What Are Big Ten Teams Seeking This Weekend?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 19th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

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

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

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

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

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Maryland 75, Indiana 69

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 13th, 2015

RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is covering the Big Ten Tournament this week in Chicago.

Three Key Takeaways.

Melo Trimble And Dez Wells Spearheaded Maryland's Quarterfinal Victory Friday Night (USAT Sports)

Melo Trimble And Dez Wells Spearheaded Maryland’s Quarterfinal Victory Friday Night (USAT Sports)

  1. Maryland In Control. This game was tight throughout, with the Terrapins’ lead never extending beyond seven points until the final seconds. But despite maintaining shouting distance, Indiana’s last lead came with 14 minutes to go in the first half. Maryland’s steady march to the free throw line (33 attempts) was one key factor in Indiana never getting over the hump. More generally, failing to stop its opponent from scoring tends to cause teams to relinquish control of a basketball game: This was the story of Indiana’s night and season. Maryland never felt like they were ready to lose control of this one.
  2. Hoosiers Shooting Struggles. Indiana entered tonight having made 40.7 percent of their three-point field goal attempts, the sixth-best mark in the country. The Hoosiers converted just 7-of-24 of their long-range efforts in defeat tonight – a slight downtick in both production and efficiency from January 22, when they buried 15-of-22 long range attempts in a rout of Maryland. Distilling Indiana’s offensive strategy into making threes is oversimplifying things, but it’s no secret that the Hoosiers heavily rely on making long-range shots. It was their downfall tonight.
  3. Attack Mode. This game began at a frantic pace (20 points in the first three-and-a-half minutes), and while the pace of scoring eventually slowed down (only a bit), both teams’ aggression levels never did. They explored transition opportunities, attacked the rim in both the half- and full-court, and were fearless in pulling the trigger from three-point range. No player attacked more aggressively than Maryland’ Dez Wells, who supplied multiple tomahawk jams in the first period. Both of these squads are accustomed to producing more efficient offense than they did this evening, but neither let that prevent them from continuing their relentless attacks.

Star of the Game. Melo Trimble, Maryland. A case could easily be made for Trimble’s running mate Wells (22 points, six rebounds), but the freshman coolly dictated action on both ends of the floor for the Terps. He scored 17 points (on just nine shots), chipped in three assists (against just one turnover), and held Indiana star Yogi Ferrell to 6-of-16 field goal shooting. Trimble’s matchup with the Hoosiers’ lead guard was a much-discussed element of these teams’ first two games and in the lead-up to tonight’s quarterfinal. Any postgame conversation on the topic would have to describe Trimble as the clearly better player on this night.

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Beauty in Eye of Beholder for Tom Crean & Indiana

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 13th, 2015

Minutes after Indiana defeated Northwestern to advance to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, Tom Crean was asked if he thought his team was now in the NCAA Tournament. “Well, I don’t know,” Crean said. “You know, I really don’t know. And no one knows. That’s the beauty of it all.”

It was an insight tinged with a bit of both insanity and brilliance. If you have watched Crean coach basketball for the last month, you do not believe he could possibly find any “beauty” in the uncertainty of his team’s current predicament. The cheeks have been too red; the forehead vein too prominent; and most importantly, the Indiana wins too infrequent. And yet, thinking as a college basketball fan, it made too much sense. The beauty is there. We are just two days from Selection Sunday, and in reality, so much has yet to be decided. It’s an uncertainty that catalyzes Championship Week drama every single year; in many ways, it defines the lead-in to the NCAA Tournament. And here was Crean, who in 2015 has been as negatively affected as anyone by the pre-Tournament unpredictability, telling us about the beauty of it all.

