Big Ten Tournament: Iowa’s Freefall Continues

Posted by Walker Carey on March 14th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday evening’s Big Ten Tournament action between Northwestern and Iowa in Indianapolis. 

On February 15, Iowa earned a 12-point victory at Penn State to get to 19-6 overall and 8-4 in the Big Ten standings. It was around that time that the prevailing opinion became that the Big Ten was going to come down to a three-team race between Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes, Michigan, and Michigan State. Sure, Iowa’s defense had given up a lot of points all season, but Hawkeyes guard Devyn Marble and forward Aaron White had emerged as one of the best scoring duos in the country. The Hawkeyes also had rightfully earned a reputation as one of the deepest teams in the country, as they were playing 10 or 11 players every night and experiencing a great deal of success with that robust rotation.

It Was That Kind of Night for Iowa. Again. (AP)

It Was That Kind of Night for Iowa. Again. (AP)

Fast forward nearly a month and Iowa’s current position represents a nearly complete reversal of fortunes. The Hawkeyes closed out their regular season Big Ten slate by dropping five of six. They went from a ranking of #15 in the AP poll to receiving just four votes in the final regular season poll. An already shaky defense became an even more significant problem, as in those five losses, the opposition averaged 83.8 points per game. Losses at Minnesota and at Indiana highlighted just how poorly the Hawkeyes were playing on the defensive end of the court, as they allowed Minnesota to score 95 points and shoot 61.2 percent from the field, and Indiana to score 93 points and shoot 51.7 percent from the field.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XI

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 5th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Early Returns on Chris Collins Look Great

When former Duke associate head coach Chris Collins was hired at Northwestern this past spring, many felt it was only a matter of time before the local guy from Northbrook, Illinois, would build up the program to a level where it could achieve its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. After a 7-9 (0-3 Big Ten) start to the season, Collins and Northwestern have righted the ship with wins in five of their past seven games. Most impressive have been the three consecutive wins away from Evanston: at Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota. How have the Wildcats done it? Collins has done what any good coach would do — analyze the strengths and weaknesses of his team and implement a style of play that showcases the strengths while minimizing the weaknesses. Northwestern obviously does not have the same talent level as most other teams in the Big Ten so the way to win games is to slow it down, muck it up and play great defense in low possession games. And that is exactly what the Wildcats have done.

Chris Collins is starting to get it done in Evanston.

Chris Collins is starting to get it done in Evanston.

Collins has gotten this team to buy in defensively as Northwestern is currently ranked No. 10 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. In Big Ten play, the Wildcats lead the conference with a 44.6 percent defensive effective field goal percentage. Since allowing 93 points in a loss at Iowa on January 9, Northwestern has allowed only one opponent (also Iowa) to score more than 56 points in regulation time (Purdue scored 60 in a double-overtime loss to the Wildcats but posted just 46 points in regulation). Northwestern’s games in Big Ten play have averaged only 61.2 possessions with an average possession length of 20.4 seconds, both statistics ranking as the slowest in the Big Ten. Last year’s Northwestern team was dead last in defensive efficiency (in league play) under Bill Carmody which shows you how absolutely remarkable it is that Collins has gotten this group to defend at a high level in such a short period of time. While you never want to get ahead of yourself, at this point it would be a surprise if Northwestern doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament over the next five years when you also consider how well Collins is already doing on the recruiting trail.

Syracuse and Duke Exceeds the Hype

Syracuse’s thrilling overtime victory over Duke last Saturday was one of the best regular season college basketball games I can remember in quite some time. It had everything you would want in a big game: a terrific atmosphere with over 35,000 fans in attendance; two Hall of Fame coaches; league title implications (Syracuse entered the game at 7-0, Duke at 6-2); tons of talent on the floor; and an extremely high level of play. Consider this: Syracuse won an overtime game by two points on its home floor and posted an outrageously high offensive efficiency of 1.34 points per possession. It took that good of an offensive performance to stave off the Blue Devils, which posted 1.31 PPP themselves. It is going to be very difficult to top that game but I am very excited for the rematch at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 22. Duke and North Carolina will always be the best rivalry in the ACC and arguably in all of college basketball, but Duke and Syracuse appear to be on their way to another terrific rivalry in what has become a bloated ACC. This new rivalry has the potential to exceed what Duke and Maryland had going for some time as a secondary ACC rivalry now that Maryland will be moving on to the Big Ten next season.

