Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 3rd, 2015

In a league defined by chaos this season, last weekend was fairly uneventful and arguably almost normal. There were no upsets, although there were a couple close calls as an undermanned Illinois squad had to sweat it out against Penn State at home, while Rutgers hung with Indiana thanks to the heroics of Myles Mack. Michigan State needed overtime to knock off a gritty Michigan team that once again was without the services of point guard Derrick Walton Jr. Meanwhile, Minnesota avenged an earlier loss to Nebraska by forcing an obscene 20 turnovers and holding the Cornhuskers to just 42 points. It would be obscene not to read the rest of this, so here’s the best and worst of weekend number five in the B1G.

Maurice Walker was unstoppable in the post in Minnesota's 60-42 victory over Nebraska on Saturday. (Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press)

Maurice Walker was unstoppable in the post in Minnesota’s 60-42 victory over Nebraska on Saturday. (Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press)

  • Player of the Weekend: Maurice Walker essentially stole Walter Pitchford’s lunch money, gave him a swirly, and then forged a note making fun of the teacher to get him in trouble. Cheesy elementary school metaphors aside, Walker was dominant on the low blocks for Minnesota, scoring at will on his way to a 19-point effort on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. The rest of the Gophers’ offense was nonexistent for most of the contest, so give the guards credit for pounding the ball inside to him. The fifth-year senior also added eight rebounds, two blocks and three steals. Minnesota is great at taking the ball away ( 14.8% steal rate, third nationally), but Walker is actually fourth in the Big Ten with a steal rate of 3.99 percent. He has really quick hands and does a nice job poking the ball away from post players without fouling. He had three first-half steals in this game as Nebraska coughed the ball up a total of 14 times before halftime.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Tom Crean wasn’t happy with the way Indiana had been playing, so he shook things up a bit on Saturday against Rutgers. The change meant that Troy Williams -- despite the fact that he’s had a really good season with some outstanding performances — came off of the bench. He had some silly turnovers but the sophomore also contributed a double-double in the form of 14 points and 10 rebounds. He scored on his usual array of drives and dunks, but one thing slightly unique about this performance was that he was led the break after grabbing a defensive rebound. This led to a faster break out in transition, and it also gave the Hoosiers an ability to have Yogi Ferrell spot up on the perimeter with the rest of the shooters. Don’t expect Williams to become a point forward  at Indiana anytime soon, but this was a neat look that takes advantage of Williams’ outstanding ability in the open court while giving Ferrell more looks.

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Big Ten M5: 01.07.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 7th, 2015

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  1. Nebraska has gotten off to a sloppy start in conference play after dropping another game to Iowa on Monday night. A big part of the Cornhuskers’ problem is a lack of depth, as they currently play (mostly) seven players. Next season might be a different story, however, as Tim Miles’ squad recently received its fourth commitment from the Class of 2015 in Australian shooting guard Jack McVeigh. With recruits like Glynn Watson and Edward Morrow coming into the program from Chicago, and Kansas transfer Andrew White eligible after sitting out this season, depth will not be an issue with Nebraska next season. As for this year’s team, it might still be a bit premature to declare this a lost season in Lincoln, but at 8-6 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten, it’s getting rather close to that point.
  2. Maryland was considered questionable to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid before the season began, but after a 14-1 start including two wins in conference play, the Terps are now listed as no less than a #5 seed in various bracketologies on different sites. Dave Tucker of Testudo Times maintains that there’s still a long way to go before the Terps have proved anything yet, but pointed out that things have shifted quite a bit to where Maryland fans are complaining about mock seedings as opposed to worrying about an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Illinois has had a rough 24 hours given the recent news that Rayvonte Rice has been lost to a broken hand for up to six weeks. The show must go on, however, and the Illini won’t exactly start out with an easy grace period having to play Maryland in Champaign Wednesday night. Someone needs to replace Rice’s 17.2 PPG and 48 percent shooting from three, and the most likely candidates are Kendrick Nunn and Aaron Cosby, both of whom need to take advantage of the available shots with Rice out of the lineup. If they can’t hold down the fort beginning with this game against the rising Terps, things look bleak for the Illini going forward.
  4. Sam Dekker is back, and Wisconsin is reaping the benefits of his return. Dekker didn’t miss any games despite an ankle injury in the preseason, but he’s back in the sense that he’s returned to being the offensive weapon that many expected him to become. In his last six games, the junior forward has made 11-of-22 of his three-point attempts, bringing his overall field goal percentage for the season up to a sterling 54.2 percent. That balky ankle is finally healed, which has allowed him to get better lift and feel more comfortable in shooting the ball. Wisconsin can reasonably make a claim to having the best frontcourt in all of college basketball, and that case is bolstered when Dekker plays like he has been.
  5. Even after starting Big Ten play with a 2-0 record, Purdue head coach Matt Painter is still figuring things out with his rotation. Bryson Scott is perhaps the clearest example of this idea, after he went from starting against Minnesota to not playing at all against Michigan. The sophomore point guard has struggled to find consistency, but teammates like Raphael Davis and AJ Hammons still believe in him. He is a solid perimeter defender who has a knack for getting into the lane off the dribble, but Jon Octeus brings senior leadership and athleticism that Painter trusts in key situations. With a deep roster and two other point guards on hand, minutes aren’t always going to be readily available for the growing player.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 5th, 2015

