Michigan certainly responded well to its first Big Ten loss last night by simply crushing Nebraska. The Wolverines have come back well from adversity in general since conference play started, and a lot of that has to do with Derrick Walton Jr.‘s progression. The freshman point guard started the season slowly, but since Big Ten play began he has seen his scoring rise by nearly three points per game while reducing his turnovers. His jumper and decision-making have also improved dramatically as he has grown more accustomed to the college game. His play down the stretch needs to continue this way, and if it does, Michigan will remain in contention for the Big Ten title against bitter rival Michigan State.
The dark horse status that many gave to Penn State coming into this season didn’t start out so well. The Nittany Lions are now on a three-game winning streak, however, thanks to plenty of impressive numbers. Some of the most notable statistics include that of Brandon Taylor, who in the winning streak has averaged 15 points per game and 46.7 percent from three-point range, and 20.0 PPG for DJ Newbill. With a tough test at Michigan State coming tonight, Penn State will need both players to continue their recent strong play. The Lions are unlikely to win in East Lansing, of course, but if Penn State stays close with Sparty it sends a message to the rest of a muddled Big Ten that this team will compete the rest of the way.
There were multiple reasons for Wisconsin‘s recent skid. One prominent reason was Sam Dekker struggling offensively, but he seems to have came out of his slump after hitting 4-of-7 three-pointers against Illinois. While Wisconsin has plenty of players who can score and take over the game when needed, Dekker’s impact as a versatile forward is extremely important. The Badgers are much more effective when Dekker can exploit the match-up issues he causes by bombing away from the outside. For a team relying so much more on its offense this season, Bo Ryan’s team needs its star to make sure his struggles are completely done.
If you wanted 55 minutes of, well, uninspiring basketball, then Purdue‘s triple-overtime win over Minnesota last night was a real treat. The Boilermakers got the victory despite nearly giving it away with multiple missed free throws in regulation and the first two overtimes. Part of this problem is the Boilermakers’ stark lack of leadership and that its best leader, Travis Carroll, rarely sees action. Carroll does his job well, working against AJ Hammons in practice and playing hard when called upon. But even if Purdue lacks a more productive on-court senior leader, there has been time for some of the underclassmen to mature and take over those duties. Plenty of teams rely on young talent to not only be competitive but win conference and national titles. Matt Painter needs to find his on-court leadership somewhere or there will be more games like last night where the Boilermakers nearly blow what appeared to be an assured win.
Ohio State certainly needed things to start going well again. With a pair of wins against Wisconsin and Iowa this week, it appears the Buckeyes got the morale boost and confidence that they desired. It came at a critical time for Ohio State, too. With a few more losses, what seemed like a team competing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament could have quickly found itself on the bubble. The players’ comments after beating Iowa seems to bear out that they believe they will win the close games coming down the stretch. For a team that relies so heavily on its defense, the confidence to believe it will score late in close games is absolutely crucial.
Mid-Majors Newcomers Will Make Major Impact – Two graduate student transfers from mid-major schools are going to make an instant impact in the Big Ten. Brandon Wood could start in Michigan State’s backcourt after scoring 16.7 points per game last season for Valparaiso. Sam Maniscalco averaged 9.7 points per game for Bradley last season and might end up scoring even more for Illinois. Both players give their teams veteran pieces at positions that would’ve otherwise been dominated by youth.
Healthy Living – Robbie Hummel returns for Purdue and has the opportunity to make a big impact for the Boilermakers now that his former classmates have graduated. While Matt Painter couldn’t get Hummel on the court with JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, he does get the added bonus of having an All-America caliber forward to help shepherd this team into the postseason. Injuries also delivered a blow to Indiana, as Maurice Creek is going to miss the entire 2011-12 season. That’s after missing all but 18 games last season, and it’s a big blow to the Hoosiers’ NCAA hopes.
A New Head Coach In University Park – After leading Penn State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001, and falling to in-state rival Temple, Ed DeChellis saw the writing on the wall and left PSU for a more stable job at Navy. His replacement is former Boston University head coach Pat Chambers, who has a big rebuilding job on his hands after graduation of star guard Talor Battle.
Patrick Bade played in 24 of Purdue’s 34 games last year, averaging 0.8 PPG in 6.5 MPG. There’s an opportunity for him to play tight end for the Boilermaker football squad next year, since the team lacks depth at that position, so he’s changing sports even though he didn’t play football as a high school senior. Now, the basketball team has only two returning forwards in rising sophomores Travis Carroll and Sandi Marcius, neither of whom played more than 10 minutes a game last year as freshmen. There are minutes available there for returning junior D. J. Byrd (who played some forward last season) and the incoming freshmen.
MoMo Jones will land at Iona. You hate that a kid has to transfer because he wants to be closer to an ailing relative (his grandmother, in this case), but this is one heck of a get for the Gaels. We felt that Jones, by both word and deed, really grew into a leadership role for Arizona last season. If Jones’ hardship waiver is approved by the NCAA, he’ll play next year for an Iona squad that went 25-12 (13-5 Metro Atlantic) last year and also returns three double-figure scorers. Considering the sense of humor and history of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, we wonder if someone hasn’t already penciled this in as a second (or possible third) round game next year.
Luke Winn’s statistical treatises and breakdowns for SI.com are so good they’ve been known to show up unattributed during television broadcasts of college basketball games on certain channels (we’re not naming any names). His latest one reveals to the world who the most versatile player is in the upcoming NBA Draft, as well as the biggest sleeper. The case for the latter is particularly compelling, and surprising.
Seems like we’ve had a lot of stuff on here recently about big-time prospects and current college players having multiple-sport opportunities…and here’s another. Mickey McConnell has been busy playing excellent basketball for St. Mary’s for the last four years — especially last season, one in which he led SMC in nine statistical categories. Despite being a standout baseball prospect in high school, he hasn’t played the game in four years. The Los Angeles Dodgers don’t seem to mind. They took McConnell in the 31st round of the 2011 MLB First Year Player Draft that concluded yesterday. It looks like the plan is to see how he does in the several workouts he has lined up with NBA teams before considering a move to the diamond.
If you’re not planning to make the trip to the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on June 23 for the NBA Draft and you don’t feel like watching it on TV by yourself, The Glens Falls Civic Center in Glens Falls, New York might be the next best place to be. To celebrate the fulfillment of that contract that a certain James T. Fredette made with himself (copy available in the linked article) over four years ago to commit fully to his dream of someday playing in the NBA, Jimmer’s hometown of Glens Falls is hosting Jimmer Jam, a community celebration in honor of their favorite son being drafted. We’re talking food and drink, a silent auction and the chance to buy some swag, games for the kids — and all the proceeds from the event go to local charities.