Big Ten M5: 11.05.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 5th, 2014

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  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: Halloween Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 31st, 2014

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  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: 10.21.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on October 21st, 2014

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  1. Preseason lists for this award and watch lists for that honor are being released in earnest. When it comes to a very specific list, plenty of Big Ten players are honored on the All-Indiana College Basketball Team, consisting of players from the Hoosier State who compete at the collegiate level. The first team includes Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Michigan State’s Branden Dawson, and perhaps a debatable player to some in Purdue’s AJ Hammons. The second team includes Michigan’s Zak Irvin, while three Honorable Mentions in Indiana’s James Blackmon, Jr. and Purdue’s Basil Smotherman and Raphael Davis. The team exhibits all the Indiana talent that is scattered across Big Ten rosters beyond just those playing for the in-state Hoosiers and Boilermakers.
  2. Minnesota is a team with some intrigue surrounding it entering this season. The Golden Gophers return four starters from its NIT Championship squad and it has raised some hopes and created high expectations for this year’s team. Some of these projections make sense and seem legitimate, such as Andre Hollins making an All-Big Ten team; but others, like Elliot Eliason leading the conference in rebounds and blocks, are a little more unrealistic. The biggest question to answer for Minnesota fans is whether the Gophers can make the NCAA Tournament and push forward to the second weekend of action. To accomplish such a feat, the team will need Hollins to really improve with the losses of Malik Smith and Austin Hollins. He has the skill set and talent to do so, but it will take a very strong campaign for Minnesota to rise to become a player at the top of the Big Ten and nationally.
  3. With the loss of Noah Vonleh to the NBA, it is no secret that Indiana has some major question marks on its interior this year. One player hoping to provide an answer, however, is Devin Davis. He is one of the few interior players the Hoosiers have returning with experience. The best thing going for Davis may just be that he isn’t a dominant offensive force but he is a strong rebounder. With this year’s team likely looking to rely on its perimeter play to propel the offense, a solid defender underneath who can also attack the boards fits very well. While Davis will likely sit behind Hanner Mosquera-Perea in Tom Crean’s rotation, his style could be beneficial and result in a significant number of minutes throughout the season.
  4. There are high hopes in Wisconsin this season, so to get ready for the year, why not start debating the past? What would you rate as the Badgers’ top play of the past 10 years? While this list goes with Bo Ryan making his first Final Four, personally the Ben Brust half-courter against Michigan would top my list. The real question for Wisconsin fans is whether this list will include more big plays from the upcoming season, and at what stakes? Certainly there could be a few leading to Big Ten and national accolades.
  5. Ever wondered what was in Lebron James’ locker? How about what is in his locker at Ohio State? Yes, Lebron James has a locker inside Ohio State’s locker room, right next to Amir Williams. He doesn’t use it, given that he’s a 29-year old professional and all, but the Buckeyes display Nike gear with his name on it to help appeal to recruits when they come to visit Columbus. Not a bad ploy to use despite King James never playing at Ohio State, or college anywhere, for that matter.
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Big Ten Season Grades: Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on April 16th, 2014

With the end of the season comes a chance to look back at what happened and look ahead to next year. Here we have broken the conference into three corresponding tiers based on this year’s finish and will give each a final grade and look at a key question for 2014-15. Today we’ll examine four teams that are hoping they don’t replicate this year’s bottom four finish: Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.

Indiana

Yogi Ferrell had a great 2013-14 campaign and will need to replicate that for Indiana to be successful next year. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Yogi Ferrell had a great 2013-14 campaign and will need to replicate that for Indiana to be successful next year. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Grade: D. The Hoosiers lost so much with the departures of two lottery picks that maybe we all expected too much. Still, with Noah Vonleh (another likely lottery pick), Yogi Ferrell, Will Sheehey and “The Movement,” quite a bit more was expected from this group. Failure to make the NCAA Tournament (or even the bubble) and falling to the bottom tier of the Big Ten represents a very bad year for the Hoosiers. The program’s one bright spot was the emergence of Ferrell as not only the team’s best player but also one of the best in the conference.

Key 2014-15 Question: Who plays inside? Indiana will have plenty of guards on its roster next season. It brings back Ferrell and Stanford Robinson and its recruiting class includes McDonalds All-America shooting guard James Blackmon Jr. and shooting guard in Robert Johnson. With Vonleh and Jeremy Hollowell now gone, though, this team will lack an inside presence. Hanner Mosquera-Perea hasn’t really panned out and Troy Williams is a wing who doesn’t dominate inside the paint. Tom Crean is still recruiting in the hopes of filling this hole with a late commitment, but as of now, the Hoosiers could be looking at a four-guard lineup next year.

