Who Won The Week? Indiana, Arkansas, and a Team Led by the Nephew of an NBA Hall of Famer…

Posted by Kenny Ocker @KennyOcker on January 17th, 2014

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill.

WINNER: Indiana

The Indiana faithful certainly had something to cheer about this week. Could the Hoosiers be on the upswing? (Getty)

The Indiana faithful certainly had something to cheer about this week. Could the Hoosiers be on the upswing? (Getty)

The Hoosiers were off to a poor start in Big Ten play, falling at Illinois in overtime and then getting blown out at Assembly Hall by Michigan State. The second week of conference play proved to be far better in Bloomington. Led by freshman forward Noah Vonleh’s 19 points and six rebounds, the Hoosiers went into State College and beat Penn State 79-76 on Saturday. And when I say “led by,” I mean “Vonleh was the only Hoosier to make more than half of his shots, and his teammates combined to go 16-of-49 from the field.” A road win is a road win, after all, and when it’s your first win in conference, it’s nothing to complain about. But what really won the week for Indiana was its performance against heretofore undefeated Wisconsin on Tuesday night. The Badgers, one of four teams in the nation undefeated to that point, came into Assembly Hall riding a 12-game winning streak against the Hoosiers. Yeah, that’s over. Yogi Ferrell made sure of that. The sophomore guard lit up the nets for 25 points while also dishing four assists, leading his team to an instant resume-building win, downing the Badgers 75-72. Considering that Indiana’s best win to that point was over an 11-7 Washington team, the Hoosiers picked a mighty fine time to show up huge. Because of their skimpy resume, though, the Hoosiers will likely have to go at least 10-8 in conference, if not 11-7, to get an NCAA Tournament at-large bid come March. This week’s turnaround from a slow start will give them a much better opportunity to get to that point, and to get a ticket to the Big Dance.

(Related winners: Undefeated-in-conference Michigan State and Michigan, who have the conference lead to themselves now. Related losers: Penn State, which is a painful 0-5 in conference so far; Wisconsin; Wisconsin forward Duje Dukan, who got one rebound in 11 minutes, ruining his chance at 11 trillion in the box score.)

LOSER: Iowa State

So much for that 14-0 start in Ames. A pesky trip to Norman undid that. And then the familiar hoodoo against Kansas reared its head again. And now the Cyclones are 14-2. Somewhere in the middle, star guard and Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane got hurt, although you wouldn’t know it by his performances. Iowa State went into Oklahoma’s gym and decided that letting Ryan Spangler grab every rebound he possibly could (15, including seven on the offensive glass) would be a fantastic idea. Spangler turned that into 16 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field and 8-of-9 shooting from the free throw line. The Cyclones also forgot to guard guard Buddy Hield, who had 22 points and hit six three-pointers. That’s a really good way to blow a game in which Kane had 23 points and nine rebounds before rolling his ankle late, and the Robin to his Batman, Melvin Ejim, having 21 points and six rebounds of his own.

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Unbeaten Watch: Will Wisconsin’s Winning Streak End in Bloomington?

Posted by Jonathan Batuello & Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 14th, 2014

The unbeaten watch continues on Tuesday night as the Badgers visit Bloomington to handle Yogi Ferrell and company. No game is a gimme in the Big Ten and Bo Ryan’s teams have traditionally given fits to Tom Crean’s offense. Jonathan Batuello and Deepak Jayanti from the Big Ten microsite address two key questions about this week’s Tuesday night special.

Can Tom Crean's Hoosiers end the Badgers' winning streak? (AP).

Can Tom Crean’s Hoosiers end the Badgers’ winning streak? (AP).

When the Badgers visited Bloomington last year, they held a potent Hoosiers’ offense to just 59 points and dominated the game defensively. Can Indiana figure out a way to score against the Ben Brust/Josh Gasser/Traevon Jackson backcourt? If not, where will they find offense?

