Big Ten M5: 02.27.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 27th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. It looks like Jim Delany is going full steam ahead in promoting the idea of implementing freshmen ineligibility. The Big Ten commissioner has assured fans that the conference won’t move alone on this plan, but he is trying to build national consensus around the idea. This comes after Thad Matta was recently quoted as saying that he’s received negative feedback from recruits who are worried that if they commit to a Big Ten team, they won’t be able to play right away. This all goes to show how unbelievably ill-conceived this whole strategy is. Why Delany felt compelled to walk the plank on this issue is something many can’t comprehend. We’ll see if this endeavor starts hurting Big Ten teams on the recruiting trail this summer, but if it does, you may see the issue of freshmen ineligibility die altogether.
  2. In statistics, you hear the phrase “regression to the mean” often used, which is just an elitist way of saying “everything evens out.” This theory seems to be playing out before our eyes with Northwestern. After countless heartbreaking losses — everything from blown leads to comebacks that fell just short — the Wildcats have finally gotten some breaks and have managed to win four straight, including a 72-57 blowout of Indiana on Wednesday, the first such streak for Northwestern since 1967. This finish is a real boon for Chris Collins, whose second season was going as disastrous as he could have imagined when the team’s Big Ten record was 1-10 a couple of weeks ago. Now, as it turns out, Northwestern may have created some momentum to build for next season.
  3. Also on Wednesday, Iowa got a nice 68-60 home win over Illinois. Aaron White, the Hawkeyes’ dark horse candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year, was dominant in contributing 29 points. His latest performance increased his career total to 1,726 points, moving him past B.J. Armstrong into fourth place on the program’s all-time scoring list. White has had a storied career in Iowa City, but this year he is averaging 15.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG and is carrying a PER of 28.4, good enough for second in the league. If it weren’t for names like Frank Kaminsky and D’Angelo Russell, the media would be talking more about the certain Big Ten first-teamer as one of the best players in the country.
  4. One of the big stories around the Big Ten this week was Wisconsin suffering its third loss of the season when the Badgers came up short at Maryland. The team already had the tough loss in their minds on its flight back to Madison, but that was quickly forgotten when the plane was forced to make an emergency landing due to an engine malfunction in Pittsburgh. What a scary moment that probably just adds to the feeling that Wisconsin’s trip to Maryland is a forgettable event from start to finish. Hopefully the Badgers can put all of this behind them and get back to their winning ways on Sunday against the Spartans.
  5. Speaking of Michigan State, the Spartans took a surprising 96-90 home loss to Minnesota in overtime on Thursday. This is a considerable setback for what was one of the hottest teams in the league before last night — the team had won four straight including two on the road at Michigan and Illinois. Things don’t get any easier for the Spartans as they travel to face Wisconsin in Madison this weekend. Losing that game could now mean Tom Izzo’s team is in serious jeopardy of losing its place in the top four of the Big Ten standings and having to play an extra game in the Big Ten Tournament.
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Big Ten M5: 02.20.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 20th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. After a miserable 0-5 start in the Big Ten, Minnesota was always a long shot to make a run at an at-large bid. Despite the terrible start, Richard Pitino’s team managed to fight back and win five of its next seven games. But the Golden Gophers’ postseason dreams effectively came to an end on Wednesday night when they suffered their worst lost of the season to Northwestern at home. For the second straight game, Minnesota let a team get hot from the perimeter as the Wildcats hit 15 three-pointers in the game. Now, at 5-9 in the conference, the Gophers are likely headed for the NIT or worse. Pitino will need to figure out what went wrong during the offseason and fix it quick as he’ll enter year three in Minnesota with no NCAA Tournament appearances.
  2. On Thursday, Purdue got its best win of the season when the Boilermakers topped its intrastate rival, Indiana, by four points in Bloomington. A.J. Hammons was tremendous in the game on both sides of the court, evidenced by his 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting and four blocks. Purdue’s guards were able to aggressively blanket Indiana’s shooters because of the rim protection Hammons provided all night. The result was that the usually deadly-from-deep Hoosiers were held to 31 percent from the three-point line and one of the best offenses in the country only managed 0.96 points per possession. While the Boilermakers are still on bubble, they finally have a signature win to counter some bad losses from earlier in the season.
  3. With 14 teams and 18 games, unbalanced schedules are a part of life in the new and super-sized Big Ten. Because of this, and the fact that rivalries are not protected for basketball, we as fans miss out on some great home-and-home battles against historic foes. Matt Brown from SBNation makes the argument that the Big Ten should forego the rotating schedule and lock in key games each and every year. It would make sense from the Big Ten’s perspective too, as these games would bring in more impressive ratings and demand better TV slots. It’s tough to argue with the logic, but the greater expansion of leagues throughout the sport has made that just short of impossible in this framework.
  4. Don’t let anyone tell you bad decisions aren’t contagious. After Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott trotted out the idea of reinstating freshmen ineligibility, the Big Ten followed suit saying it’s gauging the interests of its members about the possibility of implementing the rule once again. On Thursday, Maryland’s president, Wallace Loh, said “If they do well because they spend more time, get more academic advising … their freshman year, they’re going to graduate”. That’s quite a lot of hypocrisy to choke down from the president of a university who left their historic (and geographically sensible) conference for a more lucrative one in the Midwest. Next time Maryland flies 1,200 miles to Nebraska on a school night to play a 9:00 PM ET game, they should ask themselves if that may be negative factor for the student-athletes’ academics.
  5. Finally, on Thursday ESPN released Joe Lunardi’s newest brackets, and seven Big Ten schools are projected to make the Big Dance. Wisconsin (#2 seed), Maryland (#5), Ohio State (#7), Indiana (#7), Michigan State (#8), Iowa (#10), and Illinois (#11). Purdue is missing from the field as of right now, but this projection does not include the Boilermakers’ big win at Indiana on Thursday night. By the next time Lunardi updates his brackets, there may be eight teams in the field, which would undoubtedly make this another successful season for the league.
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Morning Five: 02.20.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 20th, 2015