The opening weekend of Big Ten play resulted in three teams remaining undefeated in conference action, with the trio of Maryland, Purdue and Wisconsin sitting atop the standings. Indiana and Iowa are both 1-0, with games to come tonight to see if they can also keep their unblemished records. Conversely, Illinois, Minnesota, and Penn State are all off to shaky 0-2 starts. Even Rutgers notched its first-ever Big Ten win when it held on to beat a cold-shooting Penn State unit on Saturday night. Here’s the rest of the weekend lowdown from an interesting opening slate of games in the wildly unpredictable Big Ten.

AJ Hammons notched a double-double in Purdue's home court win over Michigan on Saturday. (Purdue Exponent)

AJ Hammons notched a double-double in Purdue’s home win over Michigan on Saturday. (Purdue Exponent)

  • Player of the Weekend: Purdue’s AJ Hammons would have definitely been in the mix for Sixth Man of the Year when I listed my non-conference Big Ten superlatives a week ago, but he’s started more games than he’s come off the bench so he didn’t make the cut. On Saturday afternoon against Michigan, however, the junior center was a substitute for the seventh game in a row and it seems as if he’s getting the hang of it. With Isaac Haas in foul trouble, he played a season-high 31 minutes en route to his second double-double of the year. Aside from the fact that he led or tied for the team-high in rebounds, steals and blocks, one noticeable takeaway from the game was the fact that he seems to have really embraced his new role. He appeared more engaged in terms of talking to his teammates, showing emotion when making a play, and genuinely caring about his team and winning, than probably at any time during his first two seasons at Purdue. He won this weekend’s award because of his statistics, but if he can team with Raphael Davis to give this extremely young team some necessary veteran leadership, Purdue could easily turn things around and make a run at a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

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Big Ten M5: Christmas Eve Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 24th, 2014

