Big Ten Feast Week Primer

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 24th, 2014

Seven Big Ten teams will be competing in tournaments during Feast Week. Some are expected to do well, while others are looking to pick up some quality wins and defy preseason expectations. Here’s a primer for those hoops-obsessed fans who want to schedule some Big Ten basketball watching around their annoying relatives. The fun gets started later today in Maui, New York and Kansas City.

Progressive Legends Classic: (Monday and Tuesday)

Caris LeVert needs to continue to fill up the stat sheet if Michigan wants to win the Legends Classic. (Getty)

Caris LeVert needs to continue to fill up the stat sheet if Michigan wants to win the Legends Classic. (Getty)

  • Teams: Michigan, Oregon, VCU, Villanova
  • Favorite: Villanova
  • TV: ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU
  • Outlook: Michigan will face its first big-name opponents of the season when the Wolverines take on Oregon in the first game. Should they win, they’ll face off against the winner of the VCU-Villanova game after that. The perimeter trio of Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert will have to continue to score at a high level, as the trio is producing a robust 67.5 percent of Michigan’s points thus far this season.
  • Predicted Finish: First if they play Villanova; second if they play VCU.

CBE Hall of Fame Classic: (Monday and Tuesday)

  • Teams: Maryland, Arizona State, Iowa State, Alabama
  • Favorite: Iowa State
  • TV: ESPNU, ESPN2

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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #9 to #5

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 13th, 2014

We continue our preseason Big Ten rankings today with spots #9 through #5. The bottom tier of teams, #14 to #10, released earlier this week. These middle tier teams will be fighting to be on the right side of the bubble — and providing us with great drama — all season long.

9. Maryland

  • What they do well: Defense. Mark Turgeon has had a top 40 squad in adjusted defensive efficiency the past couple seasons and it’ll likely be his area of focus once again.
  • What they don’t do well: Retention. Seth Allen, Charles Mitchell, Nick Faust, Roddy Peters and Shaquille Cleare all transferred out of the program in the offseason — not exactly inconsequential players.
Dez Wells is one of the few familiar faces in College Park this year. (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

Dez Wells is one of the few familiar faces in College Park this year. (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

  • Get to know: Melo Trimble. The top 40 recruit will need to use his offensive skill set to help replace all the lost scoring from last season.
  • Why they’ll finish 9th: The exodus of key players and unfamiliarity in the Big Ten will cause some very sharp growing pains for the Terrapins.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: This team still has talent and is used to playing top-notch competition. If they can get all their new pieces to gel together, they can compete in a relatively down Big Ten.

8. Iowa

  • What they do well: Offense. Last season, the Hawkeyes were fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and they bring a majority of that roster back this year.
  • What they don’t do well: Mental toughness. Last season, Iowa wilted in close games against Villanova and Iowa State. Things really spiraled out of control at the end of the season when they lost seven of their last eight contests.

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Don’t Discount John Beilein’s Ability to Recharge the Michigan Offense

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 12th, 2014

Four years ago, John Beilein’s crew nearly took down Duke in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32 with Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr. leading the way. The following year without Morris, Beilein inserted a precocious freshman named Trey Burke into the lineup and led the Wolverines to the top of the Big Ten. The following year he added three more freshmen into the starting lineup and improved to the point of a National Championship game appearance. Last year, when everybody thought the run was finally done and Beilein couldn’t keep up with lost personnel, the Wolverines were an implausible three-pointer away from a return trip to the Final Four. For the past four seasons, Michigan’s offense has ranked among the top 25 teams in the nation in offensive efficiency. Producing at least 1.1 points per possession over such a long period of time doesn’t occur by chance — it happens because of an open-minded approach to adjusting the offense to players’ strengths and controlled experimentation with the available personnel. While the Wolverines do not appear to be a Final Four favorite this season, discounting their chances to challenge Wisconsin for the league title is probably not a good idea.

The following are three reasons why Michigan should have an elite offense again this year:

Never underestimate John Beilein's ability to design an extremely potent offense.

