Big Ten M5: 11.12.13 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 12th, 2013

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  1. It was only three years ago that freshman Keith Appling was in the middle of a sexual assault allegation. Even though no official charges came of it, Appling had a very dubious start to his collegiate career. Now, as a senior, Appling has evolved as both a player and a person thanks to the mentorship of coach Tom Izzo. Midway through in Appling’s college career, Izzo and his coaching staff stopped at the point guard’s Detroit home to meet with his family and express what was needed of him as leader of the team. Izzo has a pattern of demanding a lot from players off the court as much as on the court. Some players, like Mateen Cleeves and Draymond Green, take up the challenge and thrive. Other players, like Chris Allen and Korie Lucious, cannot handle it and move on. The bar is set high for players under Izzo and it’s easy to see why he’s been so successful.
  2. Successful coaches are able to consistently have players come into their programs and outperform expectations. John Beilein did this at his tenure in West Virginia and is continuing it now at Michigan. Last year, Nik Stauskas led the league in three-point shooting percentage as an unheralded freshman. At the national championship game, Spike Albrecht came out of nowhere to score 17 points. This year, Caris Levert is emerging as Tim Hardaway Jr.’s replacement acting as a pivotal player on both ends of the court. He scored 17 points and grabbed 5 rebounds in the Wolverines’ win against UM-Lowell. If Levert can continue to compete at this level, Michigan will be in the race for the Big Ten title all season long.
  3. Outside of Indiana fans, most Big Ten fans may have mixed feelings about Will Sheehey. The reigning Sixth Player of the Year is fun to watch because of his athleticism and frenetic energy. But that energy can quickly turn off fans when it turns to showboating. Look no further than last year’s incident when Sheehey flexed his biceps at Purdue’s Paint Crew. However, it’s not the spotlight that motivates him; it’s the desire to keep competing for Big Ten titles that drives him. Sheehey will need to keep up that leadership, along with his trademark spark, to make the transition from bench player to starter. If he can do that, and lead his younger teammates, Indiana will be competing for a Big Ten title again, just like Sheehey wants.
  4. We at the RTC Big Ten microsite, and most of the media, spent a good portion of the preseason explaining why this is the year that Iowa should make the NCAA Tournament. Well, it only took the second game of the season for the Hawkeyes to give their fan base a scare and make all of our prognostications of their success seem silly. The Hawkeyes were down well into the second half against Nebraska-Omaha on Sunday, and it took the toughness of their upperclassmen to pull out an 83-75 victory. It’s hard to tell whether this is a sign of things to come or if this is just early season jitters. Last year, they missed the NCAA Tournament despite winning 25 games because of their weak schedule. This year, Iowa has a much tougher schedule and will not be able to sneak up on other teams. Another performance like this against a good team may have some of us revising our preseason predictions.
  5. One of the storylines emerging from the first weekend was how the new hand check rule affected the games. Wisconsin seems to think that the new rule worked in their favor in their win against St. John’s on Friday. “[The] new rules worked,” John Gasser said after the game. This is a peculiar statement for this team. The new rule is supposed to make the game more free-flowing and less physical by calling more fouls for grabbing or putting hands on slashers. This is not exactly a rule that would benefit a team like Wisconsin who shoots lots of threes (13th in the country last year) and misses a lot of free throws (63.4 percent last year). To be fair, the Badgers were aggressive against St. John’s. They got to the charity stripe 30 times and shot 83.3 percent. In all likelihood, we’ll have to observe how these new rules play out over the entire season to determine any winners and losers from it.
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Indiana Will Look For Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey to Fill New Roles

Posted by Walker Carey on November 9th, 2013

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Friday evening’s game in Bloomington between Indiana and Chicago State.

Not very often does a team have to replace four career 1,000-point scorers, but that is the situation Indiana is in to begin the 2013-14 season. Gone from last season’s Big Ten champion Hoosiers are guards Jordan Hulls and Victor Oladipo and forwards Christian Watford and Cody Zeller. The talent level leaving Bloomington was so great that Oladipo was the second pick and Zeller was the fourth pick in last June’s NBA Draft. With all that talent and production now missing, Indiana enters this campaign as a bit of unknown. Sure, it brought in a highly-ranked recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American forward Noah Vonleh, but as we all know, experience is a necessary attribute for success in a league like the Big Ten. Luckily for Tom Crean, the Hoosiers return two players with solid experience in sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell and senior forward Will Sheehey.