JB:  We’ve all heard about Tom Crean’s struggles against Wisconsin, but  it isn’t just his Indiana teams that Wisconsin has held down. The Badgers are going for their 13th straight win against the Hoosiers (the most for any program consecutively against them ever) and have held them to 60 or fewer points in eight of those 12 losses. It seems Bo Ryan’s defense causes fits for this squad and the trio of guards will certainly cause issues again (even with Yogi Ferrell having a great year). Wisconsin has held opponents to an effective field goal rate of 44.3 percent and Indiana isn’t superb shooting the ball anyway (50.5%). So, quite frankly, Indiana won’t be scoring a lot. To get some baskets against the Badgers’ defense, it will need to corral some offensive rebounds (it ranks in the top 10 with 12.8 offensive boards per game) and use its athleticism in transition. If it doesn’t do those two things, the Hoosiers will struggle to break 60 points once again this year.

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Big Ten M5: 01.14.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 14th, 2014

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  1. Injuries have plagued Michigan State throughout the season and have affected some of their most important players, including Gary Harris, Branden Dawson, and Adreian Payne. Payne did not play in Saturday’s win against Minnesota because of a nagging ankle injury. Now, Tom Izzo says he will keep his star big man on the bench until he’s 100 percent healthy. Michigan State has managed to keep winning despite its health misfortunes, but if this keeps being an issue, it could affect their chances of a Big Ten title and a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. Sadly, this would deprive us of seeing the full potential of one of the better teams Izzo has put together during his tenure, a loss for fans of Big Ten basketball.
  2. It has not been the best of weeks for Ohio State. The Buckeyes are on a two-game losing skid after dropping games at Michigan State (in overtime) and at home versus Iowa. If the Buckeyes are to end this streak and insert themselves back into the Big Ten championship conversation, they’ll need to do it with their elite defense. LaQuinton Ross has been unable to replace last season’s Big Ten scoring leader, Deshaun Thomas (19.8 PPG), as many had projected. So the Buckeyes are left with focusing on their top-ranked defense (0.87 points per possession) to shore up their offensive inefficiencies. They failed to do this in the last two games when they gave up 0.96 and 1.14 points per possession, respectively, against the Spartans and Hawkeyes.
  3. Tom Crean‘s team isn’t where he hoped it would be at this point in the season. Indiana is 1-2 in conference play and 11-5 overall with no signature wins on its midseason resume. Things aren’t about to get any easier as an undefeated Wisconsin visits Assembly Hall tonight. Crean had high praise for Bo Ryan‘s squad on Monday: “I have tremendous respect for that program. That’s what a great team looks like. I think you can start with Bo, and that’s what a great coach looks like.” The Indiana head man has been at the receiving end of Ryan’s ‘greatness’ over the years, as he is 3-14 all-time in games against Ryan (0-10 while at Indiana). Given how the Badgers have been blowing out their lesser opponents, Crean will have to do one heck of a coaching job for his Hoosiers to earn his first Big Ten win over Ryan.
  4. Once the announcement came that Mitch McGary would opt to undergo back surgery and effectively end his season, most thought Michigan would struggle and might even fall apart. At least so far, the Wolverines have been able to tread water competently and are currently sit at 3-0 in the Big Ten. A big reason has been the aggressive play of freshman Derrick Walton, Jr., who had the tough duty of replacing last year’s National Player of Year, Trey Burke. Burke was a facilitator who made everyone on the team better, while Walton has focused more on getting his own shot because that is what his team needs right now. On the last possession of last Thursday’s game against Nebraska, Walton drove the ball for an and-one that secured the win. No one is expecting Michigan to compete for a Big Ten title this season, but Walton’s newfound confidence will keep the Wolverines competitive and set them up for high expectations next season.
  5. If you happened to catch Sunday night’s game of Illinois at Northwestern, you probably wished you had watched the Golden Globes instead, or even the Yule-Log channel. The Wildcats won an awkward, hard-to-watch, 49-43 affair where both teams shot below 40 percent from the field. While the game certainly didn’t help the overall brand of college basketball, it did get Northwestern’s first-year head coach, Chris Collins, his first Big Ten win. His father, former NBA head coach Doug Collins, was in Welsh-Ryan arena and was able to share the nice moment with him. It was a big moment in his early coaching career and is another step in the right direction for the rebuilding process in Evanston.
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Big Ten M5: 01.13.14 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 13th, 2014