Never underestimate John Beilein’s ability to design an extremely potent offense. (Getty)

  1. The Wolverines have plenty of long-range shooters. It shouldn’t be a news flash to Big Ten fans that Beilein’s teams consistently move the ball to find long-range shots — 35 percent of their field goal attempts last season came from beyond the arc. Last year alone, they hoisted a robust 700 threes between their top six scorers. Ball-handlers dribbling off screens and kicking the ball to to the corners is a signature play within Beilein’s offense. Burke ran it to find Stauskas two years ago. Stauskas ran the same play last year with Glenn Robinson and Derrick Walton. Walton will take over that baton this year and he will not lack for shooters. A Michigan small-ball lineup would include Spike Albrecht, Zak Irvin Caris Levert and Walton — all of these players shot at least 38 percent from distance a year ago. There will be plenty of shots from long-range and luckily the Wolverines have a bunch of guys who shoot pretty jumpers.
  2. Irvin could be an effective version of Hardaway. Irvin and Hardaway are both 6’6” and can pull up on a dime off the dribble to shoot a jumper. The knock against Hardaway was his poor shot selection, but the jury is still out on Irvin’s efficiency because he didn’t play enough minutes last season. If the sophomore doesn’t force shots, he has the talent to become a very good scorer in this league. He is big enough at the wing position to grab a couple of offensive boards per game and keep the defenses guessing. Beilein will definitely try to use him on pick-and-rolls with Walton because both of them are effective from the mid-range. If Irvin works well within the construct of Belein’s game plan, he could be a super sophomore.
  3. Robinson’s departure could lead to better overall efficiency. Robinson was extremely talented but was also consistently flat-footed and didn’t try to attack the basket enough. Instead, he often crippled the Wolverines’ offensive flow by hoisting ill-advised shots from the corner when he easily could have used the back-door cut instead. And despite shooting 147 three-pointers, he made only 31 percent of them, the worst such mark on the squad. Take those shots and distribute them across players such as Walton and Levert, each of whom tends to make better offensive decisions with the ball, and now you have an offense that could actually be more efficient than last season’s top-ranked group.
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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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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 M5: 03.07.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 7th, 2014

