Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fare thee Well, Zach Lofton

We hardly knew ye.

News broke last night that Lofton was dismissed from the Gopher basketball team for failing to live up to the expectations and obligations of the team.  Who knows what that might mean, and speculation is of course rampant, both legit and all in good fun:










Maybe the reason will come out, maybe it won't, but the main thing is, as the second worst announcer in history likes to say, he gone.

It probably shouldn't be a huge surprise, given Lofton's behavior issues at this previous stop.  It was also reported that his body language and behavior at the Gophers' open scrimmage on Sunday was somewhere between terrible and bizarrely horrible, so perhaps whatever prompted this move was already in motion, or perhaps that pushed everything over the top, but now signing him is a clear mistake with consequences both past and future.  Wow that was one long run-on sentence.  I need an editor.

One issue is 2015-2016 where Lofton was supposed to be able to step in right away and be a big-time scorer since both Dre Mathieu and Dre Hollins will be gone.  Not like the team is going to bereft of guard talent with Nate Mason, Carlos Morris, Daquein McNeil, Kevin Dorsey, Dupree McBrayer, and Jarvis Johnson on board, but take a look at those names: as of right now only McNeil has played actual D1 college basketball.  Again, not really too worried since Mason, Morris, and McNeil will have this season to learn and those three freshman should be fine, but it'd be nice to have Lofton around and know what you're getting - a moody gunner who can shoot and score.  Hopefully somebody morphs into this role, although they can feel free to leave moody at the door.

Perhaps the bigger consequence, and yes hindsight is 20-20 they say, is that by using a scholarship on Lofton the Gophers ended up running out of space before Alex Illikainen had committed.  Of course there is no guarantee he would have become a Gopher, but the fact that he chose the stupid Badgers very quickly after the Gophers used their last scholarship offer on Johnson is highly suggestive that he was down to Minnesota and Wisconsin.  A choice between Lofton and Illikainen was probably a toss up, and now it's obvious which would have been the preferred outcome.  A strong 2015 class backs a solid 2014 class, so losing one player won't hurt the team too much, even one as talented as Lofton.  This also gives Pitino another scholarship for 2015, though he's likely lost a lot of momentum on anyone he was chasing given that the team was all full up at one time.  I expect that will be banked for 2016 or for a transfer of some sort - hopefully a more reliable one than Lofton.

Here is the spot where I admit to being totally and completely wrong.  Here is what I wrote when Lofton was first announced as a future Gopher.  Whoops.  I still maintain my stance that overall it's worthwhile taking a chance on talented players with questionable mental make-up, but in this case it clearly didn't work out.  I said with a number of transfers out at Illinois State a lot of Lofton's problems were likely the coach's fault.  I would like to retract that.  I also said that if Lofton was acting up and acting like a general shithead that I trust Pitino would handle it.  That he did.

That he did.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Big Ten Basketball Preview: #6 Michigan Wolverines

Michigan is, without question, the most difficult team to rank this year.  Losing Nik Stauskas, Glen Robinson III, and Mitch McGary (kind of) to the NBA is a lot to recover from.  Of course, the year prior they lost Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway to the NBA and were on the cusp of a second straight final four last season.  Michigan might have the horses to step up and replace the departed NBAers, but replacing a couple other, less heralded losses might end up the more difficult task.

Caris LeVert leads the returnees at 12.9 points per game last season, a whopping leap from 2.3 ppg the year before after his playing time more than tripled filling in for the departed Hardaway.  LeVert got better in pretty much every way you could think of last season, which doesn't always happen with increased usage, which bodes well for his future improvement.  He's not the shooter Stauskas was, but then again who is, and he's effective from deep without being reliant on it and he already has Stauskas's ability to get to the rim.  There is a definite void where someone could step in to replace Stauskas's production and LeVert is candidate number 1.