Tom Crean, Yogi Ferrell And The Rest Of The Hoosiers Will Take On Maryland Friday Night In A Game That Could Define Their Season

Tom Crean, Yogi Ferrell And The Hoosiers Will Take On Maryland Friday Night In A Game That Could Define Their Season (USATSI)

In the minds of many, Thursday’s victory over Northwestern put Indiana into the field of 68. That belief is founded partially in the strength of the Hoosiers’ profile, which undoubtedly improved by dispatching a Wildcats team that had entered the night winners of five of their last seven. But it’s also a result of bubble carnage elsewhere: Texas A&M, Illinois, Texas, Ole Miss, Miami, Old Dominion and Stanford all suffered crippling losses on Thursday. All in all, it was a day that could not have gone much better for the Hoosiers. That doesn’t mean that they are safely there yet, or that they couldn’t REALLY use a quarterfinal victory over Maryland tonight. But for a team that hadn’t won a game of any kind since February 22, Thursday was a good day.

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Big Ten Tournament Preview

Posted by Henry Bushnell & Bennet Hayes on March 11th, 2015

Henry Bushnell and Bennet Hayes will be in Chicago all week delivering coverage of the Big Ten tournament. In advance of the action tipping off Wednesday night, they sat down to tackle a few questions on the week that lies ahead.

Wisconsin is the clear favorite, but could an upset be in the works for the Badgers?

Wisconsin is the clear favorite, but could an upset be in the works for the Badgers?

Wisconsin enters the Big Ten Tournament as a heavy favorite. Which team besides the Badgers has the best shot at winning it all this week

  • Bennet: Michigan State‘s regular season was no exemplar of consistency, but with Branden Dawson expected to return to the lineup for Friday’s quarterfinal game, they’ve officially made it to March in one piece. Betting against Tom Izzo this month is always a dicey operation — particularly with the experienced Valentine/Trice/Dawson core once again intact. Furthermore, snagging the #3 seed and delaying a potential rematch with Wisconsin until the championship game is another nice coup. The double-bye should also minimize the impact of depth issues that have at times proved troublesome. Michigan State never got the Badgers on its home floor this season; here’s guessing Sparty wouldn’t mind a crack at them in neutral territory. Izzo’s bunch has the chops to win three games in Chicago this week.
  • Henry: I like the Sparty pick, but I’ll take Ohio State. I know a lot of people will be scared off by the beatdown Wisconsin put on the Buckeyes in Columbus in the regular season finale, but that result was a lot more about the Badgers than Ohio State. Thad Matta still has a very talented team, and one that on a per-possession basis has far outperformed its record. And if there’s one player in this tournament who can take over a game and engineer an upset of Wisconsin in the final, it’s D’Angelo Russell.
D'Angelo Russell And Ohio State Could Make A Run In Chicago This Week

D’Angelo Russell And Ohio State Could Make A Run This Week In Chicago. (USA TODAY Sports)

Which player are you most looking forward to watching?

  • Henry: I can’t wait to see Branden Dawson. I know he’s had an up-and-down year with some recent injury issues, but he should be ready to go on Friday. He’s one of those players where a television screen simply doesn’t do his game justice. I’ve seen him play live twice this year from the upper levels and he wowed me both times with his athleticism and sheer power. At the United Center, we should have a front row seat, and I expect his game up close to be even more eye-popping.

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What’s Trending: Championship Week Begins

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 9th, 2015

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

Indiana Fans Getting Impatient

After getting handled by Iowa and versus Michigan State in Bloomington over the last week, Indiana has now lost four of their last five games. The Hoosiers are hanging by a thread and another misstep in the Big Ten Tournament could cost them an NCAA Tournament bid. For some Indiana fans, their anger toward head coach Tom Crean is growing.

A nice idea in theory, but $12 million is quite the sum.