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  1. Indiana more than likely saw their already slim NCAA Tournament hopes dashed by losing to Nebraska 70-60 on Wednesday night. Despite some flashes of quality play in some of their impressive wins they have gotten at home, this has really been a puzzling team to figure out through most of the season. Mediocre is a strong word to use for a team that lost two NBA lottery picks and two other senior starters, yet still has a 17-13 record. Inconsistent and unpredictable might be more apt terms to describe the 2013-14 Hoosiers. Their poor non-conference schedule hasn’t done them any favors as far as their resume goes, and it’s also lead to a team not being prepared for Big Ten play.
  2. Minnesota unexpectedly is losing a player who started 23 of their 30 games this season. Oto Osenieks is ending his basketball career after it was determined that a knee injury that he’s had multiple surgeries on simply is too damaged for him to continue on. Joey King has taken over the starting power forward spot, so look for he and Charles Buggs to continue getting the majority of the minutes at that spot.
  3. Ohio State faces a crucial test Sunday afternoon when they take on Michigan State. The game is significant because it’s Senior Day for Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. But Shannon Scott says that it’s more important to get the win “to get (us) into the best situation we can for the tournament.” Scott also said in the interview that he likes his role coming off the bench due to the fact that he can “fit in where (he) can and figure out what the team needs at the time and try and do it.” With Keith Appling of Michigan State having his best game in quite some time last night against Iowa, the Buckeyes will need big efforts from both Craft and Scott on Sunday night to make Senior Day a memorable one.
  4. Michigan’s sophomore class- especially Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III, and the injured Mitch McGary- garner most of the headlines and publicity for the recently-crowned Big Ten regular season champions. But you can’t overlook the contributions of freshmen Derrick Walton Jr, and Zak Irvin. They both have showed much more consistency as the season has gone along, and Coach John Beilein believes their improvement has been the key to turning things around after a shaky non-conference part of their season. Both have had played really well and they have both blended in seamlessly as the season has gone along. Michigan has had some outstanding players make substantial jumps between their first and second seasons in Ann Arbor, and if this trend continues, Walton and Irvin will be Big Ten mainstays for as long as they are donning the maize and blue.
  5. Switching over to the other Michigan school in the league, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling played their last game in East Lansing for Michigan State last night when they beat Iowa 86-76. The pair are victims of the program’s past success, as they and fellow senior Dan Chapman will have been the first senior class under Tom Izzo to have not played in a Final Four. It hardly seems fair that many will view their time with the program to have been unsuccessful unless they advance four spots into the bracket without taking a loss. The Spartans took a small step toward that goal however by impressively beating the Hawkeyes. Appling looked to be much more comfortable, and if he really is healthy finally, this team can be just as good as everyone thought in the preseason.
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Big Ten M5: 2.13.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on February 13th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. It’s never easy having everyone’s eyes on you every time you play. Michigan State‘s Gary Harris has certainly had this coming into this season as a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate on a national championship contending team. After his worst performance of the season against Wisconsin he admitted part of his up-and-down play can be directly attributed to the pressure that comes with being in the spotlight. It’s an interesting perspective to hear Harris realize coming back would make it harder and some of the sacrifices he made this season, including not using Twitter. Harris hasn’t been as “great” as anticipated, but the expectations for a phenomenal player to take a big jump were unfair. It’s rare, if not impossible, for a player near the top of the college game last season to make an even bigger jump this year. He may not be the national player of the year, but his player overall has still been more than solid. Don’t expect that to change.
  2. It isn’t new a story. Ohio State‘s offense struggles. It’s become repetitive, but that doesn’t make it any less harmful for the Buckeyes. Once again in the loss to Michigan Tuesday night Ohio State had a terrible offensive night in every facet that cost it the recent momentum it had gained. In the loss the offense was struggling even more than normal, hitting only 11 field goals after the 13:35 mark of the first half. Even more troubling is that three of those came in the final few minutes when Michigan had built a lead that basically had the game out of reach. For the Buckeyes to win, everyone knows what matters. During its recent win streak the team shot 42 percent. In its losing streak earlier in Big Ten play and against Michigan, it was well under the mark.
  3. On the other side Ohio State-Michigan game was the play of Wolverines freshmen Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin. The two had plenty of struggles early in the season, enough that Michigan went from a preseason top 10 team to some wondering if it would make the NCAA Tournament. Since conference play start, though, the two have turned it on and continued that last night. They combined for 23 points against Ohio State to give Michigan its first win since 2003 at Ohio State, when they were 8-years-old. It’s obvious the Wolverines recent uptick in play has come from the freshmen starting to play up to their preseason hype. It may have take some time but with them playing like this Michigan will be in the thick of the NCAA Tournament race once again in March.
  4. Minnesota stopping its three-game losing streak with a win against Indiana was huge. The conference appears headed to six bids and with both teams on the bubble it put them on the inside track. Now, it appears the Golden Gophers need to reach 9-9 in the conference to get themselves in and the rest of the schedule makes this possible. It seems simple for Minnesota right now, realistically, looking at the schedule. It needs to beat the three teams not considered tournament teams in Illinois, Northwestern and Penn State. Out of the other four games, it needs to win at least one to be on the bubble and two likely guarantees it is in. The path is there, the Golden Gophers just need to capitalize.
  5. The past few weeks haven’t been the easiest for Wisconsin‘s Sam Dekker. His scoring percentage took a little bit of a drop as the Badgers started losing some games. For him, it just took thinking back to his dad’s comments to get back on track. Good thing he had that to think of as he got back on track and is now leading the Badgers to victories again. This leadership role is something important for the sophomore as he has had to learn to speak up and take charge, especially as the team began to falter. With a challenging three game stretch coming up at home against Minnesota and then on the road at Michigan and Iowa, Wisconsin needs Dekker to continue to lead and listen to his dad now more than ever.
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Big Ten M5: 12.03.13 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 3rd, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. The Big Ten – ACC challenge is here. Given the match-ups, it seems like this year has the possibility of ending in a tie like last year. With the additions of programs such as Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame, the ACC was supposed to be the hands-down best league in the country and go back to dominating the challenge like they did for a decade. But while the top of the ACC will always have the blue bloods, the drop off from the rest of the league can be steep.  What has made the Big Ten one of, if not the, premier conferences in college basketball is its depth in the league from top to bottom. In the challenge format, depth seems to be a much more advantageous than being top heavy. So expect to see competitive Big Ten – ACC challenges for years to come.
  2. Illinois once again finds itself undefeated going into the Big Ten – ACC challenge. The emergence of two transfers, Rayvonte Rice and Jon Ekey, have helped the Illini remain competitive despite the loss of Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. On Monday, Rice was named Big Ten Player of the Week because of his performances against UNLV and IPFW.  He is leading the team in scoring and has been the go-to-guy whenever Illinois has needed a bucket. Rice makes his living by driving to the basket where he is shooting 70.6 percent. Against UNLV, he struggled to get around the Running Rebels’ length and athleticism in the first twenty minutes, but by the second half, he adjusted his game and used his strength to create separation from his defender in order to get his shot off. Rice finished with 25 points including the game-winning field goal with 28 seconds remaining. He proved he can score off the dribble against anyone, which is a positive sign for the Illini going into games against Georgia Tech, Oregon, and Missouri.
  3. Also announced on Monday was Zak Irvin as Big Ten Freshman of the Week. Irvin, a four-star wing from Indiana, has started off his career as a reserve but has had a big role when on the court. Though he comes off the bench, Irvin uses 20 percent of the Wolverines possessions and averages 7.4 points in 18.1 minutes per game. In Friday’s game against Coppin St., Irvin erupted for 24 points on 9 of 13 shooting including 6 made three pointers. Before this game, Irvin’s previous high score was 8 points, so he’ll continue to be a role player.  However, the freshman is clearly talented and his career should be fun to follow in Ann Arbor.
  4. In one of our preseason columns, we stated that with the return of Tim Frazier, along with D.J. Newbill, Penn State may have the best backcourt in the Big Ten. Now others are starting to take notice and realizing that Penn State may have a surprising year. Over the weekend, the Nittany Lions split games beating a talented St. John’s team in double overtime but losing a close game to Ole Miss. In the game against the Red Storm, the dynamic duo combined for 54 points, while against the Rebels, Newbill put in another 20-point performance. These two have the offense humming at the rate of 114.4 points per 100 possessions, the 17th best in the country. This offense, along with their poor defense, will make for some entertaining games in conference play.  And this backcourt will be responsible for some crazy upsets before the season is done. So get the popcorn when Penn State is on TV and enjoy.
  5. On Wednesday, Wisconsin goes into Charlotte to play Virginia where Bo Ryan will be seeking to secure his 300th victory as the Badgers head coach. When asked what he thought that number meant about him as a coach, Ryan played it off and stated that he was a “pretty lucky guy”. Coach may not be giving himself enough credit.  Everyone knows he’s finished fourth or better in the Big Ten and made the NCAA Tournament every year since he’s been there (2001); and he’s done this almost completely without any heralded recruits. But what’s most impressive is he didn’t get a high-major coaching job until Wisconsin made them theirs at the age of 53.  Ryan had previously spent 15 years in Division III, where he won four national titles, and two years at UW-Milwaukee. His overall record as a head coach is 682-216 which translates to a winning percentage of 76 percent. That seems to be the product of much more than just luck.
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It’s Time to Discuss If Michigan Was Overrated Coming Into the Season