morning5

  1. It was not that long ago that we heard talk about Division 4 (basically all the schools from the biggest conferences) revolutionizing college sports by using their influence (read: money) to change the competitive landscape. Now it looks like they might be doing that, but in the process could be shooting themselves in the foot (or worse). We had already heard talk about some major conference considering the idea of making freshman ineligible to play sports, which would theoretically give them the chance to adjust to college life. It appears that the Big Ten may have taken the “lead” on this issue by proposing the initiation of discussions amongst its members to make freshmen ineligible to play football or men’s basketball. Outside of this making the conference less competitive (think many “one-and-dones” would come there?) it seems like an attempt to keep the revenue-producing athletes around the school for a longer period of time even if they are not necessarily playing any longer. The conference is apparently trying to use the low graduation rates as a justification for singling out the two sports, but making certain individuals ineligible just based on the sport they play (actually the gender they are too since this would not affect women’s basketball) seems suspect at best.
  2. Thon Maker‘s announcement that he would be reclassifying to the class of 2015 is not exactly a surprise, but it will shake up the recruiting world for the next few months. Maker was considered by many to be the top prospect in the class of 2016 with his combination of size and skill and will probably end up in the top 5 to 10 for the class of 2015 when he is put into this year’s class rankings. While there is an air of mystery around Maker who is native of Sudan, but grew up in Australia and currently plays high school basketball in Ontario, Canada, his list of schools is probably going to remain the same–Kentucky and Kansas being the favorites with Missouri, Duke, Louisville, and Maryland not far behind–but there remains the possibility that he could take the Emmanuel Mudiay route taking a shoe contract and playing overseas or even staying at his current location for a postgraduate year and directly enter the NBA Draft in 2016.
  3. It appears that Chris Jones managed to make up for whatever led to his indefinite suspension as the Louisville guard was reinstated after missing just one game. According to the school, Jones “has done what he needed to do” to have the indefinite suspension rescinded. More cynical individuals (like us) would point to the team’s ugly loss at Syracuse on Wednesday as having at least a small impact on Rick Pitino’s decision to bring Jones back on the team. With Jones returning, the Cardinals will have four players who can score (none regularly against a zone), which will help them when one of those players has an off-night (like Wayne Blackshear who came pretty close to pulling a 19-trillion if he hadn’t fouled out) assuming Jones can stay out of trouble.
  4. #TeamBadLuck suffered another setback on Wednesday when they announced that Dorian Finney-Smith had been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Finney-Smith, who was averaging 12.9 points (2nd on the team) and 5.8 rebounds (leading the team) prior to his suspeneion. We have not heard what led to the suspension, but this is Finney-Smith’s second suspension while at Florida. Even though the Gators reversed their season-long trend by winning a close game on Wednesday night things are not looking good for their postseason hopes at this point.
  5. With Kentucky closing in on an undefeated regular season, there is one person who played a significant role in making Kentucky the team it is today, but is largely forgotten: Billy Gillispie. Fox Sports has an oral history of the Billy Gillispie era in Lexington. As you would expect from an oral history (particularly with a person as unique as Gillispie) it has plenty of interesting anecdotes, but it also serves as a look at the bridge between the Tubby Smith era at Kentucky, which Big Blue Nation views much more favorably now, and the John Calipari era, which Big Blue Nation was much more nervous about at the time than they are willing to admit now.
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Selecting a Big Ten All-Star Game

