Big Ten Season Grades: Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on April 18th, 2014

Continuing our season-ending analysis, we look at the performances of Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois. Earlier this week, we handed out grades for Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.

Ohio State

Grade: C-

This season (25-10, 10-8): What would be a successful season for most programs was a relative disappointment for the Buckeyes. Ohio State did not capture a Big Ten regular season or tournament title for the first time since 2008-09, and similar to that season, they were also bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in their first game. The issue for the Buckeyes – which was a clear problem area in the preseason – was generating offense without Deshaun Thomas in the lineup. Thomas’ replacement, LaQuinton Ross, almost doubled his scoring average, but the Buckeyes failed to find reliable offensive firepower anywhere else. In the end, Aaron Craft and Ohio State’s excellent showing on defense wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s offensive woes.

Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don't expect it to continue next season. (Gettyl)

Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don’t expect it to continue next season. (Getty)

Next season: The Buckeyes lose Craft, Amedeo Della Valle, Ross, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. They welcome in an elite recruiting class that includes D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, and Jae’Sean Tate; and they also will get graduate transfer Anthony Lee from Temple next year. These additions along with several talented players already on their roster should have no one worrying about the state of the program going forward. This season was merely a hiccup in the Thad Matta era.

Iowa: C

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big Ten Teams

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on March 16th, 2014

Six Big Ten teams got into the NCAA Tournament; that’s not too bad. Compared to last year’s seven bids, the conference’s representation seems just OK this year. Over the next two days, debates will rage about which teams were penalized too harshly and which teams were slotted in favorable draws by the NCAA selection committee. Here are a few initial thoughts about the six Big Ten teams in this year’s NCAA field.

Gary Harris and Adreian Payne are finally healthy to lead the Spartans back to the Final Four.

Gary Harris and Adreian Payne are finally healthy to lead the Spartans back to the Final Four.

  • Tom Izzo is smiling again after winning the conference tournament. Three up and three down: the Spartans won the Big Ten Tournament convincingly to prove that when they are healthy, they are one of the best teams in the country. Their potential match-up against Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen should be an excellent game, but more importantly, a game that they can win. There is no team in their region — Iowa State and Villanova included — that has more talent than the Spartans.
  • It isn’t surprising to see Minnesota left out of the final 68. There was nothing special about the Gophers’ resume this year outside of their win over Iowa. They won the games that they were supposed t0, but never really impressed the committee with any big wins. Plus, their thumping loss (83-57) to the Badgers in the Big Ten Tournament certainly didn’t help their case. Regardless of the final outcome, Richard Pitino did a fine job leading the Gophers to 20 wins in his first campaign, especially considering that Andre Hollins was dealing with injuries for most of the conference season.

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Rushed Reactions: #12 Wisconsin 83, Minnesota 57

Posted by Walker Carey on March 14th, 2014

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

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Wisconsin Continues to Look Like a #1 Seed Candidate

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. This was a one-sided thumping. Wisconsin dominated this game from the opening tip and never looked back on its way to a 26-point victory. Minnesota never led and was thrown off its rhythm all night long by the Badgers’ suffocating defensive attack. Golden Gophers guard Andre Hollins – the team’s leading scorer at 14.4 points per game –  had a nightmarish night, as he finished with just eight points on 2-of-14 shooting. The Golden Gophers as a team only managed to shoot 32.8 percent from the field for the game and its 29 percent mark in the first half greatly contributed to Richard Pitino’s team falling behind early. Minnesota also experienced issues with its defense, as Wisconsin was allowed solid looks all night and shot 54.5 percent from the field for the game.
  2. Minnesota did not do itself any favors with the selection committee. Richard Pitino’s group was squarely on the bubble entering the game, and while a loss to a good team like Wisconsin is probably not enough to completely kill their NCAA Tournament chances, one would think a 26-point shellacking does not bode well either. An argument can certainly still be made that Minnesota belongs in the field of 68, but when the committee decides its selections, its last impression of Minnesota will be Friday night’s embarrassing defeat.
  3. Wisconsin has the look of a potential one-seed. Minnesota certainly deserves plenty of blame for its embarrassing loss, but it must be noted just how well Wisconsin played. The Badgers led the entire game and it never even appeared as though Minnesota had any chance. Wisconsin starting guards Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson went scoreless for the night, but the Badgers were able to get past that due to a career performance from fellow starter Ben Brust and a 14-point performance from reserve guard Bronson Koenig. Starting big man Frank Kaminsky also struggled a bit offensively, but reserve forward Nigel Hayes contributed 15 points and six rebounds to the winning effort. Great teams find a way to keep things going when they may not get the expected output from key players and that is exactly what Wisconsin did Friday night. There is a lot of conversation nationally right now over which team will be getting the fourth #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and on Friday night, Bo Ryan‘s Badgers definitely looked like they belong in those conversations.