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  1. Just when it appeared that Branden Dawson is finally healthy and ready to contribute consistently for the Spartans, he seems to have a few health issues over the past two games. Tom Izzo said, “There’s something bothering him. He hasn’t been that way in a month and he’s been really, really, really, for the whole year he’s been pretty good. Despite averaging a double-double for most of the season, Dawson was a non-factor over the weekend when the host Spartans beat the Gophers in overtime. The top-10 ranked squad can’t afford any more injuries, especially with Adreian Payne sitting out the last game with a sore foot. Back to Dawson, regardless of the immediate concerns to his team, we can only hope that the tests don’t show anything negative because he has been plagued with injuries over the last year and half or so.
  2. With Mitch McGary sidelined indefinitely, the other Michigan sophomores need to contribute more than expected if the Wolverines hope to contend for the Big Ten title. Nik Stauskas is already doing his part by averaging 17.4 PPG, but Glenn Robinson III has been inconsistent until the last few weeks. Over the last seven games, Robinson has averaged 16.3 PPG, living up to his billing of a potential pick in next year’s NBA lottery. John Beilein said, “You just watch what he’s going to do here as he get more comfortable with the role we want him to play.” Now if Derrick Walton can take care of the ball and chip in 13 PPG consistently, the Wolverines may beat the top teams such as Michigan State or Wisconsin, especially at home.
  3. If losing two players to the NBA – Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller – wasn’t tough enough for your offense, it could be worse if the rotation is unclear two months into the season. Tom Crean had his work cut out, but the rotations still appear to be uncertain and it may not helping the Hoosiers as they struggled to beat Penn State on the road over the weekend. When asked about this topic, Crean responded, “We have a chance to be deep. What we’re imploring is to have that concentration and focus when you’re sitting out so when you do go in you’re absolutely prepared.” Noah Vonleh and Yogi Ferrell have been and will continue to be fixtures in the offense, but Crean needs a consistent third scoring option, whether it may be Will Sheehey or Jeremy Hollowell.
  4. Emotions of a college basketball fan can be very volatile during a close game, especially if the team doesn’t have a consistent scoring option. Buckeyes fans see the talent of LaQuinton Ross when he shoots three-pointers with ease of the pick-and-rolls, but at the same time, worry when he tries to dribble in traffic and turn the ball over in the half-court. OSU’s 84-74 loss to Iowa on Sunday was an excellent example of the “give and take” of Ross’ game. He scored 22 points in the game, but also turned the ball over three times over the last five minutes, helping Iowa pick up easy baskets in transition. Nonetheless, it is still positive that Ross bounced back after a tough game – just five points – against Michigan State earlier in the week.
  5. Richard Pitino appears to get close to winning a big game within the conference, but could still be far from closing crucial games. Against Michigan, his Gophers couldn’t close the last two minutes, which resulted in a loss. Similarly, they couldn’t avoid the Spartans from staging a comeback in East Lansing over the weekend. However, his players appear to be gaining confidence with every game and Malik Smith proved on Saturday that he could be a legit scoring threat, specifically from the perimeter. Smith was 5-of-10 from beyond the arc and he made two clutch shots during the last two minutes in a hostile environment.
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Big Ten M5: 12.18.13 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 18th, 2013