Izzo’s Wild Saturday

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Big Ten M5: 03.06.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 6th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Indiana’s Tuesday night loss to Iowa marks another defeat in the Hoosiers’ recent skid, where they’ve only won four times in their last eleven games. After the latest loss, fans could be heard heckling Tom Crean. This prompted Indiana athletic director, Fred Glass, to come out and give a statement of support, “He has my full support. I have a great deal of confidence in Tom’s body of work. This team overachieved early and then hit a tough patch”. Glass has a point. Crean is a victim of his early success this season, but the Hoosiers are still in a much better position than many thought they would be at the start of the season. This season — unlike other Crean campaigns in Bloomington — Indiana has overachieved.
  2. Illinois eeked out a win in its final home game of the season against Nebraska on Wednesday. It was also senior night where both Rayvonte Rice and Nnanna Egwu were honored. Egwu was recruited by Bruce Weber to play for Illinois, but the head coach he thought he would be playing for was fired after his freshman year. But the native-born Nigerian quickly won over the new coaching staff with his work ethic and model behavior off the court. Egwu may have not have fully developed on offense like Illini fans had hoped, but he’s proven himself to be a well-rounded student-athlete — something fans should be proud of.
  3. On Thursday, Wisconsin defeated Minnesota 76-63 in Minneapolis to claim its first Big Ten championship since 2008. Like seven years ago, it was an outright title and guarantees the Badgers the #1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. The win caps off what’s been an amazing season that’s met the lofty expectations placed upon the Badgers in the preseason. With Frank Kaminsky as the slight favorite for National Player of the Year, this season is one for the ages for both Wisconsin and Bo Ryan . And it should be recognized as such no matter what happens in the NCAA Tournament.
  4. The regular season is coming to an end, which means soon all the end-of-the-year accolades by different media sites will start being published. BTN kicked it off with a poll of Big Ten beat writers asking “Which teams were the most surprising and disappointing this season?” Purdue was the hands-down winner for most surprising team as they turned their season around after going 8-5 in the non-conference with two bad losses. Both Minnesota and Nebraska were chosen as the most disappointing teams. I described earlier this week what a disappointment the Cornhuskers have been, but the Gophers have also suffered a severe setback this season. After barely missing the NCAA Tournament and winning the NIT championship last season, Minnesota is now fighting just to stay out of the bottom four in the league.
  5. With Selection Sunday only nine days away, the bracketologists have been out in full force with their predictions. And the most popular one, Joe Lundari, just put out his most recent projections. Wisconsin (#2 seed), Maryland (#3), Iowa (#7), Michigan State (#7), and Ohio State (#8) all seem to be safely in the field. Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue, however, are squarely on the bubble. The Boilermakers and Hoosiers are currently in the field, while the Illini have some work to do.
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Morning Five: 03.06.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 6th, 2015

