On Saturday, Indiana lost its final non-conference match-up to Georgetown in Madison Square Garden. In the second half, the game became a duel between two former teammates and Indianapolis natives, the Hoosiers’ Yogi Ferrell and the Hoyas’ D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Ferrell scored a team-high 27 points, including two three-pointers that helped the Hoosiers tie the game and send it to overtime. As Zach Osterman explains, there is no shame in losing to Georgetown on a neutral site — the disappointment stems from what would have been gained with a win. A win over a good Big East team would not only have given Indiana a big boost going into its conference schedule, but also earned them their first resume win and mitigated some of the stain from their bad loss to Eastern Washington. Now, the Hoosiers will have to overperform in Big Ten play in order to earn an NCAA bid.
This weekend we also saw the return of Dez Wells when Maryland defeated Oakland. After missing five games with a wrist injury, Wells did not get the start but played 22 minutes, chipping in 10 points and four assists. The senior’s return adds to the momentum the Terrapins have built after going 12-1 in non-conference play. In Wells’ absence, Jake Layman has stepped up his production, emerging as a legitimate scoring option for Maryland; combine that with the standout play of freshman stud Melo Trimble and a healthy Wells and Evan Smotrycz, and Mark Turgeon now has a wealth of talent with which to develop his new rotation, shaping up Maryland to be a force in its first season in the Big Ten.
The slate of Saturday games also included Minnesota’s convincing win against UNC-Wilmington. This was the Golden Gophers’ eighth victory in a row, and it caps off a nice finish to their non-conference schedule after starting 3-2 — they’re now 11-2 with losses only to Louisville and St. John’s (both in KenPom’s top 20). Richard Pitino’s pressure defense has once again been a big part of their success (defensive turnover rate of 28.0 percent, third in the country), but it’s their ability to share the ball that has really boosted the offense and overall play, as evidenced by the 66.2 percent of field goals made that come off of assists (fifth nationally). Minnesota will see if its collegial philosophy on offense will translate to a step up in competition when it starts Big Ten play Wednesday at Purdue.
Now that the non-conference schedule season has wrapped up, it’s worth reviewing what has happened in the season thus far. We will have some look-back posts coming up here on the microsite, but the MaizeNBrew blog from SB Nation has compiled a pretty comprehensive version of its non-conference awards. Wisconsin was honored as the Best Team, while Northwestern shamefully beat out Rutgers to be named the Worst Team. Additionally, the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky was awarded midseason MVP, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell was Best Freshman, Maryland’s Jake Layman was Most Improved, Wisconsin/Duke was the best game of the non-conference season, Iowa over North Carolina was deemed the Best Win, and Michigan’s infamous defeat to NJIT was identified as the Worst Loss. There are many, many more awards in the article, and it serves as a good recap of the early part of the season for the Big Ten.
Finally, fanshave been grasping at straws to make sense of the “mushy middle”of this year’s Big Ten. It seems as if there is not much daylight between teams unless your name is Wisconsin (for good reason) or Northwestern and Rutgers (for not-so-good reasons). If you’re looking for some clarity, Jeff from the BasketballPredictions blog has updated his bracketology predictions to include Saturday’s results. His predictions and seedings reflect what he expects to occur by the end of the season. In it, he has eight Big Ten teams making the Dance: Wisconsin (#1 seed), Ohio State (#4), Maryland (#7), Illinois (#7), Iowa (#8), Michigan State (#9), Michigan (#11), and Minnesota (#12). This leaves out bubble-hopefuls Penn State (and their 12-1 record), Indiana, Nebraska and Purdue. These predictions seem to highlight how much uncertainty there is with any team’s record and/or performance in the non-conference, and that we’ll likely have a slugfest in the conference all season long for those precious NCAA Tournament bids. There are two exciting months of Big Ten play coming our way that will sort all of this out. Get excited!
Michigan has had as bad a week as you could have after consecutive losses to inferior opponents, first to NJIT on Sunday followed by Eastern Michigan on Wednesday. Yesterday, it came out that Spike Albrechthas been dealing with an unspecified lower body injury since the offseason. This on top of the toe injury to point guard Derrick Walton. As John Beilein said, “when your two point guards are banged up, it could impact you.” Albrecht says he’s been playing through the pain all season and it has not affected his play, but Wolverines fans must hope that’s the case because things won’t get easier for them as they face Arizona in Tucson Saturday.
