Conference Catchups: Can Ohio State or Wisconsin hold off Michigan State?

Leave a comment

source: Getty Images

College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Keith Appling, Michigan State

The Big Ten is the toughest conference to pick a midseason Player of the Year as there are six or seven legitimate candidates for the award as of today. I didn’t even has space to mention Gary Harris or RayVonte Rice (or Aaron Craft or Frank Kaminsky or Roy Devyn Marble) below, and all of those guys can put together a strong enough performance in league play to be deserving of the award.

But for now, I’m going with Keith Appling for a couple of reasons. For starters, I think he’s been the most valuable player on the Michigan State roster this season. He’s finally embracing his role as a point guard, distributing when needed and taking over in crunch time in some of the Spartan’s biggest wins. His numbers (15.9 ppg, 5.0 apg, 1.9 t/o’s, 47.7% 3PT) speak for themselves, but it’s been his presence that has been just as important.

All-Big Ten First Team:

  • Nik Stauskas, Michigan
  • Tim Frazier, Penn State
  • Keith Appling, Michigan State
  • Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
  • Adreian Payne, Michigan State

Midseason Coach of the Year: Bo Ryan, Wisconsin

I think we all expected Wisconsin to be good this season because Wisconsin is good every season. But I don’t know how many people had the Badgers entering Big Ten play as a top five team with one of the nation’s strongest non-conference resumes. Before the season started, I said that it was going to be exciting to watch how Wisconsin plays out this season, and it sure has been. Sam Dekker has become the star we all expected him to be, Frank Kaminsky has become the latest in a long line of sharp-shooting Wisconsin big men, and the three-guard lineup Ryan has used has been a nightmare for opponents to match up with. This may be end up being Ryan’s best coaching job of his career.

Favorite: Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State has not been as dominant as many expected they would be during the non-conference part of the season, but much of that has to do with the fact that they have yet to get fully healthy. Adreian Payne and Keith Appling have dealt with nagging injuries, Gary Harris can’t seem to get his ankle back to full health and Matt Costello is still battling mono. That’s four starters. Once this team gets fully healthy? Does anyone really want to bet against a Tom Izzo-coached team with three guys talented enough to be all-americans and win Big Ten Player of the Year? Because I don’t.

And three more contenders: 

  • Ohio State has the nation’s most efficient defense, and the ever-enigmatic LaQuinton Ross has been playing fantastic the last month. After a slow start, Ross is averaging 17.1 points and shooting 48.5% from three in his last eight games.
  • We’ve already been over Wisconsin. I would not be surprised in the least to see them atop the Big Ten standings come March.
  • I may be in the minority here, but for my money, the fourth-best team in the Big Ten is Iowa. See below.

source:  Most Surprising Team: Iowa Hawkeyes

Surprising may be the wrong word to use here because a lot of people were predicting Iowa to make the jump this season. But I’m not sure how many people saw this team having a shot at finishing in the top four of the conference. The Hawkeyes are talented, they are deep, they have size, they have multiple ball-handlers, they are well-coached, they can score, they’re capable defensively. There is a lot to like about this group. Oh, and it’s worth noting that Aaron White and Roy Devyn Marble are two of the best players in the conference.

Most Disappointing Team: Michigan Wolverines

Calling this team disappointing is a little unfair given the fact that the biggest reasons they’ve struggled early on this season are that Mitch McGary’s back has kept him from being healthy at any point this season and that Derrick Walton is a freshman point guard trying to replace Trey Burke. As good as Nik Stauskas has been and as talented as Glenn Robinson III is, having limitations at the point guard and center positions has been killer. That said, this is a four-loss team with multiple NBA draft picks that was in the preseason top ten. There’s no two-ways around that.

