Five Keys For Wisconsin Against North Carolina Tonight

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 26th, 2015

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Lost in the anticipation of a Wisconsin vs. Arizona rematch in the Elite Eight is the fact that the Badgers still have to get there by beating a North Carolina unit that has played its best ball of the season since the calendar turned to March. While the Badgers are favored to win the game, it won’t be an walk in the park for a number of reasons. Here’s are five ways that Bo Ryan’s squad can keep things rolling against the Tar Heels in Los Angeles.

Bronson Koenig needs to help Wisconsin control the tempo if they want to beat North Carolina.  (AP)

Bronson Koenig needs to help Wisconsin control the tempo if they want to beat North Carolina. (AP)

  1. Control the Tempo: North Carolina likes to push the ball upcourt and get easy baskets in transition. They don’t necessarily do so by forcing a bunch of turnovers; rather, the Heels like to grab the ball off of either a make or a miss and run their patented secondary break. Wisconsin doesn’t get sped up too often but the Badgers still need to ensure that this remains a half-court game rather than a track meet. The days are gone when Wisconsin cannot keep up with the Tar Heels athletically, but it still doesn’t make sense to try to run with them. Half-court execution and good shot selection will win the day; the leadership and facilitation of Bronson Koenig and Traevon Jackson (assuming he plays) will be the keys here.
  2. Win the Battle of the Boards: Wisconsin ranks fourth in the nation in defensive rebounding while North Carolina comes in fifth on the offensive glass. Roy Williams may be without its leader in this department with Kennedy Meeks and his 12.9 percent offensive rebounding rate potentially sidelined with a knee injury, but backup Isaiah Hicks (11.3%) is no slouch here either. Without anyone who can shoot consistently from deep, the Tar Heels’ best offense on many possessions is just to hit the boards. If the Badgers control the glass tonight, they can force a bunch of one-possession trips from the Heels and effectively shut down their offense. Read the rest of this entry »
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What Are Big Ten Teams Seeking This Weekend?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 19th, 2015

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While it’s unlikely that all seven Big Ten teams will still be around at the end of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, each has something to gain from even just one win. None of the matchups on Thursday and Friday are overly imposing, and in actuality, many of them seem to be pretty equal. The Round of 32 could be a different story, but here’s what each team has on the line with a quality opening weekend performance:

Troy Williams will need to play well for IU to advance.   (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

Troy Williams will need to play well for Indiana to advance. (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

  • Indiana: This NCAA Tournament appearance is all about showing that the program hasn’t hit a wall under head coach Tom Crean and it’s about quieting the critics that have been out in full force this year. A win over a Wichita State squad with plenty of excellent experience in four starters who made the Final Four two seasons ago would be a nice victory for a team with no seniors and almost no size. Winning a second game against fellow blue-blood Kansas would give the Hoosiers valuable March experience to build upon with a great majority of the team scheduled to return next season.
  • Iowa: Iowa can regain some of the credibility it lost from last season’s nosedive. The Hawkeyes still have some problems with consistency although they’ve been slightly better in closing out the 2014-15 campaign. Fran McCaffery‘s team avoided the First Four this time around but it still has a difficult opener against the Atlantic 10 regular season champion, Davidson. Just being back in March Madness, though, isn’t good enough for Hawkeyes fans. Mostly the same cast of characters played significant minutes in last season’s opening round loss to Tennessee, so winning a game or two here will show that this talented crew didn’t underachieve during its time in Iowa City. McCaffery doesn’t have to face the same amount of pressure that someone like Crean does at Indiana, but losing early in March once again won’t exactly help him either.
  • Maryland: The Terrapins were ranked for most of the season, eventually making their way into the top 10 at the end of the year. Despite how Maryland fared in the polls, they ended up with only a #4 seed and have a challenging road to the Sweet Sixteen. This means that they need to get to the second weekend to show the committee and others that they were justifiably ranked where they were. They were the second best team in the conference for much of the season, but an early flame-out in March would give the critics of Big Ten basketball plenty of ammunition in saying that the league didn’t deserve seven bids. The Terps need to avoid the upset bug and make a solid run.

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Big Ten Player of the Year & Defensive Player of the Year

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 10th, 2015

After making appearances on the RTC First Team All-Big Ten squads, it should come as no surprise that two members of that team will receive additional individual honors here. Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky is our choice for Big Ten Player of the Year and Purdue’s AJ Hammons is our Defensive Player of the Year.