If Michigan had the worst week, Nebraska may be a close runner-up after they dropped a home game to Incarnate Word on Wednesday, losing 73-74. The Cornhuskers were shorthanded against the Cardinals as senior Moses Abraham did not play due to a broken hand suffered in practice the day before. Nebraska now has three losses on the season, including two at home which is more than they had all last season. With Terrran Pettaway and Shavon Shields already carrying a disproportionate amount of the scoring, losing an experienced big man like Abraham is only going to put more stress on them. They’ll need to figure out how to remedy their offense quick, as Cincinnati and their Top 40 defense come into town this weekend.
Over on the east coast, Maryland is also going through its own health issues with two of their starters, Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz, out for an extended period of time. Unlike the Cornhuskers, the Terrapins have been able to navigate through their injuries due to the excellent play of their freshman point guard, Melo Trimble. One of the best traits of the first-year player is his ability to get to the free throw line. On Wednesday’s 67-56 win over North Carolina Central, Trimble was perfect from the free throw line and scored eight of his total twelve points from the charity stripe. It’s his ability to generate points even during an off-shooting night that makes him so valuable and keeps this Maryland team afloat despite injuries to key personnel.
On Tuesday, Indiana lost 74-94 to Louisville in large part due to their poor rebounding – the Cardinals out rebounded the Hoosiers 52 to 34, which includes grabbing 26 offensive rebounds. Indiana has been dealing with their deficiencies in rebounding since the loss of Noah Vonleh to the NBA Draft during the offseason. As Tom Crean and company contemplate how to fix their rebounding woes, an obvious starting point would be for the lone true big man in the starting lineup, Hanner Mosquera-Perrea, to be more consistent in his effort to grab boards. Indiana still has challenging opponents in its non-conference schedule, such as Georgetown, and they’ll need to improve their rebounding performance, otherwise they’ll be relying on getting hot from the three point line to win games.
Finally, Ohio State may have found another offensive weapon on their roster with the impressive performance of Kam Williams in their 97-43 win over High Point. The freshman guard scored a career-high 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting including 4 three pointers. The Buckeyes already have an arsenal of weapons with D’Angelo Russell, Marc Loving, and Sam Thompson. So, Thad Matta won’t need a scoring output like this from Williams every night, but it must be nice to know that he has another potential high-scoring wing waiting on his bench.
We continue our preseason Big Ten rankings today with spots #9 through #5. The bottom tier of teams, #14 to #10, released earlier this week. These middle tier teams will be fighting to be on the right side of the bubble — and providing us with great drama — all season long.
What they do well: Defense.Mark Turgeon has had a top 40 squad in adjusted defensive efficiency the past couple seasons and it’ll likely be his area of focus once again.
What they don’t do well: Retention. Seth Allen, Charles Mitchell, Nick Faust, Roddy Peters and Shaquille Cleare all transferred out of the program in the offseason — not exactly inconsequential players.
Dez Wells is one of the few familiar faces in College Park this year. (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)
Get to know: Melo Trimble. The top 40 recruit will need to use his offensive skill set to help replace all the lost scoring from last season.
Why they’ll finish 9th: The exodus of key players and unfamiliarity in the Big Ten will cause some very sharp growing pains for the Terrapins.
Why they’ll finish higher: This team still has talent and is used to playing top-notch competition. If they can get all their new pieces to gel together, they can compete in a relatively down Big Ten.
What they do well: Offense. Last season, the Hawkeyes were fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and they bring a majority of that roster back this year.
What they don’t do well: Mental toughness. Last season, Iowa wilted in close games against Villanova and Iowa State. Things really spiraled out of control at the end of the season when they lost seven of their last eight contests.
Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on April 30th, 2014
To close out the season for good, we’re finishing our official Big Ten grades with the four top tier teams: Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Nebraska. Yes, take that in one last time — Nebraska ended the season in the top four of the standings in the best conference in the country. For our previously-published grades on the eight other teams in the Big Ten, here are Part I and Part II.