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  1. The up-and-down early part of Derrick Walton Jr.‘s college career took another turn on Saturday in Michigan’s loss to Arizona. Walton only played 14 minutes and contributed one point, one assist, and one turnover. John Beilein still has faith in his rookie point guard, though, and he will still be the starter when the Wolverines take on Stanford on Saturday. The fact that Walton hasn’t quite been what Michigan has expected so far is minimized by the play of Spike Albrecht, though. There’s no Darius Morris or Trey Burke to lead the way, but Michigan still has a chance to go far in March if the combination of Albrecht and Walton Jr. can be effective.
  2. The success Wisconsin has had so far has been the story of the B1G so far, and maybe the biggest story nationally in the first six weeks of the season. The major reason for this success is, of course, the coaching talent of Bo Ryan. Ryan runs one of the unique programs in the country, mainly because he preaches and practices the same fundamentals that many other coaches tend to gloss over. This is why the running joke in the preseason every year seems to be to avoid placing Wisconsin lower than fourth no matter who his players are. Ryan’s system and attention to detail is probably worth 18-20 wins a season by itself, but now that he has it in place and the talent on this year’s unit, you can see why the Badgers are 12-0 and the number-one ranked team in the RPI.
  3. Penn State blew a golden opportunity on Saturday, as the Nittany Lions let Princeton come back from a 20- point deficit to beat them in overtime. This overshadowed the team’s return to its old on-campus arena, the Rec Center. The Nittany Lions got a tremendous turnout at the gate, and the game seemed to bring some excitement to a program that hasn’t always been that popular in the shadow of a formerly dominant football program. The biggest takeaway from this game and some of the other losses B1G teams suffered on Saturday was that the middle pack of the league is still wide open. Minnesota, Illinois, Penn State, Nebraska  and Purdue are all pretty equal, and the games when they play against each will go a long way to determining which teams go where in the postseason.
  4. Despite the success Indiana has enjoyed in the last two seasons and the success he had previously at Marquette, Tom Crean still has his fair share of critics. But the Hoosiers’ head coach was his own worst critic after Indiana lost to Notre Dame in Indianapolis on Saturday. Crean mainly thought his team did a poor job of getting the ball inside to center Noah Vonleh. The Hoosiers are not a great or even a good long-distance shooting team, and with a lack of great big men in the league, a renewed emphasis on pounding the ball inside will lead to better looks for shooters that need clean looks. The Notre Dame loss could serve as something of a wake-up call in terms of strategy and potentially turn the Hoosiers’ season around.
  5. Ohio State is winning, and they are winning with one of the best defensive teams in the country. One of its key contributors has been Shannon Scott, who along with fellow point guard Aaron Craft, is averaging over two steals per game. The Buckeyes have already had some notable defensive performances, highlighted by holding Marquette to 19 percent shooting from the field in its own building. On Saturday the Buckeyes held North Dakota State’s Marshall Bjorkland, the NCAA’s active field goal percentage leader, to a ‘mere’ 50 percent shooting, which is significantly less than his career mark of 66.6 percent. Defense is the primary reason why Ohio State is ranked second in the country and will have as good of a chance as any team in the B1G to cut down the nets in April.
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Big Ten M5: 12.16.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on December 16th, 2013

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  1. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has suspended redshirt freshman forward Kenny Kaminski indefinitely. Izzo had already suspended the freshman earlier this season, but this time there is no timeline for the return. After a close win over Oakland on Saturday, Izzo said, “Kenny Kaminski’s got to grow up, he’s just got to grow up. And I’m gonna keep suspending him or sitting him out until he takes care of all his business that he’s got to take care of, whether it’s in school, off the court.” Regardless of Kaminski’s playing time, the Spartans need to make sure they enter the Big Ten season with good chemistry, and most importantly, good health. If Izzo can get a healthy Gary Harris back in the lineup, his team should be in good shape to contend for the Big Ten title.
  2. Before writing about college basketball for Grantland, Mark Titus rode the bench at Ohio State during the 2006-07 season when the Buckeyes made it to the national title game. Titus was a walk-on who didn’t play much during his time at Columbus, and Thad Matta doesn’t want Jake Lorbach, another walk-0n, to play like Titus. “He [told me], ‘I don’t want another Mark Titus. So just try not to do that.’ But sometimes you can’t help yourself,” Lorbach said. The 6’7″ forward has averaged only 1.5 PPG and is not expected to contribute immediately, but after a year under his belt, he may be able to play a reserve role on the team.
  3. After a tough loss to Notre Dame at the Crossroads Classic on Saturday, Indiana still hasn’t secured a marquee win during the non-conference season. Inside The Hall‘s Jordan Littman discusses the Hoosiers’ ongoing search for an identity. After the game, Tom Crean said, “Our identity has got to be in the fact that going into the game, we were fifth in the country in field goal percentage defense, we were No. 1 in the country in rebound margin, we were way up in the country in getting to the free throw line.” Noah Vonleh needs to learn how to stay out of foul trouble against tougher opponents because his time on the court is too valuable. When he is on the court, the Hoosiers can rebound with reckless abandon, but without him out there, they lose their only strength at this juncture of the season.
  4. John Groce’s Illini lost a close one to Oregon over the weekend, but the Illinois fan base did an excellent job of representing its team on the west coast. According to Illiniboard, 15 percent of the 10,000 fans in the arena were supporting the Illini, which is pretty impressive for a road game taking place in Portland. Groce’s squad led for most of the game in front of the raucous crowd, but it couldn’t find any kind of offense over the past five minutes of the game when the Ducks were able to get to the free throw line consistently. After two close losses to Georgia Tech and now to Oregon, the Illini need a win over Missouri next weekend before beginning conference play. The annual “Bragging Rights” game will take place on Saturday in St. Louis.
  5. One more shot against Arizona and Michigan could have erased its disappointing non-conference season, but the Wolverines will need to wait a bit longer to regain their confidence. John Beilein’s team almost pulled off the victory over #1 ranked Arizona on Saturday afternoon, but it couldn’t close the deal over the last minute. When asked about beating good teams afterward, Beilein said, “The devil’s in the details.” Despite the loss, Caris LeVert continued to impress with 15 points, but he and his teammates couldn’t handle Arizona’s size and athleticism at the end of the day. After a tough first month of action, the Wolverines won’t have it easy against conference competition because the tougher defensive units in the Big Ten have traditionally given Beilein’s offense trouble scoring.
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College Basketball by the Tweets: A B1G/ACC Tie, UNC Plays Jekyll and Hyde…

