Harris can return to the lineup.
Indiana’s appeal to the NCAA about the suspensions of freshmen forwards Hanner Perea and Peter Jurkin were unsuccessful. Their original suspension of nine games has been upheld and the forwards will not be eligible to play until December 15 against Butler in the Crossroads Classic. The Hoosiers, despite not having Derek Elston available due to an injury, have not had any trouble rebounding so far with Cody Zeller dominating the paint. They outrebounded Georgetown 30-21 and have not missed either of the freshmen forwards at this early point of the season. But Tom Crean will need some depth in the frontcourt during Big Ten play and the sooner Perea and Jurkin see some minutes on the court, the better for his Hoosiers.