Most Important Player (in league play): Nik Stauskas, Michigan

Derrick Walton is not ready to be the guy that facilitates Michigan’s offense. Mitch McGary will probably never be at 100% this season. But the Wolverines could still end up being a top four team in the Big Ten if they allow Stauskas to be the guy that initiates everything. He’s a lights-out shooter, that we know. But he’s much better off the dribble than you realize and a much-improved creator. Putting the ball in his hands will be the best thing that John Beilein can do.

Coming in a close second? Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross.

Who will slide?: Illinois Fighting Illini

I’m not quite yet ready to buy Illinois as a contender in the Big Ten. As of now, they are a borderline top 25 team being kept afloat by a pair of scoring guards in Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice. I like Joseph Bertrand, and I think Jon Ekey and Nnanna Egwu are tough for opposing bigs to matchup with, but I’m not convinced this team will be able to hang with the best in the Big Ten.

Who is the sleeper?: Indiana Hoosiers

It seems like everyone is ignoring Tom Crean’s club this season, doesn’t it? That’s what happens when you have a young roster and lose the only three notable games that you play during the non-conference. But the Hoosiers have one of the better point guards in the Big Ten in Yogi Ferrell and a roster that works with the uptempo, defensive-minded style that Crean wants to play. Noah Vonleh’s development as a low-post scorer and the emergence of perimeter shooters will determine just how good Indiana ends up being this year.

New Power Rankings

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

Duke’s Christian Laettner shouts out North Carolina’s Luke Maye on Twitter after winning jumper over Kentucky

(Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Duke and North Carolina don’t have much in common.

But the historic college basketball rivals now have the distinction of earning late Elite Eight wins over Kentucky that involved a No. 32 making the winning shot.

Blue Devil legend Christian Laettner is famous for his 1992 buzzer-beater over Kentucky in the Elite Eight and he made sure to give some love to North Carolina sophomore Luke Maye after his own Elite Eight shot knocked out the Wildcats.

Rice’s Marcus Evans becomes one of top available transfers

Rice Athletics
Leave a comment

Rice sophomore guard Marcus Evans will transfer and play his final two seasons elsewhere, he announced on Monday.

The 6-foot-2 Evans has been a major scorer the last two seasons for the Owls as he averaged 19.0 points per game this season after putting up 21.4 points per game as a freshman.

With Rice head coach Mike Rhoades taking the VCU opening and the program struggling to consistently win, Evans seeking to play elsewhere should not come as much of a surprise.

Evans will have to sit out a transfer season before having two more years of eligibility but he should be one of the best options available this offseason. A proven scorer who has become more well-rounded this season, Evans could be a high-quality addition to any program this offseason.

A native of Chesapeake, Virginia, it will be interesting to see if Evans decides to play closer to home.

NBA Draft Stock Watch: Who has helped themselves in the NCAA Tournament?

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The term ‘prisoner of the moment’ is never more fitting than when weighing just how valuable an NCAA Tournament star turn is for a kid’s potential success as an NBA player.

We see it every year. Big tournament performances during deep runs in the dance is a great way to inflate draft stock while disappointing exits are an easy way to hurt it, even if it goes against the season-long data that is telling us something about a player. 

Who are the players that helped themselves the most this March? And who may have put a damper on their chances of hearing their name called early on draft night?

STOCK UP

Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell has played his way into the discussion as a potential first round pick by leading South Carolina to the Final Four. He has the physical tools to be an excellent defender in the NBA, and he certainly has the toughness and physicality, but it’s his shot-making that is the game-changer for him. He shot 39.4 percent from three on the season and is hitting 43.2 percent from beyond the arc in the tournament, and while the knuckle-ball action on his jumper is concerning, at some point it’s fair to wonder whether or not his less-than-ideal form is less important than the fact that it goes in. Thornwell, who was the SEC Player of the Year this season, will be an interesting 3-and-D candidate come draft night, and the spotlight on him from averaging 25.7 points while leading the Gamecocks to the Final Four will only help.