Two other key returnees were highly regarded and productive freshmen last year in Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr.  Walton's the point guard who did a nice job keeping the offense flowing (7.9 points/2.9 assists per game) and shot the ball well when called upon.  It'll be interesting to see if he can stay as efficient as he was last year when the offense will rely on him more this year.  Irvin looked smooth and polished already and had games where his shot was unstoppable, but as most young players who are almost completely dependent on the 3-pointer he also had completely awful games.  If he pulled a Stauskas and added to his offensive skill set that'll go a long way towards making this team a threat again.

Now that we've discussed the obvious ways Michigan can patch their holes, now we need to look at what could be they're undoing: the losses of Jordan Morgan (graduation) and Jon Horford (transfer).  They only combined for 10.2 points per game last year, but they also combined for 9.2 rebounds and 33.9 minutes.  Even worse, there is nobody returning with any paint experience.  The most experience returnee among paint type guys is 6-7 junior Max Bielfeldt, who has played a grant total of 195 minutes in his two years at Ann Arbor.  And no, there is no convenient grad transfer who can step right in and help immediately, which is pretty surprising actually.

Which means an awful lot rides on some pretty talented freshmen.  Irvin's 6-7 so he can probably play some PF in a pinch, but they'll need major contributions from at least 2 of 6-7 Kameron Chatman, 6-9 D.J. Wilson, 6-9 Ricky Doyle, and 6-9 Mark Donnal.  Chatman is the jewel, ranking as a top 30 national recruit.  He's more of a small forward than power forward as is Wilson, but at this point it's not like the Wolverines have a lot of options.  The true PF/C types are Doyle and Donnal.  Doyle is a top 200 type recruit who had an impressive offer sheet.  He also comes from a basketball family so theoretically should have a high basketball IQ, which will definitely help him make an impact right away next season.  Donnal is a red-shirt freshman who was a top 100 guy last year.  It sounds like he already has a pretty solid offensive game with the ability to score inside or out, and if he can give them solid defense it would go a long way towards solving their paint problem.

Plenty of questions for the Wolverines, and not a completely dissimilar situation to Indiana with the lack of any real obvious options inside.  I ranked the the Hoosiers 10th but the Wolverines 6th.  Partially because Michigan has more coming back, but also because I think Beliein has a good thing going and will be able to mix and match well enough to have the Wolverines back in the NCAA Tournament, while Tom Crean couldn't coach his way out of a paper bag.


OTHER PREVIEWS
#7 MICHIGAN STATE
#8 IOWA HAWKEYES
#9 MARYLAND TERRAPINS
#10 INDIANA HOOSIERS
#11 PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
#12 NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS
#13 PURDUE BOILERMAKERS
#14 RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Big Ten Basketball Preview: #7 Michigan State Spartans

It feels very weird putting the Spartans this low in the conference rankings, but losing Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, and Keith Appling will do that.  Michigan State has suffered heavy and significant defections before, but this time the holdovers and replacements aren't strong enough to bring Sparty back to the top of the conference.  They should still be in the mix for an NCAA bid and will likely get one, it'll just be more of a struggle than years past when it was basically locked up by February, especially since Kenny Kaminski was dismissed from the team, leaving Sparty extremely thin in the bigs department.

Without Kaminski the big men are Branden Dawson, who is awesome, Matt Costello, who isn't, and Gavin Schillling, who is untested at best but being Shane Schilling's brother doesn't bode well for him, and that's it.  Dawsen they don't have to worry about assuming he doesn't break his hand punching a wall again or doing something else stupid.  Usually when a player is thrust into a position to go from supporting player to go-to guy like Dawsen I'd consider it a big question, but Dawsen is totally awesome and should be a monster this year.  It would probably help if he could develop any kind of jump shot, but he'll be just fine and be in the running for conference player of the year.  Beyond him?  It's dicey.

Matt Costello is the leading returnee at 14.7 minutes per game last year, and he was pretty productive in that time averaging 4.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game while shooting 60% from the field.  He doesn't seem like the type to blossom into a star, but the Big Ten specializes in the whole Big White Stiff to Star transformation - look no further than Frank Kaminsky last year - so nothing would really surprise me.  The other legit option in the front court is Gavin Schilling, younger brother of Shane and Cody   He played sparingly last year, just 238 total minutes.  He gives them size (6-9, 240) and a complete inability to make free throws (11-21 last year) if nothing else.  Other than that the only size is a collection of unknowns, most of which are pretty underwhelming, though freshman Marvin Clark is at least interesting, in a hasn't been disappointing yet way.