Yogi

Yogi Ferrell Didn’t Shoot Well on Friday Night, But His Floor Game Was Solid

As a freshman last season, Ferrell started every game for the 29-7 Hoosiers. His prowess as a floor general was evident throughout last season as he led the team with 4.1 assists per game – a figure that was also good for third-best in the Big Ten. While Ferrell was not counted on to score too much, he showed he was capable by averaging a respectable 7.6 points per contest. The Indianapolis native’s strong play was noticed by the coaches of the Big Ten as he was named by them to the league’s All-Freshmen squad. Now in his second year in the program, Ferrell is going to be called upon to be much more aggressive in the offense. As the team’s second-leading returning scorer, it is fair to figure that Tom Crean and his staff are going to look for the sophomore to increase his scoring output. Additionally, due to the great experience he gained last year, one would imagine that Ferrell will also take on a leadership role with the squad.

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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #8 to #5

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 7th, 2013

With the basketball season set to tip off for some Big Ten teams tomorrow, the five of us at the Big Ten microsite took a poll to see how the 12 teams will finish this upcoming season. If you missed it, yesterday we previewed teams #12 to #9, and today we look at the teams we believe to be in the middle tier. These teams have a chance to finish higher if their freshmen play well and returnees develop, but these same question marks mean they could easily tumble lower too. Be sure to come back tomorrow to see the four teams we picked to land at the top of the conference. And feel free to debate, argue and discuss how much or how little we know what we’re talking about.

8. Illinois

John Groce

John Groce Starts His Second Season With Numerous Questions

  • What they do well: Let’s be honest, there are a lot of question marks with this team thanks to only five returnees. In Groce’s first season as head coach, though, the team took good care of the ball, averaging a turnover on only 14.7 percent of possessions. The new guards will need to continue this trend as Illinois was 25th in the country last year in this statistic.
  • What they don’t do well: Sharing the ball was a struggle for Illinois. It only averaged 10.1 assists per game last season, ranking 319th in the NCAA.
  • Get to know: Rayvonte Rice. The redshirt junior has been lighting it up for Illinois in the exhibition contests and could earn the starting spot at the shooting guard position. He appears to have drastically improved his outside shot and with five freshmen on this team, his play and leadership will be needed.
  • Why they’ll finish eighth: The team takes time to gel and the freshmen, while talented, aren’t quite ready to compete for a Big Ten championship. The loss of players like Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson are too much for the program to overcome.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: They get solid guard play from Tracy Abrams and Rice’s outside shot isn’t just strong in exhibitions. The youth is as talented as believed to be as it wins a lot of early games and has a confidence that carries into Big Ten play.

7. Purdue

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Evaluating Four of the Top Big Ten Sixth Man Candidates

Posted by Max Jakubowski on November 6th, 2013

Ed. Note: this list isn’t meant to be inclusive. Every team will have at least one solid sixth man candidate. These are meant to highlight only four of them.

Last year’s Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Will Sheehey provided a huge spark to Indiana off the bench, averaging 9.5 points per game to go along with nearly 35 percent shooting from three. The Hoosiers lost four starters from last year, so that means not only will Sheehey need to start but also a new winner for for this award will be crowned. Here’s a look at some of the players who have a great shot to capture it this season.