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  1. Things have changed remarkably for the Big Ten in just the span of two weeks. It all started on December 6 when Michigan lost at home to NJIT and Purdue lost to North Florida in West Lafayette. Now, the league has lost a bunch of games to teams ranked below #150 on KenPom’s efficiency ratings, and it is losing much of its credibility in the process. Nebraska’s loss on Monday night to Hawaii was just the latest in a string of embarrassing defeats the league has suffered. The question that these teams will face is whether losses to the likes of Texas Southern and the rest could do so much damage to their resumes that a typical Big Ten 10-8 or 9-9 record becomes dicey on Selection Sunday (when in years past it was virtually a lock).
  2. It’s not often that an opposing coach becomes critical of a team that has just defeated his own team. But that’s just what North Florida head coach Matthew Driscoll did when asked about Iowa after it beat his squad on Saturday. Driscoll referred to a confidence problem with the Hawkeyes that Fran McCaffery echoed when he was asked about Driscoll’s remarks. “I guarantee he’s watched every one of our games, probably twice. So he is qualified to make those remarks. But, I mean, so are you. You’ve seen it.” This team is obviously missing Roy Devyn Marble in more ways than just his scoring ability this season.
  3. In happier Big Ten-related news, Wisconsin moved to 11-1 on the season by notching a solid and methodical road win at California on Monday night. Frank Kaminsky contributed another solid effort with 14 points and eight rebounds, and he kept his spot in second place in CollegeBasketballTalk’s Player of the Year rankings. One thing pointed out that could hurt Kaminsky when gunning for this season’s postseason honors is the fact that there will be times when the relative effectiveness of Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker might limit his touches. The senior has done a great job, however, in doing more than just scoring this season, as he leads the team in steals and blocks and is second in assists.
  4. Tom Crean and Mark Turgeon have both been discussed as Big Ten coaches with tenuous holds on their jobs. But with both Indiana and Maryland getting off to better-than-expected starts in the 2014-15 campaign, their jobs appear to be safer. With many of the league powers showing signs of trouble, the Terps (11-1) and Hoosiers (10-2) are in reasonable positions to make the NCAA Tournament this season. On the other hand, one conference coach who could be in trouble if things don’t turn around soon is Purdue’s Matt Painter. After playing reasonably well at the Maui Invitational, the Boilermakers have since slipped tremendously. They now sit at 8-5 with an RPI of #154. Barring a significant turnaround, Painter could very well find himself in trouble at season’s end.
  5. Turnovers doomed Nebraska in its loss to Hawaii Tuesday morning in its first game at the Diamond Head Classic. Hawaii forced the Cornhuskers into 18 miscues, which, combined with a 7-of-23 shooting night from stars Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields, was simply too much to overcome. Now the team sits at 7-4 after last night’s overtime win against Loyola Marymount, but it lost a golden opportunity for a marquee neutral site win by missing on a battle with Wichita State. Nebraska will play Ohio to finish its trip to the Islands on Thursday, and then starts Big Ten play on December 31 against Indiana at home.
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How Wisconsin Can Use Sam Dekker Better Offensively

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

Even though Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker grew to 6’9″ during the summer and brought two full years of experience into his junior season, there remained concerns about his assertiveness during big games. He is extremely talented with a quick trigger and excellent form on his jumper, but Dekker seems to consistently struggle against superior competition and has a tendency to go through long stretches of the game when you wonder if he is even on the court. Last night’s loss to Duke was no different: In 24 minutes of action, Dekker shot only 2-of-5 from the field and scored five points. More concerning than his low scoring output was his sheer number of shot attempts — how could a player with so much talent take only five shots? While it is easy to blame him for laziness in hanging around the three-point line on the offensive end, it may be worth discussing if Wisconsin’s offense instead needs to better structured around him. A closer examination of last night’s game hints how his specific skill set within the offensive scheme is being ineffectively used.

Bo Ryan needs to find more ways to keep Sam Dekker engaged in the half-court offense (Jim Polzin, Wisconsin State Journal)

Bo Ryan needs to find more ways to keep Sam Dekker engaged in the half-court offense (Jim Polzin, Wisconsin State Journal)

The heralded Badgers offense that averaged upwards of 1.1 points per possession last season is packed with scoring talent. Frank Kaminsky is as good as advertised (17 points) and Bo Ryan makes a conscious effort to give the big guy the ball for many of the team’s possessions. Senior guard Traevon Jackson has consistently proven that he can control the offense in the half-court and is not afraid to take a big shot during crunch time (25 points). Ryan called isolation plays for Kaminsky in the low post during the second half, and when double-teamed, he kicked the ball out for Jackson to penetrate the lane. This two-man combination worked well for much of the game, but it stifled the offense over the last six minutes when Duke finished off the Badgers. It is easy to blame Dekker for not actively wanting the ball, but every time he had it, he had no choice but to dump it back into the low post or swing it from one side to the other. Expecting him to take the ball into a one-on-one situation at the top of the key is unfair and could also disturb the overall offensive rhythm. Keeping this in mind, Ryan should consider supplementing his offense by running specific plays for Dekker in the half-court.