As unsettled as the bigs are, the littles are in about as good of shape as they could be after losing both starting guards.  Travis Trice is back and should be able to slide into Appling's role with no issue whatsoever.  He's a better shooter than Appling was, if not quite as good a creator.  Should be an easy transition.  Denzel Valentine is also back on the wing, and he's one of the more underrated all around players in the conference, probably because he's so depressingly ugly.  He averaged 8 points, 6 rebs, nearly 4 assists, and 1 steal per game last year and I'm guessing there wouldn't be more than a handful of players who hit all those marks last season.  Fun Fact:  In our Fantasy Big Ten league he finished third in the league in scoring among returning players behind Frank Kaminsky and Rayvonte Rice, and he should better his numbers with more opportunity this year.  Sparty also adds two interesting freshmen on the perimeter on Lourawls Nairn (traitor) and Javon Bess, and has almost Gopher Alvin Ellis who looked good in a limited role last year, so the perimeter is really not a concern.

Michigan State has as many unanswered questions as anybody in the conference this year, yet I saw one magazine preview had them ranked as high as second in the conference.  That makes no sense to me, and I have pretty close to blind faith in Izzo, but somewhere from 5-8 feels about right.  That should put them in line to pick up a bid with a low single digit seed and then inevitably march to the Elite 8 because Izzo is a complete wizard in March.  Hate him.


OTHER PREVIEWS
#8 IOWA HAWKEYES
#9 MARYLAND TERRAPINS
#10 INDIANA HOOSIERS
#11 PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
#12 NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS
#13 PURDUE BOILERMAKERS
#14 RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS

Monday, October 20, 2014

A not Optimistic Twins Discussion

Hello all.  You know what's weird?  We are sitting here, the day before the World Series starts at the end of a season where the Twins fired their manager and I haven't written one word about it.  I still love baseball.  I've still watched almost every playoff game possible.  I have a strong rooting interest in the Royals over the boring and overused Giants.  I still care about who is going to manage the Twins.  Yet nothing.  I was worried at one point that I may have lost my interest in blogging, but I'm super excited to write about college hoops again.  So basically the problem is the Twins.  The Twins have destroyed my interest in writing about baseball.  Completely.  I hate them.

It's hard to care about who the manager is going to be when they're already saying they're not going to spend.  Like this.  And they can't stop doing things like signing Ricky Nolasco for four years or needlessly extending Kurt Suzuki instead of trading him at the peak of his lifetime value.  They finished dead last in the division and won the second fewest games in the AL, and this in a year when they got a miracle season from Phil Hughes and saw Danny Santana break out.  Without two or three breakouts from the youngsters in the rotation they once again have a better chance at losing 90 than winning 82, and too many bad contracts have assured that they can't add any kind of impact starter which means they'll sign some schlub and hope to hit another Hughes-like home run, which is damn unlikely once and nearly impossible twice.

At this point the hope is to wait for all the talent in the minors to get up to the big leagues, a plan which was pushed back with injuries to Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, but it's a plan nonetheless.  This year's Royals show that it can work, although I'm pretty sure that plan fails more than it works and the development of the three-headed monster in the back of the bullpen may be more important.  Maybe 2-3 years from now Sano and Buxton are studs, Santana and Brian Dozier are an excellent double play combination on both sides of the ball, Josmil Pinto has learned how to be a catcher, Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks are viable big league outfielders, Kennys Vargas is a big time power hitter, and Kyle Gibson, Alex Meyer, and Trevor May are solid rotation pieces.  Maybe then they emulate the Royals and package Kohl Stewart and Nick Gordon for a big-time stud top of the rotation ace and really go for it.  Sure, maybe.  That's a whole lot of ifs though for a team without any more money, and a whole lot of eggs in one basket without much of a contingency plan.

