Can Iowa Shore Up Its Shoddy Defense in Time?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on March 4th, 2014

After three seasons at the helm, Fran McCaffery will finally take Iowa back to the NCAA Tournament. That’s the good part about the Hawkeyes’ season. The next logical question is whether they can win more than one game there. With a 20-9 record and an RPI in the 30s, it is likely that the Hawkeyes will be on one of the top six seed lines, which could put them in a dreaded #5/#12 match-up against a decent team. Even if they get past that round, they’ll have to beat a Top 25 quality team that is likely to be offensively talented. At this late point in the season, it is still unclear if the Hawkeyes can defend well enough to beat a team that can run in a track meet with them. Over their last four games they have given up 1.21, 1.31, 1.12 and 1.06 points per possession, respectively, against Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue. Those numbers do not bode well for a team looking to make some noise as we head into March.

McCaffery's Hawkeyes will need to get some stops if they hopse to get to the Sweet 16. (AP/C. Neibergall)

McCaffery’s Hawkeyes will need to get some stops if they hopse to get to the Sweet 16. (AP/C. Neibergall)

Defense has been an issue for Iowa all season long, and a lack of it is the main reason they have been unable to close out many games.  Their record is a bit deceiving because they have won all of the games that they were supposed to, but they really only have two quality wins on the year: at Ohio State and vs. Michigan in Iowa City — even in both of those games, the Hawkeyes gave up more than a point per possession to the Buckeyes and the Wolverines. A win against Xavier, another NCAA Tournament team, is impressive, but an argument can be made that the absence of Musketeers’ star Semaj Christan during the second half helped the Hawkeyes. These observations are not intended to take anything away from Iowa’s resume this season, but merely to point out that its stay in March Madness could be a short one unless they find some answers on defense, and soon.

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Two Key Questions as Michigan State Visits Iowa Tonight

Posted by Jonathan Batuello and Deepak Jayanti on January 28th, 2014

Michigan State took its first conference loss as it tries to overcome numerous key injuries. Iowa has proven it is one of the best teams in the Big Ten. Now the second and third place teams in the conference are set to square off this evening in Iowa City. Two of our Big Ten writers – Deepak Jayanti and Jonathan Batuello – address a couple of key questions heading into the battle for second place in the Big Ten standings.

Devyn Marble

Devyn Marble Looks to Lead the Hawkeyes to Second Place in the Big Ten

With Branden Dawson out and Adreian Payne’s status still uncertain, how does Michigan State limit the Hawkeyes’ rebounding – where it averages 10 more a game than its opponents – and their inside play?

DJ: They can’t limit Iowa’s rebounding without Payne and Dawson in the lineup. Even with one of those two forwards, they’d have to put up a fight to contain the multiple big men that Fran McCaffery uses in the paint. Aaron White, Gabrial Olaseni and Melsahn Basabe are not only good rebounders, but they are also very nimble around the paint – they move very well for their size. It is unfortunate that we can’t see the Spartans’ bigs battle this Iowa front line because the Hawkeyes’ depth keeps their less talented big men fresh. And I am not even including Adam Woodbury, a seven-footer, in this discussion. The best case scenario for the Spartans tonight is to limit the Hawkeyes’ offensive boards to five; otherwise, it will be very tough for them to give up too many easy baskets and still outscore the Hawkeyes on the other end. Expect to see Denzel Valentine play over 30 minutes because his directive would be to hit the defensive glass on every possession to make up for the absence of Dawson.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode VIII

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 15th, 2014

RTC national columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) gives his weekly observations on the game in his column, Otskey’s Observations. 

A Cause for Concern or Just a Speed Bump for Wisconsin?

Sam Dekker struggled on Tuesday but don't expect that to continue. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker struggled on Tuesday but don’t expect that to continue. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Wisconsin’s 75-72 loss at Indiana on Tuesday night was surprising in many ways. For one, it marked the first time since the 1995-96 season that the Badgers have given up at least 70 points in three consecutive games (h/t @nickfasuloSBN). It was an uncharacteristically poor defensive effort from a historically good defensive team under the tutelage of Bo Ryan. Wisconsin could never seem to get a stop when it needed one and allowed Indiana to shoot 51.6 percent from the floor for the game. Coming into the contest, Bo Ryan was 14-3 all-time in head-to-head matchups against Indiana head coach Tom Crean. Crean had never beaten Ryan while at Indiana and the Hoosiers had dropped 12 consecutive games to the Badgers dating back to 2007. In a strange twist of fates, perhaps Ryan’s best team ever fell to Crean’s least talented team in the last three seasons. While Frank Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson did yeoman’s work for Wisconsin, Sam Dekker and Ben Brust had off nights. Dekker, Wisconsin’s leading scorer and rebounder, totaled only 10 points and three rebounds in 35 minutes of action. Brust was cold all night from the three-point line, but tried to adjust, attempting a season-high seven shots from inside the arc, most of those curling to the basket off screens. It was a strange night in Bloomington and something just didn’t feel right. I am inclined to think this is just a bump in the road for Wisconsin and I would expect a much more focused defensive performance at home against Michigan this coming Saturday.