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Tonight’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge Main Event: Previewing Duke at Wisconsin

Posted by Alex Moscoso and Brad Jenkins on December 3rd, 2014

As the ACC and the Big Ten teams get together on the hardwood this week, ACC and Big Ten microsites writers Alex Moscoso and Brad Jenkins have teamed up to break down the match-up between Wisconsin and Duke, the main event on the final night of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Frontcourt

Alex Moscoso: Duke has a special player in center Jahlil Okafor, the likely #1 overall pick in next year’s NBA Draft. But as far as the best frontcourt in basketball, I submit there’s no unit with a better combination of talent and experience than the Badgers’ group of Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker. All three will play in the Association and are familiar with one another’s tendencies from a full year together on the floor. For the season, they’re combining to average 42.9 PPG (57.5 percent of the team’s output) and 20.6 RPG. While Kaminsky and Dekker are likely to be Naismith finalists, Hayes has also garnered widespread acclaim for his improved play as a sophomore – specifically, his newfound ability to hit the deep ball on occasion (35.7%) and better defensive play in the post. His transformation from talented prospect to contributing factor has made this frontcourt almost invulnerable. The trio will certainly have its hands full with the athletic duo of Okafor and Justise Winslow, but the Wisconsin big men should wear these young Blue Devils out by hitting some threes and forcing them to guard the entire half-court – from the rim out to the three-point line.

Frank Kaminsky (yes, it's true) exploded for 43 points on Tuesday. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky  and the Badgers “are coming” for Duke on Wednesday night, in what is one of the best non-conference games this season. (Getty)

Brad Jenkins: To say this is a match-up of Duke’s young talent versus Wisconsin’s veteran frontcourt is an oversimplification. The Badgers’ big guys are not only experienced but they are extremely skilled and more athletic than most realize. Duke’s two freshman starters up front, Okafor and Winslow, are both considered one-and-doners, and they play the game with a physical and mental maturity rarely seen in college rookies. On the one hand, Okafor has good footwork around the basket that should force Wisconsin into more double-teaming than normal. On the other hand, Winslow is a bit of a wild card in this game, as the Badgers don’t have a player who can match his combination of size and athleticism on the wing. The veteran Dekker, a tall forward with decent lateral quickness, will probably get the assignment, but he has been nursing a nagging ankle injury and may not be at 100 percent. Look for Winslow to aggressively attack the Badgers off the dribble as a way to create offense when the Blue Devils are otherwise stymied. Wisconsin normally protects the defensive glass as well as any team in the country, but watch out for Amile Jefferson on the weak side if Okafor demands major attention. So far this season, the 6’9” junior ranks third nationally with a 21.9 percent offensive rebounding rate. Read the rest of this entry »

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Introducing the RTC All-Big Ten First Team

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 14th, 2014

As I write this, the first regular season games are about to get underway, so it’s time to unleash our All-Big Ten first team to the masses. We’ve already released our third team and second team selections, along with our other various award winners this week. So now here’s the best five players in the league as voted by our five-man writing staff.

RTC All-Big Ten First Team

Branden Dawson, senior, Michigan State 6’6″, 225 lbs. (11.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 61.3 % FG). Dawson is now one of the top offensive options for the Spartans after largely playing a secondary role in his previous three seasons in East Lansing. After a breakout NCAA Tournament where he averaged 16 points and nine boards, it’s reasonable to believe that the Gary, Indiana native will produce more games like that as he steps into a much larger role. He has elite athleticism and the tools to be a force on the defensive end, and finishing in transition. If he can develop any consistency shooting the ball away from the basket, he could play himself into the lottery.

Branden Dawson (left) could be dominant for Michigan State in his final season in East Lansing. (Al Goldis/AP)

Branden Dawson (left) could be dominant for Michigan State in his final season in East Lansing. (Al Goldis/AP)

Terran Petteway, junior, Nebraska 6’6″, 215 lbs. (18.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 0.8 BPG). The rise of Petteway’s status as one of the best players in the Big Ten coincided with Nebraska becoming an NCAA Tournament team. The Texas Tech transfer was an unknown commodity for the most part until putting up 30 points against UMass. He then continued to pretty much score at will all season. He’s equally adept at taking the ball to the rim and oftentimes getting to the free throw line, or hitting shots from deep. Questionable decision-making and shot selection issues are about the only negatives to his game, but with the emerging talent around him, he should cut down the mistakes. This will lead to gaudy numbers, but better efficiency as the Cornhuskers look to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.