AJ Hammons and his ability to alter and block shots makes him the RTC Defensive Player of the Year. (Darrell Hoemann, AP)

AJ Hammons’ ability to alter and block shots makes him the RTC Defensive Player of the Year. (Darrell Hoemann, AP)

Anyone who’s followed college basketball at all this season knows that Kaminsky has had an outstanding year. His breakout campaign last season resulted in the Badgers running all the way to the Final Four, but he’s elevated his game this season with even greater versatility. Mostly just a spot-up shooter during his first two seasons in Madison, the Illinois native has expanded his last season’s more developed post game to finish better at the rim and do so in a number of ways — he closed out the regular season shooting 60.0 percent on two-point shots. He’s also continued to shoot well from the outside, closing the year with marks of 41.0 percent from three and an effective field goal rate of 60.3 percent, best in the Big Ten. Two major gains in production this season that haven’t gotten as much attention are his improvements on the defensive boards and as a passer. He sports a 25.5 percent defensive rebounding rate, up from 18.4 percent a season ago, helping his team prevent extra possessions by holding its opponents to just one shot. His passing has also picked up by necessity in light of Traveon Jackson’s midseason injury, turning Kaminsky into a more willing passer adept at finding the open man out of a double-team. There aren’t too many other centers who can lead an offense at the top of the key, but Kaminsky has no problem doing just that. The NPOY candidate can beat teams in so many different ways that it makes him a logical selection for our top player honor in this season’s Big Ten.

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Fresh Faces Emerging as Big Ten Injuries Pile Up

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 28th, 2015

Big Ten training staffs have been working overtime this season, as many notable names have already missed significant time with injuries. Just last weekend, Aaron White, Robert Johnson, Bishop Daniels, Brandon Taylor, and Mike Williams all suffered various ailments that could result in missed action. This piles on to the already large injury toll suffered by conference teams, with Illinois (Rayvonte Rice), Indiana (Hanner Mosquera-Perea), Michigan (Caris LeVert), and Wisconsin (Traveon Jackson) all losing key starters for multiple games. Injuries, of course, are a part of the game, but it means that others must step in and make contributions in their absences. Here’s a look at how some of these Big Ten understudies have performed with the resulting boost in minutes they’ve received.

Kendrick Nunn has stepped things up offensively in the wake of Rayvonte Rice being out of the lineup. (USA TODAY)

Kendrick Nunn has stepped things up offensively in the wake of Rayvonte Rice being out of the lineup. (USA TODAY)

  • Illinois has gone 3-3 since its star Rayvonte Rice went down in practice. The senior had been logging 11.1 shots per game before his injury, and his primary replacement, Kendrick Nunn, has barely left the court since (36.2 MPG in the six games that Rice hasn’t played). The sophomore has been productive in his absence, though, contributing 16.7 PPG along with 4.5 RPG and 1.3 SPG. Rice’s biggest improvement had been shooting from deep, where he got off to an insane 29-for-60 start, but Nunn has been equally adept from three-point range, making 18-of-39 attempts in six games. On balance, Nunn has effectively matched Rice’s production, but Illinois’ main problem right now is depth. Without Rice and with Aaron Cosby (also sidelined), John Groce is pretty much running a seven-man rotation right now. Should Nunn or forward Malcolm Hill struggle offensively, there really aren’t many other options.

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Big Ten M5: 01.14.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 14th, 2015

