Big Ten Geeks: There's No D in Michigan

Iowa pummeled Michigan on Saturday with an offensive attack that’s as good as we’ve seen this season.

Those are some terrifying numbers, and they added up to 1.4 points per possession for the Hawkeyes. Roy Devyn Marble led the attack with 26 points (17 shots), which included a 6 for 10 performance from behind the three-point line.

Maybe Iowa was due. After all this team shot much better in the non-conference season from behind the three-point line than it has in league play (entering Saturday):

Non-conference 3P%

37.6

Conference 3P%

32.8

So this might have just been a correction, and Michigan drew the short straw. That’s a comforting thought for Michigan fans, at least.

But it’s probably not true. For one, Iowa did lots of things well on offense, not just shoot three-pointers. More significantly, however, is the fact that this Michigan team is—once again—not all that great on defense. The team now ranks just 10th in opponent’s point per possession among Big Ten teams, which is certainly a drag on its conference-leading offense. Michigan can certainly win as an offense-first team (see last season), but the Wolverines still need to put at least a respectable defense on the floor if they want to make any noise in March.

The other concern John Beilein might have right now is Nik Stauskas’ continued struggles. The sophomore had 10 points on 6 shots, which doesn’t sound all that bad until you consider that:

  • Stauskas should probably score more than 10 points, and
  • He also had four turnovers.

It was a bad game, which wouldn’t be such a problem if it wasn’t also the third-subpar scoring game he’s had in a row. Has the rest of the Big Ten figured out Stauskas? Things don’t look to get easier when Michigan visits the Big Ten’s best defensive team in Ohio State on Tuesday.

**

Michigan State came this close to upsetting Wisconsin at the Kohl Center, as Travis Trice’s halfcourt heave was just a few inches too far to the right.

It’s pretty remarkable that the Spartans were in this game at all, as not only did they suffer through a 3 for 20 performance from Gary Harris, but they were without the services of Keith Appling as well. It’s now been over a month since Michigan State was at full strength, which to some is cause for optimism (“imagine how good they’ll be with everyone healthy!”). Such thoughts, however, are based on the premise that everyone will get healthy.

At this point, I’m not so sure. Appling, Harris, and Adreian Payne (who led the way on Sunday with 24 points on 16 shots to go with a very disappointing 6 turnovers) have been rather injury-prone throughout their time in East Lansing. Sure, it’s possible that all three will manage to avoid long talks with the trainer over the next couple of months, but I would not take that as a given. The good news is that MSU has played well when it’s been down an all-conference performer, the bad news is that might be the version of this team that tries to get to the Final Four in March.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, survives at home after once-again holding a healthy lead with minutes to go. It didn’t work out so well when the Buckeyes came to down, and Ben Brust tempted fate by recording his fourth missed free throw of the season on the front end of a 1-and-1 that would have iced the game.

Right about now, however, I’m sure most analysts looking at Wisconsin are gushing over Nigel Hayes (14 points, 5 shots). And they should—we sung his praises not too long ago:

But his game is not without holes. While Hayes is a capable defender in most respects, he’s a truly awful rebounder, as his defensive rebounding percentage is suddenly threatening to fall into single-digit territory. That’s an acceptable number for a point guard, but it’s not something you expect out of someone that plays a lot of power forward and center. It’s a testament to Hayes’ offense that he can nonetheless see the floor on a Bo Ryan-coached team, but over the long run this is something that needs to improve dramatically. To be sure, it can improve. Just look at Hayes’ teammate, Frank Kaminsky, who was a decidedly lousy rebounder until this season.

In fact, this might rank as a higher offseason priority than fixing his free throw stroke (57 percent, entering Sunday). Just ask Illinois fans about the agony of lacking a big man that can end opponent possessions.

**

Nebraska picked up its first conference road win of the season when it took down Northwestern. If you didn’t catch it, no worries—this was every Northwestern game you’ve seen in Big Ten play. A slow game with a little bit of good defense and bad offense sprinkled in. Neither team came close to a point per possession as the Wildcats’ pack line defense and no-score offense dictated things once again.

While I know Alex Olah isn’t a dud on offense (he was one of the few effective offensive players on Saturday, with 7 points on 5 shots), I’m beginning to wonder why more teams don’t punish Chris Collins’ packed-in approach. Olah pretty much sets up permanent shop in the paint, and doesn’t make much of an effort to guard his man if he steps out of that zone. It clogs up the middle, obviously, which frees up Northwestern’s perimeter defenders to close out hard to prevent 3s.