Northwestern

Grade: B. A “B” may seem high for a team at the bottom of league but this group of Wildcats was expected to do absolutely nothing in the Big Ten this season. Recall that at one point the question was if they could win a single Big Ten game. Chris Collins did plenty to change that notion quickly, as he made the team’s identity about defense and pushed it to win six games in conference play (and at one point had pundits wondering if it could make its way onto the NCAA bubble). It was a big and unexpected turnaround that has the Wildcats looking to break the NCAA drought sooner than later.

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Indiana’s Roster Changes Leads to Lack of Continuity and Chemistry

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 26th, 2014

Indiana’s offense will look very different next season because of a few key departures that were announced in the last couple of days. It isn’t surprising to see Noah Vonleh declare for the NBA Draft because he is an excellent prospect with great size (6’10″) who has a chance to become a good rebounder in the Association. But the news about Jeremy Hollowell and Austin Etherington transferring is a bit surprising and it will create a hole in the Hoosiers’ lineup next year. Even though neither player was a major contributor this season, their departures will hurt the continuity of an offense that averaged just 1.0 point per possession during conference play.

Noah Vonleh will be missed in Bloomington.

Noah Vonleh will be missed in Bloomington. (AP)

Talent was not an issue for Tom Crean this year, but Indiana’s starting five never meshed all that well together. The half-court offense mostly involved the guards trying to break down their defenders one-on-one, and when it didn’t work, passing it to another guard to score in isolation. This chaotic approach to offense led to numerous turnovers as Indiana ranked last in the Big Ten with a 21.9 percent turnover rate this season. Vonleh and Hollowell will probably be replaced with talented freshmen, but it also means that Crean will have to start over with the offense again next year.

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Three Thoughts as Nebraska Notched a Big Road Win at Indiana Last Night

Posted by Walker Carey on March 6th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between Nebraska and Indiana in Bloomington.

Prior to Wednesday night’s game at Indiana, Nebraska was widely seen as a bubble NCAA Tournament team. The Cornhuskers were among the “First Four Out” in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest update, so Tim Miles’ squad knew it had basically zero margin for error in either of its two games this week (at Indiana on Wednesday and home versus Wisconsin on Sunday). Earning a win at Assembly Hall figured to be a tall task for the Cornhuskers, as Indiana had already scored home victories over Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Ohio State this season. Luckily for Nebraska, its chances at an earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament are still alive and well after the Cornhuskers led all the way en route to a very important 10-point road victory. The following are three thoughts from Wednesday night’s action.

Nebraska Got a Huge Win at Indiana Wednesday Night

Nebraska Got a Huge Win at Indiana Wednesday Night

  1. Nebraska Received Valuable Contributions From a Variety of Players. On an evening where Nebraska standout guard Terran Petteway battled foul trouble and only finished 3-of-10 from the field, the Cornhuskers received impact performances from several other players. Forward Walter Pitchford scored the team’s first nine points of the night and finished the game with 17 total points to go with the nine rebounds he collected. Swingman Shavon Shields experienced plenty of success attacking the rim against the Indiana defense and also finished the game with 17 points. Shields was also part of the defensive effort that held Indiana’s marquee players — Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey – to combined 9-of-28 shooting from the field. The Cornhuskers also received key performances from reserve guards Benny Parker and Ray Gallegos, who sparked the Cornhuskers on both ends of the court with intense and spirited play. Good teams are able to adjust on the fly and still earn victories when their top player is not at his best, and that is exactly what Nebraska did on Wednesday night. Read the rest of this entry »
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Battle for Hoosier State Supremecy: A Preview By the Numbers

Posted by Brendan Brody & Alex Moscoso on February 15th, 2014

Heading into Saturday’s game in West Lafayette, Indiana and Purdue both currently sit in the bottom third of the Big Ten standings with matching 4-7 conference records. In addition to playing for state bragging rights in one of the best Big Ten rivalries, both teams are clinging to quickly fading NCAA Tournament hopes. Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso decided to look at some key numbers for the upcoming game in the form of predicting some over/unders to try to figure out who will come away with the win on Saturday afternoon (4:00 PM EST, ESPN).