morning5

  1. There had been hope that Justin Anderson would return this weekend from a broken finger and help make Virginia a legitimate national title threat again (well as much as you can be with Kentucky this year). The Cavaliers still could end up making a run in the NCAA Tournament, but that task just got tougher as Anderson will be out for an undetermined period of time following an appendectomy on Thursday. Anderson, who had been averaging 13.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2 assists per game prior to his injury, will probably miss at least part of the ACC Tournament with Virginia, but it is possible he could return for the NCAA Tournament particularly if Virginia makes it to the second weekend. The question for Virginia is what kind of shape Anderson will be in when he returns if they even make it that far.
  2. Last week we linked to Luke Winn’s Power Rankings analyzing how the top teams stack up defensively. This week, Luke took a look at how they compare on offense. By this point in the year you know a decent amount about how these teams perform on offense and certainly to a much greater degree than you do about their defensive abilities, but there are still certain aspects of the offenses that Luke takes a look at that you probably missed. One example of this is for Virginia where he looks at where Anderson is most effective (ok, that might not be as relevant any more–see above) as well as how effective they are at getting put-backs ranking first in the nation in tempo-adjusted put-back scoring (still relevant even with Anderson out).
  3. For years people have speculated about which teams were the “first four out”, but this year for the first time ever the NCAA will actually tell us by giving those teams #1 seeds in the NIT. We had assumed that this was usually the case but this is the first time that the NCAA will do so explicitly. The benefit for teams getting these #1 seeds is primarily that they get at least one more home game although we assume that they would have been highly seeded in the NIT under any seeding format.
  4. The coaching carousel started on Wednesday with Liberty firing Dale Layer after an 8-24 season. Layer, who was 82-113 in six seasons at Liberty, led the Flames to the NCAA Tournament in 2013 with an automatic bid despite going 6-10 in the Big South regular season. Prior to his time at Liberty, he had served as the coach at Colorado State from 2000 to 2007. Given the relative anonymity of the position we suspect that this will probably be filled by a mid-major assistant or a retread since we can’t see a high-major assistant going here for his first job.
  5. Indiana fans hoping for Brad Stevens a step in to save their failing program received some bad news yesterday and it wasn’t just that Stevens will never be coming to Bloomington. Athletic Director Fred Glass issued a statement in support of Tom Crean, which would seem to indicate that Crean’s job is safe for the time being. We are not going to call for Crean’s job like some columnists who don’t follow the sport and just write to get attention, but we do think that the coach of a top 10 program should be doing more than what Crean has done thus far. So although Glass may have voiced his support for Crean we wouldn’t be shocked if he looked at other big names if those names are put out there.
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Big Ten M5: 03.04.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 4th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. What once looked like a promising season for Indiana is now fizzling, as the Hoosiers dropped another conference game Tuesday night to Iowa. The late-season swoon where the team has lost seven of their last 11 games has moved them dangerously close to the bubble. Even when things were going well, their was a bit of a gimmicky element with the large dependency on the three ball, and the lack of size. Now home fans are booing, and Tom Crean’s job security is once again going to be a hot topic of discussion. Indiana plays in front of their home audience again Saturday against Michigan State. It will get ugly if they produce another lackluster and uninspired effort.
  2. Neither team is playing for an NCAA Tournament bid so the exciting Michigan-Northwestern game on Tuesday evening got lost in the shuffle a bit. Those who missed it however missed the most entertaining game of the regular season in the league, where the Wildcats hung on to win in two overtimes. The list of heroes was a large one for Chris Collins’ hard luck team on Senior Night. JerShon Cobb came back after missing six games to play 33 minutes, Alex Olah posted a double-double, and Tre Demps made some of the most clutch shots of the season. If you were busy watching the Kentucky or Kansas games, do yourself a favor and watch the replay of this one. It’s well worth it simply for entertainment value.
  3. Three Big Ten players made the list of the ten Waymon Tisdale Award finalists announced earlier this week. It’s no surprise that the three named were D’Angelo Russell, Melo Trimble, and James Blackmon Jr. All three players are currently leading their teams in scoring, and all have had vast impacts throughout most of the season. The award is probably going to go to either Jahlil Okafor from Duke, or Russell. It’s still a distinctive honor to make the final list of ten, as many of the names on the list will more than likely be lottery picks in the 2015 NBA Draft.
  4. Many Purdue fans once thought Indiana native Branden Dawson would be playing for Matt Painter instead of Tom Izzo. Ever since then, the two sides have had an unfriendly relationship. Dawson has put up killer numbers against the West Lafayette school, and he even got into an altercation with Painter during his freshman season. So there is a great deal of vitriol coming from Purdue fans as the one that got away torments them in a different colored uniform. The two teams meet in East Lansing tonight, with plenty on the line. Maybe seeing the Purdue uniform guarding him will get Dawson back on track after recent struggles.
  5. Jarvis Johnson is probably the most important incoming recruit for Minnesota. An incredible athlete, the guard has been in and out of the top 100 of the Class of 2015. He’ll look to come in and take some of the minutes that will need to be replaced with the departures of Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu. Adapting to life in the B1g shouldn’t be a problem for Johnson however, as he almost didn’t live long enough to play high school ball. In 2010, he collapsed on the basketball court, where paramedics determined he didn’t have a pulse. Amazingly enough, he was able to get back on the court and contribute as a high school freshman, where he won a state championship. Much like the Austin Hatch story, Johnson will be another Big Ten player that will be difficult to root against.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 3rd, 2015

