Feast Week Mission Briefing: Kansas in the Orlando Classic

Posted by Kory Carpenter on November 27th, 2014

In a loaded Feast Week of action, several Big 12 schools will head to a neutral site to take on all comers and hopefully build their resumes. Let’s take a look at each, this time with Kansas in the Orlando Classic.

Catching Up: Bill Self claimed that his team would eventually forget all about that 32-point drubbing at the hands of Kentucky last week in the Champions Classic. An Orlando Classic championship would certainly help. So far, the Jayhawks have really only proved they can beat bad teams, defeating UC-Santa Barbara and Rider at home. Self has mixed up his starting lineup so far and its unclear if or when he will settle on the same five guys every night. Junior forward Perry Ellis leads the team with 11.3 PPG. Five-star freshman forward Cliff Alexander is second on the team with 5.3 RPG and had 10 points on 4-4 shooting in just 13 minutes earlier this week against Rider. Freshman point guard Devonte Graham sat out last game with a sprained shoulder, but he should be able to go this week in Orlando. Ukrainian freshman guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk received his first career start against Rider and did not disappoint, going 4-for-7 from the field with 10 points and five rebounds.

Bill Self is still trying to find the right rotation this year. (KUSports.com)

Bill Self is still trying to find the right rotation this year. (KUSports.com)

Opening Round Preview: The Jayhawks open up the tournament against Rhode Island, an undefeated Atlantic-10 club which most recently defeated #21 Nebraska. The Rams are 13th in the country with 45 RPG and are led in scoring by sophomore guard E.C Mathews, who is averaging 16.3 PPG. Mathews had 26 points in the win over Nebraska, but it took him 20 shots to get there. As a team the Rams are first in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (19.1) and their opponents have shot just 20.7 percent from three. They haven’t done much better themselves, however, shooting 21.9 percent from beyond the arc through three games. In the win over Nebraska, both teams combined to shoot 6-39 from three-point range. It’s hard to imagine Rhode Island staying in this game if Kansas can reach the 70-point mark. The Rams scored 72 against Umass-Lowell and 53 in regulation against Nebraska. They were able to win both games because of their defense, and they will have to play even better defensively to keep the Jayhawks in that neighborhood.

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Michigan State Frontcourt Finding Itself Ahead of Crucial Stretch

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 25th, 2014

Michigan State’s narrow victory against Navy in its season opener raised a few serious concerns for Spartans fans, not the least of which was the team’s frontcourt play outside of Branden Dawson. Not only did forwards Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling combine for just 10 points in that win, but the Midshipmen found surprising offensive success near the basket, unearthing countless easy looks on their way to 56 percent shooting inside the arc. After showing some positive flashes in a loss to Duke, however, and playing markedly better against Loyola (Chicago) in its home opener, the Michigan State big men seem to be taking incremental steps in the right direction. On Monday night, in a 79-52 victory over Santa Clara – an evening in which Dawson was sidelined with the flu – those small steps turned into even bigger strides, as Schilling, Costello and Dawson-fill-in Marvin Clark Jr. demonstrated a level of assertiveness and production that was largely missing 10 days ago. With the Spartans’ most crucial week of non-conference play looming just ahead, it’s a sign of improvement that may have come in the nick of time.

Michigan State's Gavin Schilling had a big night against Santa Clara on Monday. (Photo: Mike Carter, Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

Michigan State’s Gavin Schilling had a big night against Santa Clara on Monday. (Photo: Mike Carter, Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

Tom Izzo mentioned the 6’9’’ Schilling as a possible breakout player before the season began, and he fully looked the part – in terms of production, aggression and physique. After playing somewhat tentatively against Navy, Schilling was at times dominant against the smaller Broncos, scoring 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and securing 11 rebounds in just 18 minutes on the court – his first career double-double. “He’s so strong and athletic… he’s got a nice jump-hook, he can use both hands,” Izzo said of the big man afterwards. Interestingly, Schilling’s outing was statistically similar to Costello’s night against Loyola, wherein the junior scored a career-high 13 points and notched 11 boards. While he didn’t near that scoring production against Santa Clara, tallying just two points, Costello did log nine rebounds and a pair of blocks, at times demonstrating the same ball-commanding assertiveness he did against the Ramblers (and subsequently earning three trips to the free throw line). More importantly, both he and Schilling were defensive enforcers in the paint, helping limit Santa Clara to a 32 percent two-point shooting mark that would have been even lower if not for a few late buckets. Likewise, the pair combined for 13 of the team’s 21 offensive rebounds, keeping possessions alive and enabling Michigan State to put the game away early. “Costello and Schilling have been bright spots,” Izzo put simply after the game.