Yogi Ferrell needs to score and distribute for Indiana to beat their in-state rival. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Yogi Ferrell needs to score and distribute for Indiana to beat their in-state rival. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Yogi Ferrell over/under 25 points+assists

Alex Moscoso: I’m definitely taking the over. Ferrell is a fantastic college player because he comes up big when Indiana needs him the most. When the Hoosiers upset then-undefeated Wisconsin a few weeks ago, the sophomore put up 25 points and four assists. Against Michigan (undefeated at the time in Big Ten play), he put up 27 points and a couple of assists. Now, his team needs him to step up to get to the right side of the bubble, and I think he’ll deliver.

AJ Hammons over/under 10 rebounds

Brendan Brody: Hammons will have fewer than 10 rebounds in this one. Indiana has outrebounded its opponent in each of their last five games. They’ve also only allowed one player (Jordan Morgan) to grab double-figure boards against them in those games. Purdue does do a pretty good job cleaning the glass, especially on the offensive end, but the combination of Indiana’s rebounding prowess and the potential for Hammons to be in foul trouble at some point in the game makes the prediction 10+ boards too risky.

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Big Ten Weekend In Review: Things Just Keep Getting Weirder

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 4th, 2014

In the first half of the B1G slate, one team has proven to be more consistent that everyone else. While all of the puzzling final scores have rolled in, Michigan has been rolling over the competition, rising to #10 in the country and sitting at 8-0 in conference play. That of course all changed on Sunday when the Wolverines inexplicably lost to Indiana at Assembly Hall. With that result, there are now eight Big Ten teams within one game of each other (with five or six losses) in the conference standings. Here’s an attempt at summing up what turned out to be another batty weekend around the league.

Yogi Ferrell spearheaded another big home court win against Michigan. (Brian Spurlock, USAT)

Yogi Ferrell spearheaded another big home court win against Michigan. (Brian Spurlock, USAT)

Player of the Weekend: Yogi Ferrell: If you take a glance at the box score and see that Ferrell went for 27 points on 7-of-8 shooting from behind the arc, you would assume that’s the sole reason why he was the best player of the weekend. But he was also primarily responsible for holding fellow B1G POY candidate Nik Stauskas to only six points on Sunday. The Hoosiers game planned for Michigan’s best player brilliantly, placing Ferrell on him one-on-one and never leaving to help. Ferrell marked him all over the court, and while Stauskas wasn’t his normal aggressive self in Bloomington, the sophomore guard deserves a good deal of the credit for holding him in check. He topped off a tremendous game by grabbing a key rebound in the closing minutes when he simply outhustled everyone as the Wolverines were frantically clawing back. Ferrell put the Hoosiers on his back Sunday, and they earned a huge resume boost in large part because of his efforts.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Gabriel Olaseni: The British big man gets the nod for bench production for the second weekend in a row. He tallied a double-double again, doing so by dominating the offensive glass in Iowa’s survival of the Illini. The Hawkeyes have been going through a malady lately where they go for long stretches at a time without a field goal. During those dry spells, they survive by living at the free throw line. Olaseni was active and at the forefront of this trend in the first half, as he went to the line 10 times (making nine) on his way to an efficient 15 points. He also led the way with 12 rebounds in 26 minutes.

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Big Ten M5: 01.30.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 30th, 2014