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 13th, 2015

It’s NBA All-Star Weekend and we’re about a month away from the Big Ten’s postseason honors being announced. So with that in mind, let’s have some fun and decide which league players would make a hypothetical Big Ten All-Star Game. Drawing from the East and West divisions that separate conference teams during football season, here’s one opinion on how the selections would shake out if this game were to actually take place.

Myles Mack is one of a number of candidates on a guard heavy East squad. (AP)

Myles Mack is one of a number of candidates on a guard heavy East squad. (AP)

Eastern Big Ten Conference All-Stars

Starters

  • Troy Williams, Indiana
  • Branden Dawson, Michigan State
  • Jake Layman, Maryland
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland
  • D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State

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Even in Defeat, Northwestern Offers Hope for the Future

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 23rd, 2015

Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament drought will not be ending this season. It’s not as if inclusion in this March’s field of 68 was ever an expectation for this group of Wildcats (because it wasn’t), but Thursday night’s loss to Ohio State dropped Chicago’s Big Ten team to what will almost certainly be an insurmountable 1-5 in conference play (10-9 overall). D’Angelo Russell (33 points, seven rebounds, six assists) may have been superior to any player the ‘Cats have faced this season (head coach Chris Collins admitted as much afterwards), but the defeat was just another in a string of excruciatingly close Northwestern losses. In overtime at Michigan State. By five to intrastate rival Illinois. A two-point defeat at Michigan. And then Thursday night, where Ohio State needed every point of its best player’s career game to eke out a two-point victory. The Wildcats haven’t gotten over the hump yet, but they have been consistently close. Right now, that seems to be good enough for Collins.

Chris Collins Displeasure With The Officiating Thursday Night Did Not Stop Him From Appreciating His Wildcats' Efforts

Chris Collins Displeasure With The Officiating Thursday Night Did Not Stop Him From Appreciating His Team’s Effort (AP)

You wouldn’t expect the head coach of a team that has won just one of its first six conference games to be especially optimistic after a loss, but Collins exuded confidence. In the postgame presser he repeatedly talked about how hard his guys had played, even saying, “It was so tough that they are not getting the results they deserve.” It was the opposite of a woeful mentality; this was a coach who believes in his players and everything they put on the floor last night. In his mind, they wholeheartedly deserved to win, and maybe after another season of close calls, he feels that they will turn the corner. Even while complaining about a controversial (and incorrectly called) blocking foul in the final minutes, Collins aired his postgame grievances with a knowing, almost-cocky smile across his face. He wanted the win for his guys (if you need it, here’s proof, via his in-game reaction to that missed call), but that steady confidence from trusting the system he’s developing belied contentment with the final result. Close was okay on this night; his team had played well enough to win.

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State of the Conference: Big Ten Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 20th, 2015

Tonight, the leader of the free world will address Congress in his annual State of the Union. The President will describe the condition of the United States and his agenda for the year to the bicameral legislative body and millions of Americans watching at home. This got me thinking. What would the equivalent from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany sound like? Would he be happy with this season’s performance from the Big Ten? Is there any more conference expansion on the horizon? I decided to put on my speechwriter hat and give it a whirl. For the first time ever, a fictional Delany is ready to address millions of Big Ten fans across the country in his inaugural State of the Conference. Enjoy.

What Does Jim Delany's Latest Move Mean For The Big 12? (US Presswire)

Jim Delany has turned the Big Ten into a dominant conference in basketball for the long term. (US Presswire)

The transcript of Jim Delany’s fictional State of the Conference is below:

My fellow Big Ten fans, the state of the Big Ten is good. While good may be satisfactory for some, it falls short of the level of excellence this conference has come to expect. But I remain confident that, come Selection Sunday and the NCAA Tournament, the Big Ten will surprise many, and I would remind everyone that we have a team in Wisconsin that is still considered a top tier team capable of bringing home the Big Ten’s first national championship since 2000. Likewise, we also have a player who is on the short list for National Player of the Year in Frank Kaminsky. On the matter of Wisconsin, there’s been much talk about inequality in our conference. That there is one team above all, and the rest of the league is mediocre. But a little over a week ago, I saw this same squad lose to a team most expected to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten. Rutgers’ defeat of Wisconsin shows us that no game is a gimme. And as a result, we are getting high drama each and every week, which is generating some of the most exciting basketball in the country.