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 29th, 2013

One game doesn’t prove anything is drastically wrong with a team, but after Michigan‘s 63-61 loss to Charlotte last weekend, the preseason top 10 team’s struggles have already raised some eyebrows. The Wolverines now sit at 4-2, which could have very easily been 3-3 given its comeback overtime win over Florida State in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, but the loss certainly exposed plenty of issues across the board against an inferior opponent (Pomeroy had the 49ers rated 196th coming into the game). Michigan was outrebounded, it only had eight assists, and shot only 30 percent from the field and 22 percent from three-point range in the loss. The two players who everyone expected to lead this team were dismal, with Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary combining for 10 points. Robinson was particularly rough, failing to connect on any shot in his nine minutes of playing time. Nik Stauskas continued his season-long strong play with 20 points, but Zak Irvin’s 3-of-14 effort offset anything Stauskas was able to do.

Glenn Robinson III has struggled out the gate for Michigan. (US Presswire)

Glenn Robinson III has struggled out the gate for Michigan. (US Presswire)

So the real question is to wonder how much is this cause for concern for a team most analysts had picked to be second or third in the Big Ten? Does the Charlotte loss represent just one really bad night or was Michigan overrated as a top-10 team after losing two NBA draft picks and the reigning Player of the Year in Trey Burke? The easy answer is yes to both questions. Michigan likely had a really bad collective night to cause the loss, but the Wolverines haven’t really shown yet this season that it deserved to be so highly touted. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 11.06.13 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 6th, 2013