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Big Ten Tournament: Minnesota Still Living on the Bubble

Posted by Walker Carey on March 13th, 2014

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

Entering the conference tournament season on the NCAA Tournament bubble is always a precarious endeavor. Teams have to make sure they don’t drop a game they shouldn’t and even that sometimes is not enough. Minnesota is among those unlucky several on the bubble this week, as the Golden Gophers are striving to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season, this year with a new head coach leading the charge. Prior to the start of Thursday’s opener against Penn State, Minnesota was among the “first four out” in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket. The Golden Gophers finished the regular season with a 19-12 overall record, but just an 8-10 record in Big Ten play. Strangely enough, Minnesota also possessed an 8-10 mark in league play last season when the school found itself on the right side of the bubble. Last season’s Golden Gophers were the first Big Ten team with a losing conference record to earn an NCAA Tournament bid since Iowa garnered one with a 7-9 league record back in 2005.

It Was a Good Day for the Pitinos

It Was a Good Day for the Pitinos

Part of Minnesota’s résumé that will be looked at positively by the committee will be its strength of schedule, as Richard Pitino’s squad has played the fifth most difficult schedule in the country. An area where the team may lose some favor with the committee is in that it suffered a few questionable setbacks. There was the home loss to 13-18 Northwestern, the triple-overtime defeat at 15-17 Purdue, and a home setback to an Illinois squad that finished the regular season with a 7-11 Big Ten record. While there are some troubling defeats on the Gophers’ résumé, there are also several impressive victories over NCAA Tournament locks Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Iowa.

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Two Questions About Illinois vs. Minnesota

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) & Jonathan Batuello on February 19th, 2014

Two teams that are heading in opposite directions will face off on Wednesday night in Minneapolis. Illinois enters the game having lost nine out of the last ten games while Minnesota is trying to keep their NCAA hopes alive. The Big Ten microsite writers – Deepak Jayanti and Jonathan Batuello – discuss two important questions about the game:

Richard Pitino's Gophers can't afford to drop the game against Illinois if they want to keep their NCAA hopes alive.

Richard Pitino’s Gophers can’t afford to lose against Illinois if they want to keep their NCAA hopes alive.

How critical is Andre Hollins continued progression in his return from the ankle injury to Minnesota?

JB: The Gophers took a major skid without him when it lost three of four games. Since coming back he has had good and bad outings. He dropped 22 on Wisconsin, but was barely noticeable against Northwestern. It needs him to be in good form to win and continue on its path from bubble to NCAA Tournament team. What he does in comparison to Rayvonte Rice in this game will be instrumental in who wins. The importance of this game for Minnesota also can’t be understated. It’s three-game stretch after Illinois is at Ohio State, Iowa, and at Michigan, so it needs this win to avoid a potentially disastrous losing streak. Get this one, win one of those three and close out the season with a win against Penn State and it is at 20 wins and likely in the NCAA Tournament. Andre Hollins playing better and getting back to potentially All-Big Ten form will decide that fate.

DJ: Do the Gophers need a healthy Hollins to win a game in the NCAA Tournament? Yes. But they don’t really need him at 100% health to make the NCAAs because the offense runs through Deandre Mathieu and Maurice Walker now. Mathieu’s ability to get into the paint off the screens is a fierce weapon that defenses have struggled to stop over the past four games, as he averaged over 14 points per game during that stretch. Hollins’ three-point shooting will help the Gophers spread the floor but he doesn’t need to carry the offensive burden like he had to during the first few months of the season. Richard Pitino’s squad will make the tourney by pressing hard on defense with their depth, attacking the basket with Mathieu and finishing strong around the hoop with their big men.

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Is Maurice Walker the Cornerstone of Minnesota’s Postseason Hopes?

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 13th, 2014

Getting consistent inside play- specifically on offense- is something that most Big Ten teams have struggled with. You could look at every single team in the league and say “well they would have more wins right now if (insert pivotman from whichever team you’d like) would have scored more or gotten more rebounds. AJ Hammons, Amir Williams, and Alex Olah are just a few that have failed to consistently make an impact down low, while pick-and-pop players that are centers in name only like Frank Kaminsky, Donovon Jack and Walter Pitchford aren’t consistently lighting up scoreboards either. This is why people need to take a look at what Maurice Walker is doing right now for Minnesota.

