College Basketball Nation: Big Ten
Who could forget the pic of Nebraska forward Shavon Shields shaving his head in unity with Avery? Or the kid's joyous reaction back in August when he learned he was leaving the hospital?
And then after even better news earlier this month -- that Avery was in remission in his third different fight with cancer -- the Huskers let him speak at the postgame news conference after a win over Illinois. It was a priceless moment, as was this visit to the Nebraska locker room.
Which brings us to Saturday's #AveryStrong game at a sold-out Pinnacle Bank Arena. Not only were Avery and other local children battling pediatric cancer honored during pregame ceremonies, but perhaps more importantly, there was a donor drive in which fans were able to sign up for the bone marrow registry and take the tests to see if they are a potential match. Avery has undergone a pair of bone marrow transplants and the donors were found through the registry.
During Saturday's festivities, both Avery and his name could be spotted everywhere. He was on the pregame radio show, which can be heard here.
And the entire student section and Nebraska's staff wore #AveryStrong T-shirts. (Chris Harriman and head coach Tim Miles even added specially designed gold and orange sneakers.) New football coach Mike Riley, baseball coach Darin Erstad and chancellor Harvey Perlman took part as well while sitting in the Red Zone.
After the game, Avery even took part in the press conference again.
Oh, and by the way, on #AveryStrong Day, the Huskers got their biggest win of the year: a 79-77 victory over Michigan State. But Avery's dad is hoping the day's donor drive and Nebraska shining a light on awareness for the cause will have a much more lasting effect than a win on the court.
"It’s been my goal since Day One ... to make people aware of the bone-marrow registry, to make people more aware of pediatric cancer and how poorly it’s funded. The numbers are staggering. We need people to understand how small that [bone-marrow] registry is, and its lack of diversity." Chris Harriman told the Lincoln Journal Star.
He added that his goal is to have a similar awareness day at every Big Ten basketball arena next year.
"We’ve already had some schools from the ACC call. Let’s make this thing as big as possible. Why can’t we have every school in the country doing it?"
It has taken half the season to figure out the best Big Ten team outside of Wisconsin, one who could potentially challenge the Badgers for the league crown.
Indiana could be that team.
The No. 23 Hoosiers destroyed No. 13 Maryland and its supposedly tough defense 89-71 to pull into a first-place tie with the Badgers at 5-1.
The Hoosiers proved that in yet another season in which scoring is down across the board in college basketball, all these defensive stats might be a tad overrated. The teams that can score or, more specifically, can shoot, are the exceptional ones.
That’s why the Hoosiers stick out from other would-be contenders. They do what no other Big Ten team outside of Wisconsin can do. They get buckets.
But there’s a reason why Ferrell had the open looks that got him in rhythm. The Hoosiers have multiple shooters that defenses have to respect.
Freshman guard James Blackmon Jr., the team’s leading scorer at 16.6 points per game, shoots 41 percent from 3-point range. Robert Johnson doesn’t take too many 3s, but when he does he's making them at a 40 percent clip.
Indiana coach Tom Crean can even pull sharpshooters from off the bench. Reserve sophomore forward Collin Hartman, who returned from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, made his first career start in place of the injured Hanner Mosquera-Perea on Thursday. He scored a career-high 15 points on 4-for-4 shooting, including all three of his attempts from behind the arc.
The Hoosiers rank 14th in adjusted offense nationally, according to data on Kenpom.com. The Badgers, who are second, and Ohio State (23rd) are the only other Big Ten schools in the top 30.
IU also leads the league in scoring offense, averaging 81.6 points per game. It has already taken down the schools that rank 2-4 (Nebraska, Ohio State, Maryland) in the league in scoring defense.
So little was thought of the Hoosiers that in the preseason media poll they were ranked ninth, one spot ahead of Maryland. Let’s review all those who are supposed to be between Wisconsin and the Hoosiers when the season began:
Michigan State -- The Spartans pummeled the Hoosiers 70-50 in East Lansing and could still have a say in challenging the Badgers. But they also have to make a return visit to Bloomington, where the Hoosiers are 11-1.
Ohio State -- The Buckeyes already lost at IU but face them again on Saturday. Their offense might rely too much on whether or not freshman D'Angelo Russell is having a big game.