This all sounds awfully negative, but it hasn't been all bad.  Despite Denard Span and Ben Revere's outstanding seasons (they finished tied for the NL lead in hits) I was in favor of those trades to stock the farm system with power arms, and low-cost low-year signings on reclamation projects like Hughes are just fine as long as they are low-cost low-year.  I also thought they did a nice job clearing useless players at the trading deadline for whatever they could get last season, except of course for throwing a bunch of money at Suzuki.

It's just disheartening, knowing that they won't spend money to increase payroll in any meaningful way, and I'm convinced they're going to hire Doug Mientkiewicz as the coach since he's already completely inundated with the Twins small market crap that doesn't work.  All of which would mean nothing would change and they'd continue to pin their hopes on hoping a big group of young players all hit their primes at the same time.  Like I said that can work and it's happened before here, but ugh, it has also gone horribly wrong.  Remember this is a team that seems like the last holdout refusing to experiment with a bunch of radical defensive shifts, so I find it unlikely they'll be changing philosophies any time soon.

And with all that being said, I bought into a season ticket package for this upcoming season for the first time.  I'm an idiot.

Royals in 7.  And I'll try to live blog at least one game.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Big Ten Basketball Preview: #8 Iowa Hawkeyes

I'm going to be honest with you here - I barely remember anything about Iowa.  I know they should have made the NCAA Tournament two years ago over the Gophers after closing hot but didn't, and I know they probably shouldn't have made it last season after collapsing down the stretch which they then proved by losing to Tennessee in a game which I can't even remember if it was close or not.  I also remember Roy Marble - both of them - and they're both gone now and even though they're used to the old guy being gone his kid having graduated is going to pose a major problem since he was pretty much the guy who could create his own shot there.  Maybe I do remember more stuff.  Like how annoying that entire team (sans Marble) was.

Now the job of scorer goes to annoying ginger Aaron White, the Hawkeyes second leading scorer (12.8ppg) and leading rebounder (6.7rpg) last season.  White was incredibly efficient last season (15th best true shooting % in the country) in large part because he was able to be more selective with Marble using up so many possessions and drawing tons of defensive attention.  Zach McCabe also used a ton of possessions (took 22% of Iowa's shots when he was on the floor) and he's gone too so there'll be plenty of extra shots this season for White to take more of and fail spectacularly.

Two other guys who might grab some of those extra shots are starting guards Mike Gesell and Josh Oglesby.  They're super mediocre, but Gesell does a nice job of running the offense and Oglesby can heat up from the outside which the Gophers unfortunately saw twice since Oglesby shot 9-16 from three in the two games Iowa played against them.  The fit the profile for Iowa guards by being extremely annoying, as does reserve guard Peter Jok who really, really likes to shoot and other reserve guard Anthony Clemmens who really hates to.

Even though White is probably the key to seeing if the Hawkeyes make the NCAA Tournament or not, the key to how good they can be and how far they can go is junior center Adam Woodbury.  He's a legit 7-1 and it was a major upset a couple of years ago when the hometown kid signed on with the Hawkeyes despite offers from North Carolina and Ohio State when he ranked as the #39 player in the country.  After a so-so freshman year, however, Woodbury stagnated and maybe even regressed in year two, and put up averages of just 5.7 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last year.  With both McCabe and Melsahn Basabe (7.2ppg, 5.7rpg) gone it's time for Woodbury to get his shit together.  6-8 junior Jarrod Uthoff was pretty decent last year and he should help out, but it kind of needs to be Woodbury's year.

Iowa has several fairly decent pieces back, but a ton of questions as well.  Most likely 8th is a bit low and they'll be in the hunt for an NCAA bid, but they're Iowa so they can all just go to hell.