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B1G Award Spotlight: Breaking Down the Coach of the Year Candidates

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 5th, 2014

Picking a Coach of the Year in the Big Ten right now would be nearly impossible. Because of the see-saw nature of the standings that will more than likely continue until the last league games are played on March 9, most any candidate is in danger of going on a several-game losing streak that would drastically alter the final picture. This post is meant as a brief look at the top candidates right now, with the extremely important caveat focusing on the phrase RIGHT NOW. Chances are this will change considerably over the next six weeks.

John Beilein has his team atop the Big 10 standings, and has to be considered a Coach of the Year candidate.

John Beilein has his team atop the Big 10 standings, and has to be considered a Coach of the Year candidate.

John Beilein: Michigan has turned things around after an 8-4 non-conference record dropped the Wolverines out of the Top 25 and without their preseason All-American Mitch McGary in the lineup. They’ve proceeded to go 8-1 since then, with wins over Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin to bolster their resume. Beilein has replaced McGary with “Morford,” the moniker given to the two-headed monster at center consisting of Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. Both players have been highly effective, and Beilein deserves credit for bringing Horford off the bench after some trouble with early fouls. Kudos are also in order for his patience with freshman Derrick Walton Jr, who really struggled in November and December. Beilein could have panicked and gone instead with veteran Spike Albrecht, but sticking with Walton has paid off to the tune of a 55.6 percent mark from three-point land and only 1.7 turnovers per game in league action.

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Defense is the Key For the Unpredictable Northwestern Wildcats

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on February 5th, 2014

Going into conference play, the Big Ten was once again touted as the premiere league in the country. With pundits citing its exceptional depth as proof of elite status, we often heard the clichéd phrase “in any given game…,” which has turned out to ring true halfway through league play. But Northwestern was never in those conversations, as the Wildcats (along with Nebraska) were projected as the league’s doormat based upon their weak performance in the non-conference schedule. Things looked to be heading that way when Chris Collins’ team lost its first four conference games by an average of 19.3 points. Now, after having won five of their last seven and four of their last five contests, the Wildcats find themselves in a very strange position — tied for fourth place at 5-5 in the Big Ten.

Drew Crawford, Kelsey Barlow

Drew Crawford

The one constant with Northwestern is that the Wildcats have been terribly inconsistent throughout the season, even during their current winning ways. For example, while they have a defense ranked in the top 10 nationally in efficiency (giving up 0.92 points per possession), they also have experienced games where their defense completely collapses (as evidenced by four games where the Wildcats gave up more than 1.20 points per possession). Also perplexing is the fact that Northwestern appears to have turned its season around as soon as Collins lost the services of the injured David Sobolewski, a player who averaged more than 85 percent of available minutes the last two seasons. So what’s changed over the last couple of weeks to cause the turnaround? The answer seems to lie in the team’s elite defense, despite some of those marked inconsistencies.

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College Basketball by the Tweets: #BBN Whining, Berkeley Celebrating, Marcus Smart Flopping, and More…

Posted by Nick Fasulo on February 4th, 2014

Nick Fasulo is an RTC correspondent who writes the column College Basketball By the Tweets, a look at the world of college hoops through the prism of everyone’s favorite social media platform. You can find him on Twitter @nickfasuloSBN.

Our latest College Basketball by the Tweets piece opens up again in Lincoln, Nebraska, where a young Cornhuskers fan is really excited to receive a headband from sophomore forward Terran Petteway following the team’s win over Indiana.