Michigan -- The Wolverines might already be looking to next year after losing Caris LeVert to a season-ending foot injury.
Nebraska -- The Cornhuskers are rated last in adjusted offense in the league. They lost to IU in their lone regular-season meeting.
Iowa -- The Hawkeyes are searching for some consistency on offense. Their lone meeting with IU will be in Bloomington next month.
Minnesota -- The Golden Gophers' rough start in league play has them struggling just to avoid the cellar.
Illinois -- The Fighting Illini also lost their best scorer, Rayvonte Rice, for the season. IU beat Illinois in Champaign this past weekend.
IU appears to be better than all of those teams offensively.
Just consider that Maryland was 4-0 when shooting 50 percent or better this season and shot 50.9 percent against the Hoosiers. Normally an outing like that on the road would signal victory. But the Hoosiers hung 89 on the Terrapins, the most they’ve allowed all season, and shot 68 percent from 3-point range.
If the offense can keep going, the Hoosiers just might prove to the league that they don't need to specialize in defensive stops to be successful.
It’s that time of the season where hope is slowly replaced in the lineup by reality. There have been enough games on the road, enough against tough competition. Enough with the cupcake schedules. Enough excuses.
It’s time for teams to accept exactly what they are.
That’s why No. 11 Iowa State’s 86-81 win over No. 9 Kansas should be viewed as a statement game. The Cyclones proved they are not some gimmicky offense that just tries to wilt an opponent with pressure to keep pace scoring.
Oh, they are still very much an offensive explosion waiting to happen. They outscored the Jayhawks 31-19 in transition, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Iowa State guard Naz Long had 20 points and all five starters scored in double figures.
Georges Niang sealed the win by drawing a charge when the Jayhawks had a chance to tie the score with 14 seconds left.
The loss doesn’t bring an end to Kansas’ reign in the Big 12. It’s still too early for that kind of claim. But it does signal that Iowa State is going to have a say in determining who claims the league crown.
The biggest surprise from Saturday has to be that Kansas State, the same team that lost to Texas Southern, now has a half-game lead in the Big 12. There are seven ranked teams in the league, and the Wildcats aren’t one of them.
There’s no guarantee they’ll stay in first with the next four games all against ranked teams. But the Wildcats were trending downward when coach Bruce Weber benched Thomas Gipson, Marcus Foster and Jevon Thomas at different times recently in an attempt to get his team’s attention.
He’s got it now as the Wildcats rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat No. 22 Baylor 63-61. They’ve won four straight, which includes a win at No. 18 Oklahoma.
No. 1 Kentucky’s well-dissected struggles in its first two SEC games are long forgotten after its 70-48 win over Alabama. Along with Tuesday’s 86-37 win over Missouri, that makes back-to-back games of not allowing its opponent to reach 50 points. The Wildcats are once again the dominant team everyone expected to see in league play.
No. 2 Virginia, which joins Kentucky as the only unbeaten teams remaining, has arguably been the most consistent team all season. The Cavaliers showed they don’t get rattled after being down five early in the second half at Boston College. They used a 10-0 run to take control of the game and exit with a 66-51 victory.
No. 5 Villanova took a break from the Big East schedule to handle crosstown rival Penn 62-47. Nova is still positioned as the team to beat in the league with its only loss coming in overtime at Seton Hall.
Besides a road dud at Illinois, No. 14 Maryland is fitting in just fine its first season in the Big Ten. The Terps also hold a half-game lead over Wisconsin and Iowa for first place.
They dismantled Michigan State 75-59 as Melo Trimble and Jake Layman combined for 47 points.
No. 4 Duke, No. 18 Oklahoma and No. 20 Texas all entered Saturday having lost two straight games. Each stopped the losing streak against ranked teams, and in the process, regained some of that missing confidence.
Duke uncharacteristically played zone to neutralize what had been its weakness in both losses -- defending ball screens and dribble penetration.
Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield went 10-for-10 from the field for 27 points. When the Sooners get hot shooting, there will be many more wins like their 82-65 dismantling of No. 24 Oklahoma State
Texas guard Isaiah Taylor’s return from a wrist injury that sidelined him for a month was supposed to signal that the ‘Horns were getting stronger. Instead, they dropped two of three games while seemingly figuring out their chemistry again. They appeared to find it in stomping No. 16 West Virginia 77-50.