Posted by David Harten on December 5th, 2013

bythetweets

So can anyone figure North Carolina out? Seriously, that’s a question. In the past four games, the Tar Heels have done what can only be deciphered as playing up (or down) to their competition, losing to Belmont at home before beating defending national champion Louisville, then losing to UAB before taking down the No. 1 team in the nation, Michigan State, on Wednesday night. So please, someone explain what makes this team act the way it acts. The Tar Heels’ tussle with the Spartans highlighted the two-day Big Ten/ACC Challenge, with the two conferences tying at 6-6 for the second consecutive year. When it was all over, the national focus was less on the tie and more on the fact that the Tar Heels have two wins over top five teams and two losses to unranked bubble teams.

Speaking of disappointing Michigan State performances, does anyone remember that Garrick Sherman spent the beginning of his career with the Spartans? Well, he’s at Notre Dame now, which everyone probably knows after the five-overtime thriller against Louisville last year, of which he didn’t play a minute of until the first overtime and still finished with 17 points. He’s proven a capable scorer as a fifth-year senior, putting up an event-high 29 points in a 98-93 Irish loss at Iowa. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 12.05.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 5th, 2013

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  1. The Big Ten and ACC played to a 6-6 tie after last night’s game, but the conference appears to win in one way. Some of of USA Today’s college basketball writers got together and almost all of them put the Big Ten ahead of the ACC and every other conference in terms of supremacy. With the loss of talent from the B1G last year and the ACC adding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, it seemed like the conference power rankings may switch back to the coast. From top-to-bottom, though, the Big Ten seems to once again be the best in the country. Every team in the conference has a chance to beat almost anyone. Minnesota, Purdue and Northwestern have players, Penn State has a great guard duo and even Nebraska has shown life with wins over mediocre Georgia and Miami teams. The top of the conference may not have two or three national championship contenders, but the conference season will be a grind for Big Ten teams with no nights of an almost assured win.
  2. It wasn’t a pretty ending for Indiana in its 69-52 loss to Syracuse, and Tom Crean certainly wasn’t happy about it either. He called it the worst performance by one of his teams in his coaching career and said that it “sickened my stomach.” Point noted, Crean, as the Hoosiers were blown out in the second half after being tied 33-33. This is a young Hoosiers team, so the issues of “youth, inexperience and lack of leadership” make sense. Specifically put this on Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey, the latter of whom had as many fouls as points and rebounds combined with three. For Indiana to go beyond just a middle of the pack Big Ten team it will need these two players to take over as leaders on and off the court. Most troubling is Ferrell saying there were Hoosier players in the locker room who seemed like they didn’t believe the team could win. Ferrell and Sheehey will need to stop that talk if Indiana has any intention of competing for the top of the Big Ten going against competition like Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
  3. Tom Crean wasn’t the only one calling something terrible after a Big Ten team’s loss in the B1G/ACC Challenge. IllinoisJohn Groce also called his team’s execution “absolutely pathetic” following its lose to Georgia Tech 67-64. He is likely referring to his team only making one basket in the last nine minutes of the game as it blew a 12-point lead. One big question for this team coming into the year was who would take over when most needed. Rayvonte Rice still performed well with 24 points, but once he stopped scoring no one on the team could pick up the slack. This is something to keep an eye on throughout the year, because the team needs more than just Rice to come up in need.
  4. In the age of celebrity scandals and Twitter arguments, sometimes it’s nice to see a basketball with a “good guy” perception seem to, well, legitimately be a good guy. Aaron Craft is an absolute menace on the court, as he was last night in with 10 points and five steals in Ohio State’s 76-60 win over Maryland. Off the court, though, his biggest vice according to his roommates is a “scoop.” A scoop of ice cream that is. This behind-the-scenes look at Craft’s life on campus and through talking to his roommates hits on a lot of good points. We’ve all heard about his academics, but also noting that he doesn’t go to bars or curse, and that his roommates “Taco Tursday” tradition drew 1000 people in an Ohio State event is enjoyable. If you want to read about a college athlete not dealing with a rape scandal or public intoxication, you’ll enjoy this story.
  5. That’s the Wisconsin we have grown accustomed to seeing. This year, the Badgers scoring has been up thanks to slightly faster play and terrific shooting, but last night they got back to winning a low-scoring game against Virginia 48-38. Wisconsin shot 28.8 percent from the field, which is the lowest a Bo Ryan coached team has shot and still won the game since 2001. For a team that had been shooting lights out this season, it’s a good sign to know the defense can still carry the Badgers to victory. It won’t always be able to hit 43.6 percent of threes in games. The Badgers will have to win some of these low-scoring affairs once the Big Ten season rolls around and this showed it hasn’t forgotten how to win ugly.
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Four Thoughts on Indiana’s Loss to Syracuse