As the #BBN Turns

The so-called perfect recruiting class John Calipari brought to Lexington this season has been exposed to have a handful of imperfections. To make it worse, some of those issues may be that of the intangible kind (i.e., lack of effort, team chemistry) than pure talent. Following a rather ugly road loss to LSU last week, the #BBN whine train was chugging along quite nicely.

And then the ultimate jab from the in-state rival:

The ‘Cats did right the ship a bit over the weekend with a nice road win over Missouri, but signs point to continued road inconsistency for the rest of the regular season.

A Sea Of Yellow As No. 1 Goes Down

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Big Ten M5: 01.23.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 23rd, 2014

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  1. When people think of Big Ten basketball, most tend to associate the league with defense, ugly play and low-scoring games. Northwestern has certainly gotten that formula down pat lately. In its last four games — including its double-overtime victory over Purdue — the Wildcats have played ugly and won three of them. It’s quite the change from earlier in the year, as Northwestern all of a sudden has a chance to push for a .500 overall record and a possible NIT berth. Chris Collins came to Evanston wanting to build a defensive-oriented squad and this team is starting to buy in and take on that identity. Its brutal offense may still be lacking, but if Northwestern can limit possessions and hold every team to under 60 points, it has a chance to make some kind of a postseason tournament this year. Would anyone have predicted that just a few short weeks ago?
  2. It is without question that Michigan State is a better team with Adreian Payne on the floor. Despite not playing in the last four games and remaining unbeaten in league play, Tom Izzo still has a tough decision to make on Saturday. With first place in the conference on the line, Sparty hosts Michigan and Izzo does not yet know whether Payne will play. This obviously can’t be an easy decision, but even a slightly hobbled Payne would be huge for the team. The biggest issue is the potential risk involved — if Payne plays and further aggravates the injury, how big of a blow could that be for a team aspiring to win not only a Big Ten title but a national championship?
  3. This wasn’t the start Indiana wanted to its Big Ten conference season. The Hoosiers now sit at 2-4, but that includes games against three teams that were ranked in the top five at the time. Indiana only faces two more current top 10 team in the rest of the conference season (at home against Iowa; away against Wisconsin) so the push for the NCAA Tournament is on. The Hoosiers likely would not be invited as of today, so it can’t afford to lose too many more games. The positive of not playing as many elite teams is obvious in that wins will be easier to come by; the drawback, of course, is that the chance for another marquee win is also diminished.
  4. Richard Pitino has had plenty of experience with big-time programs, but his inaugural Big Ten experience has been  exceptional for the first-year Minnesota head coach. The quotes in the story bring an interesting perspective on the league and how it compares to other conferences. He highlights how Big Ten arenas create a unique experience: “Not every place had home courts like Iowa had, like Nebraska had last night against Ohio State, or like we have. These are the best home courts in all of college basketball.” The arena experience is certainly something that gives additional credence to the idea that the Big Ten is one of the toughest conferences to win in all of college basketball.
  5. It was unreasonable to think Nebraska would go winless in the Big Ten this season. The Cornhuskers had been close in nearly every game to start the conference season, but nobody saw its first victory coming against the likes of Ohio State as it did on Monday night. Tim Miles’ team sprung the upset to land its first win against the Buckeyes since Thad Matta got to Columbus 10 years ago. It did so with strong inside play and contributions from nearly the entire team, which was especially prevalent on the foul line as the Cornhuskers went 20-of-26 there. With all the close losses and a big confidence-building win over the Buckeyes, don’t be surprised if Nebraska pulls another big upset before the conference season is over. Minnesota and Indiana will both visit Lincoln in the coming week.