Shannon Scott Leads a Strong Group of Big Ten Sixth Men This Season

Shannon Scott Leads a Strong Group of Big Ten Sixth Men This Season

  • Shannon Scott - Ohio State, junior point guard – Scott possess all the skills of a starting point guard in a big time conference, but due to Aaron Craft starting at the position, Scott begins the game on the bench. He still sees plenty of playing time, as his defensive guard skill set is a perfect complement to Craft’s. Both guards allow head coach Thad Matta to pressure the opponents’ guards up and down the floor, making even dribbling the ball past half-court a difficult test. Matta is also not afraid to use Scott on the offensive end with Craft playing off the ball. Last year the Buckeyes frequently enabled a lineup of Craft, Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Deshaun Thomas and Sam Thompson. That is a small lineup, but it creates match-up nightmares as all five players can score from the perimeter. Scott will need to pick up his scoring average (4.9 PPG) as well as his 33 percent three-point average to make him an even more valuable offensive player off the bench.
  • Denzel Valentine – Michigan State, sophomore small forward – Comparisons of Michigan State great Draymond Green have been made with Valentine’s all-purpose game. But Valentine has not shown he can be the type of inside-out post player Green was. Keith Appling will be backed up by Valentine, who is a very good ball-handler for his size. He has shown in flashes that he can contribute in a number of ways for Tom Izzo, like when he put up nine points, six rebounds and six assists against Memphis in the third round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Valentine’s 4.1 RPG and 2.4 APG should increase this season, but the main area he needs to develop is his three-point shot.  He shot a dismal 28 percent from deep last season and the Spartans really need someone to become a three-point threat other than Gary Harris. If Valentine can push his percentage up to around 35 percent, it will be hard for Izzo to keep him off the court.

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Noah Vonleh: RTC Big Ten’s Preseason Freshman of the Year

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 6th, 2013

By all accounts, this is the year of the freshmen. Not since the 2007-08 class of Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo, Michael Beasley and Kevin Love has an incoming rookie class had this much talent. Players like Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon are expected to dominate college basketball for one year and then bolt for the NBA as lottery picks. Unfortunately for Big Ten fans, none of these top recruits chose one of its 12 schools as their destination.  However, this doesn’t mean the conference is devoid of incoming talent. According to RSCIhoops.com, 13 of the top 100 recruits entering college basketball will play in the Big Ten but only one freshman stands out from the rest. Noah Vonleh, the conference’s highest ranked recruit at #8, is a big man from New Hampshire who will play for Indiana. He, perhaps not coincidentally, is the most prepared freshman to have immediate success in the rugged Big Ten.

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Noah Vonleh may be young, but he is battle-ready for the Big Ten.

Vonleh gives the Hoosiers something they’ve lacked since DJ White was in crimson and cream — a physical, back-to-the-basket big man with pro talent. Though he only recently turned 18 years old, the 6’9″, 240-pound Vonleh already has a Big Ten body — add a 7’5″ wingspan to his size, and you realize that he is plenty big, long and strong. He’ll need all of these tools when conference play begins in order to handle the physical play of the Big Ten. He will need to get acclimated quickly to begin to replace what they lost in the frontcourt. Last year’s trio of Cody Zeller, Christian Watford, and Victor Oladipo contributed 47.4 PPG and 20.6 RPG — a rather tall order for the freshman and his colleagues. It could take a while — as a case in point, last year’s best freshman big man, Michigan’ s Mitch McGrary, didn’t start putting it all together until March.

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Big Ten M5: 11.05.13 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 5th, 2013