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  1. Illinois head coach John Groce has done it again, as he picked up another recruit from the city of Chicago on Tuesday. D.J. Williams, a 6’7″ junior from Simeon High School, verbally committed to the Illini, making him the third Simeon player to commit there in the last year — Groce already has freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate on board this season. Simeon is the alma mater of Derrick Rose and Nick Anderson, just to name a few. They are a power in the city of Chicago hoops scene on a yearly basis, and with another Windy City prep superstar named Cliff Alexander potentially also getting ready to put on an Illinois hat when he announces his college decision on November 15, Groce is looking at turning the Illini into a future national powerhouse.
  2. Michigan has a lot coming back from what ended up being a phenomenal season last year, but someone is going to have to step in and try to replicate the production that Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. provided on the perimeter. Freshman point guard Derrick Walton has gotten more publicity, but fellow freshman Zak Irvin has contributed some of what Hardaway did last season in Michigan’s two scrimmages. To wit, Irvin has gone 4-of-7 from deep in these two scrimmages. With veterans Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary garnering more attention from other teams’ scouting reports when taking on the Maize and Blue, Irvin will provide a huge lift if he can knock down outside shots at that kind of level as teams pay attention to his more highly publicized teammates.
  3. Mo Walker has spent the better part of three seasons playing behind players like Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams at Minnesota, but after he slimmed down by 60 pounds in the offseason, he’s shown a commitment to stepping in and picking up some of the slack left behind by these graduated starters. Walker led the team in points and rebounds in the Gophers’ 101-67 win over Concordia on Monday night, tallying 17/13 in the victory. Minnesota’s biggest 2013-14 question mark has to be what kind of production Richard Pitino will get down low, and Walker seems to be off to an outstanding start in providing some answers for a team that is predicted to finish in the bottom half of the league.
  4. Yogi Ferrell only averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists per game last year, but he provided a steady hand in leading a team that spent essentially the whole season in the top five nationally. With Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls all now gone, this is now Ferrell’s team and he’s taken this added leadership role to heart, doing things like diagramming game-winning plays in practice scrimmages to show his development. Ferrell is arguably the most important player in the league this season — with expectations ramped up because of the Hoosiers’ two-year renaissance, all momentum will be lost if the team drops off this season. With eight freshman on the roster, it goes without saying that Ferrell and Will Sheehey have to do more than just produce on the court for Indiana to stay near the top of the B1g standings.
  5. With Minnesota losing three starters and its head coach from last year’s team, the Gophers need to plug some new pieces to fit new coach Richard Pitino’s up-tempo system. It’s looking like one of these pieces is going to be JuCo transfer Deandre Mathieu. Mathieu has impressed to the point where the Gophers are considering penciling him into the lineup with two other guards, Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins. Playing with a three-guard lineup will allow Minnesota to play at a much faster tempo, with the 5’9″ Mathieu pushing Andre Hollins to play off the ball and essentially taking on the role of a scorer. In the team’s two scrimmages, Mathieu averaged 10 points, eight assists, and two steals per game, which if duplicated once the games start for real, would put him in the running for Big Ten Newcomer of the Year.
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Big Ten M5: 10.31.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on October 31st, 2013

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  1. With the loss of Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State has a big scoring void to fill. Thomas averaged 19.8 points, which was nearly double that of the Buckeyes next leading scorer in Aaron Craft. Ohio State is hoping without just one scorer, though, everyone will get involved forcing opposing teams to guard everyone on the floor. Everyone already knows Craft will have to add some offense to his well-known defense, but LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith, Sam Thompson, and Amir Williams are the keys to the Buckeyes. If the team gets consistent scoring from all of those players, it will certainly cause opponents bigger headaches than last season when taking away Thomas meant shutting down Ohio State.
  2. Michigan State has plenty of strength returning to its starting lineup in Gary Harris, Keith Appling, Branden Dawson, and Adreian Payne. There’s still one open spot, though, and it appears freshman forward Gavin Schilling is making his case to seize it. In the Spartans first exhibition, a 101-52 win against Grand Valley State, Schilling played the most minutes and scored four points with five rebounds coming off the bench behind sophomore Matt Costello. This position will be an important one to keep an eye on for Michigan State as it tries to make a national title run. The four returning starters already make them a strong team, but if Schilling can continue to prosper and make every position on the Spartans starting five strong, it only makes their chances for a national title better. If he doesn’t get into the starting lineup, it at least makes it a small drop-off if Schilling has to play minutes for Costello or Payne at the forward positions.
  3. There’s plenty of hope surrounding the Purdue basketball program following a disappointing campaign last year. A big key to that will be what the newcomers provide to the Boilermakers, one of which is 5th year transfer Errick Peck. The 6-foot-6, 223 pound forward was in the starting lineup for Purdue in its 80-73 exhibition win over University of Indianapolis last night as he scored five points, had six rebounds and even attempted a 3-pointer. This versatility is something that Matt Painter has noticed and hopes to utilize in the Cornell transfer this season. Peck will likely find himself getting plenty of minutes with AJ Hammons still serving his three-game suspension and could very well find himself playing all over the court for Purdue. His ability to play with his back to the basket or from the outside allows Painter to use a big lineup with Peck at the three alongside Jay Simpson and Hammons or smaller with Peck at the four.
  4. With Mitch McGary and other post players returning to Michigan, John Beilein has a decision coming up soon. According to MLive’s Brendan Quinn, the Wolverines coach will have to decide whether he wants to redshirt freshman Mark Donnal. The 6′ 9″ forward played just more than five minutes and scored three points in Michigan’s 117-44 exhibition win over Concordia, which was more than only the walk-ons. With fellow freshmen Zak Irvin and Derrik Walton, Jr. filling the roles left by Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., Donnal is the only freshman with plenty of upperclass experience ahead of him. Whether Beilein does redshirt Donnal or not is interesting because, as Quinn points out, Michigan only has 11 scholarship players this season. If he uses a redshirt, that makes the Wolverines very thin with only 10 total scholarship players.
  5. It’s always great to see when a head coach uses his position to help the greater good. Iowa’s Fran McCaffery has certainly done his best to help fight cancer after losing both his parents to colon cancer. Tuesday, McCaffery hosted his second annual Coaches vs. Cancer event where he was hoping to raise more than the $52,000 that was raised a year ago. It’s also given the coach a chance to touch a few people who have dealt with the deadly disease, including the one this story highlights in Wil Roling who joined Iowa on the team’s trip to Indiana last year. Now, Roling has had a going-away party from his hospital and was back at the Coaches vs. Cancer event, but this time he was healthy and playing with McCaffery’s two oldest sons. That’s something we can all celebrate.
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Big Ten M5: 10.24.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on October 24th, 2013