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Big Ten M5: 01.14.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 14th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Injuries have plagued Michigan State throughout the season and have affected some of their most important players, including Gary Harris, Branden Dawson, and Adreian Payne. Payne did not play in Saturday’s win against Minnesota because of a nagging ankle injury. Now, Tom Izzo says he will keep his star big man on the bench until he’s 100 percent healthy. Michigan State has managed to keep winning despite its health misfortunes, but if this keeps being an issue, it could affect their chances of a Big Ten title and a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. Sadly, this would deprive us of seeing the full potential of one of the better teams Izzo has put together during his tenure, a loss for fans of Big Ten basketball.
  2. It has not been the best of weeks for Ohio State. The Buckeyes are on a two-game losing skid after dropping games at Michigan State (in overtime) and at home versus Iowa. If the Buckeyes are to end this streak and insert themselves back into the Big Ten championship conversation, they’ll need to do it with their elite defense. LaQuinton Ross has been unable to replace last season’s Big Ten scoring leader, Deshaun Thomas (19.8 PPG), as many had projected. So the Buckeyes are left with focusing on their top-ranked defense (0.87 points per possession) to shore up their offensive inefficiencies. They failed to do this in the last two games when they gave up 0.96 and 1.14 points per possession, respectively, against the Spartans and Hawkeyes.
  3. Tom Crean‘s team isn’t where he hoped it would be at this point in the season. Indiana is 1-2 in conference play and 11-5 overall with no signature wins on its midseason resume. Things aren’t about to get any easier as an undefeated Wisconsin visits Assembly Hall tonight. Crean had high praise for Bo Ryan‘s squad on Monday: “I have tremendous respect for that program. That’s what a great team looks like. I think you can start with Bo, and that’s what a great coach looks like.” The Indiana head man has been at the receiving end of Ryan’s ‘greatness’ over the years, as he is 3-14 all-time in games against Ryan (0-10 while at Indiana). Given how the Badgers have been blowing out their lesser opponents, Crean will have to do one heck of a coaching job for his Hoosiers to earn his first Big Ten win over Ryan.
  4. Once the announcement came that Mitch McGary would opt to undergo back surgery and effectively end his season, most thought Michigan would struggle and might even fall apart. At least so far, the Wolverines have been able to tread water competently and are currently sit at 3-0 in the Big Ten. A big reason has been the aggressive play of freshman Derrick Walton, Jr., who had the tough duty of replacing last year’s National Player of Year, Trey Burke. Burke was a facilitator who made everyone on the team better, while Walton has focused more on getting his own shot because that is what his team needs right now. On the last possession of last Thursday’s game against Nebraska, Walton drove the ball for an and-one that secured the win. No one is expecting Michigan to compete for a Big Ten title this season, but Walton’s newfound confidence will keep the Wolverines competitive and set them up for high expectations next season.
  5. If you happened to catch Sunday night’s game of Illinois at Northwestern, you probably wished you had watched the Golden Globes instead, or even the Yule-Log channel. The Wildcats won an awkward, hard-to-watch, 49-43 affair where both teams shot below 40 percent from the field. While the game certainly didn’t help the overall brand of college basketball, it did get Northwestern’s first-year head coach, Chris Collins, his first Big Ten win. His father, former NBA head coach Doug Collins, was in Welsh-Ryan arena and was able to share the nice moment with him. It was a big moment in his early coaching career and is another step in the right direction for the rebuilding process in Evanston.
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Boeheim, K, Pitino & Roy: Considering Their Careers and Replacements