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  1. Northwestern has gotten off to a decent 10-6 start overall with an extremely young lineup. Vic Law came from Chicago’s famed Catholic League as what Wildcat fans hoped would be the beginning of a beautiful relationship between Chris Collins and the Windy City’s best high school players. Fellow freshman Bryant McIntosh has shined, while Law has struggled to adapt to the physicality of Big Ten basketball.  It’s too early to write him off as a bust, but Law needs to produce more than the 2.7 PPG and 4.0 RPG he has contributed in his first three B1G games.
  2. While things haven’t been great this season for Michigan, they have something to look forward to on January 24. Consensus top five wing Jaylen Brown will make an official campus visit on that Saturday when the team takes on Wisconsin at the Crisler Center. Brown would obviously be an enormous coup for the Wolverines. The team they have this season is mainly made up of underclassmen. Even if Caris LeVert were to leave early, having Brown to go along with most of the pieces that should return to Ann Arbor could make the 2015-16 Michigan unit one to be reckoned with in the league next season.
  3. Hanner Mosquera-Perea suffered a knee injury on Monday in practice, leaving Indiana and their already undersized frontline even smaller. The junior from Columbia is averaging 7.5 PPG and 5 RPG this season in a little under 21 minutes of court time. He had been in Tom Crean’s doghouse for getting into early foul trouble in recent games, and now it looks as though Emmitt Holt and Collin Hartman will get most of his minutes inside for the Hoosiers. Hartman played 23 minutes with Holt logging 13 in their win over Penn State last night, but it’s worth monitoring the situation to see how Indiana survives after going from very little size to no size at all.
  4. Frank Kaminsky will be back in the Wisconsin lineup Thursday night when they take on Nebraska in Madison. The senior who leads the team in four major categories (points, rebounds, steals, and blocks), missed the loss against Rutgers after suffering a concussion in the Purdue game last week. The Badgers will still be shorthanded as they will be missing Traveon Jackson due to injury, but with Nebraska playing better with their whole team now healthy, the return of Kaminsky is needed.
  5. Illinois faces a critical test when they travel to Evanston to face their in-state rivals tonight. Despite losing Sunday night against Nebraska, their defensive effort was pretty solid. The problem they’re having without Rayvonte Rice is that they simply can’t shoot the ball. Loren Tate of the Champaign News-Gazette broke down just how pedestrian the shooting numbers have been as of late. Two specifics he mentioned were the fact that Nebraska played off of Jaylon Tate, daring him to shoot from deep. He also mentioned the fact that Nnanna Egwu simply can’t score in the post when he isn’t facing up. If Aaron Cosby and/or Ahmad Starks can break out of their collective year-round slumps, then things might change. Otherwise this team will be buried before Rice returns to the lineup.
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Introducing the Big Ten Point Guard Title Belt

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 8th, 2015

Point guard play has been the difference in many games involving Big Ten teams this season, but if fans who follow the league were asked to name its best floor general, several different answers would be given. Do you value a scoring guard like Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell or do you fancy a pass-first type like Ohio State’s Shannon Scott. Each team around the conference has a point guard who impacts the team’s bottom line by how or well or poorly they play on a given night, so how do you determine which player is the best? It’s a tricky question, but one that I’ve decided to tackle here. Per KenPom’s metrics, considering all point guards who have played at least 50.0 percent of their teams’ available minutes, there are 18 eligible Big Ten players. That group was then rank-ordered into five categories: free throw percentage; assist-to-turnover ratio; assist rate; effective field goal percentage; and steal rate.

Shannon Scott is one of the best point guards in the B1G, but is he the best?(AP)

Shannon Scott is one of the best point guards in the B1G, but is he the best?(AP)

These five metrics could arguably be tweaked or weighted by importance, but each represents a valuable commodity for someone who has the ball in his hands for a good portion of the game. Good point guards need to make free throws; they are expected to get their teammates involved; and they have to either be a capable shooter from behind the arc or get into the lane for high percentage shots. Defensively, a point guard needs to be able to pressure and irritate their assignments, and while steal rate isn’t a perfect indicator, individual defensive metrics are notoriously difficult to compare. Keeping in mind that statistics are only one part of the equation in evaluating players, after compiling the rankings, the top five came out as follows (in no particular order):

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Big Ten M5: 12.03.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 3rd, 2014

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  1. It looks like Michigan State will get a needed boost in terms of depth for their game against Notre Dame tonight. That’s because sophomore guard Alvin Ellis III will likely be back from the ankle injury that has sidelined him for the last six games. Ellis wasn’t a huge contributor last season, but he gives the Spartans some necessary backcourt depth as they play a pretty good Notre Dame squad in South Bend. This will give Tom Izzo more options defensively to try to stop Notre Dame senior guard Jerian Grant, who ranks among the top 15 players in America in Offensive Rating (147.9).
  2. Maryland is still trying to figure out its rotation in the wake of losing Dez Wells to a broken wrist. The Terps have played several different lineups, depending on the opponent, so players like Jon Graham have had to stay ready depending on the situation. Graham could be a key piece against Virginia tonight, however, as Mark Turgeon comes up with a strategy to defend forwards Anthony Gill and Darion Atkins. Graham had a nice game as a starter against Iowa State, playing great defense against Cyclones star Georges Niang (10 points on 4-of-14 shooting). It will be interesting to see if he can have the same impact against the Terps’ former ACC rival this evening.
  3. Iowa has a huge chance to get a win that will look awfully nice come March should it knock off North Carolina in Chapel Hill tonight. The Hawkeyes need to limit their turnovers against an athletic and deep squad, and they have to hold their own on the inside against the Tar Heels’ prodigious size. After missing out on a couple of good opportunities in New York when they lost to Texas and Syracuse, the Hawkeyes need a big win before heading into conference play. This one is also interesting because of the individual match-up between former AAU teammates Marcus Paige and Mike Gesell.
  4. National Player of the Year candidates Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor are the headliners for the Wisconsin vs. Duke clash tonight, but Duke has a number of other weapons that the Badgers need to shut down if they want to beat another elite opponent. The Blue Devils’ entire starting five has been very impressive thus far, so taking Okafor’s offense away will likely not be enough to get the home win. The match-up in the backcourt between veterans Traveon Jackson and Josh Gasser against Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook will also be vitally important in this early season blockbuster game.
  5. Purdue has gotten off to a great 6-1 start keyed by newcomers Jon Octeus, Vince Edwards, and Isaac Haas, but the efforts of junior captain Rapheal Davis have been just as important. Davis was especially clutch in the last two games Purdue played in the Maui Invitational, which he described as ” everything we put in this summer, it showed in the end.” What he meant with that statement was that Purdue fought off a disappointing opening round loss to Kansas State by bouncing back to win its last two games against Missouri and BYU. That positive play continued last night against North Carolina State, as the Boilermakers beat the Wolfpack, 66-61. Davis was held to just three points in that one, but he notched a team-high six assists continuing to provide just what Purdue needs to win games.
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Big Ten Feast Week Recap