OTHER PREVIEWS
#9 MARYLAND TERRAPINS
#10 INDIANA HOOSIERS
#11 PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
#12 NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS
#13 PURDUE BOILERMAKERS
#14 RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS

Monday, October 13, 2014

Big Ten Basketball Preview: #9 Maryland Terrapins

Welcome to the league, Maryland.  Sorry all your players are leaving.  Ok not all, and there's still talent here, but five of the team's eight top scorers transferred out - not graduated, but transferred which is pretty weird.  They still retained scorers #1, #3, and #4 and bring in a nice recruiting class so they won't be at the bottom of the conference, but I don't really see them finishing in the upper division either.

The leading returnee is senior wing Dez Wells, who averaged 14.9 points per game last season.  He's a pretty rare combo of both efficient (top 200ish true shooting percentage each of the last two seasons) and high usage (25% of possessions each of those seasons).  Wells should be in line for post-season All Big 10 hardware, and will likely also cause the most "who the hell is this guy" reactions among the Williams Arena faithful.  Among those who know, you may see a "no means no" sign or something similar considering he was booted from Xavier due to what look like false allegations, but visiting fans aren't much interested in truth so you know.

Along with Wells the Terps get a couple of long-range bombers back in wings Jake Layman (6-8) and Evan Smotrycz (6-9, and yes the same one who used to be at Michigan) who each hit more than 50 three pointers last year, both at a 37% clip.  They should help ease the loss of those other five guys seeing as how they can supply both perimeter scoring and size/rebounding (5.0 and 6.0 per game last year).  Neither is completely reliant on the three either, so they can help provide inside scoring as well.  If you were going to keep just three guys off last year's Maryland squad, these would probably be your three best choices.

Which is good, because they're basically going to have to rely on freshmen beyond Wells, Layman, and Smotrycz.  The key to the season may be point guard Romelo Trimble, ESPN's #29 incoming freshman this year, who, because of the defections, will basically be handed the ball and the starting job.  He plays both guard spots but thrived after moving to point guard, even snagging a position as a McDonald's All-American.  Fellow freshman Dion Wiley (#52) will provide depth and join Layman and Smotrycz as another light 'em up jump shooter.

Normally losing what Maryland lost would be recipe for disaster and obviously they'd be a better team if everybody stuck around, but Maryland has enough staying and enough incoming to at least challenge for an NCAA Tournament bid.  Maryland hasn't been the Maryland of the past, not having made an NCAA Tournament since 2010 - not once in Mark Turgeon's three years.  He's going to need to find a way to have this team take a step forward this season or he could find himself in trouble.


OTHER PREVIEWS
#10 INDIANA HOOSIERS
#11 PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
#12 NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS
#13 PURDUE BOILERMAKERS
#14 RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Big Ten Basketball Preview: #10 Indiana Hoosiers

And you thought Yogi Ferrell shot the ball a ton last year.  Four hundred and nine times to be precise, a number that ranked 7th in the entire league.  Considering Ferrell was supposed to be a "true" point guard, nobody else on the team even cracked 300 and only two other players shot over 200 times, and he was fourth in eFG% among those who played 50% of Indiana's minutes last season, that's probably not a good thing.  Don't get me wrong, Ferrell had a pretty fantastic season overall and he deserved his All Big Ten status, but ignoring everyone else, particularly when you have a guy like Noah Vonleh on the team, either means you have a terrible coach or a very selfish player.  Consider Tom Crean is the coach and Ferrell's usage rate skyrocketed once Crean didn't have his security blanket combo of Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo to rely upon, I feel safe blaming it on Crean, mainly because he's an absolutely horrible coach and a terrible person.

Crean did take an Indiana program that Kelvin Sampson did his best to destroy from a 1-17 conference record in 2009 all the way to a national title contender in 2013 and he deserves credit for that.  The problem is that now he seems to be reversing course and crashing the program back into the abyss with players fleeing left and right.  Ferrell is back from last season and Vonleh heading to the NBA was inevitable, even if Crean completely mismanaged him.  Will Sheehey and Evan Gordon graduated which isn't technically Crean's fault.  But then the transfers:  Austin Etherington to Butler, Jeremy Hollowell to Georgia State, Peter Jurkin to ETSU, and Luke Fischer to Marquette, All this with plenty of minutes available, leaving Indiana completely gutted on the inside.