Posted by Christopher Kehoe on December 19th, 2013

Often when you think about a team like Duke or Syracuse, what comes to mind tends to be certain trademark characteristics that those schools exhibit and in turn becomes associated with them. For Syracuse, it’s the orange jerseys, the 2-3 zone, and head coach Jim Boeheim. For Duke, people envision Cameron Indoor Stadium with the Cameron Crazies, floor-slapping for a defensive stop, and head coach Mike Krzyzewski. The fact that these two coaches immediately come to mind is a testament to their staying power and the impact they’ve had on their respective universities and college basketball as a whole. Neither Krzyzewski (66) nor Boeheim (69) is a spring chicken, however, and that poses a serious dilemma for their schools as both are nearing retirement age.

Boeheim and Pitino confer in a meeting of Hall of Famers

Boeheim and Pitino confer in a meeting of Hall of Famers

Perhaps not in the exact same boat but not too far behind are Louisville’s Rick Pitino (61) and North Carolina’s Roy Williams (63). Neither head coach has been a ‘lifer’ at one program like Boeheim and Krzyzewski, but they remain living legends in their own right. While Syracuse and Duke owe a resounding amount of their present success to their two current coaches, Pitino and Williams have added substantially to illustrious program legacies with Final Fours and championships. Regardless, all four coaches are bona fide Hall of Famers with 100s of wins and at least one national title each. More specifically, the four coaches are responsible for 29 Final Fours, nine national championships, and an unfathomable .760% winning percentage over more than 3,700 college basketball games. If it’s even possible, these staggering numbers do not even do justice on their impact on the sport of college basketball.

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Big Ten M5: 12.11.13 Edition

Posted by Brendon Brody on December 11th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Though he’s slightly lost in the shuffle due to Iowa‘s outstanding depth, Melsahn Basabe is starting to come on and is contributing a lot more for the 10-1 Hawkeyes. His career has been a bit of a roller coaster in terms of how his production has been up and down, but to date this season he’s averaging 7.7 PPG and 6.3 RPG in only 18 minutes of action per contest. In his last two games, he’s hit for an average of 14 points and 10 boards per outing. Iowa needs selfless players like Basabe to continue to contribute in limited minutes in order to take advantage of their depth without a drop in production.
  2. Northwestern has had a shaky beginning to the Chris Collins regime in Evanston. His former college coach and colleague, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, watched the team’s recent 51-35 win over Western Michigan, and then spoke to the team afterward. His message was for the team to stay together and fight through adversity. Coach K served as a decent good luck charm, as the Wildcats held the Broncos to 24.4 percent shooting from the field on the night. Collins may have found something with his switch to starting James Montgomery and Nikola Cerina in his lineup, emphasizing the need for tougher defense in order to get things on track from the start of the game.
  3. Penn State is right around the middle of the pack in rebounding in the B1G, but the Nittany Lions may have turned a corner in the second half of their win Saturday against Marshall. The team only allowed three offensive rebounds in the second half after giving up 12 in the first 20 minutes. They attributed this turnaround simply to a renewed emphasis on being tougher and getting to more loose balls. Without the talent that many other league teams possess, intangibles and hustle stats like rebounding will be vital if Penn State hopes to exceed expectations and make a run at an NCAA berth.
  4. Indiana knocked off Oakland 81-54 on Tuesday night, as the Hoosiers got another strong outing from senior transfer Evan Gordon. Gordon has now gone 17-of-21 from the field in his last two games. He had looked like he wouldn’t be able to contribute much offensively before those last two contests, despite the fact that he came in from Arizona State with a pretty good reputation as a scorer. If he can continue this production as an instant threat off the bench, the Hoosiers may solve some of their problems with inconsistency in their half-court production that they’ve been struggling with.
