Yarina: State of Big Ten hoops address
President Obama will deliver the annual State of the Union Address tonight. That being the case, I thought I’d do something super-cheesy and address the state of each Big Ten men’s basketball team. See my take on all 12 teams in this post.
Editor’s note: Team records are through January 27 action.
It’s hard to be successful when the shots aren’t falling, and the Illini can’t be accused of torching any nets across the Big Ten. How bad has it gotten? Illinois shoots 36.2 percent in Big Ten play, including 25.8 percent from distance, and it’s firing at 34.5 percent during its current six-game skid. Yuck. Things won’t get much easier, either, with Iowa and Wisconsin up next.
The Hoosiers are fun to watch. Yogi Ferrell is one of the Big Ten’s elite players. Noah Vonleh is a future NBA lottery pick. That said, how and why has Vonleh only had one game in Big Ten play with more than nine field goal attempts? There’s no excuse for him getting just 7.6 attempts a night. None. The team’s turnover epidemic is just as troubling.
Consider this: Iowa has 10 players averaging at least 5.6 points. Ten! By comparison, Illinois has five. On any given night, a host of Hawkeyes can beat opponents. Devyn Marble and Aaron White are the usual suspects, but it could just as easily be Melsahn Basabe, Zach McCabe, Josh Oglesby, Gabe Olaseni or Jarrod Uthoff. Simply put, this team is as deep as it gets.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Nik Stauskas is so much more than a shooter. We hear some form of the analysis every time Michigan plays or its highlights are shown. But he’s also more than a guy who can fill it up in a number of ways. Did you know Stauskas averages 4.71 assists in Big Ten, trailing only Aaron Craft (5.4) and Keith Appling (4.75)? That’s key, because it means Stauskas’ teammates are hitting shots and that freshman PG Derrick Walton doesn’t have to do all the distributing.
MICHIGAN STATE (7-1)
How can you talk Michigan State without focusing on the injuries. Sorry, Dan Dakich. Anyway, if you’re in need of a silver lining for all of these injuries, there’s this: Adreian Payne (foot) and Branden Dawson (broken right hand) are expected to return, and when they do, they’ll join a better team than the one they left. The experience Kenny Kaminski and Gavin Schilling, among others, are gaining should only make this a deeper team for the stretch run.
At 4-4, Richard Pitino and the Gophers are exceeding expectations and have looked legit in the process. Best of all, there are plenty of winnable games on deck (vs. Northwestern; at Purdue; vs. Indiana; at Wisconsin; at Northwestern; vs. Illinois), which can only help this team gain even more confidence. Pitino couldn’t have asked for more from his transfers (DeAndre Mathieu and Malik Smith) or his inherited talent (Elliott Elisaon and Mo Walker).
Slowly but surely, Terran Petteway (Texas Tech) has stripped the unofficial title of Big Ten’s top transfer from Illinois’ Rayvonte Rice (Drake). That’s saying something for as good as Rice is and was early this season. We all knew Tim Miles was an engaging guy, but now we’re figuring out he can recruit and coach very well when he has an appropriate number of scholarship players. It will be interesting to see who steps up to replace the recently booted Deverell Biggs.
Props to Chris Collins for finding a way to get the most out of the talent he has. Northwestern’s new emphasis on defense and slowing down the game is far from a thing of beauty, but there’s no doubt it gives the Wildcats a better chance to win on a nightly basis. Now, it’s about finding a consistent second scorer who can take some of the pressure off Drew Crawford. Super-sub Tre Demps is beginning to look like that guy.
OHIO STATE (3-4)
It’s hard to believe this team was ranked No. 3 in the nation a few weeks ago. Four straight losses and a home win over Illinois later, the Buckeyes are out of the Big Ten title race and on the verge of falling out of the polls. That doesn’t mean the season is over. Ohio State still defends, so if Lenzelle Smith Jr., reverts to his nonconference level of play or Marc Loving becomes a consistent scoring threat, the Buckeyes can be dangerous. Emphasis on the “can.”
PENN STATE (1-6)
The Nittany Lions are in last place, at 1-6, and they can attribute it to their inability to close out games. Hold on…to be fair, Penn State is fresh off a 58-54 come-from-behind win vs. Nebraska. Before that, however, the Nittany Lions had lost three of their previous four by a combined seven points. No doubt, better interior play and less foul trouble from Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill is required.
Do the Boilermakers know who they are, or what they want to be? It’s tough to tell when one looks at how Matt Painter is divvying up playing time. As Painter hinted at recently, the rotation would be a lot easier to figure out if players started to separate themselves from others. At the end of the day, this team is as good as the highly inconsistent and foul-prone A.J. Hammons.
How weird is this: Wisconsin can score at will but can’t defend worth a lick. What year is it? Where did Bo Ryan go? The Badgers still have the talent – not to mention the schedule – to win the Big Ten, but the defense must improve against dribble drives if it is to continue its remarkable run of finishing in the top four of the Big Ten in every season under Ryan. Advice: Don’t count out the Badgers just yet.
|About Brent Yarina||BTN.com senior editor Brent Yarina covers football and men’s basketball for BTN.com. He writes the popular uniform feature “Clothes Call,” which also focuses on the latest cosmetic changes across Big Ten arenas and stadiums. Read all of his work here. You can subscribe to Yarina’s RSS feed and follow him on Twitter @BTNBrentYarina.|