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On Branden’s Dawson’s Importance to Michigan State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 6th, 2015

Michigan State crushed Indiana on Monday night and there’s really no other way to describe it. The Spartans – in desperate need of something positive after closing out 2014 with losses to Texas Southern and Maryland – controlled nearly every aspect of the contest, out-rebounding the Hoosiers 50-28 (17-11 offensive), holding the visitors to 0.82 points per possession (their lowest of the season) and pushing the lead to as many as 30 in the second half. Can Tom Izzo’s club be this dominant on regular basis? Probably not. Indiana experienced one of its worst efforts of the season and opponents as offensively skilled as the Hoosiers won’t often shoot 5-of-24 from behind the arc and 28 percent from the field. But Michigan State’s formula for success in the blowout – using strong defense and rebounding to create transition offense – did help further confirm something we already suspected about the Spartans: Branden Dawson is by far the team’s most important player, and his week-to-week level of intensity on both ends of the court will dictate Sparty’s ceiling in the Big Ten.

Branden Dawson (right) had a huge hand in Michigan State's 70-50 win over Indiana on Monday. (Amanda Ray | MLive.com)

Branden Dawson (right) had a huge hand in the Spartans’ 70-50 win over Indiana on Monday. (Amanda Ray | MLive.com)

Michigan State likes to get out and run this year as much as any Izzo squad in recent memory, so the match-up with Indiana, one of the nation’s fastest and most transition-oriented teams, suited it just fine. What enabled the Spartans to open up such a wide margin, however, was not merely their ability to run-and-gun with the Hoosiers; it was their ability to stop them – Indiana was held to its lowest point total and fewest points per possession yet this season. And why couldn’t the Big Ten’s second most efficient offense find its groove? Because Dawson was as defensively aggressive as he’s been all season. The 6’6’’ senior blocked two shots, recorded a pair of steals, defended all five positions at various points in the night and took Indiana forward Troy Williams completely out of the game (zero points in 17 minutes). “We did a pretty good job on [Williams] and he’s been playing off the charts,” Izzo said afterwards. “It really helps when Dawson plays like he did. The rebounding, the running of the court.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Viewers’ Guide For Conference Play

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 30th, 2014

As you well know, the Big Ten starts off conference play with four games today. While some of the luster has been lost due to several teams’ non-conference struggles, that doesn’t mean that things won’t be entertaining with so many teams relatively close to each other in talent level. Can disappointing teams like Michigan and Purdue turn things around? Will Wisconsin dominate as much as everyone seems to think? Can Penn State keep winning? Some of these questions and more will be answered over the next two and a half months. With that in mind, here’s a look at five key dates during conference play that will be appointment viewing if you’re a true B1G fan.

Dez Wells and his Maryland squad taking on Michigan State in College Park highlights a slew of games on January 17 .(Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

Dez Wells and Maryland vs. Michigan State in College Park highlights a slew of good games on January 17 .(Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

January 17 (five games)

  • Rutgers-Minnesota 12:00 EST (BTN)
  • Purdue-Penn State 1:0o (ESPNU)
  • Ohio State-Iowa 2:00 (ESPN)
  • Michigan State-Maryland 4:00 (CBS)
  • Northwestern-Michigan 8:15 (BTN)

You may be able to skip the opener at Minnesota, but the meat of this five-game Saturday slate is right in the middle. Iowa and Ohio State split their games last season, which each team winning on the other’s home floor. Both teams once again have legitimate NCAA hopes, but this one will be important for setting the tone early in conference play. After today’s season opener in East Lansing, Maryland and Michigan State will run it back just 17 days later. The Terps are known for bringing a raucous atmosphere to the Xfinity Center — how will Michigan State handle the chaos in playing there for the first time as a league opponent? Read the rest of this entry »

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Nebraska in Trouble: Desperately Seeking Quality Wins

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on December 29th, 2014

About six weeks ago during our preseason Big Ten conference podcast, I made a bold prediction that Nebraska would finish second to Wisconsin in the conference race. Predicting conference standings eight weeks before league play begins is tough as it is, but few predictions could appear to be more off than that one. The Huskers are now 8-4 heading into Big Ten play, with a semi-quality win over Cincinnati, a couple of bad losses to Hawaii and Incarnate Word, and not much else to show for it. Teams have dug themselves out of these kinds of starts to still make the NCAA Tournament, but the overall weakness of the Big Ten this year puts Nebraska in a precarious spot because there aren’t many more high-quality wins to be had. A 12-6 Big Ten record along with wins over the presumptive top teams such as Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State could give Tim Miles a legitimate case for his team’s inclusion (currently #87 nationally), but a schedule that includes only two home games against that group will hurt his chances.