  5. NBC Sports’ College Basketball Talk released their list of the 10 most disappointing players of the first month, and they listed both Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III in their rankings. McGary seems to be playing his way into shape, with averages of 9.7 PPG, 8.9 RPG, and 2.1 SPG on the season. Robinson has been an enigma, however — disappearing for numerous key stretches and hardly noticeable at times as the team has struggled through an uneven start. My other occupation aside from writing for this website is that of a adjunct English professor, so in honor of it being finals week, McGrady gets a B- for his play thus far, while Robinson gets a D — both players are passing, but they could stand to really show some improvement.
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Big Ten M5: 11.25.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 25th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Tom Izzo isn’t necessarily a reticent person. While everybody in the college hoops world has chimed in on their view about the new rules changes on defense, Izzo has been relatively quiet; but he fears for the overall hoops style under the new rules that were instituted during the offseason.  ”I just feel bad. I feel bad for the officials,” Izzo said. He added, “And you know what the problem is? We’ve played in more games that haven’t been like this. We’ve taken six free throws in one game. Twelve. Ten.” The inconsistency bothers him during the young season and he is concerned that the officials may not be able to figure out by the time the games count in the conference season. His team’s bruising style may be hurt under the new rules but it is unclear if his players will be able to to adapt over the next few weeks.
  2. It is tough to follow in a legend’s footsteps but Richard Pitino has his job cut out. While Rick Pitino’s Cardinals are the defending national champions, his son, Richard, has to find a way to balance the senior’s impact on his own coaching style. Richard understands that and is trying to balance his dad’s legacy, while maintaining his own style. ”Tell them to watch the national championship game because the team that won the national title plays that style,” Richard said. “I believe in the style of play, and it’s been proven to win and we’re going to hang our hat on it.” When asked about his dad’s style of play, the younger Pitino responded, “I believe in the style of play, and its been proven to win and we’re going to hang our hate on it.” Guard, Andre Hollins, will be one his explosive scorers, but the tweaks on defense may pay off over the season as the Gophers could mix up the defensive schemes between a zone and a full-court press.
  3. We know that Aaron Craft will have a huge impact on Ohio State this season, but he needs help. Craft, by no means, is a great offensive player and he needs junior forward, LaQuinton Ross, to chip in on the offensive end. Last season, Deshuan Thomas averaged more than 15 points per game and Ross is expected to fill in Thomas’ shoes, but hasn’t found his rhythm yet. After two weeks, he has averaged only 7 points per game and is struggling to find his role in the offense. I think Q is a great basketball player and we need him to play well,” Matta said. “But you’ve got to, and not just Q, you’ve got to respect the game and you’ve got to respect the opponents. Without Ross, the Buckeyes don’t stand a chance to compete for the Big Ten title.
  4. Is there such a thing as a “good loss?” It can be debated but a young team could benefit from a close loss early in the season. Indiana features two freshmen, Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams, and should benefit from close games during the first two months of the season because they can make the improvements by conference season. Tom Crean hopes that his team will learn from the the close loss to Connecticut. When you play great teams, the margin for error … is so small. You can’t give them easy baskets,” Crean said.He added, ” We’ve got to grow mentally as fast as we can.” The Hoosiers will eventually figure out how to use Ferrell and Vonleh together and when they do, they could contend for a top-3 finish in the Big Ten.
  5. Northwestern’s head coach, Chris Collins, can’t avoid comparisons to the football coach, Pat Fitzgerald because Fitzgerald has been moderately successful in Evanston. Fitzgerald doesn’t recruit great talent to Evanston, but he does an excellent of job competing in the Big Ten and has averaged at least 6 wins over the past few seasons. Collins has a different challenge because the basketball culture in Evanston isn’t ready for a transformation yet, but he is certainly ready to handle the diversity. After a 2-2 start, Collins has his task set out for the season, but he has time to make the changes in Evanston.
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Northwestern Showing Signs of Life But Still Has Problems