It's debatable how much any of these guys would have helped, but 3 of the 4 played 10 or more minutes per game last season and all were big men.  All of the impact returnees (Ferrell, Stanford Robinson, and Troy Williams) are guards or wings, and even though Crean is bringing in a highly regarded recruiting class the two big impact recruits are James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson, both guards.  No matter how good these guys are, and they are ranked in the top 50 overall by ESPN, they're both 6-3 or under.  I just don't know how Indiana is going to compete in the Big Ten with this lack of size.

The returnees who could impact things are Williams, who is 6-7 but weighs just 207 lbs., Devin Davis, who could probably play in the paint but averaged just 8.8 minutes per game last year, and Hanner Mosquera-Perea, who is big enough but played less than Davis.  Crean brought in two freshman centers but one is 6-9 and 200 lbs. and was described by ESPN as frail, and the other seems like a panic signing considering they nabbed in Spring (always a little scary) and his offer list was a little mid-major-y (actually both were Spring signings after all the transfers).

Don't get me wrong, if I'm an Indiana fan I could talk myself into some optimism.  Ferrell, Blackmon, and Johnson could end up as the best backcourt trio in the conference by the end of the season.Mosquera-Perea, Williams and Robinson were all top 100 recruits as incoming freshman, and Davis played two of his best games of the year in the two games prior to their season finale (in which he played 6 minutes because Crean).  I can see why most publications see this as rosier for the Hoosiers than I do, but do I think Crean can take this mix and blend them into a highly efficient basketball machine?  Not remotely.  I see him rolling the ball to Ferrell and telling him to run fast and shoot faster, which means the Hoosiers will be playing a lot of circus ball this year while being crappy at the same time.  And that's kind of perfect.


OTHER PREVIEWS
#11 PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
#12 NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS
#13 PURDUE BOILERMAKERS
#14 RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS

Monday, October 6, 2014

Big 10 Basketball Preview: #11 Penn State

Now Tim Frazier, like Talor Battle is gone.  The next version may have just arrived in University Park (more on him later) but for now at least the cupboard isn't totally bare as the Nittany Lions bring back an all-league player (I assume, I didn't look this up) in D.J. Newbill, the second leading returning scorer in the conference at 17.8 points per game.  Newbill doesn't have the all-around game Frazier had, but he was a more efficient scorer (50.2 vs. 46.3 eFG%) despite a higher usage rate, and he out-rebounded Frazier 4.9 vs. 4.4 per game while coming in second on the team in assists.  He really is an excellent scorer, hitting double figures in 31 of 34 games last year, and also very consistent, as he never scored more than 25 in a game.  That'll probably be different this year.

After Newbill you have five guys who are pretty much known commodities, seeing as they're all juniors or seniors.  Ross Travis is the tough bang around rebounder, Brandon Taylor is the stretch four, Donovan Jack is the athlete, John Johnson is the shooter, and Jordan Dickerson is the seven footer.  The good news is these guys are all experienced, all have a skill, and mostly all have size (only Johnson at 6-1 is smaller than 6-6).  The not as good news is this is basically the same team from last year that went 6-12 in conference, except without their best player.

There's certainly upside here.  With this many older players it increases the likelihood that one or more of them make more than a marginal improvement over last season and it's possible somebody becomes a solid second banana.  Travis could develop a more complete offensive game and/or completely dominate the boards.  Taylor or Jack could become an elite scorer.  Johnson could destroy from the 3-point line or Dickerson could become a paint destroyer.  That's why I'd say of all the lower division teams (as I'm predicting) I think Penn State has the most potential to jump up and surprise.  Of course it's equally likely these guys are who we think they are, and they finish 11th.  It will be especially difficult for anyone to make a big jump without a real playmaker, and that's why Shep Garner is so important.