In a league defined by chaos this season, last weekend was fairly uneventful and arguably almost normal. There were no upsets, although there were a couple close calls as an undermanned Illinois squad had to sweat it out against Penn State at home, while Rutgers hung with Indiana thanks to the heroics of Myles Mack. Michigan State needed overtime to knock off a gritty Michigan team that once again was without the services of point guard Derrick Walton Jr. Meanwhile, Minnesota avenged an earlier loss to Nebraska by forcing an obscene 20 turnovers and holding the Cornhuskers to just 42 points. It would be obscene not to read the rest of this, so here’s the best and worst of weekend number five in the B1G.

Maurice Walker was unstoppable in the post in Minnesota's 60-42 victory over Nebraska on Saturday. (Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press)

Maurice Walker was unstoppable in the post in Minnesota’s 60-42 victory over Nebraska on Saturday. (Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press)

  • Player of the Weekend: Maurice Walker essentially stole Walter Pitchford’s lunch money, gave him a swirly, and then forged a note making fun of the teacher to get him in trouble. Cheesy elementary school metaphors aside, Walker was dominant on the low blocks for Minnesota, scoring at will on his way to a 19-point effort on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. The rest of the Gophers’ offense was nonexistent for most of the contest, so give the guards credit for pounding the ball inside to him. The fifth-year senior also added eight rebounds, two blocks and three steals. Minnesota is great at taking the ball away ( 14.8% steal rate, third nationally), but Walker is actually fourth in the Big Ten with a steal rate of 3.99 percent. He has really quick hands and does a nice job poking the ball away from post players without fouling. He had three first-half steals in this game as Nebraska coughed the ball up a total of 14 times before halftime.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Tom Crean wasn’t happy with the way Indiana had been playing, so he shook things up a bit on Saturday against Rutgers. The change meant that Troy Williams -- despite the fact that he’s had a really good season with some outstanding performances — came off of the bench. He had some silly turnovers but the sophomore also contributed a double-double in the form of 14 points and 10 rebounds. He scored on his usual array of drives and dunks, but one thing slightly unique about this performance was that he was led the break after grabbing a defensive rebound. This led to a faster break out in transition, and it also gave the Hoosiers an ability to have Yogi Ferrell spot up on the perimeter with the rest of the shooters. Don’t expect Williams to become a point forward  at Indiana anytime soon, but this was a neat look that takes advantage of Williams’ outstanding ability in the open court while giving Ferrell more looks.