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 1st, 2014

After 38 games in seven days, Big Ten teams had some noteworthy performances of both the good and bad variety. In all, three teams came away with championships in the tournaments they played in. Illinois won the Las Vegas Invitational, Maryland took first in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, and Wisconsin won the stacked Battle 4 Atlantis field. While it was impossible to watch absolutely everything, especially with the whole pesky, “hang out with relatives on Thanksgiving” getting in the way of hoop watching, here’s a brief recap of what went down during the last seven days.

Bronson Koenig keyed a second half rally as Wisconsin came back to beat Georgetown in the Battle 4 Atlantis. (Reuters)

Bronson Koenig keyed a second half rally as Wisconsin came back to beat Georgetown in the Battle 4 Atlantis. (Reuters)

  • Wisconsin Shows Off Depth That Matters: Many times when announcers or others cite depth when discussing a certain team, it simply means that the coach plays a lot of players. A team with true depth has players coming off the bench that can win a game for them. This is exactly what happened in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, as Bronson Koenig and Duje Dukan combined to score 18 of the team’s 33 points in the second stanza, with the Badgers holding off a pesky Georgetown team in the process. With Frank Kaminsky struggling and Traveon Jackson and Josh Gasser in foul trouble, they just found a way to win with other guys doing the heavy lifting. Things were back to normal in the championship game, as Kaminsky and Jackson led the way. This team has so many weapons, and is off to a 7-0 start that is making preseason projections look really solid right now.

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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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Will Wisconsin Make It Back to the Final Four? An Argument For Yes…

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on October 16th, 2014

Welcome back, Big Ten readers. Just like Wisconsin, most of our B1G microsite team is returning from last year. And speaking of the Badgers, there’s no doubt that they’re the overwhelming favorite to win the conference this season, as over 80 percent of their scoring and minutes played from their Final Four roster returns. That said, getting back to the Final Four is no easy task. Aside from the unpredictable nature of the NCAA Tournament itself, the Badgers will have to compete with several other nationally elite teams like Kentucky, Duke and Arizona. The likelihood that the Badgers return to the Final Four has sparked an internal debate between fellow B1G contributor Deepak Jayanti and myself. I think this Wisconsin team is special, and will indeed make it to Indianapolis next April — so, in my first post of the year, I state my case for that belief.

Sam Dekker and his NBA-game could lead the Badgers to another Final Four.  (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker and his NBA potential could lead the Badgers to another Final Four. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Here are three reasons why the Badgers will make it two Final Fours in row.

  • Lots and lots of talent. This season’s Wisconsin roster may be the most talented in the Bo Ryan era. Sam Dekker, a junior wing, is a rarity in Madison as a former top 20 national recruit. He upped his production from his freshman season by chipping in 12.4 PPG and 6.1 RPG last year, but beyond his statistics, Dekker’s potential is evident when he’s working on the perimeter, where he’s big enough to shoot over his defender and athletic enough to beat him off the dribble and finish with a vicious dunk. And if you can believe it, he actually grew two more inches over the summer and managed to impress many observers at the LeBron camp. Add in the likely Preseason Big Ten POY, Frank Kaminsky, and the Badgers easily have the best frontcourt in the conference by a wide margin.  Kaminsky was the Badgers’ leading scorer and rebounder at 12.7 PPG and 6.7 RPG last season, and he was the most efficient scorer in the conference to boot.  The rest of the starting five – Traveon Jackson, Josh Gasser, and Nigel Hayes – are all high-quality players who have played significant minutes in pressure-filled situations. With all of that experience and two certain future pros in Dekker and Kaminsky, this doesn’t look like your typical Wisconsin team.