This season (28-9,15-3): Last year, Michigan broke through to make it all the way to the National Championship game. And while that was an impressive run, the coaching job that John Beilein did this season — leading the Wolverines to their first outright B1G title since 1986, and finishing just one play from another Final Four appearance — may be even more impressive. It’s important to note where this program was two years ago to fully appreciate the leap that Beilein has guided Michigan basketball through. In 2012, the Wolverines hadn’t yet been able to escape the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament under his direction, and Beilein’s squads were thought of as good but not great. This season, he proved that his success was not just the product of a special player like 2013 NPOY, Trey Burke; it is fundamentally anchored in player development and buy-in from his kids. This season was a successful one by any standard and it looks like the head coach in Ann Arbor has gone and rebuilt himself an elite program in Ann Arbor.
John Beilein has cemented himself as a premier coach after winning the outright title. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)
Next season: The Wolverines lose a lot of their roster: Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Mitch McGary. They will bring in heralded recruit Kameron Chatman with returning players like Caris Levert, Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, and Spike Albrecht joining him. In short, Michigan loses all of its frontcourt experience and its two best backcourt players. The Wolverines seemed poised to fall back a notch, but that was also the popular thought when McGary went out for the rest of this season. The bottom line is that Beilein will find a way to get this team competitive and back to the NCAA Tournament — and he has enough returning talent to get there.
Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 28th, 2014
Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.
We’ve got more to get to here than usual, so we’ve got a special extended-yet-abbreviated edition of WWTW on tap today.
Russ Smith won Louisville’s game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)
Your defending national champions – remember them? – are rolling at just the right time in the season. They went into Cincinnati and handed the Bearcats their first home loss of the season Saturday, 58-57, with a Russ Smith dagger – remember him? – then followed that up by blowing out woebegone Temple 88-66 on Thursday.
Sophomore Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell thrived this past week, as he has since the dismissal of Chane Behanan, scoring 21 points in both games. Going forward, the Cardinals have games left at Memphis and SMU, followed by a home game against Connecticut. Though they’re tied with Cincinnati at the top of the American and on a seven-game winning streak, we’ll know much more about Louisville by the time the conference tournament rolls around.
(Related winners: Smith; Harrell. Related losers: Cincinnati, which squandered its chance at an outright AAC championship by losing at home; Temple, which had its first 20-loss season in school history thanks to Louisville.)
LOSER: Saint Louis
The Billikens, which had been one of America’s last four teams undefeated in conference, took one of the most befuddling losses of the whole season, falling 71-64 on Thursday to a Duquesne team that had won four Atlantic 10 games in Jim Ferry’s two seasons in Pittsburgh. What had been one of the nation’s top 10 shooting defenses gave up an effective field goal rate of 50.7 percent, including 14-0f-18 shooting and 7-of-9 three-pointers by Dukes guards Micah Mason and Jerry Jones. And against one of the nation’s 10 worst defenses vs. three-point shooting, Saint Louis only made 4-of-23 shots from beyond the arc. The Billikens have a top-five defense nationally according to KenPom.com, but their offense ranks 169th in efficiency. Then again, defense wins championships, right?
We were treated to another great match-up last night when Michigan State came into Iowa and defeated the Hawkeyes 71-69 in overtime. For the Spartans, it was another impressive performance as they registered a big road win with many of their key players out or playing injured. As for the Hawkeyes, this loss may reintroduce some concerns that basketball opinion makers have about this team. As of today, Iowa’s best win is against Ohio State – a win that looked better two weeks ago than it does today. Against top tier teams, the Hawkeyes have consistently fallen short. However, they have performed extremely well against teams they are supposed to beat, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. The bottom line is that we may not have a good handle on how good the Hawkeyes are until the end of the season.
In their 80-75 win at Michigan State this past Saturday, Michigan put the country on notice that they had no plans in making this a rebuilding year after losing several key players from last season’s National Championship runner-up squad. Now, the Wolverines are alone atop the Big Ten standings and have college basketball experts revising their expectations of them. But, don’t expect John Beilien to buy into the hype; he’s already moved on from their big win and is looking ahead to Thursday’s game against Purdue. “We’ve basked enough, no more basking,” Beilien told a local Ann Arbor radio station on Monday. Michigan’s head man may not want to concentrate on what he’s accomplished this season, but Big Ten fans should. With him at the helm, there is no reason to think Michigan can’t be a dominant force for years to come.