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Big Ten M5: 01.28.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 28th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Since it was supposed to be played last night, people have probably figured out by now that the game featuring Michigan State and Rutgers was postponed due to the blizzard that decimated the northeastern part of the country over the last couple days. The game is being pushed to Thursday, which may give the Scarlet Knights some time to heal from a rash of injuries to their perimeter. Bishop Daniels is nursing a strained hip flexor, while freshman Mike Williams is dealing with a sprained ankle that will keep him out of action for up to two weeks. Whether or not Daniels plays or not, forward Junior Etou will be back in the lineup after missing a game due to a team disciplinary issue.
  2. Another freshman is dealing with an injury issue as well, although this one is a starter for a nationally ranked team. Indiana guard Robert Johnson suffered a knee injury in a rather unique fashion in Sunday’s tilt against Ohio State. Coach Tom Crean stated that the team’s fourth leading scorer still may play tonight when the Hoosiers travel to West Lafayette to face Purdue. Indiana has no chance against Purdue’s size, so it will have to bomb away from deep if they want to get a crucial road win. If Johnson can’t go, the onus will fall on Nick Zeisloft or Stanford Robinson to pick up the slack.
  3. The Purdue-Indiana game will feature as big of a contrast in terms of size that will be seen this season. Purdue will try to bang away inside with behemoths Isaac Haas and AJ Hammons. Indiana will counter with a much quicker lineup featuring no player taller than 6’7″. This makes what usually is one of the better rivalries in the league even more interesting this time around. Neither team really has an answer for the strong spots of the other team. It’s worth watching as well because a Hoosier loss would give each team an identical 5-3 conference mark.
  4. The other game tonight features two desperate teams looking to string together some wins to jump up from the bottom of the league standings. Minnesota travels to Penn State, where they’ll need another effort like his 12-point, 13-rebound from Maurice Walker. He’s one of the best post players in the league, albeit in a league where there aren’t many who can punish teams offensively on the block. He doesn’t always play with the aggressiveness the Gophers need, which made his efforts Saturday a big reason why they were able to beat Illinois. Penn State has some depth on the block, but Walker has the advantage over the trio of Donovon Jack, Jordan Dickerson, and Julian Moore. If the senior can continue to dominate on the low block, Minnesota can still make some noise before March.
  5. Nebraska continued to struggle on the road, as they lost by double-digits to a depleted Michigan team Tuesday night. Coach Tim Miles was succinct in his analysis, stating that ” they outcompeted us, they outexecuted us and we didn’t show much heart.” Whether or not the team was overconfident in seeing that Derrick Walton Jr would miss the game, they simply didn’t get anything done offensively. The Cornhuskers struggle sometimes even when Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway are at their offensive peak, but when they combine to go 5-for-23 from the field it’s a wrap. This team has to prove it can win on the road, and needs to do it quickly. It looked like things were starting to trend upward after winning four out of five games, but this result really makes it difficult to imagine them making a repeat NCAA Tournament appearance.
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Big Ten M5: 01.23.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 23rd, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. On Tuesday night, Iowa suffered an embarrassing 32-point loss at Wisconsin. While that certainly wasn’t the outcome the Hawkeyes were hoping for, it didn’t hurt their postseason aspirations in the grand scheme of things. However, an incident that occurred during the game has escalated into an off-court dispute between head coach Fran McCaffery and ESPN analyst Dan Dakich. The issue in question was whether Iowa center Adam Woodbury intentionally poked two different Wisconsin players in the eyes. Dakich felt his actions were intentional and called the Hawkeyes junior “cowardly” and “gutless” as a result. On his weekly radio show, McCaffery responded to Dakich’s accusation by saying that “It’s absolutely inexcusable that his network would allow him to say those things” and later demanded an apology. Dakich is known for being boisterous but he may have crossed the line with his harsh criticism here.
  2. On Wednesday night, Michigan State eked out a win at home against Penn State. The Spartans have been unusually mediocre this season and are right now headed for a relatively low seed in the NCAA Tournament — or worse yet, the bubble. A major issue has been the poor performance from their veteran backcourt of Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice. Despite being Tom Izzos’ top two scorers, they haven’t been aggressive of late and are shooting 45 percent and 39 percent from the field on the season, respectively. The frontcourt has been picking up the slack, but if history is any indication, the Spartans will need to have their guards play well to have any kind of late-season success.