De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox solidified his standing as a potential top five during the tournament. The red flags are still there — Can he make threes in the NBA? — but at the end of the day, the NBA Draft is about whether or not you want one guy or the other guy. This is a draft that is absolutely loaded at the point guard spot, and for the second time this season, Fox outplayed a guy that many have slotted above him, Lonzo Ball. In the Sweet 16, he put up 39 points, the most impressive individual performance of the tournament, as Kentucky skated by UCLA more easily than most of us expected. Ball should probably still be considered the better, but when you’re sitting in that room making those decisions, it’s not going to be easy to bypass the guy that bested him twice.

Jordan Bell, Oregon: Bell, a senior, has been one of the best defensive players in the country all season long, and never was that more apparent than when he went for 11 points, 13 boards, eight blocks and four assists against Kansas in the Elite 8. He totally changed that game, making Landen Lucas look like an eighth grader without any confidence and forcing the Jayhawks to miss a number of shots in the lane simply because they were aware that Bell could be lurking. He was probably worth a second round pick already, but that game very likely ensured that he will here his name called at some point on draft night.

Tyler Dorsey, Oregon: Dorsey is a shot-maker. That’s what he brings to the table offensively. He can score. He’s gone for at least 20 points in all seven tournament games — Pac-12 and NCAA — that Oregon had played this year, and he hit innumerable big shots in the process, including a game-winner against Rhode Island in the second round and a pair of absolute daggers against Kansas. Undersized scorers come a dime-a-dozen at that level, but Dorsey ensured that he will get a shot this spring.

D.J. Wilson, Michigan: Wilson has been one of the most intriguing prospects in college basketball this season given his size, athleticism and skill-set, and the attention that Michigan got as the darling of the conference tournaments and the first weekend of the NCAA tournament certainly didn’t hurt. I’m not convinced he’s in a position to be a first round pick, but I am certain that, if he opts to declare for the draft and sign with an agent, there will be a team willing to bet on the meteoric rise he had this year continuing.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

STOCK DOWN

Lonzo Ball, UCLA: With all the hype surrounding the Ball family heading into his showdown with De’Aaron Fox and Kentucky in the Sweet 16, you would’ve expected Lonzo, who has been terrific this season, to shine on the biggest stage. But that’s not how it went. He was completely overshadowed by Fox, who went for a career-high 39 points when they went head-to-head, bowing out of the tournament with nothing but a Sweet 16 to show for it. There’s a risk in making over-arching judgements on a player based off of one or two games when a season’s worth of data is telling you something else, but it is fair to note that Ball was outplayed in both of his matchups with another potential top five pick at his position.

Josh Jackson, Kansas: We’ve seen all season long what Josh Jackson can do on a basketball court, and one bad game where he got into foul trouble in the first four minutes is not going to change the way that scouts view his ability on the court. The concern with Jackson has nothing to do with basketball. It’s the off-the-court stuff, and it’s his temper. The biggest red flag surrounding him right now is an incident at a bar where he did more than $1,000 worth of damage to a person’s car. He got a few technical fouls this season. Against Oregon, he got into it with Duck players. Whether that affected his play, only Jackson will know, but it’s not all that hard to connect those dots. It’s easier to teach a 19-year old that cares too much to tone it down — the maturity that comes with getting older certainly helps — than it is to get a guy with no heart to be intense and tough, but that’s something NBA teams are going to have to consider when they decide whether to take Jackson in the top three of a draft this loaded.

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Justin Patton, Creighton: Patton is incredibly talented and loaded with promise, but after seeing the dip in his production once Mo Watson went out with a torn ACL — 14.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on a 74 percent shooting vs. 11.9 points and 5.8 rebounds on 61 percent shooting post Watson — is concerning. Throw in that he was totally underwhelming against an undersized front line of Rhode Island in a first round loss, and there will be questions asked about whether or not he is a guy that is worth a first round pick.