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Champions Classic Report Card: Grading Hoops’ Biggest Early-Season Event

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 19th, 2014

College basketball reentered the national consciousness on Tuesday night as familiar blue-bloods Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State squared off in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis. Let’s examine, assess and grade a few of the event’s most interesting themes and outcomes.

Kentucky’s platoon system: B+

Kentucky vs. Kansas lacked drama, but the Champions Classic remains a great event. (Darron Cummings AP)

Kentucky vs. Kansas may have lacked drama, but the Champions Classic remains a great event. (Darron Cummings AP)

With the glut of talent on this year’s Kentucky roster (as if Kentucky ever doesn’t possess a glut of talent), John Calipari has taken to a ‘platoon’ system wherein he substitutes five guys at a time – two entirely different lineups – throughout each game. That approach, seldom seen at college hoops’ highest level, went swimmingly on Tuesday night as the ‘Blue Platoon’ (38 points, seven blocks) and ‘White Platoon’ (28 points, four blocks) each had an important hand in dominating Kansas from start to finish. Works like a charm, right? Well, maybe. While Calipari denies that his scheme amounts to ‘communism,’ one does have to wonder if the more inefficient or ineffectual players will end up receiving too much playing time as a result of this strategy in the future. Let’s say, for example, that Marcus Lee is consistently less effective than his Blue Platoon counterpart for a prolonged stretch – it wouldn’t make much sense to continue giving him equal or similar minutes each night. That said, the Wildcats drubbed the Jayhawks by 32 points, and – as the saying goes – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Early-season drama: D-

This event has generally produced very good, very tight contests,in the previous three iterations, with only a few points separating each team. Even last year’s 11-point Kansas win over Duke – the Jabari Parker vs. Andrew Wiggins game – was tied with under five minutes to play. That level of drama was nowhere to be found on Tuesday night, however, as Duke largely controlled things for the full 40 minutes against Michigan State, and Kentucky absolutely manhandled Kansas. We’ve been spoiled up to this point and were probably due for a couple blowouts (it’s a testament to the consistent excellence of each program that the first three years were so good), but it’s still a bummer. Hopefully the drama returns in 2015.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Duke 81, #19 Michigan State 71

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 18th, 2014

Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is in Indianapolis for the Champions Classic games tonight.

Three Key Takeaways:

Duke big man Jahlil Okafor played big on Tuesday night. (247sports.com)

Duke big man Jahlil Okafor played big on Tuesday night. (247sports.com)

  1. Duke freshmen are as good as advertised. As good as the Blue Devil freshmen were against Presbyterian and Fairfield, they were even better against Michigan State – which says a lot, considering the obvious step up in competition. Jahlil Okafor was dominant early on and nearly unstoppable when he caught the ball within a few feet of the basket. Justise Winslow’s ability to get to the rim and create his own shot proved critical in squashing several would-be Spartan runs. And Tyus Jones – held scoreless in the first half – almost single-handedly put the game on ice, scoring six of his 17 points within two possessions of Jahlil Okafor leaving the floor with four fouls. All told, the highly-touted newcomers combined for 49 of Duke’s 81 points and more than lived up to their preseason billing.
  2. Sparty will be just fine with Travis Trice at the helm. There was a quiet sense of panic among Spartans fans following the team’s narrow victory over Navy on Friday night, especially with Duke right around the corner. And while Michigan State lost tonight’s game – outplayed, to be sure – it looked more like the top 20 Big Ten contender many people pegged it as in the preseason. Travis Trice, who carried the load against the Midshipman over the weekend, was again the lifeblood for the Spartans’ offense (despite shooting 1-of-5 from deep), creating baskets with his penetration and directing traffic each time down the floor. His final stat line – 15 points, six rebounds and eight assists – demonstrates his all-around importance to the team’s performance. He, Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson should keep the Spartans competitive in the Big Ten race, especially when the team returns to full health.
  3. Quinn Cook is more than capable playing off the ball. With Tyus Jones joining the fold, guard Quinn Cook has played off the ball much more frequently this season – a role he relished on this night. The senior shot 7-of-12 from the field, including 3-of-4 from deep, and tallied 17 points to go along with four assists and zero turnovers. If Cook continues producing at that level alongside Jones, the Blue Devils will be even more offensively dynamic this season.