No. 10 Arizona had one of the most impressive wins of the day in stopping No. 8 Utah 69-51. The Wildcats may still be slow starters, but their win proved that they can finish.
Louisville got exposed at home in a way that no one expected. Losing to Duke is one thing, but shooting 30 percent from the field is another. The Cardinals have lost two of their past three games and will probably have to deal with more zones after failing to meet the Blue Devils’ challenge of daring them to shoot from outside.
They don’t have any bad losses -- all three have come to teams ranked in the top 15 -- and their best win was against Ohio State, a team that’s also losing its grip.
The Buckeyes have dropped two of their past three games with Saturday’s 76-67 loss at Iowa. Thought as a team that could possibly contend with Wisconsin for the Big Ten title, they moved to 3-3 and are in eighth place.
Oklahoma State has now dropped three out of four games with its loss to Oklahoma. Yes, the losses all came against ranked teams, and they were all on the road. But in the Big 12 this season, only three league members aren’t currently ranked. The Cowboys need to find a way to win away from Stillwater.
No. 19 Arkansas joined Baylor in losing to unranked teams on Saturday. The Razorbacks appear to be pretty one-dimensional with their frenetic full-court pressure and trapping. If their opponent doesn’t have the backcourt to handle the pace, they generally have a good shot at winning. When they face teams like Mississippi, who don’t mind playing that pace, it can be trouble. Aided by transition baskets, Ole Miss shot 56 percent in its 96-82 win over the Razorbacks.
The chorus of questions surrounding Wisconsin and Arizona began like a melancholy hymn, as both teams with national title aspirations fell victim to road conference losses.
After Thursday night wins at home, the Badgers and Wildcats are back to an upbeat tune. No. 7 Wisconsin topped Nebraska 70-55 and No. 10 Arizona stopped Colorado 68-54.
Part of the Badgers' problems was solved simply with the return of center and Wooden Award candidate Frank Kaminsky, who sat out Sunday's loss to Rutgers with concussion symptoms.
The Scarlet Knights, who had never beaten a top-five team, knocked off then-No. 4 Wisconsin 67-62. The Badgers were short Kaminsky before the game and then lost Traevon Jackson when the point guard broke his foot early in the second half.
Kaminsky's absence was an easy asterisk to the loss. But Jackson's loss raises legitimate questions at point guard. How would sophomore Bronson Koenig fare replacing Jackson, who won't be back until perhaps late February?
The short-term answer is just fine. Koenig ranked second nationally among players with at least 20 assists with a 4.5 assist to turnover ratio.
The major difference between the two is Jackson is a better defender, but Koenig adds another proficient shooter to the lineup. The Cornhuskers found out the hard way as Koenig went 3-of-4 from the 3-point line and finished with 11 points.
Kaminsky returned to the lineup and did what he does. He dropped a team-high 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting and showed no signs of missing a game. He helped the Badgers build a 10-point halftime lead and they never trailed again despite Nebraska's Terran Petteway single-handedly trying to keep his team close with a game-high 27 points.
Arizona didn't have a Kaminsky returning to the lineup to boost the entire team's play. In fact, it was missing a key part of its backcourt rotation as guard Gabe York sat out to nurse an ankle sprain.
But playing at home in the McKale Center -- where the Wildcats now hold the nation's second-longest home win streak at 31 games -- certainly helped. They didn't show any of the weaknesses that had been recurring while losing two of their past four games entering Thursday night.
In Sunday's 58-56 loss to Oregon State -- the Beavers' first win over a top-10 team in nearly 15 years -- the Wildcats lost focus defensively. They allowed the Beavers to shoot 64 percent in the second half.
They had no such lapses in the second half against Colorado. The Wildcats actually got tougher as the game progressed, holding the Buffaloes to 40 percent shooting from the floor. Arizona again looked like the team that is rated eighth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and has allowed only one opponent to reach 70 points.
Colorado played short-handed, too. Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson both missed the game with nagging injuries. That left Askia Booker as the primary scoring threat for the Buffaloes. Booker took advantage of his green light to shoot, finishing with a game-high 30 points, but no other Colorado player reached double figures.