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  1. The Cliff Alexander recruitment may now need to be classified as an official circus. Earlier in the day, long-time Illinois-based recruiting analyst Roy Schmidt tweeted that when Alexander announces, the “2 final caps on [the] table will be Illinois & DePaul,” effectively eliminating Kansas and Memphis from contention. After which, Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com tweeted that Alexander had not in fact cut his list to these two schools. Schmidt later clarified that his tweet did not mean Alexander will necessarily cut his list but that these two schools would be there until the end. It seems with this recruitment there is a new rumor each and every day. Alexander is supremely talented, and his recruitment is certainly worth any headache it may cause John Groce and his staff. But the topsy-turvy nature of his recruitment reflects poorly on him and begs the question of whether Alexander will be as big of a distraction on the court as his recruitment has been. It’s probably in the interest of Alexander and those around him to get past this side show and back to basketball.
  2. Mitch McGary was instrumental in Michigan’s run to the National Championship game last March. After a somewhat disappointing freshman year, relative to his standing in the rankings, McGary finally put it together and averaged 14.3 PPG and 10.7 RPG during the NCAA Tournament. Though he had the opportunity to leave for the NBA, McGary decided to come back to lead the Wolverines to a Big Ten championship and another Final Four run. On Monday, McGary was selected by the Associated Press as a Preseason First Team All-American. The departure of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. will give McGary ample opportunity to take on a bigger role and make another leap in his development. Now that his freshman jitters are gone, McGary will need to prove he can consistently be the star that everyone thinks he can be.
  3. Apparently, Yogi Ferrell is still not over Indiana’s loss to Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen. In case you forgot, Indiana’s high-powered offense was completely neutralized by Syracuse’s zone. Ferrell went scoreless in that game and the bad taste in his mouth has driven him to address one of his biggest weaknesses from last season: shooting. Last year, Ferrell shot a very pedestrian 40.3 percent from the field and 30.3 percent from beyond the arc, but he has taken this offseason to fix his mechanics and hit the gym hard. We may have gotten a taste of what’s to come when he hit six three-pointers in the Hoosiers’ October 26 exhibition game. If Ferrell can be a consistent threat from deep, that will open up the driving lanes for himself and Will Sheehey. It will also give more space down low for freshman Noah Vonleh to be effective scoring on the block.
  4. Drew Crawford is one good teammate. He was on pace to graduate at the end of the spring semester and could have applied for a graduate transfer to another school. He could have easily gone to a school where he would have had the opportunity to do something he’s never done before — play in the NCAA Tournament. Additionally, the coach that had recruited and mentored him during his tenure at Evanston was now gone. He had every reason to go but decided to stay to help his school and teammates transition into the Chris Collins era. The current environment has both coaches and players eager to make moves to the next best situation, so what Crawford did here is refreshing. Northwestern will struggle this season and Crawford will most likely never play in the NCAA Tournament in his collegiate career, but his selflessness is to be commended and admired.
  5. Gary Harris was selected as the Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year during media day. An outstanding freshman, he was hampered by a nagging shoulder injury last season and is still recovering from an ankle injury he suffered back in August. If there is any concern with him this season, it’s his ongoing health. His performance during last night’s exhibition game may have alleviated some of those fears.  Harris scored 21 points and went 5-of-7 from deep. While projecting what a player will do in a season based off one exhibition game is unwise, we already know Harris is a special player and he will be in store for a special season as long as he can stay healthy.
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From Sixth Man to Star? Examining Indiana’s Will Sheehey

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 4th, 2013

It’s easy to see why Hoosier fans loved Will Sheehey last season. He came off the bench and brought a tenacity and scoring touch that helped Indiana maintain or push a lead when its stars took a breather. The then-junior’s stats were solid, which ultimately earned him the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year award and an invitation to play at the World University Games (where he averaged more than 10 PPG in 17 minutes of play a game). All of this got him enough notoriety to be listed No. 76 on CBSSports.com’s top 100 players list, ahead of teammate and Big Ten all-freshman Yogi Ferrell. But that’s all last season because Sheehey is about to step into a completely new and bigger role, as is the rest of Indiana’s team with the departures of Christian Watford, Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and Jordan Hulls. Sheehey is no longer a third or fourth option when he will hit the court, but likely the first or second along with Ferrell and Indiana freshman Noah Vonleh.

Will Sheehey has a much larger role for Indiana this season, and his play is crucial to the Hoosiers success (Andy Lyons/Getty Images).

Will Sheehey has a much larger role for Indiana this season, and his play is crucial to the Hoosiers success (Andy Lyons/Getty Images).

How Sheehey responds to this change in roles will have a huge impact on the Hoosiers this season. Sheehey is the team’s elder statesman now, so his leadership will be important, but he is also Indiana’s top returning scorer and rebounder. This puts pressure on him to continue to produce on the offensive end as teams focus on stopping him. Can he adjust to defenses no longer sagging off him to handle 1,000-point scorers and high NBA Draft picks? Last season he was mediocre from the three-point line at 34.6 percent from the field. He’ll likely need to bring that percentage up, but he’ll still need to use his underrated athleticism to attack the basket and find those easier mid-range jumpers. Last season he took 35 percent of his shots inside the paint and made them at a 70 percent clip. He also has an ability to run the floor that most people don’t realize, as you can see here with what he did against Minnesota. Even without another known outside threat for the Hoosiers (although Ferrell did make six three-pointers in the team’s first exhibition), Sheehey should use his driving ability and not settle for trying to fill a void with four or five threes a game. When he does get hot, though, Indiana needs to give him the ball. Last season, he set an Indiana single game record by going 9-of-9 from deep against Purdue, so when he’s feeling it he can take over a game.