Creighton Ascending in the Polls Despite Grant Gibbs’ Injury

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Takeaways from Wisconsin’s Win Over Iowa

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 6th, 2014

With sub-zero temperatures dominating Sunday across the Midwest, the Wisconsin vs. Iowa match-up in Madison had the intensity of a cold-weather bruiser football game. Previous to Sunday night’s game, the average margin of victory over the past five meetings between these two teams was 3.8 PPG. Last season’s double-overtime thriller at Wisconsin is one such example, and this year’s thrilling 75-71 Badgers win was must-see television throughout. It was a tale of two halves for Bo Ryan’s team because the Badgers were dominated for the first half, entering the locker room facing a 35-24 deficit. But as national title contenders tend to do, Wisconsin buckled down defensively in the second half and pulled off the big win to stay unbeaten. Let’s example the positives and negatives of the Badgers’ performance yesterday.

Bo Ryan's Badgers showed that they can beat tough teams despite their weaknesses.

Bo Ryan’s Badgers showed that they can beat tough teams despite their weaknesses.

  1. Wisconsin’s lack of interior presence was exposed by Iowa. Frank Kaminsky (6.0 RPG) and Sam Dekker (6.4 RPG) had no answer for Iowa’s Melsahn Basabe and Aaron White in the first half as they were outrebounded 27-16 on the glass. Rebounding and toughness in the paint is a concern for these Badgers because they don’t have a designated forward whose job is simply to defend and clean up the glass. Jared Berggren was that player over the past two seasons, but Kaminsky can’t fill those shoes because, despite what he adds with his offensive versatility, he gives it back in terms of rebounding. With Mike Gesell and Devyn Marble consistently attacking the basket, the Badgers couldn’t control the weak side, and as a result, Iowa’s front line was able to feast on easy baskets. This will continue to be a concern for Bo Ryan when the Badgers face stronger front lines such as those at Michigan State and Indiana. At this juncture, there is no good solution for the problem except to ask the guards to play tougher perimeter defense to ensure their men don’t beat them off the dribble. Players who can beat Josh Gasser or Ben Brust off the bounce have an open lane to score easy baskets because Kaminsky is not a dominant defensive force inside. Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Big Ten Seniors Who Need to Break Out This Year

Posted by Max Jakubowski on November 8th, 2013

A player entering his senior year will be filled with all sorts of emotions. He might be a little glum that this is his last ride or he might be filled with excitement that he could lead his team to a conference crown and possibly more. No matter the feelings, each senior needs to be a leader on the court for his team and provide a little extra production when called upon. Michigan State’s Draymond Green, for example, put up incredible numbers in his senior campaign for Michigan State two years ago and Brandon Paul of Illinois emerged as an All-Conference player to lead the Illini to a surprising NCAA Tournament bid last season. There have been many others and there will be more, but here are three Big Ten players who need to step up in a big way for their final seasons on campus:

Bertrand will be the motor behind the Illini's offense this season. (Getty)

Bertrand will be the motor behind the Illini’s offense this season. (Getty)

Joseph Bertrand, Illinois, Shooting Guard: The Illini graduated their top two perimeter players in Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson. Groce’s perimeter-oriented offense was a perfect fit for the duo, who hoisted threes any chance they got and made enough of them to drive their team into postseason play last year. With those two now gone, Bertrand will become a primary scoring option. He has great athleticism and leaping ability which allows him to get to the rim, and when he gets fouled, the senior sports a 77 percent conversion rate from the line. The Illini might at times run with a smaller lineup featuring Bertrand at the four because he is a decent rebounder for his size. On the offensive end, Groce has to allow Bertrand to isolate occasionally, as he can either beat his defender to the rim or force opponents to bring help defense and leave the shooters wide open on the perimeter. If Illinois wants to get back to the NCAA Tournament, it will need a big year from the senior Bertrand.