Maurice Walker has been a force in the post for Minnesota in their last 6 games.   (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)

Maurice Walker has been a force in the post for Minnesota in their last 6 games. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)

There wasn’t really a “coming out party” so the speak with Walker. He hasn’t busted out for a 30 point-15 rebound game or anything. But despite the bulging stat lines he’s been producing, the Purdue game could be served as a marker in the sand for people to take notice and realize that this might be what he’s capable of producing for the rest of the year. This is the game where he took Hammons on and was able to consistently score on him in the deep post. He did so in some crucial situations in a game that took 15 minutes of overtime to settle. The Gophers were looking for him and he delivered, scoring 8 of his 17 points in overtime. Early in the season, there’s no way he would have even touched the ball in critical situations like that. This wasn’t just a one-time thing however. Despite the fact that Minnesota has lost 4 of their last 6, Walker has averaged 23.2 MPG. He’s shot 58.2% from the field, contributing double-figure point production in 4 of the 6. He’s shown a confident and consistent low-post game that many of the big men I mentioned in the first paragraph struggle with. Walker has gotten the ball in the deep post and displayed the ability to either go with a jump hook, or with quality footwork to maneuver his way to a layup.

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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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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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Three Thoughts on Michigan’s Road Win at Minnesota

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 3rd, 2014

About one year ago, an undefeated Michigan squad went to Minneapolis to face a Gophers team that was also ranked in the top-15 of the national polls. Both teams were highly touted before the match-up, and ultimately Trey Burke’s team muscled its way to an 83-75 win. One year later, the game was equally important, but for different reasons. John Beilein’s team needed to prove that it could survive a tough Big Ten road trip without Mitch McGary available, and Richard Pitino’s Gophers needed to prove that its 11-2 non-conference record was not just a result of a soft schedule. Even though the game last night was not nationally important, it was instrumental for each team to tip off the conference season with a strong start. Each team played like it mattered, so the following are three thoughts from a sneaky good game which resulted in a 63-60 Michigan victory.

John Beilein's Wolverines pulled out a tough win no the road against Minnesota.

John Beilein’s Wolverines pulled out a tough win no the road against Minnesota.

  1. McGary’s absence was felt on the defensive glass. The Michigan front line of Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford was outrebounded by 10 on the offensive glass. The Gophers were all over the boards on the weak side because Horford consistently lost his man off the pick-and-roll, leading to several easy layups by Elliott Eliason. Horford and Morgan regularly pounced on the penetrating guards, leaving their men completely open either for rebounds or easy dropoff passes. Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu racked up seven assists, most of them to the big men in the paint in those situations. With McGary on the shelf, it’ll take some time for Horford to get used to these defensive sets and become more comfortable with how to communicate during the pick-and-roll. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 12.19.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 19th, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. We weren’t the only folks who thought Memphis‘ effort Tuesday night was commendable. The Tigers played very well in a one-possession loss to almost-full-strength Florida and came back from multiple large deficits to make a game of it. Rob Dauster is right; this loss shouldn’t feed in to the “Memphis can’t win the big game” narrative because the Tigers are much better and tougher and experienced than they have been in the past. Their recruiting class outside of Austin Nichols has done little this season, but that hasn’t been a big deal because all of Memphis’ veterans are playing so well. Joe Jackson was terrific and he has outplayed expectations slightly this year as the leader of Josh Pastner’s band. The Tigers showed a lot of moxie in fighting back against one of the most athletic teams in the country and they proved they are a legitimate Top 25 team along the way.
  2. UConn was anxious to get back to work last night against Stanford after 12 days off and maybe the extended break wasn’t a good thing as the Huskies couldn’t shoot the ball at all in the second half as the Cardinal held on late for a two-point win. UConn’s high-wire act was bound to bite them at some point and Stanford is a good team, but it was still disappointing considering the Huskies led by as much as 13 in the game. Shabazz Napier had his worst game of the season offensively and neither Omar Calhoun nor Ryan Boatright picked up any of the slack. The Huskies need to shoot well to win and that unpredictability is why many still don’t consider them a true national title contender despite the fact that they have still only one loss. You’ve got to give uneasy credit to whomever put together UConn’s schedule this season, because things don’t get any easier when the Huskies cross the country this weekend to play at Washington.
  3. I agree and disagree with what Kevin Ware had to say about the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry being “old and boring.” The larger point he is making is true. The rivalry is about the fans more than anything else, and the media obviously overhypes it. The fringe of both fan bases is the closest thing to SEC football lunacy in college basketball and I’m not sure there have been more “that’s sounds like it could be true” rumors that have passed through the ether of the message boards. I am not complaining, it’s a fantastic rivalry to write about and watch, but I’m not buying Ware’s “most players aren’t from here” remarks. The players may hail from the Southwest or the Northeast but I just can’t believe that this game doesn’t mean more to them than any other non-conference game, and nearly all conference games as well. I will buy that players don’t hate each other as individuals, but they are competitors and they will be more hyped to play the Wildcats than they were to play Missouri State, even if they couch their quotes in feigned indifference.
  4. When Richard Pitino took the job at Minnesota, you just knew that father and son were going to find a way to play each other. Well now it’s happened sooner than most expected as the two teams will open next season on a military base in Puerto Rico and the Pitino family television pieces are already writing themselves. The two have played each other before when Louisville thumped Florida International last season, but the younger Pitino should have considerably more talent at his disposal in Minneapolis next season. Yeah, it is a little bit cheesy and the novelty will wear off eventually, but I am all for a little father-son rivalry, so maybe I will be secretly pulling for the Golden Gophers.
  5. Cincinnati’s offense this season can be best summed up by coach Mick Cronin explaining that he thought it was better in the team’s 44-43 win Tuesday over Pittsburgh because they rebounded more of their missed shots. Offensive rebounds are nice and all, but the Bearcats aren’t going to win a lot of games by fiercely grabbing offensive rebounds only to be followed by another missed jump shot. They aren’t exactly an offensive machine, but Cronin also hinted that some of his inexperienced players like Jermaine Sanders and Shaquille Thomas need to become more confident shooters. Of course it would also be nice if senior leader Justin Jackson played with some consistency too.
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Morning Five: 12.19.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 19th, 2013