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Morning Five: 08.06.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on August 6th, 2013

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  1. Coming into this season we were expecting big things out of Montrezl Harrell. The one-time Virginia Tech recruit played a pivotal role in Louisville’s run to the national championship last season and he showed signs of becoming a star with his play this summer. So when news broke that Harrell had injured his right knee in a collision at the Adidas Nations Camp we are sure that there were plenty of nervous people in Louisville, Kentucky. Fortunately, Harrell merely hyperextended his knee and did not suffer any significant structural damage. All of this should make Louisville fans sleep a little easier tonight knowing that their veteran inside presence should come into the season healthy.
  2. Louisville fans were not the only ones who had a scare come out of the Adidas Nations Camp as Will Sheehey also had his own injury scare. The rising senior sprained his right ankle, which had kept him out of five games as a sophomore, but it appears that the sprain was only moderate. Although Sheehey was largely overshadowed by his Indiana teammates/top-4 picks Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller as well as seniors Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls, he still managed to average 9.5 points per game and will be expected to carry a much bigger load for a Hoosiers team that will probably spend much of the early season trying to figure out its new identity.
  3. It might seem like an odd time to ask the question with the college basketball season drawing near, but CBS Sports took an informal poll of college coaches asking them which college coach they thought would be the best fit for the NBA. At first we were a little surprised to see Fred Hoiberg ahead of Mike Krzyzewski, but then we realized that these are people who actually know the game and realize the type of personalities that a NBA coach has to deal with. Now we are not going to say that Krzyzewski is not equipped to handle those personalities as he has shown that he can do for a short period of time in the Olympics, but we are not sure how that would hold up over an 82-game season. On the other hand, Hoiberg has more experience at the NBA level and based on these results we would not be surprised to see Hoiberg’s name come up when a NBA job opens up.
  4. Few recruits have had to deal with the adversity that Austin Hatch has. Hatch, a Michigan commit, may not be considered one of the truly elite prospects in this year’s senior class, but his story–having been involved in two plane crashes that took the lives of much of his family. Hatch has managed to come back from that and will be finishing high school in Los Angeles (hopefully Luke Winn will cut him some slack if he finishes as a top 100 recruit). Hatch has not played competitively since the most recent accident (in June 2011) so we will be interested in seeing how he performs, but more importantly to see how he is adjusting to his new life.
  5. With the off-the-court trouble that Wyoming had last season it should not be that much of a surprise that some of its players have decided to create their own club known as “624” to avoid the craziness of Laramie, Wyoming (I know I can’t believe I just wrote that either). The club is not really a club in the traditional night club sense, but is rather a symbol for a place (624 is the address of the apartment of some upperclassmen) where the players on the team can hang out without worrying that people outside of the team will create problems that will break up the team. The entire idea should not be novel although we doubt that many teams do something like this for a variety of reasons, but it seems like something that many programs would benefit from trying.
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Rushed Reactions: #1 Indiana 83, #16 James Madison 62

Posted by IRenko on March 22nd, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #1 Indiana and #16 James Madison. You can follow him on Twitter at @IRenkoHoops.

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. In Case You Were Wondering, Indiana Can Score — The best offense in the country unleashed its full arsenal this afternoon, bombarding James Madison with drives, post feeds, threes, and pull-up jumpers. Getting to play their first non-Big Ten defense in 20 games seemed to release a pressure valve for the Hoosiers, and the scoring came pouring forth. The rub is that their defense remains a step behind their offense, and teams that are physical, slow the game down, and pound the glass pose a threat. Temple may not be able to pull off the upset, but looking down the line, a potential Sweet 16 matchup with Syracuse is a real concern for the Hoosiers.