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Big Ten M5: 12.14.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on December 14th, 2012

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan coach John Beilein isn’t scared to use his five highly-touted freshmen this year, and he solidified that this week when he said he would stick with a nine-man rotation, including all five of those rookies. Freshmen Nick Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III will continue to start alongside Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan, but Caris LeVert, Mitch McGary, Spike Albrecht and Jon Horford will all see significant minutes, as well. The Wolverines have one of the deepest teams in the league, and with the freshmen living up to the hype so far, they have the potential to put a dangerous lineup on the court for the entire game.
  2. With so many new faces, Northwestern has been fairly inconsistent en route to a 7-3 start. The Wildcats won at Baylor, but have home losses to Maryland, Illinois-Chicago and Butler, with Texas State and Stanford coming to Evanston next week. Northwestern has spent the last four years on the NCAA Tournament bubble and fans are becoming restless about the team’s chances this year. CBS Chicago’s Dave Wischnowsky wonders how much more “close but no cigar” NU will accept, and whether coach Bill Carmody will be shown the door if things don’t turn around this season.
  3. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo has been hitting the recruiting circuit hard recently, looking at top recruits Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander and Tyus Jones, among others, but the Spartans’ head coach isn’t a fan of such road trips. Izzo would like the NCAA to shorten the length of time in which coaches are able to evaluate recruits in order to allow coaches more time with their families. Coaches have very little time off from September to March, and a change in the rules would also allow them more time to spend with their teams during the season. Izzo admits that his words go “on deaf ears,” but he thinks teams could get the same players even if the rules were changed.
  4. Iowa has three freshmen in its starting lineup this year, which means that some veterans have had to embrace bench roles. Zach McCabe and Melsahn Basabe, in particular, have given up playing time for the newcomers, but they’re OK with it if it helps the team. Coach Fran McCaffery is impressed with how his upperclassmen have bought into the program and accepted their new roles this season, even if it means they won’t be in the starting lineup. It’s not all bad for McCabe and Basabe, though, as both see minutes comparable to what the starters see. As long as they’re winning, the Hawkeye players don’t really care how it happens, even if that means sitting on the bench to start the game.
  5. It’s mid-December, which means it’s cupcake season in college basketball. Ohio State picked up a routine 85-45 cupcake victory over Savannah State this week, which will put another tally in the win column for the Buckeyes, but Rob Oller wonders if the game was really that beneficial. It’s a way for players — especially role players — to gain confidence, but there isn’t much good that it does for the starters. Since it’s difficult for players to get up for this kind of game, coach Thad Matta was forced to exaggerate what Savannah State brings to the table, all adding up to a yawner. But if this kind of game can inspire confidence in the players, that, says Oller, is really all that’s important.
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Iowa Uses a Different Formula to Beat Gardner-Webb

Posted by KTrahan on November 19th, 2012

A nine-point win over Gardner-Webb is hardly something to be proud of, but the way Iowa took down the Runnin’ Bulldogs sure is cause for celebration in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes trailed 38-18 at halftime and were down by as many as 23 points at one point in the first half, before storming back to outscore Gardner-Webb 47-18 in the second half to escape with a 65-56 win on Saturday. Last year, this is a game Iowa surely would have lost. The Hawkeyes had a brutal non-conference season, which included a 16-point loss to Campbell. Iowa struggled with its defense last year, which hurt its resume and kept it off the NCAA Tournament bubble, but the Hawkeyes figure to be an NCAA Tournament contender this year, so this was the kind of game they couldn’t lose. They knew that, and they didn’t.

Fran McCaffery’s Group Appears to be Buying Into Defense This Year (credit: AP)

Perhaps the most encouraging part of Iowa’s win was how the Hawkeyes came back. We always knew they could score, but the question was whether they could stop anyone after last year’s abysmal defensive display. We got our answer over the weekend, as defense and the subsequent transition offense led Iowa’s comeback. “I think we buy into the defensive end a little bit more,” Iowa sophomore Aaron White said. “When you give up 18 points in the second half, that’s the difference. Last year we would have just tried to put 60 on them in the second half.”

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Big Ten Team Previews: Iowa Hawkeyes

Posted by KTrahan on October 16th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Where we left off: Last time we saw Iowa, the Hawkeyes were getting run over for 108 points by Oregon in the second round of the NIT. Of course, it was an accomplishment for the program to even get back to the NIT after a promising season, and now, with a number of stars back, Iowa is looking to take the next step to the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Fran McCaffery has done a good job of turning the team around, and now, in year three, expectations are high. Clearly McCaffery has his team on the right track, but is this the year Iowa finally makes it back to the NCAA Tournament? There is a lot of inexperience on parts of the court, but enough talent is certainly there for the Hawkeyes to make a run.