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Five Crucial Wisconsin Moments That Shaped Its Run to North Texas

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 4th, 2014

However things turn out in North Texas this weekend, Wisconsin has had a season to remember. The Badgers started the year at 16-0, rose to No. 3 in the polls, and generally dispelled any previously-held stereotypes about their brand of basketball under head coach Bo Ryan. This was a different kind of unit, filled with dead-eye shooters, tremendous ball movement, and a fun team to watch. Four players averaged double figures and no one particularly cared who got the credit for the team’s prodigious success. As a sort of tribute from a writer covering this program for the first time, here are my top five moments from Wisconsin’s Final Four campaign, presented in no particular order.

When Frank Kaminsky scored 43 points against North Dakota, the college basketball world took notice.  (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

When Frank Kaminsky scored 43 points against North Dakota, the college basketball world took notice. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  1. Frank Kaminsky scores 43 points against North Dakota: If you have a second or two to kill, check out the thing of beauty that is Kaminsky’s shot chart from this game. He put on an absolute offensive clinic, going 16-of-19 from the field, hitting all six of the three-pointers that he attempted, and making the whole college basketball world take notice of “Frank the Tank.”
  2. Traveon Jackson hits a game-winner against Michigan State: Coming into this February 9 match-up, Wisconsin had been in the midst of a 2-5 slide where it had started to undo the credibility it had built up during the non-conference schedule. They had just lost to Northwestern and Ohio State at home, and simply couldn’t afford to drop another one in Madison at this point in the season. After falling behind in the first half, Jackson effectively ended a close game with a deadly pull-up jumper from 17 feet. The Badgers went on to win six more games in a row after this one, and in many respects, saving the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 03.12.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 12th, 2014

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  1. Nik Stauskas of Michigan was named Big Ten Player of the Year on Monday by both the coaches and the media. He went from primarily a spot-up shooter to someone who put in a tremendous amount of work to become the best player in the league. It’s been documented often about the strength training that he and fellow sophomore Caris LeVert went through in the off-season, and it quite obviously paid off for both. Stauskas managed to still be able to knock down plenty of three-pointers, yet added the ability to drive and distribute on a much higher level than many expected. He is a worthy Big Ten POY.
  2. Playing in the shadow of a famous father is never easy. Playing in the shadow of a father that not only played in the NBA for 14 years, but also serves as an analyst for the network that covers your conference is borderline impossible. But Wisconsin point guard Traveon Jackson has made things work both on and off the court due to a renewed sense of spirituality. Jackson struggled with the responsibilities after unexpectedly having to take the reigns from Josh Gasser once the guards tore his ACL. He turned to drinking and partying as a way to escape from the stress on the court, but has found that things like scripture reading and attending church services have helped him on and off the court.
  3. It’s the eve of the Big Ten Tournament, and not many people within the college basketball community can figure out Michigan State. Coach Tom Izzo feels the importance of the tournament this year more so than in past seasons because, as he says, “we’re just trying to bring back some of the magic we had early in the year when we had everybody playing together.” It will be extremely interesting over the course of the weekend to see if the team can start clicking like they did early on before injuries ruined any sense of flow and cohesion the team had.
  4. The main architect for the Nebraska basketball facelift was named Coach of the Year by his coaching peers on Monday. Coach Tim Miles worked his way up from coaching Division II in obscurity, to potentially coaching in the Big Dance next week. He credits his players for keeping a positive attitude, not letting the porous basketball history of the program prohibit them from changing things.  If they can win three games this weekend, the change will be even further magnified.
  5. After seeing him play in the non-conference part of the season, no one would have guessed that Kendrick Nunn would earn a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman team. Nunn did just that however, and Illinois has gone 5-3 since he and fellow freshman Malcolm Hill were inserted into the starting five. Indiana Coach Tom Crean has taken notice, as he likened Nunn to Victor Oladipo when asked about preparing for the Illini on Thursday when the two teams square off in first-round play of the Big Ten Tournament.  Nunn has averaged double-figures in those 8 games, and can enhance his ever-growing reputation even more if he continues his solid play, and Illinois wins a game or two in Indianapolis.
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