Posted by Max Jakubowski on December 4th, 2013

Indiana was dismantled by Syracuse Tuesday evening, 69-52. The Hoosiers were looking to avenge last season’s Sweet Sixteen loss in the NCAA Tournament, but that lengthy Syracuse 2-3 zone stumped Tom Crean’s offense again. Here are four thoughts on last night’s game and what it means for Indiana going forward.

The Rematch Looked a Lot Like the Original. (Getty)

The rematch looked a lot like the original. (Getty)

  1. Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh led Indiana with 12 and 17 points, respectively, but after that there was minimal offensive production from the other Hoosiers. Senior Will Sheehey really struggled from the field, going 1-of-7 and finishing with only three points. Ferrell will get his from long-range shooting and Vonleh can finish on the blocks and on putbacks, but Sheehey has to give Tom Crean another offensive weapon for this team to be successful. Over the previous two seasons, IU hadn’t faced a problem of offensive inconsistency, with players like Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo able to create their own shots. This season, the veteran Sheehey needs to really improve as a three-point threat to keep the offense flowing (he’s shooting a career-low 21.7 percent). With Sheehey also Indiana’s best on-ball defender, it’s proving tough for him to transition from defense to offense.
  2. One way to beat a 2-3 zone is shooting from beyond the arc. Indiana didn’t follow through on that tip, shooting a dreary 28 percent in last night’s game. Last year, the Hoosiers had four players who shot over 40 percent from distance. This year, Ferrell has the highest percentage at 38 percent, and he was the only one to make a three against Syracuse (4-of-7). Sheehey can normally knock down perimeter shots and freshmen Collin Hartman and Troy Williams can shoot as well, but the key shooter is sophomore Jeremy Hollowell.  Hollowell resembles his former teammate Christian Watford; a big, athletic wing who can stretch defenses with his bombs. The problem is that Hollowell only attempted one three-point shot against Syracuse; he needs to become more than just a specialty guy when he’s on the floor 29 minutes for Tom Crean’s team. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 12.02.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on December 2nd, 2013