morning5

  1. Late on Tuesday night a video of Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson ranting went viral. By now, most of you have seen it. If you haven’t, we posted the clip on our Tumblr account. Outside of the amusing aspect of seeing Hinson rant, the one thing that caught our attention was the universal applause that Hinson has received. When we say universal we mean we have not seen a single media member criticize Hinson for his comments. We are not contrarian enough to go against that tide, but we do find it curious how coaches are able to go to the media and criticize the effort of a player (or group of players). However, when those same players exceed expectations the coach is praised for getting the best out of those players. If being able to motivate your players is a trait that generates applause, then failing to do so should also lead to an equal degree of criticism. Now, this is hardly the first time that a coach has gone off on his players (Pat Knight at Lamar comes to mind) so the long-term narrative around Hinson’s rant will probably be determined by how his players react to it.
  2. North Carolina has been one of the most confusing teams in the country so far this season. They have without question the three best wins in the country so far knocking off preseason #1-2-3 (Michigan State-Kentucky-Louisville), but also have a pair of home losses coming against Belmont and UAB. The most common excuse for the Tar Heels has been that they have had to adjust to playing without P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald. Yesterday one of those problems was solved when the NCAA cleared McDonald to play. That announcement by itself is interesting on some level, but the most interesting aspect of the release was that UNC only submitted their request on December 11 and it is the only request from the school meaning that the school has not even approached the NCAA about a ruling on Hairston. Late last night the school said it hoped to have the Hairston issue resolved by the end of the week, but based on what we have heard we would not expect Hairston to return this season. It is also worth pointing out how long it took UNC to submit since many individuals–fans, media, and coaches–have been critical of how long the NCAA took to reach a decision when in fact it was UNC that took a long time.
  3. We saw it coming as soon as Alex Murphy announced that he was transferring from Duke and yesterday Murphy confirmed that he would be transferring to Florida. Murphy, who entered Duke a year early at the behest of Mike Krzyzewski, never became a regular in the Blue Devil rotation and although the Gators aren’t that far behind Blue Devils in terms of talent the change of venue and system might give Murphy a better chance to play. One of the more interesting aspects of Murphy’s transfer is that he was essentially pushed by the Duke coaching staff to leave high school a year early to help bolster the team’s depth, but it may have hurt his development as a player.
  4. While many of the early season made-for-TV events have fallen apart as the gimmicks that they are one event that appears to have staying power is the Armed Forces Classic, which is played at US military bases across the country. Yesterday, ESPN announced some of its schedule for the games for the next three years. The 2014 game will be played in Puerto Rico and will feature a father-son match-up when Rick Pitino (Louisville) will face-off against Richard Pitino (Minnesota). The 2015 event is completely up in the air both in terms of location and teams, but the 2016 event promises to be a particularly special one as it will be held in Pearl Harbor less than a month away from the 75th anniversary of the attack that propelled the US into World War II.
  5. It might be a little late for Christmas this year, but if you have at least $100,000 lying around and a Duke fan that you want to impress then Christian Laettner‘s jersey from the 1992 East Regional Final against Kentucky might be the perfect gift. According to Leland.com, they are auctioning off Laettner’s jersey from that game, which they claim to have authenticated through a variety of methods. The owner of the jersey reportedly had a relationship with Laettner and was given the jersey at the end of the 1991-92 season. Laettner has not commented on the auction yet, but given the reputation of the auction house we won’t question its authenticity. We will be interested to see just how high the final sale price will be as we can imagine there are plenty of Duke graduates who would love to hang that somewhere in their office.
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Big Ten M5: 12.12.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 12th, 2013