    Yogi Ferrell celebrates after making a three point basket against the James Madison Dukes. (Getty)

    Yogi Ferrell celebrates after making a three-point basket against the James Madison Dukes. (Getty)

  2. IU’s Size Advantage Paid Off — The Dukes have big strong guards, but in part due to injuries, they are sorely lacking in size inside. They paid for it against IU, getting outscored 36-20 in the paint and 16-2 at the free throw line. The Hoosiers had lots of offensive tools that they deployed in this game, but a feed to Zeller in the post almost always resulted in a bucket or free throws. And at the other end, the Dukes, who normally make 65 percent of their shots at the rim, managed to shoot just 33 percent in the first half on layups. Struggling to gain traction inside, they turned into a pure jump-shooting team, taking only three shots at the rim in the second half. The Dukes’ leading scorer, 6’6″ power forward Rayshawn Goins, was particularly ineffective, scoring only two points on 1-of-6 shooting.
  3. Will Sheehey Was On His Game — Will Sheehey, the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year, is a key X-factor for Indiana. The Hoosiers’ offense is that much more complete when Sheehey is on his game. He’s been prone to disappearing lately, scoring just two points in three of IU’s last seven games, and seeing his scoring average dip into single digits. But today, he came off the bench to score 15 points on 7-of-15 shooting. If he can repeat this kind of performance against tougher opponents, IU could be Dancing all the way to Atlanta.

Star of the Game: Freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell is the oft-forgotten man in IU’s formidable starting five, but he made a grand debut on the NCAA Tournament stage, scoring 14 of IU’s first 18 points and assisting on the other four by feeding Zeller for dunks. Ferrell’s one-man onslaught gave the Hoosiers an early, impregnable lead. He finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. With all four of his starting mates likely to leave IU, the former McDonald’s All-American and top 25 recruit will be Indiana’s focal point and leader in the coming years.

Quotable: Indiana coach Tom Crean on the worry that bruising Big Ten season would wear Indiana down too much:  “That goes through your head. I’d be lying to say it didn’t.”

Sights & Sounds: The NCAA allows teams a very specific number of bench seats, so Indiana was forced to put a half dozen of its players — including two scholarship athletes — in the stands behind the scorers’ table. The biggest victim of this unusual situation was the petite IU fan, decked out in a Hoosiers jersey, who got stuck sitting behind seven-foot freshman center Peter Jurkin and spent the game trying to crane her neck around him.

Wildcard: Although the Hoosiers have been the second-best three-point shooting team in the nation over the course of the season, they’ve hit just 33 percent of their attempts over the last six games, during which they’ve gone 3-3. This afternoon, they shot 9-of-22 from behind the arc.

What’s Next? Indiana will return to Dayton Arena on Sunday to face Temple, looking for the 22nd Sweet Sixteen appearance in school history.

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Big Ten Morning Five: 02.28.13 Edition