Garner, a freshman guard from Philly, ranks as the 34th point guard in the country per ESPN, just three spots behind our own Nate Mason.  The interesting thing to me is how similar his profile sounds to Tim Frazier's when he was a freshman:  great instincts, lightning quick, ability to play either guard spot equally well, attacks the rim, needs to add strength.  great ball handler and passer, under control, high basketball IQ - it's all here.  Now it's a pretty bold statement to say this kid will come in and be the next Tim Frazier so I know it sounds crazy and probably won't happen, but if it does, remember you heard it here first.  Plus he's from Philly and was basically a Penn State commit the minute he was born, so if does end up good we'll be tortured by that story over and over again and the universe likes to annoy me so.......

Anyway, PSU is a hard team for me to figure out.  They could finish anywhere from 5th to 14th and it wouldn't shock me.  Plus things are looking up with two ESPN Top 100 recruits already on board for 2015.  Two more than the Gophers, FYI.

Other Previews:
#12 NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS
#13 PURDUE BOILERMAKERS
#14 RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Big Ten Basketball Preview: #12 Northwestern Wildcats

Well it was a run.  Northwestern did everything they could do grab that elusive (to them, not to anyone else) first ever NCAA Tournament bid and fell short year after year.  Now there's no John Shurna.  There's no Drew Crawford.  There's no Juice Thompson.  There's no Luka Mirkovic.  There's just Dave Sobolewski and his lesbian haircut.  Well there's also hope because of this new coach guy you maybe heard about, Chris Collins.  Yeah the weiner from Duke.  No not Wojo, he's at Marquette.  The other one, the one with some talent, and he's already making a difference because he signed Vic Law, ESPN's 66th ranked prospect for 2014, as well as a handful of other quality recruits between 2014 and 2015.  This year, however, Northwestern probably isn't looking at that first bid, but they do have enough to remain dangerous.

The biggest reason for this danger is Tre Demps, who is a great chucker (26% of team shots when on the floor despite a 45.7% eFG%) but is also made of stone balls.  Here's what he did in Northwestern's conference wins last season:  Three pointer against the Gophers in a tie game with 54 seconds remaining. Five points and three assists in a four minute span against Wisconsin to give Northwestern control of the game. Game tying 3-pointer with a minute left in overtime against Purdue and then 4-4 on free throws in double OT to close it out. Thirteen straight points at the end of the game against Indiana. Three 3-pointers in a row down the stretch against Illinois.  He's a chucker for sure, and his overall numbers don't make you squeal from last year (11.0ppg, 38% FG) he clearly has an ability to step up in the the big moment.  So, you know, I'd recommend the Gophers don't, you know, let Northwestern hang around until Demps just goes ahead and wins the game for them.

Demps will be joined on the wing by JerShon Cobb, the team's leading returning scorer at 12.2 points per game.  He's more consistent and efficient than Demps, and will likely be their go to guy for the majority of the game until Demps decides he wants to rip some hearts out.  Cobb was a pretty big deal recruit back when, but has had injury problems his whole career including leg problems that shut him down early last season.  If he can stay healthy he has All-Big 10 type talent, as evidenced by his four 20+ point games against quality opponents last season, but that's a big if.

With Demps, Cobb, and Law the Wildcats should be solid and athletic on the wing, which will help their league best defense from last season return, but that's about where the good news ends.  Alex Olah will be the starting center though he's limited on offense and a horrendous rebounder for a 7-footer, though 6-10 transfer from Yale Jeremiah Kreisberg might end up stealing that spot.  It's probably best for Northwestern if he does.  There's decent, if unproven, depth with Sanjay Lumpkin and Nathan Taphorn.  Taphorn should inherit the "wander around and shoot some threes" role from the departed Kale Abrahamson.

Point guard is a real issue, as Dave Sobolewski just fell off a cliff last season, putting up some truly hideous shooting numbers (18% from 3, 26% overall) and putting up the worst turnover and foul rates of his career.  He did suffer a concussion midseason, missing four games in a row and genearlly having trouble getting back into the swing of things, but he was having a rough year prior to that anyway and with Collins playing more man-to-man than Carmody did, Sobolewski's contributions may be limited.  That either means Demps plays more point (super chucker alert!) or freshman Bryant McIntosh takes over.  McIntosh is a fringe top 200 kid, but he should fit in well at Northwestern because he just looks so freaking annoying.  Seriously.