It’s a sound strategy, so long as coaches don’t just put a bunch of shooters on the floor and play pick-and-pop. I, for one, would like to see someone try that approach.

Nebraska suddenly finds itself looking at a potential .500 season in the Big Ten. At 4-6, the Huskers have four very winnable home games remaining (Illinois, Penn State, Purdue, and Northwestern). So if they can sweep those, and then either beat Wisconsin at home or someone else on the road, Tim Miles has done it. That’s not bad for a team that was 5-13 last season, and lost a good chunk of last year’s rotation as well. It’s also a testament to how much just getting defensive rebounds can really help a team. Nebraska is a pretty awful defense, except for the fact that it dominates the defensive glass. So even though it’s not all that tough to make shots against the Cornhuskers, this is still an average Big Ten defense.

It ain’t rocket science, but it works.

**

Ohio State pulled away from Purdue in the final 10 minutes for a comfortable home win on Saturday. The Buckeye offense was clicking thanks to the combined efforts of LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith (33 points on 20 shots, and 0 turnovers). A big chunk of OSU’s 1.2 points per possession was thanks to some fine outside shooting (8 for 19 on 3s) paired with careful ballhandling (turnovers on just 12 percent of its possessions).

Purdue had the opposite experience. Although Matt Painter’s team shot well enough from the outside (39 percent), the team generally preferred to stay inside the arc, where they only shot 43 percent. That interior approach also came with the cost of 15 turnovers, 5 of which came from A.J. Hammons.

Hammons had an all-too familiar game, in which he generally took bad shots (8 of his 10 attempts were mid-range jumpers), was a defensive force (3 blocks and 1 steal in 30 minutes), and was completely reckless with the ball (5 turnovers). Hammons’ turnover rate now stands at an even 25.0 for the season, which is something you might expect out of a freshman point guard who has to try and set up teammates. But for a center that should be dribbling fewer than 5 times a game, it’s not acceptable.

Its NCAA hopes long since gone, Purdue is now fighting for an NIT bid. Right now, that looks like a 50/50 proposition, as Purdue has a relatively difficult schedule down the stretch. This year has been a substantial disappointment for Purdue, one that figures to end on a low note.

Meanwhile, don’t look now, but Ohio State actually has an average offense that ranks 6th in the Big Ten. A big reason for that is Ross’ improved efficiency over the second-half of the conference slate. He’s undeniably the biggest part of OSU’s offensive attack, so as he goes, the Buckeyes go.

**

Indiana largely beat itself against Minnesota, committing turnovers on 25 percent of its possessions. In just about every other facet of the game, IU was the superior team.

(Data and chart courtesy of StatSheet). This is really nothing new, as Indiana has the worst turnover percentage in conference play. It’s not too difficult to see why, given the roster. Yogi Ferrell might be the best point guard in the Big Ten, but he’s the only thing resembling a point guard on Indiana. It’s even a stretch to affix the “combo guard” label on any of Ferrell’s teammates. One way Tom Crean could potentially alleviate his team’s turnover woes is to focus the offensive attack on the perimeter, where turnovers are less likely to happen. Of course, that would require some outside shooting ability. And Ferrell might be alone there, as well.

The win keeps Minnesota’s at-large hopes alive. Deandre Mathieu continued his solid play with 16 points (11 shots), 5 assists, 2 steals, and just one turnover. Somehow, Mathieu’s been very effective this season despite the facts that he stands just 5-9, and almost all of his shots come inside the arc. That’s not usually a recipe for success, but it’s worked for him.

**

Illinois snapped its eight-game losing streak by picking up a road win at Penn State. The Illini got a huge lift from the freshmen tandem of Kendrick Nunn and Malcom Hill, who combined for 30 points on 22 shots. The present isn’t going so well for John Groce’s team, so this performance at least gives Illinois hopes that the future looks bright. Also, while the NCAA Tournament ship has long since sailed, this win at least puts Illinois back in the hunt for an NIT bid, though that still looks to be an uphill battle.

D.J. Newbill led the way for the Nittany Lions with 19 points on 12 shots.

This week starts off with Michigan visiting Ohio State on Tuesday. If the Buckeyes can hold home court, Michigan State figures to get at least a temporary inside track on the conference crown, until the Spartans visit Ann Arbor in a couple weeks.

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Lee J. Reynolds on 2/10/2014 @ 3:40pm EDT Said:

Do you think it’s time for Glenn Robinson to hit bench and Zack Irvin to get a start?