Fran McCaffery Has His Team on the Right Track (credit: AP)

Positives: Iowa’s biggest strength this winter will be its depth, and in fact, that could represent the most difficult part of McCaffery’s job. The Hawkeyes may have a hard time finding playing time for everyone with so much returning experience and new talent. Junior guard Roy Devyn Marble and sophomore forward Aaron White are locks to start, and they’ll likely be joined by junior forward Melsahn Basabe and freshman point guard Mike Gesell, but after that, the distribution of minutes gets foggy. Junior forward Zach McCabe will likely see considerable minutes, as will freshman center Adam Woodbury, but sophomore center Gabe Olaseni, who McCaffery calls the team’s most improved player, will also be slated for some time. In the backcourt, sophomore shooting specialist Josh Oglesby, freshman point guard Anthony Clemmons and senior Eric May will all push for playing time. There are a lot of different looks that this team can show, and while it might be difficult to figure out playing time, that’s a very good problem to have.

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Big Ten Weekly Five: 05.24.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on May 24th, 2012

  1. It’s going to be a very important summer for Iowa, a team that has the potential to be one of the best teams in the conference if the Hawkeyes can shore up their defense. Fran McCafferys group had as much scoring potential with a young core of players as anyone in the Big Ten, but the worst scoring defense in the conference kept them in the middle of the pack last season. The growth of  Eric May (coming off a back injury) and Melsahn Basabe (a member of the Big Ten All-Freshman team two seasons ago) will be crucial to the team’s success.
  2. Nebraska needs all the help it can get in the difficult Big Ten under newly-hired coach Tim Miles, and its seems to have gotten a boost with the transfer of Terran Petteway. Formerly of Texas Tech, the 6’6″, 185-pounder is the third player to join the program in the last month after Deverell Biggs (first-team junior college All-American) and Sergej Vucetic (a 7’0″, 235-pound center and native of Serbia) joined the mix. Miles told the Omaha World Herald that Petteway is a “very dynamic player.”
  3. Michigan got Trey Burke back for at least another season, so now John Beilein is looking for ways to bench him. Beilein tried to get Burke as many breathers as he could last year, but really couldn’t afford to do it as much as he would have liked. He says he’s going to give it another shot this season, and is willing to give freshmen considerable minutes in order to do so.
  4. With all four participating schools at the forefront of the college basketball scene, the Crossroads Classic basketball event in Indiana has been extended through 2014. The event includes Indiana, Purdue, Butler and Notre Dame and takes place in mid-December at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Butler beat Purdue and Indiana beat Notre Dame in last year’s event. Indiana, figured to be one of the top teams in the country this year, will play Butler this upcoming season, while the Boilers will meet the Irish.
  5. Good news: The television network that allows all of us to catch practically every Big Ten basketball game is doing well, which means more of the status quo moving forward. According to a report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,  the Big Ten Network enjoyed $242 million in revenue for 2011 (figure courtesy SNL Kagan). That accounts for a 46% growth since the network’s first full year in 2008, and it means that the league is in a catbird seat when it comes to conference revenues.
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Big Ten Season Wrap-Up: Iowa

Posted by jnowak on May 22nd, 2012

Let’s not be fooled by the Matt Gatens Show we all witnessed  at the end of the season. (Though, give credit where credit is due — he was fantastic.) This is a talented young club that is on the rise and has the potential to give some conference teams fits in the near future, given their fast-paced style of basketball in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten. But as good as this team was on the offensive end (third in the conference) it was even more dismal on the defensive end (last place). That discrepancy must improve for Iowa to have a shot at becoming a contender in the conference. Let’s take a look back at the year that was:

Matt Gatens was one of the Big Ten's best players down the stretch. (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

  • In a nutshell: Fran McCaffery‘s run-and-gun style of offense is really starting to take shape in Iowa City, where the Hawkeyes averaged 73 PPG, third only behind Ohio State and Indiana. It helped that the Hawkeyes led the conference in steals, but the wins didn’t add up in spite of the offense due to the dismal defense (allowing 72.5 PPG). Gatens, who worked his way onto the All-Big Ten Third Team thanks to his team-best 15.7 PPG and late-season spurt, did all he could. He got some help from promising sophomores Melsahn Basabe and Roy Devyn Marble, who are sure to be key pieces in the future.
  • Overachievement: The Big Ten had absolutely no shortage of impact freshmen (see Trey Burke, Cody Zeller, Branden Dawson, et al) but Aaron White was a somewhat unexpected yet consistent force for Iowa. He averaged 10.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game as a newcomer and, in a few more years, could definitely show Big Ten Player of the Year-type talent. He was rated by Rivals as just a three-star recruit out of high school, but showed his big-game mettle by scoring 47 points in Iowa’s two NIT games. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Conference Primers: #2 – Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2011

John Templon of Big Apple Buckets is an RTC contributor. You can find him on Twitter at @nybuckets.