Another surprising team in conference play has been Minnesota. Despite having a first-year coach, Richard Pitino, and losing some significant pieces from last year’s team, the Golden Gophers have kept their own in league play and have impressive wins against Ohio State and Wisconsin. But on Sunday, Minnesota lost some of its momentum when it dropped a game at Nebraska. A major reason for the loss may have been the poor play of DeAndre Mathieu who had 13 points, but also had 9 of the Gophers’ 13 turnovers. While he is not Minnesota’s best player, Mathieu’s steady point guard play has allowed other players, such as likely All-Conference teammate Andre Hollins, to be productive on the offensive side which has led the team to have an adjusted offensive efficiency of 1.18 points per possession (top 15 in the nation). With Hollins out indefinitely, Mathieu will get a lot more attention from defenses and he’ll need to improve his play for Minnesota to continue battling for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Speaking of the Cornhuskers, bad news came out of Lincoln on Monday: Deverell Biggs, Nebraska’s third leading scorer, was dismissed from the team. Although no specific incident or cause was given for his release, Biggs has had disciplinary issues in the past including a DUI in 2012. The Cornhuskers had been playing the role of spoiler throughout conference play, upsetting both Ohio State and Minnesota within six days. Without Biggs, upsets will be more difficult to come by which could rob Tim Miles of some needed momentum going into the next few seasons as he continues to try and build a respectable program in Lincoln. If either Ray Gallegos or Tai Webster can step up their production, there may still be a shot for Nebraska to make some noise in the conference.
After a six-game losing streak, one thing is apparent in Champaign: this Illinois team is not like last season’s squad. Last year’s team was able to come back from a poor start in conference play because of talented senior guards that led them back to postseason form. This year, Illinois’ offensive woes do not appear fixable. They are last in the conference in eFG percentage (40.5%) and second-to-last in adjusted offensive efficiency (0.92 point per possession) and three-point shooting (25.8%). Despite all this, John Groceadmires the fight his team has put up through its slump. While Groce’s enthusiasm is admirable, this can’t be where he thought his team would be when they were 2-0 in the conference and had wins against Missouri and UNLV. He’s been playing his freshmen more often in games, which may be a sign that he is looking towards the future as he grips with the reality his team faces in the present.
Posted by Brendan Brody & Alex Moscoso on January 25th, 2014
Well, this is it. The final two undefeated teams in conference play will go head-to-head tonight in East Lansing. The Spartans will have the advantage of playing in the raucous Breslin Center, but they’ll be shorthanded since both Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson are expected to miss the game. Michigan, on the other hand, doesn’t have Mitch McGary to man the post, but Nik Stauskus has been red hot offensively and the team appear to have moved on from its early season troubles. Two of our Big Ten microsite writers, Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso, tackle the big questions headed into the game.
All eyes are on the Big Ten this weekend, as Michigan and Michigan State face off for first place in the league.
Michigan State is a top 10 defensive unit but their two best defensive players (Dawson and Payne) are likely to be out for the game. Michigan, on the other hand, is an elite offensive team. Will the Spartans be able to slow down the Wolverines given their injuries?
BB: The Michigan offense has been really impressive lately, and Michigan State might have had problems slowing them down even with Dawson and Payne in uniform tonight. Without those two seeing action, I just don’t know how they can hinder the Wolverines from scoring essentially whenever they want. Stauskas has been the best player in the conference over the last several weeks, but this team has much more weaponry than their sophomore assassin to call upon. Caris LeVert and/or Glenn Robinson III should have a huge advantage as the Spartans are going to have to use either a small guard like Travis Trice or with some combination of Kenny Kaminski/Russell Byrd to defend them. Big men like Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford aren’t strong offensively, but everyone else that gets significant playing time can score the ball from a multitude of different spots on the floor. Unless they go into some horrific shooting funk where they can’t make anything, Michigan will not be slowed down offensively tonight.
Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 23rd, 2014
This isn’t your father’s offensively challenged but physical Big Ten. This year the league houses three of the top five efficient offenses in the nation (Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin). In fact, certain teams’ offenses, or obvious lack of offense, have challenged our preconceived notions of how the league might shake out over the next two months. Two weeks ago, I wrote that Ohio State, after its overtime to loss to Michigan State, still had a great shot to win the Big Ten title because of its soft conference schedule. On Monday night, the Buckeyes lost to perpetual bottom-dweller Nebraska, extending their losing streak to four games. Four weeks ago, Michigan looked dead in the water when news broke that center Mitch McGary would have season-ending back surgery. Last night, the Wolverines put on an offensive show in their defeat of Iowa by eight points in Ann Arbor. They now find themselves tied for first place with a 6-0 record in league play. Each team’s change of fortune can be explained through the evolution (or devolution) of their offense.
Shannon Scott hasn’t been an offensive option off the bench. And it may be costing them losses in the conference. (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).
While physical play and strong defenses are still league constants, some teams are now surging due to their offensive prowess while others are sinking because of their offensive fecklessness. Take the case of Michigan, a team that has surprised the Big Ten with its undefeated record through the first third of conference play. The Wolverines racked up four losses in non-conference play, but their offense has hit another gear since. In the last five games, Michigan has not had an eFG rate below 58 percent and has averaged approximately 1.2 points per possession. Sophomores Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III have led the way by averaging 34.8 PPG combined in those five games. Robinson has been especially surprising after his mediocre start to the season. On the flip side is the case of Ohio State. The Buckeyes have the best defense in the league by a significant margin, but at best a middle-of-the-road offense. The Buckeyes were hoping Shannon Scott would contribute in the scoring department off the bench, but that has not come to fruition. In their four consecutive losses, Scott is averaging a measly 4.0 PPG and Ohio State as a team has shot below 45 percent from the field in each of those games.
The last time Adreian Payne logged official game minutes was two weeks ago in Michigan State’s thrilling overtime victory against Ohio State. Since then, Payne has been sidelined due to a nagging ankle injury, and yet, his Spartan teammates have managed to go 3-0 in his absence. Although the senior big man feels like he can play if needed, Tom Izzo is thinking about the long term and will most likely keep him out again for tonight’s game against Indiana. According to Izzo, we won’t see the injured senior back in the lineup until the pain in his ankle has been significantly mitigated. The Spartans have managed without Payne thus far, but they have tough matchups against Michigan and Iowa coming up next and if they want to maintain their undefeated conference record, they need their big man back.
On Sunday, Iowa finally got the monkey off its back and beat Ohio State to get its first marquee win of the season. Any objective spectator or anyone who is familiar with advanced metrics knew that the Hawkeyes had been performing at high level throughout the season. Their only losses have been to Wisconsin, Villanova, and Iowa State: three teams that have been ranked in the top 10 at some point this season. But what their resume was missing was a win over a team where they were the underdog. That mission was accomplished on Sunday. ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan details how Iowa’s offense has been the important factor for this season’s success. With a significant win now added to their resume, Brennan makes the case that it’s now safe to let your guard down and trust in the Hawkeyes as a legitimate contender.
Things have really gone sour for Illinois since it broke into the AP Top 25 two weeks ago. Since that time, John Groce’s team has dropped four straight games, including one each against Northwestern and Purdue in games where it was favored. Suddenly, a team that looked like it was on its way to consecutive NCAA Tournaments appears in danger of finishing in the bottom third of the league. As a result, John Groce is looking for more consistency from his team. Specifically, he’d like to see their performance on defense and rebounding return to the level it was before the turn of the year. Groce is willing to play some of his younger players like Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill if it means more intensity on the court. However, the second-year head coach needs to fix things quickly since finding wins in the Big Ten will be increasingly difficult.
If there’s one thing we should take away from last weekend’s games, it’s that any preconceived notion of how things will develop in league play should be thrown out the window. A month ago, it looked like Michigan’s hopes of contending for another Big Ten championship were over based on their less-than-stellar non-conference play and the loss of Mitch McGary to injury. Despite these setbacks and their relative youth, the Wolverines are beginning to learn how to win games against upper echelon teams. Michigan reclaimed its position as a championship contender with Saturday’s win against Wisconsin which moved them into a 5-0 tie for first place with Michigan State. John Beilein will need to keep developing his team as the Wolverines have (statistically speaking) the most difficult schedule in the league.