Posted by jnowak on February 28th, 2013

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  1. ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan gets right to the point: What’s the matter with Michigan? It’s been a strange few weeks for the Wolverines, who were ranked No. 1 in the country at one point this season but have now been blown out by Michigan State and upset by the only team in the conference who didn’t have a Big Ten win entering play Wednesday. Penn State gave the Wolverines a run for their money in Ann Arbor on February 17 and the Nittany Lions finally finished the deal on Wednesday in State College. Before that, Michigan snuck by Ohio State in overtime and was beaten by Wisconsin in overtime prior to the MSU loss. The problem, Brennan writes, has been their defense, which is giving up 1.11 points per possession over its last seven games. Michigan’s offense is and always has been there. But the defense is fading fast. Can they figure it out in time to play like a Final Four team when it matters most?
  2. All of Tubby Smith‘s naysayers have probably grown pretty quiet for the time being. The Minnesota head coach has had doubters ever since his time at Kentucky, and they were chattering pretty loudly when the Gophers experienced their fall from grace after beginning the season 15-1 and rising as high as No. 8 in the country. But Smith says he doesn’t really listen to what people are saying — good or bad — so whether the team is on a slide or they’ve just upset the No. 1 team in the national polls, it’s not something that gets to him.
  3. Almost every team has one player who sets the tone for the rest of the team. For Michigan State, that guy is Keith Appling. As Appling goes, so go the Spartans, and Appling hasn’t been going much of anywhere lately. He’s been a non-factor in both Indiana losses this season, and he hurt more than he helped against Ohio State this week by allowing Aaron Craft to dismantle the Spartans’ backcourt. If the Spartans have any fighting chance at working their way back into the Big Ten title chase, they’ve got to beat Michigan on Sunday in Ann Arbor. And to do that, they need Appling to play like an all-Big Ten-caliber player again. Tom Izzo is confident Appling will do just that, saying that Appling has done a good job of carrying this team all year long, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t find that in him again this weekend.
  4. As Ben Axelrod writes, Thad Matta had not made a midseason starting lineup change for anything other than an injury since the 2008-09 season — that is, until he moved Evan Ravenel to the bench in December. But that move has allowed Matta to bring an experienced senior off the bench and is working well for the Buckeyes. Ravenel had a career game against Michigan State, and he’s proven to be a guy who Ohio State wants on the floor at the end of games, despite losing his starting spot to Amir Williams. “That was kind of what we were looking for, a little bit more of what Evan had brought to the table last year when he would come in,” Matta said. “I thought he was pretty effective, especially down the stretch of the Big Ten season.”
  5. Last week, ESPN broadcasters spent some time during the Michigan State-Indiana game dissecting a play that officials were reviewing in which it appeared Derrick Nix hit Cody Zeller with a cheap shot. As further review took place on the web after the game, it appeared that Zeller may have staged the incident by grabbing Nix’s arm. Either way, it was hard to draw any real conclusions. Then there was another strangely similar incident in Tuesday’s Indiana-Minnesota game in which Indiana’s Will Sheehey fell to the ground clutching his face while defending Minnesota’s Andre Hollins in a trap on the baseline. Officials again went to the monitor to review it, and many on the Internet speculated again — is there something fishy going on at Indiana, with players trying to draw attention with these “dirty” plays? We’re used to flops on charges and blocks, but is this something else, something more?
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Big Ten M5: 02.18.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 18th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. As we look ahead to this week’s Big Ten schedule, the Indiana - Michigan State game on Tuesday night may not only be a big game in the conference but may be the biggest match-up nationally this week as well. The Hoosiers will head to East Lansing as the top-ranked team but Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo is not comparing this game to the “David vs. Goliath” story. “I’m definitely not trying to make like it’s David against Goliath because it’s not, but it is the No. 1 team in the country, and I think earned and deserved and done consistently over the whole year,” Izzo said. The key to the game will be Derrick Nix’s defense against Cody Zeller in the paint. If Nix can stay on the floor without picking up some quick fouls, he may be able to force Zeller to defend him on the other end of the floor which could put pressure on other Hoosiers to shoot well on the road to pick up a win.
  2. Speaking of Indiana, despite the impending blockbuster game tomorrow night, the Hoosiers kept their focus by thumping Purdue, 83-55, on Saturday in Bloomington. Will Sheehey had a great game off the bench by scoring 22 points and was one of the main reasons behind IU’s big win over its intrastate rival. After Victor Oladipo went down in the first half with a sprained ankle, Sheehey stepped up to shoot 9-of-9 from the floor and the game should help boost confidence in his shot as they head to East Lansing. “I just try to stay aggressive regardless of what the situation is,” he said after the game.
  3. Even though the Michigan Wolverines have been one of the best programs in college hoops over the past year-plus, head coach John Beilein understands that he has a lot of work left to do to repair the image of his program. Beilein has talked extensively about the “fractured past” of the program and is trying to reconnect with former alumni, specifically the “Fab Five” that played in Ann Arbor in the early 1990s. “It’s a big challenge, you’ve had so many different coaches here over that time period,” he said. The basketball program hasn’t been as consistent as the football program in Ann Arbor and the four coaching changes since that era is a strong indication of its inconsistency. “Unlike football and some other programs where we’ve had a lot of consistency that holds the teams together, we’ve been a bit fragmented with basketball,” Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said.
  4. The Illini’s recent four-game winning streak has come as a result of improved offensive efficiency. Head coach John Groce has brought new energy to his team and encourages his guards to shoot from anywhere on the floor if they have a good look. When the Illini are moving the ball around and not settling for shots from beyond the arc in isolation, they have been very effective in the Big Ten. Illinois has averaged 1.19 points per possession which is higher than the Big Ten average of 1.01. Despite not having a true point guard on the roster, they have been very good with the ball as indicated by a 16.5% turnover percentage which is lower than the league average of 20.0%.
  5. It was a rough game for the Ohio State Buckeyes on Sunday in Madison because they got hammered by 22 points against the Badgers. After the game, head coach Thad Matta said, “We’ve seen the results if we’re not going to play defensively. We’re not a good basketball team.” Except for a win over Michigan a month ago, the Buckeyes continue to search for a marquee win over another highly-ranked team in the Big Ten because they want to head into March with some momentum. Junior guard Aaron Craft said, “Coaches can’t get us ready to play. The responsibility is on us as individual players.” The point guard was held to 2-of-9 shooting from the field and did not have an effective game, thanks to some stifling defense provided by Ben Brust.
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Previewing this weekend’s schedule of Big Ten games