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  1. Tom Izzo is not afraid to discipline his star players. Over the past few seasons, he benched Korie Lucious and eventually kicked him out of the team. He benched Kris Allen midway through the season and dealt with the consequences with the media. A few days ago, he benched Keith Appling, Adreian Payne, and Branden Dawson because they skipped classes during the finals week. Not starting the three stars did not affect the Spartans as they beat Mount Saint Mary’s 98-65 at home. When asked about the decision, Izzo said, “It’s not about missing a class or two. It’s about you get here to finals week and there’s certain things you’ve got to take care of. Unless you’re dead, you’ve got to get ‘em done.”
  2. Nik Stauskas may have the most scrutinized ankle in the Big Ten. He didn’t start against Coppin State over Thanksgiving weekend because he sprained his ankle against Charlotte. Stauskas did not play against Coppin State, but he wasn’t needed because freshman Zak Irvin chipped with 24 points as the Wolverines won the game. John Beilein is unsure about Stauskas’ status for the game against Duke, which is part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. “I don’t know,” Beilein said. He added, “Until he’s practicing 100 percent, he won’t go in there. He’s got to be pretty close to 100 percent to go in there.” Without Stauskas, it will be extremely difficult for the Wolverines to beat Jabari Parker’s Blue Devils in Cameron. Stauskas is averaging 20.3 PPG and has clearly been the best scoring option for Beilein so far this season.
  3. Illinois freshman, Jaylon Tate, was impressive against UNLV by dishing five assists during the game. Tate has surprised the fan base so far, but junior guard’s Tracy Abrams‘ toughness is still more important this season. After an impressive win over the Rebels on the road, the Illini struggled to beat Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne 57-55 at home. Abrams was pivotal in leading Groce’s team to a win by scoring 15 points. Groce on Abrams: “This guy right here, without him we probably don’t get it done. He willed us. He had that look in his eyes.” Abrams doesn’t have a great jumper but he wills his way into the paint to bang against the big guys and get to the free throw line off the pick-and-roll play.
  4. Even though Ohio State is ranked in the top 10 in the country,  it is unclear who their best player is this season. We know Aaron Craft is a defensive forcem but he isn’t always reliable to put up points to lead his team against formidable competition. LaQuinton Ross is supposed to succeed Deshaun Thomas as the main offensive scorer this year, but he has averaged just 8 PPG so far this season. So the question remains: who is Ohio State’s “alpha dog”? Despite Ross’ slow start, he still remains the best option for Ohio State, otherwise, they will have a tough time scoring against tougher competition.
  5. Three weeks into the regular season, are we ready to say that Indiana is a contender in the Big Ten? Or are they still “rebuilding,” despite their excellent freshmen: Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams? USA Today interviewed head coach Tom Crean to get his view on this season. When asked about Vonleh, Crean responded, “I think he wants to be one of the best players in the country. He’s well-aware of what other guys are doing because he’s played against those guys.” Vonleh is an absolute beast on the boards (10.4 rebounds per game) and could average a double-double this season. With consistent three-point shooting, the Hoosiers have a legit shot to compete for a Big Ten title, or at least be competitive at home against the top teams from the conference.
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AAC M5: 11.25.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on November 25th, 2013