Tim Miles, Colorado State

Tim Miles’ Huskers don’t have enough opportunities in the Big Ten season to dig themselves out of a poor non-conference season. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The losses to Incarnate Ward and Hawaii — both currently rated by KenPom in the mid-to-low 100s — won’t be forgiven. The Rhode Island loss (#51) isn’t too bad on paper but the Rams may struggle to rise from that number in the competitive Atlantic 10. The only other reasonable loss is to #76 Creighton, and that is mitigated by the fact that it occurred at home. The Cornhuskers’ first four Big Ten games include #44 Indiana, #41 Iowa, #155 Rutgers and #42 Illinois – all beatable teams. But just one slip-up against those four and you might as well stick a fork in this group as a potential NCAA Tournament team. The four opponents after that are #4 Wisconsin, #27 Minnesota, #22 Michigan State and #80 Michigan. Two of that group (Michigan is on thin ice) are likely to get NCAA bids and Nebraska probably needs to secure three wins during that stretch to build its own case for inclusion. The second half of the Big Ten schedule includes Wisconsin again as well as #11 Ohio State in Columbus and #24 Maryland twice. But if Nebraska hasn’t come through its first half with a solid 5-3 or better record, it may not much matter how the Cornhuskers perform the rest of the season.

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Media Timeout: The Birth and Death of Rivalries After Realignment

Posted by Will Tucker on December 26th, 2014

College basketball places huge emphasis on individual games — showdowns between top-ranked teams, annual rivalry clashes, single-elimination tournaments — but it’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture from time to time. Each month, the Media Timeout will review emerging trends in how fans and journalists watch, follow, and talk about the sport.


Conference realignment in recent years has reshaped the college basketball landscape in both obvious and subtle ways. To paint the timeline in admittedly broad brushstrokes, it started with Colorado and Nebraska abandoning the Big 12 for the greener pastures of the Pac-10 and Big Ten, respectively. In the scramble for leagues to position themselves for the eventual “superconference” paradigm, the Pac-10 would add Utah to complete the Pac-12; the Big Ten would go on to poach Maryland and Rutgers; the SEC, Missouri and Texas A&M; the Big 12 reloading with TCU and West Virginia. Most of the Big East diaspora – Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame basketball, and eventually Louisville – settled in the ACC, and the Big East experienced its own dramatic transformation to a basketball-centric league as a result. Those shifts trickled down through many of the mid-major conferences, including the Mountain West, Conference USA, and Atlantic 10, weaving a convoluted web of migration across the country.

realignment europe

The War in Prussia Had Nothing on Conference Realignment

The consequences of those migrations are still revealing themselves several years later. Nowhere have they been more tangible to fans than in the separation of traditional rivals and the formation of new rivalries, sometimes taking root in unexpected places. Rivalries have long been fluid entities, in spite of our tendency to mythologize and idealize a bygone era of college basketball – one in which meritocracy trumped TV revenue, recruiting was an even playing field, and geography and shared heritage determined which schools became rivals. In 1980, for example, Depaul-Marquette was a big deal; Syracuse-UConn wasn’t that big of a deal; and Louisville and Kentucky had played each other only 12 times, ever.

So with that in mind, let’s pay homage to several of the casualties of conference realignment, before turning our attention to budding rivalries that may take their place. We’ll also look at existing rivalries that are being preserved despite changes in conference affiliation.

Rivalries Lost

Duke-Maryland: The rivalry between Duke and Maryland had lost some of its luster by the time the Blue Devils closed out the series by claiming their 13th win in the final 16 meetings: Overall, the Blue Devils held a commanding 114-63 advantage over the Terrapins. But there’s no question that this rivalry’s demise was a significant loss for college basketball fans. This is especially true for fans in D.C., where both schools have a significant alumni presence (College Park is about nine miles from the Capitol Building; Duke places a large number of alumni in the nation’s power cities). On the hardwood, the series experienced a golden age at the turn of the 21st century, when the teams traded national championships and were fixtures at the top of the ACC standings. While the rivalry may have lost some of its competitive edge in recent years, it never lost the element that truly set it apart: vehement hostility. From JJ Redick’s phone number, to the $500,000 in property damage recorded during the 2001 College Park riots, to the imperious “Not our rival” chants serenading Maryland players in Cameron; the discontinued series left big shoes to fill in terms of sheer animosity.