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • Mid-Majors Newcomers Will Make Major Impact – Two graduate student transfers from mid-major schools are going to make an instant impact in the Big Ten. Brandon Wood could start in Michigan State’s backcourt after scoring 16.7 points per game last season for Valparaiso. Sam Maniscalco averaged 9.7 points per game for Bradley last season and might end up scoring even more for Illinois. Both players give their teams veteran pieces at positions that would’ve otherwise been dominated by youth.
  • Healthy Living – Robbie Hummel returns for Purdue and has the opportunity to make a big impact for the Boilermakers now that his former classmates have graduated. While Matt Painter couldn’t get Hummel on the court with JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, he does get the added bonus of having an All-America caliber forward to help shepherd this team into the postseason. Injuries also delivered a blow to Indiana, as Maurice Creek is going to miss the entire 2011-12 season. That’s after missing all but 18 games last season, and it’s a big blow to the Hoosiers’ NCAA hopes.
  • A New Head Coach In University Park – After leading Penn State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001, and falling to in-state rival Temple, Ed DeChellis saw the writing on the wall and left PSU for a more stable job at Navy. His replacement is former Boston University head coach Pat Chambers, who has a big rebuilding job on his hands after graduation of star guard Talor Battle.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Ohio State (16-2) 
  2. Wisconsin (12-6)
  3. Michigan (12-6)
  4. Michigan State (10-8)
  5. Purdue (10-8)
  6. Illinois (9-9)
  7. Minnesota (9-9)
  8. Northwestern (8-10)
  9. Indiana (8-10)
  10. Iowa (6-12)
  11. Nebraska (4-14)
  12. Penn State (3-15)

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Top Ten Players You Don’t Know Yet (But Soon Will)

Posted by zhayes9 on October 10th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Even the most casual college basketball fans, those that believe the season begins when the calendar flips to March to gear up for their office pool, can rattle off the basics: Duke’s leading scorer, Kentucky’s point guard or Louisville’s head coach.

For those that have Friday’s first day of practice circled on our calendar, we like to dig a little deeper.

Perennial powerhouses North Carolina, UCLA and Florida are discussed ad nauseam in the media. We’re aware of the key games on their schedule, we can name their starting lineups and we know their seniors like family because they’re constantly in the spotlight. Rather than tell you for the 300th time that Jared Sullinger is the favorite for Big Ten POY or Harrison Barnes is a potential All-American, let’s emphasize ten teams and players who will no longer be anonymous once their full impact is felt this upcoming season (10 teams next week):

Basabe was a rare bright spot for Iowa as a freshman

Melsahn Basabe, Iowa- The fact Basabe plays in relative anonymity is a shame considering the freshman season he just completed. Not only did Basabe start all 31 games and average 11/7 on 57% FG, but his signature performance (22 points, 13 rebounds, 6 blocks) came against Jared Sullinger and then #2 Ohio State. He became the first Big Ten player in 15 years to post such a stat line. Basabe’s entire rookie year was sensational, finishing near the top of the conference leaderboard in everything from block percentage to offensive rebounding. How quickly Fran McCaffery can resuscitate a program stuck in neutral will determine if Basabe’s brilliance registers with casual fans.

Rodney McGruder, Kansas State- Probably the most recognizable player on the list due to Kansas State’s success the last two seasons, McGruder is primed to take the torch from Jacob Pullen and become the Wildcats’ next star. McGruder’s signature performance as a sophomore came in K-State’s enormous road win at Texas in late February when the 6’5″ guard dropped 22 points and four threes on the seemingly indestructible Longhorns defense. McGruder is not only an efficient scorer from all areas on the floor (47% FG, 41% 3pt career) but he’s an outstanding rebounder and a chore for an opposing shooting guard due to his sturdy frame and steady perimeter defense.

Erick Green, Virginia Tech- Overshadowed by the brilliance of Malcolm Delaney and another narrowly missed NCAA bid was Green’s dramatic leap forward as a sophomore. The 6’4″ combo guard dramatically boosted his FG% to a respectable 41% and averaged a solid 11.6 PPG. Green’s impact goes much further than scoring; he ranked first among all ACC guards in turnover rate (11.1% of possessions used) and third in the conference in steal percentage. Green not only protects the basketball on his end, but creates numerous extra possessions for the Hokies on the other. I anticipate an all-ACC season approaching.

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