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Big Ten M5: Opening Night Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on November 14th, 2014

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  1. Jarrod Uthoff is set to make his first start as a Hawkeye on Friday night as Iowa begins life after Devyn Marble. Most of the media has tabbed Aaron White to succeed Marble as “the man” in Iowa City, but Uthoff has some serious potential as a top contributor as well. He admitted that insecurity regarding his role on the team led to some of last year’s struggles, but said that he’s playing with more confidence now. Head coach Fran McCaffery wants Uthoff to think less and shoot more, a theme that seems to follow many of Iowa’s forwards. If a recent exhibition against Northwood was any indication of how Uthoff will fare this season (15 points and seven boards in just 17 minutes), Hawkeyes fans should be extremely excited about this team’s potential.
  2. There’s plenty of early fanfare surrounding Melo Trimble‘s first season at Maryland, and head coach Mark Turgeon said he thinks Trimble is feeling but handling the pressure. With senior Dez Wells and junior Jake Layman as two of the team’s more experienced leaders, Trimble feels comfortable in a situation that would make almost any freshman’s knees shake – starting at the point guard position on opening night. The Terrapins aren’t exactly facing an elite college basketball power tonight in Wagner, but the Seahawks were fairly competitive with Penn State and St. John’s last year. Maryland’s first real test will come against Arizona State on November 24.
  3. Minnesota’s Joey King will have his hands full tonight as he’s been tasked with the unenviable job of guarding Louisville’s behemoth power forward, Montrezl Harrell. King, who added 15 pounds to his frame this summer, will guard Harrell, but stopping him will be a complete team effort, according to head coach Richard Pitino. The Gophers’ other options include Mo Walker, who was the expected starting center before a hamstring injury sidelined him, and Elliot Eliason. Harrell’s likely going to get a handful of points, but limiting his rebounds is what may prove more difficult for the Gophers.
  4. Kendrick Nunn has been cleared for action in Illinois’ opener tonight versus Georgia Southern after he received a plasma injection to relieve tendinitis in his right knee. Head coach John Groce said the training staff would be extra attentive to Nunn’s knee early on, especially as the Illini play six games in the first 15 days of the season. But Illinois has no legitimate reason to rush Nunn back into the lineup for the first four games of the season. Its priority should instead be to get Nunn rested for a November 28 match-up versus either Baylor or Memphis and beyond. The Illini will then face Miami, Oregon, Villanova and Missouri in December, and with the loss of Tracy Abrams to injury and their relatively unproven body of guards, Nunn can make a big difference in the team’s non-conference success.
  5. Sam Dekker tweaked an ankle in October, leading him to miss Wisconsin’s open-scrimmage and exhibition game versus Wisconsin-Parkside. Dekker downplayed the injury, saying that his ankle “feels good” and “nothing else really needs to be said about that.” The Badgers will be without Duje Dukan after the NCAA required that he miss the first two games of the season, but Dekker is expected to be in the lineup tonight against Northern Kentucky. Besides the absence of Dukan, Wisconsin will look much like last season’s Final Four squad, as their only loss from that team is Ben Brust.
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Sam Dekker: RTC Big Ten’s Preseason Player of the Year

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 13th, 2014

Many of you who read this site probably held basketball playing dreams of your own. You played ball in the driveway until mom called you in for supper, trying to hit 10 more free throws before giving up on daylight and heading in for dinner. As your dreams of basketball glory likely petered out at the end of your junior high or high school career, you made the argument in your head, saying to yourself: “What if I just had been a few inches taller.” Sam Dekker ended his sophomore season in college at the height of 6’7″. He was already a probable future NBA player given his size and skill set for the wing position — and then he was gifted two additional inches of height over the summer. How is that fair? Already one of the best players in the Big Ten, Dekker looks poised for an even better junior season on a loaded Wisconsin squad, making him our preseason pick for B1G Player of the Year.