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O26 Weekly Awards: St. Francis, Denzel Livingston, Jeff Neubauer & Texas Southern

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 23rd, 2014

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

St. Francis (PA). After going 7-6 down the stretch last season and winning 10-plus games for the first time since 2011, St. Francis (PA) entered this season with more optimism and higher expectations than it has had in a while. Not only were the Red Flash picked fourth in the NEC preseason poll, but they even received a first-place vote – major respect for a program that hadn’t finished in the upper half of the league for a full decade. After picking up road wins at Duquesne and Rutgers this week, however, it appears that respect was well-warranted – and maybe even insufficient.

St. Francis (PA) is our O26 Team of the Week. (Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports)

St. Francis (PA) is our O26 Team of the Week. (Jim O’Connor-USA TODAY Sports)

In both victories, SFU got the job done with defense, rebounding and strong efforts from forwards Earl Brown and Ronnie Drinnon. On Wednesday, Rob Krimmel’s bunch held the Dukes’ usually-proficient offense to just 52 points on a season-low 0.83 PPP, crushing the home team on the offensive glass – despite entering the night as the worst offensive rebounding team in the NEC – and maintaining a comfortable lead for all 40 minutes. Brown led the Red Flash with 16 points in the triumph while Drinnon grabbed 15 rebounds, a pair of solid outings that still couldn’t match what they accomplished on Saturday. As if man-handling an A-10 team was just another day at the office, SFU then headed to Rutgers, fell behind by 16 points, came out of the locker room unfazed, and used a 27-11 second-half run to beat the Scarlet Knights, 73-68, over the weekend. Brown’s 23 points and Drinnon’s 16 boards again paced Krimmel’s team, and the win – SFU’s first over a Big Ten school other than Penn State – turned heads across college basketball. Now 6-4 and nearing the KenPom top-150, the Red Flash are starting to look more like ‘NEC favorites’ than merely ‘NEC contenders.’

Honorable Mentions: Quinnipiac (2-0: vs. Lehigh, vs. Oregon State); American (2-0: at LaSalle, vs. Mount St. Mary’s); St. Francis (PA); VCU (2-0: at Belmont, at Cincinnati), Cal Poly (2-1: at San Francisco, vs. Northeastern (N), vs. Gonzaga (N-loss)) Read the rest of this entry »

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A Soft December Just What the Doctor Ordered For Michigan State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 19th, 2014

Michigan State’s non-conference schedule has been defined by missed opportunities – first against Duke, then Kansas, then Notre Dame – and now, for the first time in years, it will enter Big Ten play with virtually zero quality wins of note. Only Texas Southern and the Citadel remain before the conference opener against Maryland beckons on December 30, the final two contests in an exceedingly soft five-game stretch that’s sure to leave the Spartans’ resume short on substance. And yet, as Wednesday night’s 20-point victory over Eastern Michigan showed, this light period might be the best possible scenario for Tom Izzo’s club. With two players returning from injury, Branden Dawson on the mend and the offense still finding its identity, December offers the crucial break Michigan State needs to round into form.

Freshman Javon Bess should provide added depth for the Spartans. (J. Scott Park | MLive.com)

Freshman Javon Bess should provide added depth for the Spartans. (J. Scott Park | MLive.com)

On the one hand, Wednesday night marked an important step forward for the Spartans. Freshman Javon Bess – an expected contributor who missed the first month-plus with a foot injury – made his debut, logging one point and five rebounds in nine minutes of action. Izzo was high on Bess in the preseason and seems confident that the 6’5’’ wing will add an important, unique dimension it’s been lacking. “We’re missing a tough guy, and he [Bess] brings that to the table,” the coach said afterward. Likewise, sophomore guard Alvin Ellis III contributed 14 minutes in just his second full game back in the rotation. But while both players should provide needed depth in the coming months (especially Bess, whom Izzo thinks is “going to be an Alan Anderson-type”), neither appears to be game-shape enough yet to significantly contribute. Bess looked very raw during his brief second-half stint – understandable, considering the layoff – and Ellis, though aggressive, appeared clumsy and lost on several possessions. Luckily, with the team’s soft slate and eight days off prior to Maryland, Izzo has the luxury of slowly working them back to form: “Now we have time for practice.”

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