It won't be so easy on Saturday when the Wildcats face No. 8 Utah at home.
But the area that may be a bigger concern is getting some easy shots on offense.
The Wildcats have started games rather lethargically. It happened in their loss to Oregon State when they scored only 21 points in the first half. It was happening again against Colorado when they were stuck at 25 points with three minutes to go in the half. Arizona managed to close out the first half on a 10-3 run, but scoring has been too hard to come by at times. Colorado sat back in a zone and challenged the Wildcats to make perimeter shots.
Elliott Pitts came off the bench to knock down four 3-pointers, which accounted for all 12 of his points, to loosen up the zone. It allowed Stanley Johnson, who scored a team-high 22 points, to get into the paint and into his comfort zone.
Being back in the McKale Center, it looked like the team was there as well.
- You already know how bad December has been for the Big Ten. But in case you needed a comprehensive refresher, and are willing to have a Counting Crows song welded into your cranium for the next three days, Big Ten Geeks is the place to be.
- Michigan basketball has been the chief example of the Big Ten's woes. Coming off two massively successful campaigns, the Wolverines have done exactly nothing to keep their hoops fans excited. But there is one good way to keep ticket demand high: "The reason the cheapest ticket for the game against the Illini is selling for $132.35 as of Sunday morning is that Michigan fans are willing to spend big bucks for the chance to see Jim Harbaugh speak at halftime. ... Tickets to the Illinois game are selling for as much as four or five times the price of similar seats to Michigan's other Big Ten games." To add to the excitement of Harbaugh's reported deal with the Wolverines, Michigan's official hoops student section is planning a "Khaki Out" in honor of the coach's predilection for value-priced pants.
- Maryland guard Dez Wells returned from a November wrist injury (and subsequent surgery) in Saturday's 72-56 win over Oakland, one that pushed the Terps to 12-1 on the season, their lone loss coming at home to unbeaten Virginia. That leaves Wells fully recovered just in time for the start of Big Ten play. There is some question as to whether Wells could be a minor spoke in the new UM's efficient, free-throw-dominating offense. He is the only Terp who prefers to take 2-point jump shots (on 52 percent of his shots, according to Hoop-Math.com), while point guard Melo Trimble and wing Jake Layman distribute their attempts much more efficiently (i.e., either at the rim or from beyond the arc). The counterargument holds that Wells' athleticism and physicality on the ball make him a threat, particularly in the open court, and his ability to handle the ball takes pressure off Trimble even if Wells doesn't always pick the best spots. For now, the early returns are positive: Wells finished 5-of-9 from the field for 10 points and four assists Saturday.
- Hawaii used its unique opportunity as the host of the Diamond Head Classic to impress a wide (if holiday-distracted) audience, upending Nebraska and pushing Wichita State all the way into overtime last week. It would be doubly unfortunate, then, if an injury to senior guard Garrett Navels derailed the Warriors' progress.
- Last Monday, San Diego State forward Dwayne Polee collapsed during a game against UC Riverside. It was a frightening sight, as frightening as any athlete suddenly succumbing to an unseen malady can be. The scare was only made worse this weekend, when SDSU coach Steve Fisher told reporters that Polee has collapsed before, in a practice last season: "Dwayne had a similar issue occur last year around Dec. 13," Fisher said. "During practice, he looked as if he was stumbling and went down on one knee and on his side. Within seconds, we were at his side, and he was sitting up and stood up. He was monitored as the season went on and had no recurrences of anything." Doctors are still trying to figure out whether the two episodes are in any way related. In the meantime, there is no timetable for Polee's return to the court.
Arguably the No. 1 center in college basketball -- Duke’s Jahlil Okafor -- squares off Wednesday night against the player who could be labeled No. 1A -- Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky.
Okafor’s traditional, dominant play in the post meets Kaminsky’s versatility and ability to step out on the perimeter. Okafor represents the latest, greatest potential one-and-done talent against the old-school, four-year formula of improvement by Kaminsky.
Except Okafor’s not buying into the matchup hype. If anything, he’s downplayed it.
"Frank Kaminsky, he’s had a great career and he’s a proven big man with myself who’s a freshman who’s only played seven games in college basketball," Okafor said. "So that’s going to be a challenge in itself."