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  1. Michigan State is obviously a better team with Adreian Payne on the floor. The big man had a realistic chance to win the Big Ten Player of the Year award given the way he started the season, but he hasn’t played in the Spartans’ last six games. With his pain still lingering, Tom Izzo has had to defend his cautious approach to playing his talented big man. It can’t be easy to see his team play without Payne, but let’s keep in mind that this Michigan State team has higher aspirations than just winning the conference. Going without him right now to avoid further aggravation of the injury seems well worth it if Payne will be (hopefully) 100 percent come NCAA Tournament time.
  2. Yogi Ferrell has been impressive. The Indiana sophomore went from role player to star and has seen his scoring shoot up quite a bit this season. His ability to stay at that level as Big Ten play wears on is just as important if Indiana is to go from bubble team back to the NCAA Tournament. Ferrell is the clear leader of a young team and has done admirably in guiding an up-and-down Hoosiers squad. He is also the only player who can routinely hit outside shots to help open things up for Noah Vonleh inside. With a softer part of the schedule coming up for Indiana, look for Ferrell to really dominate.
  3. It wasn’t the player who we thought would be the dominant one for Michigan. In fact, he wasn’t even one of the two players expected to be the star for the Wolverines. Yet, Nik Stauskas is learning to adjust on the fly to becoming the opponent’s top defensive focus. The strategies to try and stop him have almost all been ineffective, as Stauskas is the biggest reason Michigan has gone from what appeared to be a lost season with the Mitch McGary injury to sitting in first place by itself nearly halfway through conference play. It’s been an impressive run and one Stauskas will need to continue if his team is to stay on top .
  4. It doesn’t get much better than how Iowa had it coming into Tuesday night’s game against Michigan State. The Spartans were without Payne and wing player Branden Dawson. It was in front of a sold out and raucous home crowd. Yet Iowa could not close the deal, and the loss represents a huge blown opportunity. The defeat really sets the Hawkeyes back now, because Fran McCaffery’s group dropped to three games back of first place as result. It’s no wonder the head coach called them out for not being tough enough. If they are going to have any shot at winning the Big Ten title, they can’t afford any more home losses this season.
  5. It is never an easy decision for a coach when a player picks up multiple early fouls. In the last two games, Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan has had to deal with this decision regarding his interior star, Frank Kaminsky. If the decision were up to Kaminsky, he’d stay in the game despite the foul trouble. It is no surprise to hear a player wants to play no matter the circumstance, but the key issue in these coaching decisions is always the game situation. In the Badgers’ last game against Purdue, Wisconsin was able to utilize an offense/defense substitution pattern with Kaminsky. It also helped that the team never trailed so it never became imminent to have its better offensive player in the game. It will be interesting to see what happens when Kaminsky is in foul trouble, though, and the Badgers are losing.
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Big Ten M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 20th, 2014

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  1. Terone and Ronnie Johnson don’t necessarily receive the glare of a national spotlight like the Harrison twins from Kentucky, but they are a formidable combination of brothers themselves. While Terone has averaged 13.4 PPG to help the Boilermakers with the offense, Ronnie has averaged 3.7 APG to set the tone in the half-court. The brothers have come through in the clutch lately, loggin recent wins over Illinois and Penn State. After the win over the Nittany Lions, older brother Terone said of his younger sibling, “But at the end of the game, he made a big steal for us, which we thought was great and we congratulate him for that.” With a 13-5 overall record, it is uncertain if the Boilers have the juice to make the NCAA Tournament, but they will need the brothers to win a couple of road games if they hope to be considered by the committee in March.
  2. Sometimes the certainty of not having your best player around can benefit a team in a positive way. With Mitch McGary sidelined for at least a few more weeks, the Wolverines may have finally found their identity, now clearly under the leadership of sophomore Nik Stauskas. Stauskas went off for 23 points over Wisconsin, nailing a pull-up three to win the game on the road in Madison. With the win, John Beilein’s squad now sits at the top of the Big Ten with a perfect 5-0 record, but more importantly, the Wolverines are clicking on the offensive end. Even Bo Ryan was impressed with the sophomore’s performance when he said: “Any time a guy steps back like that, you try to cover ground like that with that quick a release? … That step-back’s so fast and that release is so fast, you’re not going to (defend it). He’s quick. He’s like a cat.”
  3. Speaking of injuries helping a team improve, Adreian Payne’s sore foot is giving an opportunity for Matt Costello to take advantage of additional playing time and gain confidence in his offensive game. With Payne out for three games, Costello has been actively involved in the half-court, specifically running the pick-and-roll with Gary Harris. Harris was on fire from the field against Illinois on Saturday night, scoring 23 points with most of them coming off the pick-and-roll with Costello. Costello chipped in with eight points and showed off his excellent jumper away from the hoop. These minutes will help Tom Izzo once Payne comes back because Costello’s confidence will be very high based on his performances while Payne was out.
  4. When Wisconsin was still unbeaten, we were raving about their offensive versatility, and specifically the fact that all five of their starters could shoot from the perimeter and score with anybody. But we may have slightly overlooked some of their defensive flaws and the two losses last week showed why they are not a lock to win the conference title. During both games, the Baddgers experienced numerous defensive breakdowns, which could haunt them over the next few weeks when they face Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State. Michigan’s Nik Stauskas had a field day against their backcourt with 23 points, and during the late minutes against Indiana, Yogi Ferrell and Stanford Robinson found their way into the paint rather easily against the porous Wisconsin defense.
  5. Indiana‘s loss to Northwestern at home on Saturday is a primary example of a “letdown game.” Just a few days after their fans rushed the court because they ended Wisconsin’s unbeaten season, the Hoosiers sleptwalked for most of the game against the Wildcats. They shot a dismal 25 percent from the field instead of relying on Noah Vonleh to take them to a win. Vonleh ended up with 17 points, but he should have taken more shots because the IU backcourt of Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey shot an icy 3-of-21 from the field. Inconsistent shooting has been a concern for the Hoosiers, but they need to recognize that Vonleh is good enough to carry the team in the paint if their long-range shooting is off on a given night.
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D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera Ready to Become a Household Name