  3. A battered Illinois team managed to fend off Purdue and get a much-needed win in Champaign on Wednesday night. Before the game the school announced that Aaron Cosby would be out for two weeks due to an eye injury he sustained in the Illini’s previous contest against Indiana. This meant that freshman Leron Black would get an opportunity to showcase the potential many saw in him at the beginning of the season. And boy did he ever. Black had a breakout night, registering his first career double-double (15 points and 13 rebounds) and hitting the dagger three to seal the game. If the Memphis native can turn his seemingly endless energy level into consistent production, the Illini will have yet another backcourt weapon at their disposal when they get back to full health.
  4. No team may be having a better week than Indiana. After getting an important road win at Illinois on Sunday, the Hoosiers backed it up with a statement win by blowing out Maryland in Assembly Hall on Thursday night. Currently, Mark Turgeon and Bo Ryan are the front-runners for B1G Coach of the Year, but Tom Crean should also be considered for the job he’s done this season. This program was thought to be on the decline — and the firing of its head coach imminent — after a turbulent offseason and dubious loss to Eastern Washington in November. But Crean has managed to keep his team together and now has the Hoosiers tied for first place in the conference standings.
  5. Finally, as we found out last weekend, Michigan’s Caris LeVert is done for the season because of a fractured foot. But last Saturday’s game against Northwestern may have also been Levert’s last game in a Michigan jersey given that the junior LeVert is projected to be a first-round pick. If he declares himself eligible for the NBA Draft in April, that would mean John Beilein has turned a once-unheralded recruit into a first round pick going on three years in a row (Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas are the others). That might be a nice thing to brag about, but all of the attrition from unexpected sources has to be frustrating on some level and possibly make it more difficult to get Michigan back into contention for Final Fours.
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Big Ten M5: 01.21.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 21st, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Freshmen have made much more of an impact this season than last year. Because of this, it’s difficult to truly pick an All-Freshman Team. BTN’s Shon Morris took a stab at it anyway, as he named five guards to his list. Wooden Award Semi-Finalists Melo Trimble and D’Angelo Russell made the cut, along with Indiana guard James Blackmon Jr, Northwestern guard Bryant McIntosh, and Minnesota’s Nate Mason. If there was anything to quibble with here, it would potentially be the exclusion of Purdue first-year players Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas. Both have kind of tailed off as of late in terms of production however, as the quintet of guards have had more of an impact in conference play.
  2. Indiana coach Tom Crean doesn’t necessarily have many fans in the media, and articles written about him are usually slanted toward the negative. Things weren’t helped by the train wreck of a 2013-14 season, and the turmoil that surrounded the team before this season even started. The Hoosiers have exceeded expectations in starting 14-4, and Crean deserves a good deal of credit for the way his squad has performed. Indianan has a rough stretch of games coming up, but finishing in the top five in the league and making the NCAA Tournament should not only enable Crean to not have to worry about his job, but also could put him in contention for Big Ten Coach of the Year.
  3. Purdue can pick up another conference win tonight when they take on Illinois in West Lafayette. After a sluggish start against Penn State that took a miraculous shot to force overtime, the Boilermakers are trying to figure out how to get off to better starts. They’ve trailed in each Big Ten game so far, and the catalysts for the poor starts have been a lack of communication on defense and too many turnovers. With Illinois desperate to stay in the hunt until Rayvonte Rice returns, Purdue can’t afford to let Illinois shoot the lights out in the first stanza like they did against Indiana. Locking down on defense for 40 minutes like Purdue teams of old will determine how far this team can go.
  4. Michigan State has struggled at times this season, and whether or not they turn things around by March remains to be seen. That doesn’t mean that fans of the green and white should get too upset according to Graham Couch of the Lansing State-Journal. Being upset at this non-top 25 unit shows just how good the program has been under Tom Izzo. There’s been some recruiting misses of the highly-publicized variety (Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander, Tyus Jones), and lesser-hyped players that have become really good (Monte Morris, Tyler Ulis). But the fact that this year’s team could still turn things around, combined with a 2015-16 team that has a chance to be really solid should be enough for fans to tolerate the struggles of this team.
  5. College Basketball Talk listed some of the surprises and disappointments so far this season, and B1G teams made the cut on both lists. Maryland made an appearance as one of bigger surprises, with Coach Mark Turgeon being mentioned as a possible National Coach of the Year candidate. As far as disappointments, both Michigan and Nebraska were considered. Both teams won last night, and have a combined 8-5 mark in conference play right now. But they both started the season in the top 25, losing that distinction by playing poorly in the early going. The B1G as a whole has been disappointing, and the dip from both of these squads has played a large role in its demise.
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