So Punchable.  Plus his name is Bryant McIntosh for pete's sake.

It's an interesting time, and probably a fun one, to be a Northwestern fan as they've managed to take a string of failed seasons and recycle them back into optimism with an exciting new coach who is bringing in a whole slew of new players.  It'll be interesting to see how and if Collins changes the program (and how long he sticks around, if successful).  He seems to be recruiting a more athletic player, so the slow down game may shortly be a thing of the past.  Lotta hope in Evanston, and with good reason, even if everyone still misses Luka.

Other Previews:
#13 PURDUE BOILERMAKERS
#14 RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Big 10 Basketball Preview: #13 Purdue Boilermakers

Here is what I wrote about Purdue (more like Pur-don't, amirite?) last season:
I'm not really sure what's going on here with Purdue lately.  If this season goes the way I'm expecting that'll make a second straight sub-par season and a second straight year missing the NCAA Tournament after making it six straight years (2 Sweet Sixteens).  Looking at this year's freshman class and who is on the hook for 2014 there isn't really much of an impact here.  In fact, Painter hasn't brought in anything resembling an impact class since that crazy Moore/Johnson/Hummel/Martin quartet, and that was back in 2007.  Does this mean we're witnessing the slow death of Purdue basketball?  Yes.
Basically that all still stands, except add another year on.  Last year was another dud as the Boilers went 5-13 in conference play and 15-17 overall.  They're losing their top two scorers who also happened to be top 2 in assists on the squad, They do have some recruiting momentum at least with Painter signing two ESPN Top 100 guys (7-0 center Isaac Haas (way too many A's in that name) who they rank #87 and 6-7 forward Vincent Edwards who is #89) but unless the twin towers thing works (more on that in a second) or a bunch of role players suddenly start to thrive it's going to be another tough year.

I mention twin towers because the one real bright spot for Purdue is another seven-footer, junior A.J. Hammons who has the ability to completely dominate a game (see:  18 pts, 16 rebs, and 5 blocks vs. Ohio State or, and you probably remember this one better, 20/14/6 against your beloved Gophers).  Unfortunately he's also been a bit of a headcase at times who can disappear by either simply not engaging (7 pts, 1 reb, 0 blocks in the other game against Minnesota despite only committing one foul) or getting himself in foul trouble (bunch of times).  Really, when he's engaged he's nearly unstoppable and he could take Purdue up a level by bringing it consistently every night (and by that I mean an invite to the CBI).

Outside of Hammons I'm not really sure Purdue even knows what Purdue has.  Leading non-Hammons returning scorer is Kendall Stephens at 8.0 per game, a sophomore wing who takes good care of the ball and can shoot.  Out of all the non-Hammons returnees he has the best chance to develop into something special.  Hammons and Stephens will likely be joined in the lineup by Basil Smotherman (sweet name), Raphael Davis, and Bryson Scott which means Purdue will be undersized (Smotherman will have to play the 4, and he's just 6-5).  It'll be important for either Haas or fellow freshman Jacquil Taylor to figure out it out quickly or Hammons will pretty much be alone in the paint, but Scott is probably the biggest key to the season because with the Johnsons gone Purdue is desperate for a playmaker.

There are reasons Purdue could be better than this, sure.  Hammons could put it altogether night after night.  Haas has the opportunity to give them a rare true twin towers advantage over every other team.  Kendall Stephens could very well end up the most improved player in the conference this year, and Bryson Scott or Raphael Davis (or both) could end up the playmaking scorer the team needs.  But even if everything single one of those things ends up happening I'm not sure how much better that vaults Purdue from here.  At least things seem to be improving.  Even though it helps the Gophers, the world just doesn't seem right when Purdue basketball is in a multi-year slide at the bottom of the conference.


Other Previews:
#14 Rutgers Scarlet Knights