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 6th, 2014

Markel Starks is the leader; Joshua Smith is the enigma; and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (DSR) is the scorer. These are the identities of each of Georgetown’s three best players this season. In Saturday afternoon’s blowout win against St. John’s, Smith-Rivera fulfilled his role by dropping 31 points on a remarkable 12 shots. It was a big game for the sophomore guard from Indianapolis — not only did he score in buckets, but he also grabbed six rebounds and dished out three assists. After watching Georgetown through several games, it’s hard to conclude otherwise that Starks, the senior point guard and unquestioned leader of the team, is the most important player on the Hoyas’ roster. He was the reason Smith-Rivera was able to score as much as he did, by setting him up with clean passes right as he came off screens with enough space to get his shot off. But it’s equally just as difficult to come away from the weekend game without realizing the offensive powerhouse that Smith-Rivera has become and concluding that he’s poised to join the national conversation as  an elite scorer.

D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera is JTIII's most efficient scorer. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera is JTIII’s most efficient scorer. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Smith-Rivera is part of a superb 2012 recruiting class from the state of Indiana that includes names like Yogi Ferrell, Gary Harris, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III. Not as highly regarded as his Hoosier State peers, several Big Ten coaches recruited Smith-Rivera but did not make him a top priority. As a result, he decided to stay east, where he was attending Oak Hill Academy, ultimately committing to Georgetown. We need only look at Smith-Rivera’s performance for the season to understand the impact he’s had on the Hoyas’ offense. According to sportsreference.com, he leads the Big East in offensive efficiency (1.27 points per possession) and effective field goal percentage (59.7%). Among conference players, he is in the top five in the following categories: field goal percentage (48.2%), three-point field goals made (32), points per game (17.1), and win-shares (.231 per 40 minutes). These numbers alone would be impressive for any sophomore playing in a major basketball conference, but it is even more so from a player who’s considered a longshot to make the NBA (DSR is listed as the 74th-ranked sophomore at draftexpress.com) due to his physical shortcomings.

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Three Questions on Illinois vs. Indiana

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) & Brendan Brody on December 31st, 2013

If you haven’t seen this clip by now, you should: Illinois’ Tyler Griffey beating the buzzer by laying it in to upset top-ranked Indiana in Champaign last year. This season, both are considered middle of the pack teams in the conference, but the rematch later today (3:00 PM ET) of these rivals will certainly be juicy in Champaign. To get things started, Big Ten microsite writers Brendan Brody and Deepak Jayanti address three key questions surrounding the Big Ten opener for each team.

John Groce's Illinois faces a pivotal game against Indiana to kick off the conference season.

John Groce’s Illinois faces a pivotal game against Indiana to kick off the conference season.

Can the Illini contain Noah Vonleh on the boards or will get they destroyed on the glass?

  • Brendan Brody: In kind of a roundabout way, the best way for Illinois to keep Vonleh off the glass might be to attack him on the offensive end. If they can get him into foul trouble like Connecticut did, they can neutralize the advantage Vonleh gives to Hoosiers. Destroyed is a strong word here because Illinois does a decent job rebounding the ball as a team, but Indiana has other players like Jeremy Hollowell and Troy Williams who also do a nice job gathering misses that will lead to second shots on the offensive end and will fuel their transition game.
  • Deepak Jayanti: If Rayvonte Rice can get to the hoop off of screens and force Vonleh to challenge him at the basket, it is likely that the big and talented freshman will get into foul trouble. But that’s easier said than done because Vonleh is learning how not to pick up easy fouls. Having said that, the Illini will struggle to keep Vonleh off the glass regardless. Junior forward Nnanna Egwu appears to keep moving away from the paint because he prefers to shoot the jumper off the pick-and-roll. Joseph Bertrand and Rice average over five rebounds per game each, and one of them will be busy trying to box out Williams while Vonleh will be left one-on-one against Egwu or Jon Ekey — a rebounding match-up that favors his abilities.

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