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Three More Big Ten Players to Consider for the Wooden Award Watch List

Posted by Eric Clark on November 18th, 2014

The Wooden Award Top 50 watch list was released on Monday, tabbing seven Big Ten players – Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky, Nebraska’s Terran Petteway, Michigan State’s Branden Dawson, Michigan’s Caris LeVert, Maryland’s Dez Wells and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell. There were no surprises in those who were named to the list, but since only 50 total players received the honor in the first place, there are a number of other Big Ten players who could very well find themselves among the 25 finalists in January.

Denzel Valentine brings a veteran presence to an otherwise young MSU roster.

Denzel Valentine brings a veteran presence to an otherwise young MSU roster.

Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson are the only two returning starters at Michigan State and the former is one of the most versatile players in the Big Ten. Tom Izzo was not pleased with Valentine’s performance in the Spartans’ season opener versus Navy, criticizing the 6’5” junior for being reckless (Valentine turned the ball over three times and shot 20 percent from the field.) However, the very recklessness shown by Valentine may have been more indicative of the inexperience of many of the players around him. There’s little doubt that Valentine will turn it around — it was only one game, after all — he’s been praised for the vast improvements he made during the offseason. With Dawson and Valentine as the drivers of the Spartan squad, it’s not a stretch to tab both as potential Wooden finalists.

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Big Ten M5: 11.17.14 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on November 17th, 2014

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  1. Former Indiana coach Mike Davis will make his first return to Assembly Hall tonight since he resigned from the head coaching position at Indiana in 2006. Upon his hiring in 2000, Davis was immediately met with animosity from Bob Knight apologists, setting the tone for his tumultuous six-year tenure as the Hoosiers’ head coach. Indiana played for one national title under Davis in 2002 (losing to Maryland), but his teams went 42-38 in his final three seasons at the helm. Currently embattled head coach Tom Crean said he hopes Davis gets a “tremendous reception” tonight when he brings Texas Southern (0-1) to Bloomington – but Davis is guaranteed to be greeted with plenty of audible heckles as well.
  2. Michigan State skated by Navy on Friday night by a score of 64-59, raising a few eyebrows around the college basketball community. But according to Lansing State Journal‘s Graham Couch, that kind of close win could be beneficial for the Spartans in the long run. Tom Izzo inserted three new starters in his lineup (Travis Trice, Alvin Ellis III and Matt Costello), but he only got double-figure scoring from Trice and Branden Dawson. Head coach Tom Izzo said he needs to see more production from his returning starters, Denzel Valentine and Dawson, but it’s an absolute certainty that Izzo would much rather have the bump in the road come now than come later on in the season.
  3. Rutgers opened its season with a 17-point home loss to George Washington, getting beat in just about every relevant statistical category. Myles Mack led the Scarlet Knights with 14 points, but he didn’t get much help from his supporting cast. Freshman Mike Williams poured in 10 points off the bench, but no other Knights reached double figures. Junior Etou and newcomer Bishop Daniels went a combined 1-of-16 from the field and Kadeem Jack is on the mend, so there aren’t many positives for Rutgers fans right now – unless you count D.J. Foreman’s monstrous dunk. And that’s certainly worth something.
  4. Caris LeVert was excellent in Michigan’s season-opening win over Hillsdale on Saturday, notching 20 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in the Wolverines’ 92-68 victory. LeVert and point guard Spike Albrecht were both relatively unknown recruits coming out of high school, but the two are now Michigan’s permanent team captains for the 2014-15 season. LeVert was one of three Wolverines to score more than 20 points on Saturday, whereas Albrecht came off the bench to score four. Head coach John Beilein said Albrecht and starting point guard Derrick Walton Jr. will be on the court together a lot this season, a rare dual-point guard situation that you should keep your eye on.
  5. Purdue’s Vince Edwards, a true freshman, introduced himself to the Boilermakers faithful in a big way this weekend, scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds in his debut before turning around and dropping 26 points in a win over IUPUI on Sunday. Kendall Stephens shined alongside Edwards on Sunday, pouring in 24 points with six three-pointers as Purdue shot 50 percent from the field. The Boilermakers host Grambling State on Thursday before facing Kansas State in Maui on November 24. Purdue’s going to need more out of A.J. Hammons sooner than later, as the talented but enigmatic big man gathered a total of seven rebounds and scored only 11 points in his first two games.
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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #4 to #1