And continuing the trend of outcomes which make no sense in the Big Ten, Indiana followed up its outstanding win against Wisconsin with a surprising loss to Northwestern at home over the weekend. Now the Hoosiers will have to regroup on the road in East Lansing to face a Michigan State team that destroyed them on in Bloomington two weeks ago. Although the Spartans will be without Adreian Payne, Tom Izzo did not need a big contribution from his big man in their last match-up. Instead, Tom Crean will be focused on stopping Gary Harris, who scored 26 points in the previous game. Lucky for the Hoosiers, the middle of the Big Ten is muddy enough where they can make up ground even if they lose to the Spartans. This season, an 8-10 record in league play may be good enough to get a team on the bubble.
Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 28th, 2013
Some bad news came out of Ann Arbor on Friday night. Sophomore big man Mitch McGary has elected to have surgery on his lower back and is out indefinitely for the Wolverines. McGary has been dealing with this nagging injury since late summer and has, up until now, played through the pain. Thus far this season, McGary has not looked like the player he did in last March’s tournament (averaging 14.3 PPG and 10.7 RPG) and has fallen short of expectations this season (averaging 9.5 PPG and 8.3 RPG). Apparently, the McGary family decided collectively over the holidays that, in order for McGary to reach his full potential, his previously unaddressed injury needed immediate attention. So, they opted for the surgery. This decision affects Michigan as a team, and McGary as an individual player, in both the short- and long-term.
Mitch McGary’s decision for surgery leaves a lot of uncertainty for the Wolverines’ season expectations. (Getty Images).
For Michigan as a team, this is obviously a major setback. When healthy, McGary is probably the most talented frontcourt player in the Big Ten. Michigan, ranked #7 in the Preseason AP poll, has had four losses already and were dropped out of the Top 25 earlier this month. Despite the slow start, the Wolverines were still thought of as legitimate Big Ten contenders. The best case scenario for them would have been McGary and Glenn Robinson III eventually growing into their bigger roles (since the departure of Trey Burke). Then by March, John Beilien and his squad would have put it all together. With McGary gone, they lose their only legitimate inside scoring threat which will put more attention and pressure on the perimeter players. Beilien’s job of getting this team to gel just got significantly more difficult.
Last week was pretty bad for Michigan State. Not only were the Spartans beaten at home by North Carolina, but their best player, sophomore Gary Harris, re-aggravated a prior ankle injury. Now, sophomore big man Matt Costello is expected to miss two weeks with an undisclosed illness. Costello was only averaging 3.4 PPG and 3.9 RPG this season, but with Adreian Payne and Keith Appling also banged up, Tom Izzo could use all the bodies he can get. Lucky for them, their schedule remains devoid of any real challenge until December 21 when they will play Texas in Austin. For the next few weeks, head coach Tom Izzo needs to concentrate on getting his squad completely healthy for conference play.
Unlike the Spartans, Michigan has no such reprieve as the #1 Arizona Wildcats come to Ann Arbor on Saturday. The Wolverines have had a rough start to the season, recording three losses in eight games played already and dropping out of the Top 25. However, a win over the newly top-ranked Wildcats would certainly vault them back into the national conversation and possibly change the trajectory of their season. Thus far, sophomores Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III have not made the necessary jumps from their freshman seasons to help their team compete for a conference title and another trip to the Final Four. They’ll need to figure it out quick, otherwise Aaron Gordon and company may run them off their own court this weekend.
Most of us figured that LaQuinton Ross had put it all together last March and was due for a breakout season in Columbus this year. He’s fallen well short of those expectations so far, though, shooting only 22 percent going into last week’s games. But something clicked over the last seven days as Ross averaged 21.5 points per game on 61.5 percent shooting in the wins versus Maryland and Central Connecticut State. For his troubles, Ross was selected as the Big Ten Player of the Week. The Buckeyes have the number one defensive efficiency rating in the country as they only allow their opponents 87.3 points per 100 possessions — their offense though, remains outside the top 50. If Ross can become the offensive threat that was anticipated before the season, then there are no limits to what Thad Matta’s team can achieve this year.