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  1. In sad news, particularly so close to the holidays, the family home of Cincinnati forward Jeremiah Davis III was severely damaged by a fire last week. No one was injured. “It’s Thanksgiving you know and I’m just thankful for my family,” Davis III told the News Record. “They’re what’s most important. Family is the biggest thing.” Davis said his teammates’ support has been invaluable. “They gave me their condolences and have been trying to make me laugh to just get my mind off of that.” Head coach Mick Cronin said the university is trying to figure out how to help his family without running afoul of NCAA rules. “We’re working on it but it’s a process,” Cronin said. “Nothing ever goes quickly with the NCAA.”
  2. Louisville rolled through its first three games at home in easy fashion, looking every bit a consensus top three team in America. Then came a weekend trip to Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun, where we would imagine Rick Pitino will not be booking another trip soon. The Cardinals slopped their way through a Saturday win over Fairfield — “This was a bad performance by us… But we’ll come back. I don’t expect us to have two bad games in a row.” — and then proved their coach wrong by getting manhandled by North Carolina on Sunday. Pitino blamed the loss on the team’s defense: “It’s quite evident tonight that this is not the same team defensively at the three, four and five spot.” Unfortunately, it’s the exact same players at the three spot and the four spot as a year ago, which suggests that the absence of NBA first-round pick Gorgui Dieng has weakened the team defensively as whole.
  3. Connecticut missed out on the last Big East Tournament as we’ve known it due to academic troubles last season, and the AAC won’t be playing its tournament in the Big Apple this year. And yet senior guard Shabazz Napier still managed to have his Kemba Walker moment in the world’s most famous arena, dropping 47 points over two nights at MSG to lead the Huskies to a 2KSports Classic title. “That’s my big brother. I try to emulate everything that he does in a sense, but also put my type of talent, my type of skills on it,” Napier said of Walker, the MVP of the 2011 Big East and NCAA Tournaments. “I’m not trying to be him — that’s hard shoes to fill. I’m just trying to be Shabazz.” Indiana’s Tom Crean, whose Hoosiers lost to UConn in the final, had a different comparison in mind. “I imagine it would be in the NFL like trying to deal with a great running back — like Barry Sanders or Adrian Peterson now, something like that.”
  4. Playing a smaller but still crucial role in UConn’s MSG win was senior Tyler Olander, a former starter adjusting to a bench role this year. “You just have to be ready when your number is called,” he said, and he was when foul trouble snared Phil Nolan and Amida Brimah. In 24 minutes of action, he notched only four points and four rebounds, but he also got two steals, including one after Napier’s go-ahead basket than ended up being the game-winner. Olander had an eventful summer in a bad way, getting arrested twice and earning a spot in coach Kevin Ollie’s doghouse. Since then, he has been working hard to rebuild his reputation. “I’m so proud of Tyler and how he’s handled himself off the court,” Ollie said Friday night, “and that’s giving him the opportunity to do the different things he’s doing on the court.”
  5. It’s still early, but the AAC continues to struggle to acquire good wins this season. As of Sunday night, the conference ranked ninth in RPI, with no wins over a team currently in the top 50 (although Indiana is likely to end up there). Only UConn (#14), Cincinnati (#45) and SMU (#78) are in the top 100. Again, it’s early, and the RPI will definitely shift substantially in the weeks and months ahead. But nearly three weeks into the college basketball season, it’s hard to dispute that the conference is off to a disappointing start. If it doesn’t start getting wins over decent teams soon, it risks a disappointing overall season; just ask the 2011 and 2012 Pac-10, which discovered that if none of your teams beats anybody in the non-conference slate, they don’t turn into quality wins themselves for conference foes come January and February.
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Rebounding Work Key for Indiana When Facing a Zone

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 22nd, 2013

After watching two weeks of the regular season and reading at least a month of preseason coverage, it is a well known fact that the Hoosiers may not have a consistent shooting threat from beyond the arc. Even though Yogi Ferrell has improved his long-range shot in the early-going (41%), Will Sheehey has been ice cold (24%) and without Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford, there are few other options. Syracuse laid out a recipe for success against the Hoosiers during the NCAA Tournament last season, which is that Indiana struggles against an athletic zone. That specific game, combined with ongoing question marks about their long-range shooting, provides enough reason for opposing coaches to to use the strategy. But while a zone may serve to slow Indiana’s offense down, the Hoosiers will have a huge rebounding edge with their front line of Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams. For instance, Washington utilized a zone against the Hoosiers last night and it worked in one sense because Tom Crean’s squad shot just 3-of-14 from beyond the arc. However, the zone exposed the offensive glass and the Hoosiers nearly doubled up the Huskies on the boards, 47-27. This tradeoff should continue throughout the season because teams are likely to zone the Hoosiers, and Vonleh and Williams relentlessly attack the glass.

Noah Vonleh (right) is a rebounding machine.

Noah Vonleh (right) is a rebounding machine.

Vonleh was described as a “pogo stick” by the announcers during the game and it may be a fair description because he is proving his rebounding strength, especially on the offensive end. The freshman forward is averaging 12.5 RPG this season and grabbed four offensive boards against Washington. He has excellent footwork in the paint and uses his body to effectively to block out his defender. The Huskies did a good job of trapping Ferrell and Jeremy Hollowell in the high post, forcing them to shoot at the end of the shot clock, but Vonleh was in the right place at the right time to retrieve the caroms. In general, a zone defense leaves the offensive glass open because three defenders crowd the players around the free throw line, which leaves lanes to attack the glass. Even the mighty and athletic Syracuse zone has issues covering the offensive glass because the baseline or the weak side of the basket is usually wide open.

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