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 14th, 2014

RTC finishes our preseason Big Ten rankings today with spots #4 through #1. The bottom tier of teams, #14 to #10, released earlier this week, and the mid-tier teams, also released earlier this week, provide depth to the conference. But it’s these four squads in the top tier that will likely be fighting to win the conference title and lock down high seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

4. Ohio State

  • What they do well: A little bit of everything, is that too vague? There is nothing that sticks out as special about these Buckeyes, but they will play the solid all-around basketball of Thad Matta. Shannon Scott will push the tempo and control the offense while D’Angelo Russell could be the offensive spark that it needs this season. Overall, the Buckeyes will minimize mistakes and play good defense.
  • What they don’t do well: Score during crunch time. The Buckeyes had trouble finding key buckets during the last two minutes of games last season and unless Russell becomes a true go-to guy, they will have the same issues again.

    Mark could be a key contributor in the frontcourt for Ohio State this season. (thelantern.com)

    Mark Loving could be a key contributor in the frontcourt for Ohio State this season. (thelantern.com)

  • Get to know: Mark Loving. Russell will be the highlight during the non-conference season but Loving could be the super sophomore that helps this team get off to a good start and compete for the conference crown. He has the ability to rebound and stretch the floor from the four position.
  • Why they’ll finish 4th: They don’t have enough talent to leapfrog into the top three, but they should win 10 to 12 Big Ten games this year.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: If Russell, Scott and Loving can each average 12 PPG or more, the Buckeyes can push themselves into a real contending spot. Loving’s contributions will very important because Matta’s team has struggled to find consistent offense over the past two seasons. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 11.05.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 5th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. By now, everyone who follows college basketball on a regular basis has probably heard about all the off-the-court chaos at Indiana. This was already going to be a challenging season in Bloomington for head coach Tom Crean, but now with these other issues plaguing his team, it could turn out to be the most difficult season of his career. The only thing right now that will likely make all the noise go away is if the Hoosiers figure out a way to overachieve on the court — Crean may need a 20-win season and an NCAA Tournament berth to keep his job. With the overall parity in this season’s Big Ten, however, this could be a significant uphill battle.
  2. Isaac Haas is the biggest name of the five-man class that Purdue brought in this season, but 5’10” point guard PJ Thompson showed in the Boilermakers’ scrimmage on Sunday that he may be ready to contribute as well. The freshman led the team in assists and steals in Purdue’s 89-52 victory over California (PA). Thompson has plenty of competition at the point guard spot with Jon Octeus and Bryson Scott also on board, but his contributions will only make the team’s depth that much stronger.
  3. Defensive intensity has long been the hallmark of Tom Izzo-coached teams, with Michigan State often playing a rugged, bruising style that led to numerous Final Four trips with him at the helm. This offseason he focused more on the offensive end of the floor, and it showed in the Spartans’ first exhibition game. His team put up 97 points in a win over The Masters — whatever that is — but it also gave up 19 points in the first eight minutes of the game, leaving the veteran coach less than impressed with his team’s effort on that end of the floor. The loss of Gary Harris to the NBA leaves Izzo without one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, so Bryn Forbes or Alvin Ellis III will have to show that they can learn to lock down the perimeter as the head coach tries to figure out his rotation.
  4. Former Iowa great Roy Marble received devastating news in August when he learned that he has terminal cancer. Marble at the time lived in Iowa, where he was seen at many Hawkeyes’ home games cheering on his son Devyn Marble over the last few years. He’s now relocated back to his hometown of Flint, Michigan, to be closer to his family. His youngest son Carlo Marble — a potential Division I football and basketball recruit — has enrolled at Sexton High School in Flint. His basketball coach there is Carlton Valentine, the father of Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Marble family and Iowa as they deal with this horrible ordeal.