Sam Dekker will surpass teammate Frank Kaminsky as the Big Ten's best player this season. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker will surpass teammate Frank Kaminsky as the Big Ten’s best player this season. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Dekker is the kind of player who does a number of things well; he can fill up the box score in a many different ways. After playing 22..3 MPG as a freshman and averaging 9.6 PPG on 39.1 percent shooting from three, many expected a bigger statistical jump in his sophomore campaign. Her performed well, leading or tying for the team-high in scoring eight times, rebounding 15 times, and steals 11 times.. And although his scoring average only rose to 12.4 PPG, Bo Ryan’s offense didn’t require much more than that. The Badgers used its balanced offensive attack to go 30-8 and make a run to the Final Four, so clearly it was working. Four Badgers took an average of more than seven shots from the field per game, with no player averaging more than 10. Dekker used the fourth-most number of possessions (22.3 %) on the team, and ranked 23rd in the whole conference. He would like to see improvement in shooting the ball better from both the foul line (69%) and behind the arc (33%), but a couple extra inches of height will allow him to do more in the paint. From a team perspective, more interior play from Dekker means that Kaminsky can leak out to the perimeter more often, where the All-American center shoots 38 percent from distance. Dekker converted a healthy 55 percent of his two-point attempts last season, so it is likely more efficient for the Badgers for him to take fewer threes anyway.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 13th, 2014

With the season tipping off on Friday night, there’s no better time to roll out our preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week or so, and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

FirstTeam

  • Marcus Paige, North Carolina – Paige enters his junior season at North Carolina following a sophomore campaign when the guard take his game to new heights. After a fairly productive freshman season (8.2 PPG), the 6’1″ point guard took home the ACC’s Most Improved Player Award by upping that average to 17.5 PPG as he led the Tar Heels to the NCAA Tournament. Paige’s season was good enough for him to be the first North Carolina point guard to be named first-team All-ACC as a sophomore since Tar Heels’ legend Phil Ford in 1976. Expectations are high in Chapel Hill again this season, and with Paige running the show, it is easy to understand why. Factoid: In an informal poll of college coaches taken by CBSSports.com in August, Paige was named as one of the players the pollsters would most like to have on their team this season. Once coach said of the Tar Heel, “he really doesn’t get enough credit for what he did for North Carolina last season. Won’t surprise me if he’s National Player of the Year.”
  • Juwan Staten, West Virginia – Not many guards can fill up the stat sheet like Staten. The highly productive senior returns for the Mountaineers following a season when he become the first player in West Virginia history to score 500 points (598), grab 150 rebounds (186), and dish out 150 assists (193) in a season. With the offseason transfers of Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, Staten will almost definitely see those numbers rise during his final collegiate season in Morgantown. After a two-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament, Staten appears primed to lead what one expert is calling an underrated Mountaineers squad back to the Big Dance. Factoid: Following Staten’s first season at West Virginia, Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins gave his guard the assignment of watching tape from two of the great point guards Huggins coached at Cincinnati – Nick Van Exel and Steve Logan.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville – It was a bit of a surprise in April when Harrell announced that he would return to Louisville for his junior season rather than enter the NBA Draft. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino is undoubtedly pleased with his big man’s decision, as Louisville is set to begin its first season in the arduous ACC. With Russ Smith and Luke Hancock gone, Harrell seems to be the best bet to pick up the slack in Pitino’s up-tempo offense. The junior forward has reportedly added what he and his coach call a more consistent 14-to-16 foot jump shot to his offensive repertoire. While that development unquestionably has Louisville fans giddy, it should worry the Cards’ new conference foes. Factoid: Harrell originally committed to Virginia Tech out of high school, but he reopened his recruitment following Seth Greenberg’s abrupt dismissal. A few weeks later, Harrell signed with Louisville and the rest, as they say, is history.
  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke – The Chicago prep superstar-to-Duke pipeline continues as Okafor is set to begin his freshman season in Durham. The consensus number one high school player in the Class of 2014 enters his college career with a tremendous amount of hype. He has been described as “one of the most skilled and poised back to the basket centers to come along in some time.” Duke brought in a star-studded recruiting class to help offset the early departures of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, and there is no question that Okafor is the jewel of that class. If the big man turns in the type of season that many expect from him, there is no telling what the ceiling for the Blue Devils could be. Factoid: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has already acknowledged that he expects Okafor to be a one-and-done: “We won’t have him long. We’ll have him this year and then he’ll be one of the top NBA picks.”
  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin – Kaminsky entered the 2013-14 season as a relative unknown after averaging just 4.2 points in 10.3 minutes per game as a sophomore. He did not remain an unknown for long, though, as the junior emerged as one of the top big men in the Big Ten, taking home consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors. While his regular season was outstanding, what really turned Kaminsky into a household name was his 28-point, 11 rebound effort against Arizona to send Wisconsin to the Final Four. The Badgers return four starters from that Final Four squad, but none are more important than the seven-foot senior. Factoid: Kaminsky was lightly-recruited coming out of Benet Academy in Lisle, Illinois. In fact, he was a Plan B for the Badgers after one of their top frontcourt targets, Nnanna Egwu, committed to Illinois.