Luke Kennard, Duke: Kennard, by all accounts, had a terrific season. He’s a skilled scorer that can get his buckets in a number of different ways. He’s a lights-out shooter with an advanced array of moves to create space to get his shot off and a knack for scoring around the rim with both hands. But the concerns with him is whether or not he will be able to do so against guys that are as athletic and strong as NBA wings are. Picking a second round matchup with a South Carolina team loaded with those kind of defenders to have his worst game of the season wasn’t exactly ideal timing.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart does everything well, and he certainly proved throughout the season that he had improved on the things that he needed to improve — shooting, playmaking, ability off the dribble. But the concern with Hart is whether or not he’s going to be able to get his own shot when the guys he plays against are bigger, quicker, more athletic and just as tough as he is, and the way Villanova bowed out of the tournament — with Hart being unable to create a shot or draw a foul on a drive to the rim — is a perfect summation of the concerns NBA teams have about him.

Archie Miller received advice from John Calipari before taking Indiana job

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Indiana hiring former Dayton head coach Archie Miller to the same position over the weekend was major news and the move seemed to come so quickly.

While many believed that either Steve Alford or Chris Mack would be the frontrunner for the job, Miller was announced to a seven-year deal on Saturday morning.

The news was so surprising that Miller’s own father, John, wasn’t looped into the decision until Thursday night after Arizona and Archie’s brother, head coach Sean Miller, lost in the NCAA tournament to Xavier.

In a story from Tom Archdeacon of the Dayton Daily News, he breaks down how John Miller found out about the Indiana job from Archie in a San Jose hotel room. There were also some other people Archie spoke to before making the decision. Archie’s brother, Sean, the head coach at Arizona had some input along with Kentucky head coach John Calipari.

From Archdeacon’s story:

“When we lost to Xavier, we got back to the hotel and I was sort of in shock,” John said. “And all of a sudden Arch goes, ‘Guess what, Dad? I got a shot here (at the Indiana job). Whaddya think?’

“He listened to Sean and Cal – John Calipari is real close to us family-wise – and I spoke up a bit, too.

“I’ll tell you I was almost in tears, just like when my other guy left (Sean from Xavier to Arizona). Oh man I hated that. I loved Xavier. And now here it is eight years later and I’m in the same exact boat.

“I know in his heart Arch hates to get out of (Dayton), but that’s how it was with Sean leavin’ Xavier too. He turned Arizona down the first time, and I remember Calipari calling him up and saying, ‘Are you outta your mind? You gotta take that Arizona job!’”

The story from Archdeacon also has some interesting bits from John Miller about how he knew Archie wouldn’t take the N.C. State job while he also told some of his Dayton friends that Archie was staying put before he found out about the Indiana job in San Jose.

If Miller and Calipari are on good terms then it will be interesting to see if Indiana and Kentucky can work out a proper agreement so they are playing each other at least once a year. Clearly there is a respect between the Millers and Calipari and that will be an intriguing subplot to watch during Archie’s tenure at Indiana.

Roy Williams ‘scared to death’ over Joel Berry II’s Final Four status after ankle injuries

Leave a comment

North Carolina is going to be extra cautious with junior point guard Joel Berry II during this week after he went to the locker room during part of the first half in Sunday’s win over Kentucky.

Consistently bothered by a sprained ankle during the NCAA tournament, Berry will rest a lot this week, according to North Carolina head coach Roy Williams as he is going to make sure his floor leader is as healthy as possible heading into Glendale.

“Right now I’m scared to death because I just don’t know,” Williams said to reporters about Berry’s Final Four status.

Without Berry in the lineup for part of the first half, North Carolina was able to sustain its lead on Kentucky as veteran backups like Nate Britt and Stillman White provided valuable minutes. Williams said in yesterday’s postgame that Berry actually sprained his right ankle during Saturday’s practice and hurt his left ankle during Sunday’s game against Kentucky.

Berry returned in the second half and finished with 11 points for the game as his health will be a major focal point for North Carolina’s title hopes this weekend.