Posted by jnowak on February 8th, 2013

We’ve reached the point in the season where it feels like every game has conference implications of some kind, and there’s no better period of time to enjoy them all than Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Weekends through the end of the season will be packed with quality basketball, so let’s take a look at this weekend’s slate of games and what’s in store:

  • Michigan at Wisconsin (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN) – The Wolverines could have the misfortune of becoming the No. 1 team in the country this upcoming week if they take care of business in Madison. Yes, you read that right. Having the nation’s top ranking is obviously an honor, but it hasn’t boded well for those teams this year. The AP’s No. 1 team (including Michigan, once already) has lost already six times this season, and with a trip to East Lansing coming up for the Wolverines, that could be on the line yet again. But first, they have to get by Wisconsin. The Badgers have been unpredictable this season, suffering two home losses already (an extremely puzzling one to Virginia, and a conference loss to Michigan State). The Badgers have the frontcourt to give Michigan trouble, but the Wolverines have a backcourt that no one in the Big Ten can match. It’s the only meeting between these two teams this year, so the Badgers need to make it count if they’re going to make a run at the conference title.
Bo Ryan's defense is always a cause for concern (AP)

Bo Ryan’s defense is always a cause for concern (AP)

  • Northwestern at Iowa (Saturday, 4:30 p.m., Big Ten Network) – Iowa just cannot seem to get over the hump and they’re coming up against a team on Saturday who’s familiar with such a situation. As has been the case for Northwestern the past few years, the Hawkeyes are trying to do everything they can to sneak into the NCAA Tournament but can’t manage to pull off a significant upset or put together a stretch of outstanding games. If they want any chance at all of building some momentum and making a run at the Big Dance, games like this one have to be victories. They’ve got a favorable stretch of five very winnable games on the horizon, and it has to start here. As for Northwestern, they’ve got to find a way to defend better than they did in the first match-up this season, when Iowa hammered the Wildcats in Evanston.
  • Michigan State at Purdue (Saturday, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network) – The last time Michigan State traveled to Purdue, Boilermaker fans taunted then-freshman Branden Dawson and it backfired on them. Dawson was electric in a 76-62 win in West Lafayette, going for 15 points, 11 boards, two blocks and one emphatic slam dunk that silenced the home crowd. The Spartans will need him in a big way again on Saturday if they’re to overcome the recent slew of injuries and maintain their roll in the Big Ten. The Spartans’ 84-61 win against Purdue at Breslin Center on Jan. 5 was not as close as the final score indicated, and they’ll be in for a battle again, against a Purdue team that can be very dangerous when clicking on all cylinders. Purdue freshman A.J. Hammons going against Michigan State’s frontcourt will be an intriguing match-up to watch. Read the rest of this entry »
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