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  1. It’s been a question all year when discussing Ohio State. Everyone knows how strong the Buckeyes’ defense is, but are they be able to score enough points on the other end to become a Final Four team? Replacing DeShaun Thomas was a huge question mark coming into the year, but through the first quarter of the season, at least, LaQuinton Ross has matched his production. Last night Ross scored only nine points in the team’s 86-48 win over Bryant, but as Ross’ recent production has been on an uptick lately, so too has his team’s scoring capability and potential ceiling. If he has in fact turned a corner and is rapidly becoming the team’s offensive leader, then Thad Matta’s team is well on its way to becoming a legitimate Final Four contender.
  2. Indiana cruised in its most recent win against Oakland, but a potential key player off the bench is starting to emerge. Freshman Luke Fischer has finally healed from a torn labrum in his left shoulder and is no longer wearing a brace. Thanks to being healthy over the past two games, Fischer has notched season highs in minutes and scored 12 points, nearly half of his season total of 25. Granted, these games were blowout wins for the Hoosiers against inferior competition, but Fischer came into this season with a lot of unrealized potential. Some thought Fischer could start at the five for Indiana next to Noah Vonleh, and he is just now starting to show why in the past two games. If he emerges and gives Indiana another strong piece inside he could help alleviate some pressure on Vonleh and give the Hoosiers some quality post minutes off the bench.
  3. It’s impossible to really know at such an early point, but with the good start Minnesota has enjoyed and if Richard Pitino quickly builds the Golden Gophers program up in the next two or three years, would he be likely to stay in Minneapolis or leave for a more traditional, high-powered program? According to his father and Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, “he could die at this program.” The elder Pitino was in town this week to watch his son’s team win on Tuesday night and gave some interesting insights into his son’s career choice. The father had urged him to stay on board as an assistant at Louisville and follow him there as the next head coach in several years, but the son wanted to blaze his own trail. That has to be a good sign for Minnesota fans because if young Pitino is successful he could potentially stay at the school and become a long-term fixture that leads the program routinely to the top of the Big Ten.
  4. Maybe it’s time to start thinking of Penn State as more than a cellar-dweller or a team that could pull off an upset or two in Big Ten play. After a loss to a mediocre Bucknell team in its second game of the season, the Nittany Lions have now won six of eight and pushed their record to 8-3 following last night’s 68-59 win over Duquesne in a neutral site game. This opponent was another middling team, but Penn State’s only other losses were to a very talented Pittsburgh team and a three-point loss to a solid Ole Miss squad. Last night’s win was just another that exhibits that this team could challenge for a top-half finish in the B1G. Most impressively may be Penn State giving up 24 free throws to the Dukes yet still winning the game. It’s also good that Tim Frazier only scored 11 points but had 13 assists, giving credence to the notion that role players are stepping up around the Nittany Lions’ talented backcourt duo. If Penn State wins its next game against 7-1 Princeton, everyone will have to start putting this team on its dark horse radar.
  5. Another game, another high-scorer for Wisconsin. The Badgers have proven to be a very well-balanced and talented squad this season, as Ben Brust led the team in its 78-52 win over UW-Milwaukee last night. Every time out it seems like someone different is taking control of the team, with Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky, Traevon Jackson or Josh Gasser trading positions. Brust is just another dimension to the effectiveness of the Badgers as it has gotten off to its best start at 11-0 since 1993-94. This team has shown it can do just about anything in Bo Ryan’s motion offense, with every player versatile enough to hit shots outside or play inside. With five strong scorers in its starting lineup, this could be the year Wisconsin goes from a consistently good team to a Final Four contender. It also helps that it has shown it can play different styles this season, already notching wins in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and more than 100 points. That’s quite the spectrum of game styles to win them all.
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