Although they’re a young team, Indiana has proven itself capable of competing with just about anyone. The majority of the Hoosiers’ production comes from underclassmen Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh; Will Sheehey, however, is the lone starting senior and provides veteran leadership for the squad. He brings the intensity needed to motivate the others and has upped his own production in points and rebounds per game from last season. Despite all this, head coach Tom Crean says he needs even more out of his veteran. The Hoosiers would like to see him average more than just 10 PPG and become a more legitimate threat to drop 20+ points regularly on teams. Going into conference play, a third offensive option would help boost the Hoosiers into the top third of the Big Ten standings.
If you’ve seen Iowa play at all this season, you know that the Hawkeyes can score the ball; they’re currently ranked ninth in offensive efficiency, scoring 117.4 points per 100 possessions. A point of concern coming into the season was long-range shooting but Fran McCaffery’s team has answered the critics by making 37 percent of their long balls so far. More impressively, they’ve done it without their best long-distance shooter, Josh Oglesby, who may return from injury as early as this month, in the lineup. Iowa has been on a roll without him, getting great contributions from their returning star, Roy Devyn Marble, and their talented newcomer, Jarrod Uthoff. But if Oglesby can make the big threes in late-game situations, something the team could have used in its lone loss to Villanova, he may add an extra win or two for the Hawkeyes this season. If Iowa wants to win at least a share of the Big Ten title, an effective Oglesby can only help in that mission.
Deepak is a columnist for the Big Ten microsite of RTC. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.
With approximately three months left until the college hoops season begins, Big Ten basketball fans can take two paths to fill the void of sports in their lives over the next few weeks: They could try to convince themselves that their football team is good enough to compete with the SEC until they get hammered again during bowl season; or, they could begin to entertain the idea that the conference will finally win the national title in basketball after a 14-year hiatus. Since Michigan lost to Louisville in mid-April, most of the news around the hoops world has revolved around all the incoming freshmen – Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins or the Kentucky All-Stars, to name a few – who chose to not take their talents to Big Ten country. Regardless of that lack of incoming star power, we at the RTC Big Ten Microsite are here to get you excited the stars who are returning and ready to take on the responsibility of leading their teams to conference glory.
Over the next few weeks, we plan to evaluate a number of key Big Ten sophomores who will have an impact on their team’s performance throughout the entire season. Today we start with Michigan shooting guard Nik Stauskas.
Nik Stauskas Won’t Disappoint Next Season
Nik Stauskas’ rise to fame in Ann Arbor was quicker than expected because he came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, shooting over 50% from beyond the arc during November and December. Michigan’s “Fresh Five” may never have cemented its nickname if only Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III had led the charge offensively; as it turned out when the Wolverines steamrolled through its non-conference competition last season, it was Stauskas who added the most early value to the offense as a member of the starting rotation. If he decides to stay on campus for at least two more seasons, he could go down as one of the best sharp-shooters in Big Ten history. Beilein’s offense is built to enhance his impressive shot-making abilities, but let’s also evaluate the other parts of his game that could determine if he will hit a sophomore slump during the 2013-14 season.
What did we learn about his game from last year?
If 44% shooting from beyond the arc isn’t enough to convince you about Stauskas’ effectiveness as a shooter, this clip where he makes 45 out of 50 shotsshould seal the deal. The defensive scouting report is clear: Take the three-point shot away from him — especially in the corners — and you’ll make him earn his points the hard way. But Stauskas’ offensive game expands beyond an effective jumper; for example, he is excellent off the dribble especially in going to his left. Check out these highlights that showcase his ability to dribble off screens and use his left hand to get to the basket for easy layups and dunks. He is comfortable enough finishing around the basket with this left hand and can shift direction when his defender goes even a half step too far defending him off the screens. At the outset, he may look like just a shooter, but Stauskas has already shown that he can do more than bomb from long range in Beilein’s offense, setting himself up for high expectations after a full offseason of strength and weight training.