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 22nd, 2013

On Wednesday night, Northwestern went into the UIC Pavilion and ran Illinois-Chicago out of its own building. They won by 35 points, outdoing their expected KenPom outcome by 30 points. It was a much-needed win, considering up until then the Wildcats had been the most disappointing team in the Big Ten. Along with the losses of Jared Swopshire and Reggie Hearn, the team is still adjusting to Chris Collins’ new system and has reverted to throwing up threes when their half-court sets have fallen apart. Up until that game, nearly 44 percent of their total shots have been from the three-point line — most in the conference — and when they drove the ball to the basket, they weren’t finishing the play either (42.5 percent). On Wednesday the Wildcats finally began to attack the rim and couldn’t miss – hitting 64.5 percent of their two-point field goals. However, Northwestern’s blowout was more a product of a vulnerable opponent rather than any long-term fix.

Baylor's Athletic Size and Length Confounded Northwestern (AP Photo/C. Cherney)

Dave Sobolewski went for a career high 25 points on Wednesday (AP Photo/C. Cherney)

UIC, a team expected to finish in the middle of the Horizon League, has also underperformed relative to their already mediocre expectations. The Flames started the preseason ranked 262nd in the country, according to KenPom, but has since fallen to 302nd. Their defense has been less than stellar (giving up 106.4 points per 100 possessions) and their weaknesses played right into the Wildcats’ hands: poor perimeter defense and a stark lack of rim protection. For the season, UIC has allowed teams to shoot 46.7 percent from deep (342nd in the country). The Flames didn’t fare any better on Wednesday when they allowed the Wildcats to make 55 percent of their three-point shots. UIC has also allowed its opponents a free pass when they’ve been beaten off the dribble by only blocking 3.2 percent of all possible shots. Once Northwestern cleared space in the lane by sinking some threes, they were able to get to the rim easily. So as it turns out, UIC was a perfect match for the Wildcats to get the team’s confidence going.

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Big Ten M5: 11.14.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 14th, 2013

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  1. National Letters of Intent were beginning to be signed yesterday with several Big Ten programs reeling in top talent. One of the best classes in the conference belongs to Northwestern as head coach Chris Collins signed four solid recruits. Collins’ first class is highlighted by forward Victor Law, rated No. 86 by Rivals, who Collins was more than happy to build a class around. The class is rounded out with three other 3-star players, including guard Bryant McIntosh, who turned down offers to play for Memphis, Purdue, Iowa and Clemson, among others. The group provides Collins with a strong first recruiting class and shows promise for the Wildcats’ future. As the head coach attempts to get the program to its first NCAA tournament berth, this recruiting class could prove to be the turning point as he likely picked up two starters from day one.
  2. Michigan certainly can’t wait to get Mitch McGary back from injury, but for now, it helps to have a player like Jon Horford who can step into the starting line-up. The redshirt junior has experience in the system and understands his role, which was on display in Michigan’s latest game where he scored nine points along with grabbing 15 rebounds against South Carolina State. The Wolverines would certainly prefer to have Horford in a backup role to McGary, but his increased playing time now could be crucial later in the season should he ever be called upon for large minutes. Horford isn’t as versatile offensively, but on a team that has plenty of scorers and shooters on the outside, his ability to grab rebounds and get some points down low complement the rest of the team well.
  3. It wasn’t the normal home opener for Wisconsin on Tuesday against No. 11 Florida. With an impressive performance, though, the Badgers showed they will be able to compete with the best this season. This early season slate certainly is one of the most challenging Bo Ryan has ever had for his team. It has given a good chance to see what the Badgers have after the loss of its three big men from last season’s squad and the early answer is plenty. The team has gotten out in transition more as Billy Donovan noted in the article, willing to use their guards compared to just slashing, cutting and battling down low in a half court set. If Wisconsin can get some more points along with their always stingy defense, don’t be surprised if once again we are talking about this squad playing some important games in the Big Ten race come February and March.
  4. Ohio State has started the season 2-0, but a few problems have already come up for the Buckeyes. Most notably in their 79-69 win over Ohio was rebounding, which was 34-33 in favor of Ohio State. Thad Matta has really pressed defense with this group realizing its offense could need some work, so it has to be troubling that the rotations on the defensive end are causing issues with rebounding. With players rotating away from the basket the Buckeyes were left vulnerable on the glass as no player had more than four defensive rebounds. This is a problem that needs to be fixed quickly with the game against No. 17 Marquette Saturday, which had 21 offensive rebounds alone in its last win.
  5. Purdue‘s Ronnie Johnson had a wake-up call earlier this year when freshman Bryson Scott started over him in the Boilermakers’ first exhibition game. Since then, Johnson has used the team competition to push himself. It’s showed early on as he hit the game-winning free throws in Purdue’s first game and scored 11 points with four assists to only one turnover in the win last night against Central Connecticut State. Johnson is a player some expect to have a breakout season for the Boilermakers, so anything to help push him more is certainly a good thing. It also helps Purdue overall to have back-ups who force the starters to play well to keep their spot, but don’t expect to see Johnson losing it any time soon either.
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