  5. ESPN has been unveiling its top 100 player rankings, and their latest edition (players #11-#19) had a distinct B1G flavor to it as Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell (#17), Nebraska’s Terran Petteway (#16), Michigan State’s Branden Dawson (#15), and Michigan’s Caris LeVert (#13) made the list. Each of these players is likely to make an appearance on our own all-league teams that will be coming out in the next week. Twelve Big Ten players have been named on the countdown so far, and it’s highly likely that Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky will land in the top 10 soon.
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Big Ten M5: 11.03.14 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 3rd, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Can you believe that this upcoming year is Tom Izzo‘s 20th season in the Big Ten? Time certainly flies, doesn’t it? After this season he will become the third most-tenured coach in the nation after Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim. The Detroit Free Press recently asked the Michigan State head coach about the unexpected journey from when he first took the job in the mid-1990s to today. Regardless of when he retires from the game, Izzo will without question be one of the top four or five coaches in the history of Big Ten hoops. It is unlikely that he will get to his seventh Final Four this year without a true scoring threat on the roster, but it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to bet on him returning to the promised land before he retires in the next decade or so.
  2. Leadership is absolutely essential on a Final Four contender, and Michigan had two excellent ones over the past two seasons: Trey Burke during its run to the national championship game in 2012-13 and Nik Stauskas during its Elite Eight run last year. One of the reasons why the Wolverines aren’t likely to be a contender this season is their clear lack of leadership, but head coach John Beilein doesn’t seem to be worried about that too much. Junior wing Caris LeVert should carry most of the offensive load this year but he has long way to go before he can prove leadership similar to Stauskas or Burke. When asked about his ability to lead, LeVert said, “I think naturally, I’m kind of wanting to lead by example more, but the coaches have been pushing me and my teammates as well, to kind of talk more and be more vocal, on the court as well as off the court.”
  3. Indiana sophomore wing Devin Davis was seriously injured over the weekend in an accident involving a vehicle near Assembly Hall. According to his family, Davis is recovering very well, which should be positive news for Tom Crean’s squad. The following is the official statement: “As all parents can understand, the last 40+ hours have been difficult for us and for all of those who care about our son. Devin’s condition is improving and we know that there is a road to recovery ahead.” Davis only averaged 2.5 PPG last year and wasn’t expected to have a tremendous impact for the Hoosiers this season, but an event like this could have an adverse effect on the overall morale of a young team two weeks before the season tips off. His recovery is in all of our thoughts.
  4. With only two weeks left until season tip-off, scrimmages are useful for coaches to figure out their rotations. While Ohio State has a lot of question marks on offense with the departure of LaQuinton Ross, freshman D’Angelo Russell has provided some hope for the Buckeyes’ fans after his most recent performance. In addition to his scoring, he also comforted Thad Matta with his passing because he needs more ball-handlers to complement Shannon Scott. Speaking of Scott, he too had a good performance and should be one of the best guards in the Big Ten as a senior because he can push the pace faster than Aaron Craft.
  5. Continuing with the theme of scrimmages, Maryland‘s exhibition win on Saturday night provided more information about what to expect from the Terps in their first Big Ten season. The new-look team shot a whole bunch of perimeter jumpers — making 14 of 27 threes — which could be a consistent theme with this squad. Dez Wells in particular will need to be more consistent offensively if the Terps expect to have any shot of competing for an NCAA Tournament bid this season. He he shot a dismal 30.4 percent from deep last year, but he can do more damage in taking his man off the dribble than merely settling for deep jumpers.
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Big Ten M5: Halloween Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 31st, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. The season hasn’t even started, but Richard Pitino is already dealing with some off-the-court issues, as Minnesota dismissed 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.
  4. Earlier in the week, SBNation released its Top 100 players list. Yesterday, CBSSports.com did 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.
  5. Lastly, Indiana’s Tom Crean is trying to get his Hoosiers squad ready for game shape this week. The Hoosiers lost 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.
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Big Ten M5: 10.24.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 24th, 2014