Okafor’s ability not only to score but to open up shots for the rest of the Blue Devils will challenge the Badgers’ defense. Okafor leads Duke with 17.7 points per game, is second on the team with 7.9 rebounds and is shooting 63.6 percent from the floor.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said he was most impressed by Okafor’s size and maneuverability.
"I haven’t seen him dance, but I bet he can dance, he’s got good feet," Ryan said. "That baseline move he has, he’s pretty good that way. You can put names on guys -- McDonald’s All American, Player of the Year, freshman Player of the Year, but he backs it up, just like the guy before him."
Kaminsky can dance, too, sort of. At least he goofs around in a viral video to Taylor Swift’s "Shake It Off."
"I didn’t see it," Okafor said. "How was he?"
Good enough to know he’ll stick to basketball, where Kaminsky leads the Badgers with 16.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and is shooting 40.7 percent from the 3-point line. Asked about the challenge of guarding Kaminsky on the perimeter, Okafor shrugged.
"I feel fine," he said.
Okafor deflected questions about the matchup with Kaminsky with the ease that he blocks shots. It wasn’t in Marshawn Lynch’s don’t-care-to-be-bothered kind of way, either. Okafor didn’t repeat one-word answers until reporters got tired of asking.
He simply doesn’t believe in making it a personal battle. Frankly, he’s never had to make a name for himself by outperforming another top player.
"I never had to worry about putting a target on somebody else’s back. Usually the target was on my back," Okafor said. "So, I never had that problem."
It’s not an act for the media. His Duke teammates say they haven’t noticed Okafor having an extra bounce because of the opponent.
Freshman guard Tyus Jones has known Okafor since grade school and was also his teammate on the U.S. Under-17 national team.
"Many people are talking about it but Jah’s really good at looking at it as a whole and not really making it him against Kaminsky," Jones said. "He’ll be ready to play and we’ll be ready to play."
Okafor said playing against Kaminsky is no different than preparing to face Kevin Ferguson, the starting center at Army whom Okafor faced in the Blue Devils’ 93-73 win on Sunday.
Okafor said he was a little nervous before that game the same way he’s nervous before every game. That game was in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Wednesday’s game at Wisconsin marks Duke’s first true road game.
"We’ll see, I’ve never played in any game like I’m about to play in Wednesday night," Okafor said. "I’m looking forward to it. I really don’t know what to expect."
Maybe not from the Kohl Center crowd, but he’s quickly gotten up to speed on what to expect from Kaminsky.
"He’s just a different type of post man, he averages the most 3-point field goals on his team, he’s also made the most," Okafor said. "He’s just a phenomenal player. Like I said, he’s proven and has had an amazing career. It’s definitely going to be a hard test for me. I’m looking forward to it."
Maybe talk of an emerging ACC juggernaut was again premature. Maybe more teams -- it's the second year with 15 basketball members -- will never equate to more muscle. It sure seems that way after the Big Ten dominated the first two days of the ACC/Big Ten challenge, winning Tuesday's matchups 4-2 to go along with wins from Rutgers and Nebraska on Monday.
The Big Ten made the ACC look awfully shallow.
The strength remains at the top of the league. The ACC won the only games that pitted two ranked teams.
No. 5 Louisville, which just joined the league this season, started strong then held on for a 64-55 win over No. 14 Ohio State. Miami's emergence from an unknown quantity and unranked preseason status to a No. 15 ranking was solidified with its 70-61 win over No. 24 Illinois.
The conference's remaining heavyweights -- No. 4 Duke, No. 7 Virginia and No. 12 North Carolina -- all play on Wednesday.
But those second-tier teams that were truly supposed to make the ACC stronger this season? Well, they all came up short on the road. (It's not as simple as blaming playing on the road; Florida State and Clemson lost at home on Monday.)
Syracuse had turnovers on two separate chances to take the lead in the final 15 seconds at No. 17 Michigan and fell 68-65. Wolverines guard Spike Albrecht, filling in like he did in the 2013 Final Four matchup between the teams, hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 30 seconds left.
NC State went back and forth at Purdue, but also squandered its chances in the closing seconds. Down three with 29 seconds left, the Boilermakers didn't allow them a good look for a 3-pointer. Trevor Lacey was fouled on a drive with 13 seconds left and missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Purdue finished them off with two free throws by A.J. Hammons for a 66-61 win.