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Bo Ryan: RTC Big Ten’s Preseason Coach of the Year

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 12th, 2014

The only Big Ten team to reach last season’s Final Four has essentially the same team coming back this year. Wisconsin has potential All-Americans in senior Frank Kaminsky and junior Sam Dekker. They have two reliable seniors at the guard spots, one of whom (Josh Gasser) is in his fifth collegiate season and is one of the perimeter defenders in the country, the other of whom (Traevon Jackson) is a former bench player who has shined since given a chance to run the show. They also have two rising sophomores (Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig) who gained valuable experience during the run to Arlington last season. In addition to all that talent returning, Wisconsin still has its leader and basketball savant, Bo Ryan, leading the way. The veteran coach arguably has the most talent he’s ever had in Madison, which combined with his preparation and on-court acumen, leads us here at the Big Ten microsite to believe that he will be this season’s conference Coach of the Year.

Wisconsin and Coach Bo Ryan should be poised to make another deep March run this season. (AP)

Wisconsin and Coach Bo Ryan should be poised to make another deep March run this season. (AP)

This is not to say that it will be an easy award for Ryan to win. Anything less than a Big Ten championship this season will be viewed at as an underachievement. Given their revamped rosters, if Michigan State’s Tom Izzo or Michigan’s John Beilein can keep their teams among the top 10 or 15 teams nationally, or if a preseason middle-pack team like Minnesota or Illinois can make a substantial leap, Ryan could lose out even if he wins the league title.

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Preseason Questions: Can Anybody Replace Doug McDermott?

Posted by Henry Bushnell on November 10th, 2014

For four years, the college basketball world was blessed with the presence of a true superstar. Despite relatively limited national television exposure and a team that was rarely viewed as a legitimate national contender, Creighton’s Doug McDermott lit up the nation. We were all fortunate enough to witness the three-time first-team All-American’s consistently stunning scoring exploits, competitiveness and savvy, the likes of which were unmatched during his time in Omaha. He became known as Dougie McBuckets for a reason, but his career as a collegian has come and gone. Now, both Creighton and the sport in general are faced with the unenviable task of filling the void.

With Doug McDermott now earning checks that say "NBA" on them, these four guys (Iowa State's Georges Niang, Wisconsin's duo of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, and Georgia State's RJ Hunter) are prime candidates to pick up where McDermott left off.

With Doug McDermott now earning checks that say “NBA” on them, these four guys (Iowa State’s Georges Niang, Wisconsin’s duo of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, and Georgia State’s RJ Hunter) are the best candidates to pick up where McDermott left off.

Before we even entertain the thought of replacing him, it’s important to recognize what he brought to the table. Even with all the accolades he earned at Creighton, it’s possible that he was still underrated. We know about his incredible scoring ability (3,150 career points, fifth in NCAA history). We know that he was a prolific three-point shooter (274 career threes on 45.8 percent shooting). We know that he could score from anywhere on the floor, and that he could do so by nearly any means. And we know about his lengthy résumé of awards, records and accomplishments (in addition to three All-America selections, he was the 2014 NPOY).

The thing about McDermott, though, is that he was such a uniquely talented player. He had an innate ability to find open space on the floor, and it was this ability around which Creighton’s offense was strategically structured. His movement was both constant and unorthodox, incisive and smooth. He embodied the phrase “take what the defense gives you.” He used off-ball screens impeccably within the sets, but also spontaneously created space for himself and others, and it was this freedom of motion which made him, and by proxy, Creighton’s offense, impossible to prepare for. He could singlehandedly make a stagnant offense dynamic. Yes, there were other talented players on the roster, but the Creighton offense was largely built to utilize McDermott, and McDermott utilized the Creighton offense.

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