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  1. The last time Michigan State won the national title, they had a big man named Andre Hutson, who was assertive in the paint, especially on the defensive end. This season, his squad is one of the favorites to win the title, and he has a freshman – Gavin Schilling – who is drawing comparisons to Hutson. The 6’9″, 240 lb forward, said his focus is to “run, rebound and defend” this season. Schilling will start out as a backup to Adreian Payne and Alex Gauna, but he may be able to provide some serviceable minutes in case one of the forwards gets into foul trouble going up against a rugged conference in January or February. If he ends up being as good as advertised, then he could be another piece that helps Michigan State make a run at another national title.
  2. Speaking of freshmen having an impact, Michigan has two terrific guards – Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin – who could contribute within John Beilein’s rotation. Both of them have the offensive skillset to help the Wolverines, but Beilein has enough scorers in Ann Arbor – he needs them to help on the defensive end as well. According to the coaching staff, both of them are quickly picking up the defensive principles, which should help them gain significant playing time this season. Irvin’s 6’6″ frame will help him guard the combo guards such as Gary Harris and Lenzelle Smith Jr during conference play. The Wolverines can score effectively, but if Irvin steps up on defense, he could elevate them to compete for a Final Four or beyond.
  3. The Hoosier fan base is very familiar with Eric Gordon’s offensive skills as he led Indiana to an NCAA Tournament during his freshman season in Bloomington. Gordon could score with the best of them, but his brother, Evan Gordon, is ready to show his skills to the Hoosier faithful. Gordon, a transfer guard, can provide an offensive spark and complement Yogi Ferrell’s production in the backcourt, as Tom Crean needs an experienced scorer on a team full of talented freshmen such as Noah Vonleh. Crean said, “He has to take his game to another level. He’s got to see his game rise on both sides of the court, offensively and defensively, and see that leadership rise. “
  4. Gordon is not the only transfer who can help his team in the Big Ten this year. Iowa’s Jared Uthoff sat out last year after transferring from Wisconsin, and will be ready to help the Hawkeyes return to the NCAA Tournament. Uthoff, a former Mr. Basketball in Iowa, is excited about the opportunity to play for the Hawkeyes. “It’s going to be a very special moment for me when I can step out on the court with this Hawkeye uniform on,’’ Uthoff said. Devyn Marble (15 PPG) will be the primary scoring option for the Hawkeyes, but if Uthoff can chip in offensively to back him up, that’ll be a huge boost this season.
  5. Scoring won’t be an issue for the Penn State backcourt of Tim Frazier and D.J.Newbill. Both of them can fill up the stat sheet, even though Frazier is coming from an injury. Penn State’s basketball program may not make any headlines but head coach, Pat Chambers, is doing his best to keep an upbeat attitude entering into his third season at Happy Valley. It is very likely that Chambers may not lead the Nittany Lions back to the NCAA Tournament over the next two years, but his ability to connect with the players will help on the recruiting trail and eventually lead the program back to relevancy in the Big Ten.
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