Pittsburgh had a horrid shooting night as Indiana held them to 36 percent from the floor and just 7-of-26 on 3-pointers. The Panthers led Indiana only twice in the game -- the last time being 4-2 -- and fell to the Hoosiers 81-69.
Maybe it won't stay that way for the ACC. There were many reasons to believe that vast improvements could be forthcoming.
The Orange are still very much a young team. Syracuse has been spoiled by freshmen who were just plugged into the lineup without a dropoff or even a learning curve -- like Tyler Ennis did last season.
Freshmen forward Chris McCullough and point guard Kaleb Joseph, who accounted for the team’s final two turnovers, can learn from their mistakes and improve.
The Pack handled their first road game of the season with poise, but they just have to learn to close out.
The Panthers will get a boost when senior guard Cameron Wright is expected to return from his left foot injury within the next few weeks. They also found a bright spot against the Hoosiers with sophomore Chris Jones erupting for 18 points, which was just his second game in double figures scoring this season.
Until and unless those teams come around, the ACC will be left to lean on its ranked teams for any bragging rights.
Miami continues to get better as its newcomers continue to jell. The Hurricanes committed a season-low five turnovers and freshman DeAndre Burnett came off the bench to score a season-high 19 points.
Although Louisville squandered a 19-point lead against the Buckeyes, it never allowed them to have the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead. And in what may be the most encouraging sign for the Cardinals, former McDonald's All-American Wayne Blackshear showed a flash of the potential they've waited four years to come to fruition. He scored a season-high 22 points with six rebounds.
The ACC may turn out to have the best collection of elite teams, but there's no super league here. It stops at the top.
As a junior last season, he averaged 20.3 points and 4.9 assists for a 24-win Green Bay team that beat eventual NCAA tourney 1-seed Virginia and lost to eventual Final Four participant Wisconsin by just three.
He's also one heck of dunker, as our C.L. Brown documented in the preseason. Even Sykes' missed slams are spectacular -- as was the case Wednesday night in a rematch with the Badgers at the Kohl Center.
During the opening minutes of the Phoenix's 84-60 loss to UW, the 6-foot guard took off from halfway down the free-throw lane and leaped right over the shoulders of 7-foot Wisconsin center Frank "The Tank" Kaminsky, who was recently named the No. 1 player in college basketball in ESPN.com's #CBBrank survey.
OK, so the attempt clanked off the back of the rim. Those are mere details. The effort was insane and Kaminsky certainly took notice, using his Twitter feed after the game to thank his lucky stars.
Thank God that @keifer1124 missed that dunk. Would have ruined my confidence as a basketball player.— Frank Kaminsky III (@FSKPart3) November 20, 2014
Sykes quickly responded, which led to a cordial exchange about the professional futures of both players. Well done, fellas.
@FSKPart3 didn't get a win or make the dunk but I'm sure it's a nice picture of the miss dunk that I can save to post when you get drafted.— Keifer J. Sykes (@keifer1124) November 20, 2014
@keifer1124 *when we get drafted— Frank Kaminsky III (@FSKPart3) November 20, 2014
@FSKPart3 true that's the goal, goodluck the rest of the way!— Keifer J. Sykes (@keifer1124) November 20, 2014
@keifer1124 you too man. Keep killin.— Frank Kaminsky III (@FSKPart3) November 20, 2014
ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Big Ten coaches and players gathered again for the league’s annual media day on Thursday.
Here are my five takeaways from the event:
- Same ol' Wisconsin. The Badgers, who were picked to win the league for the first time under Bo Ryan, didn’t arrive by chariot. Sam Dekker wasn’t wearing sunglasses and a gold chain, either. If all the hype and buzz that followed last year’s Final Four run has changed Wisconsin, the program is doing a great job of hiding it. “Well, it really doesn't affect when we're doing; our transition defensive drills, I don't think my guys are thinking about that,” Ryan said. “Our guys live in the moment, or at least we're trying to -- it appears that way. They're trying to get better. They know there's weaknesses to shore up, and we're trying to accentuate our strengths." One strength that Ryan pointed to was the team’s overall depth. He says he has seven starters with Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig and Duje Dukan all potentially working their way into the starting rotation. Four starters return, including Frank Kaminsky, the Big Ten’s preseason player of the year. They’re obviously facing more scrutiny and the expectations are higher, but the Badgers seem as humble and reserved as they were when they became accustomed to being the perennial underdogs in the league.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Morry GashBo Ryan has four starters returning from last year's team that made a Final Four run.