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  1. Obviously, the biggest change this season is the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the league as the Big Ten made the final chess move in this round of conference expansion. Tom Dienhart wrote a nice piece about how expansion may reclaim some east coast favorability for the conference. Now that the as-currently-constructed Big East is no longer the dominant college hoops brand, it leaves a vacuum in the most populous corner of the country. It’s no coincidence that the Big Ten is having their conference tournament in Washington, DC in 2017. They are battling the ACC for the Northeast’s eyes and recruits. And now that they have three teams in the area — and added even more markets to their TV network — they have the footprint to compete.
  2. The Terrapins and Scarlet Knights may be the freshest faces in the league this season, but Chris Collins is still pretty new as he enters his second season as Northwestern‘s head coach. ESPN‘s Myron Metcalf spent some time with the former Duke assistant in Evanston, and asked him when he thought the Wildcats would make the NCAA Tournament. “I definitely think it is [around the corner]. When that happens I don’t know.” That’s as optimistic as you can be for something that’s never happened, EVER. But Collins has reasons to be optimistic, they were a Top 15 team in the country in adjusted defensive rating last season, they return four of their five starters, and Top 100 recruit Vic Law joins their squad. Pair that with everyone besides Wisconsin being a little bit down from last season, there just might be an opening for these Wildcats to make history.
  3. Michigan lost a good amount of its backcourt from last season. This year, all eyes will be on Caris Levert to make up for the loss in scoring and for Derrick Walton Jr. to run the team’s offense. But not as much attention has been paid to the other likely backcourt starter, Zak Irvin. The sophomore and former Mr. Indiana was extremely effective from the outside in limited minutes, but provided little of anything else. However, Wolverine fans had to be happy to hear that he was dominant on the offensive end in Michigan’s European summer tour. If he can expand his game to inside the perimeter, it’ll give this team another dynamic scorer and make our predictions of Michigan basketball taking a step back seem foolish.
  4. I’ve never been to a Midnight Madness, but I’ve heard from those who have attended that after the pomp and circumstance, it’s not really anything to write home about. If there was an exception to this rule, I bet it would lie in Bloomington with Hoosier Hysteria. Indiana has the crazy fan base and history to electrify such an event. One thing that may have me watching is the slam dunk contest with their ridiculous athletes. Now, if only Tom Crean can get those athletes to play as one offensive unit, the Hoosiers may be celebrating at end of the season like they’ll be celebrating on Friday.
  5. Finally, it was rumored that Tom Izzo had the opportunity to leave Michigan State this past offseason and coach an NBA team. He ended up staying for many reasons, but perhaps one of them is the job Mark Dantonio is doing with the football team.  As much of a legend Izzo is in East Lansing, the money will always follow football. So it’s probably not a coincident that Michigan State received its largest single donation of $10 million while the football team seems to be on its way to a consecutive conference championship. Basketball will actually get a plurality of that money for capital improvement in the Breslin Center, but there should be no doubt that the money comes in easier when you have a successful football program that excites big donors.
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Can Michigan State’s Travis Trice Replace Keith Appling?

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 17th, 2014

Michigan State lost a lot of talent from last year’s Elite Eight team. Gary Harris and Adreian Payne both heard their names called in the first round of the NBA Draft. Kenny Kaminski had one offcourt problem too many and therefore transferred to Ohio University. Keith Appling also left town, going undrafted after a senior year marred by injuries. As far as replacements, the Spartans ended up with only the 32nd best incoming recruiting class, per ESPN.com. But all is not lost in East Lansing, however, as returnees Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine are much of the reason Sparty has been slotted into the preseason Top 25 polls. But the success of the season may hinge on Appling’s replacement, Travis Trice, who is expected to take over the majority of the minutes at the lead guard spot and appears that he’ll be a more than capable substitute.

Travis Trice has to play a bigger role for Michigan State to make another run at the B1G title.(Leon Haiip, Getty Images)

Travis Trice has to play a bigger role for Michigan State to make another run at the B1G title.(Leon Haiip, Getty Images)

Trice should not be unfamiliar to Big Ten fans, as he enters his senior year having played no fewer than 34.9 percent of the available minutes in his three-year career. He started eight games last season, ranking 16th in the league with an assist rate of 18.8 percent. He also held a dazzling assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.3 to 1 (slightly better than Appling’s mark of 2.1 to 1). The Spartans were 6-2 in the games where he started, made possible in no small part by his averages of 9.3 PPG and 3.6 APG on sizzling 18-for-35 shooting from behind the arc. By the end of the season, over the Spartans’ last five games, Michigan State used a lineup that featured Appling and Trice on the floor at the same time 18.3 percent of the time, per kenpom.com, showing that Tom Izzo had developed great trust in Trice’s presence on the floor. These facts are not meant to bash Appling for the solid four years he gave to Michigan State; it’s only to show that Trice can handle a greater share of the responsibility, even if he’s necessarily more of a focus on opposing scouting reports this time around. Appling understandably struggled playing through pain last year, and it seemed as though dwindling confidence in what his body could do played a significant role in his lack of production down the stretch. Trice has struggled with various maladies throughout his career as well, so the obvious caveat with his pending role in the spotlight is of course staying healthy.

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