- Where are the stars? In recent years, the Big Ten has been carried by some big names who shaped the league’s identity. Jared Sullinger, Greg Oden, Draymond Green, Robbie Hummel, Cody Zeller, Adreian Payne and others were marquee names that resonated on the national scale. But outside Wisconsin’s roster, it’s difficult to find those stars in the Big Ten. There are certainly some candidates who could emerge in the coming months. A.J. Hammons could have a big year for Purdue. Branden Dawson is finally “The Man” at Michigan State. Caris LeVert could be Michigan’s next lottery pick. Rayvonte Rice is a talented player who could make some noise. Aaron White at Iowa could, too. But it’s odd to survey the room and not see the kind of recognizable talent that the Big Ten often enjoys. But the good news for the league is that it has produced a multitude of breakout stars, including Victor Oladipo and Nik Stauskas, in recent years. That could happen again this season. Right now, however, there aren’t many surefire gems in the Big Ten who don’t live in Madison.
- Big Ten not worried about Big National Title Drought. The Big Ten has taken the “best league in the country” championship in recent seasons. It’s a force that regularly sends six or more teams to the Big Dance every year. But the conference hasn’t won a national title since Michigan State seized the crown in 2000. Big Ten football has experienced a similar drought (Ohio State’s 2002 championship was the league’s last national title in that sport). But commissioner Jim Delany said he doesn’t think that mark is a fair measurement of the league’s achievements. “When I was at North Carolina, we lost in three Final Fours three years in a row,” Delany said. “We couldn't win the big one. But the reality is there are a lot of ways to measure success. This is college basketball, so check us first on who we recruit, the kind of people we have, how they move through the system. Check out our winning, check out our attendance for 38 years in a row. We've had five years of consecutive attendance growth -- that's pretty remarkable.”
- Nebraska ready for the next step. Tim Miles, the coach who live tweets during games, kicked off the event with his typical brand of humor. “You know, an old coaching friend told me one time, never trust the media unless it helps you with recruiting, so I kind of stick by that.” How old a coach was that? “Well, that was Jim Molinari, my assistant. He told me yesterday.” But he’s more than a comedian. Miles can coach and he’s ready for the expectations that Nebraska faces after last year’s run to the NCAA tourney. “Expectations are what they are, but nobody should have higher expectations for us than ourselves,” he said.
- Poll Recount? Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State (the latter two lost major contributors from last year) were picked to finish first, second and third in the league by a media panel. I think Nebraska deserves a slot in that top three with all that Miles is bringing back. Kaminsky, Dekker, LeVert, Terran Petteway and Yogi Ferrell comprise the preseason all-Big Ten squad. Strong crew, but no room for Dawson, Rice or Big Ten newcomer and former all-ACC performer Dez Wells?
On Sunday, our very own Dana O'Neil took the challenge and then called on Mr. Social Media himself, Nebraska Cornhuskers coach Tim Miles, to do the same.
He did. And he did so in the only way Miles knows how to do such things -- in an entertaining fashion.
Even college basketball has joined in on the fun. The official Twitter feed of Wisconsin basketball, which was knocked out of the Final Four on a late 3-pointer by Kentucky's Aaron Harrison, dreamed of a scenario in which America's new hero saved the day at JerryWorld.
A Big Ten rival, which suffered the same fate at the hands of Harrison a week earlier in the Elite Eight, found itself playing the "what-if" game as well.
@BadgerMBB Same.— Michigan Basketball (@umichbball) July 3, 2014
In today's 3-point shot, Andy Katz talks about Rutgers officially joining the Big Ten, Connecticut picking up key recruit Jalen Adams and new teams joining the American Athletic Conference.
Andy Katz reports on why Dominic Artis isn't headed to St. John's, how Louisiana-Lafayette plans to springboard off Elfrid Payton's NBA lottery status, and the upcoming first days in new conferences for Louisville, Maryland and Rutgers.