Burning questions facing Big Ten teams (Part 2)

Frank Kaminsky NCAA Basketball Tournament 9RDSg4I7N3_l[1]

Big Ten players and coaches took to Chicago last week to face the media for the first time this season and answer questions about expectations, offseason development and more. With the start of the season less than a month away, we ran through the conference to look at one major question facing all 14 teams. Previously: Part 1 

Wisconsin: Can the Badgers handle expectations?

It’s no surprise that the conference’s consensus favorite has to answer the easiest question. Bo Ryan returns four of five starters and his critical reserves from last year’s Final Four team. While losing Ben Brust’s 244 3-point field goal attempts will hurt, more playing time for Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig is a good thing.

And if there’s ever a program that won’t be affected by lofty preseason expectations its Bo Ryan’s.

“Well, it really doesn’t affect when we’re doing our transition defensive drills,” Bo Ryan quipped from the podium in Chicago. “I don’t think my guys are thinking about (expectations).  Our guys live in the moment, or at least we’re trying to‑‑ it appears that way.  They’re trying to get better.”

People generally question a team’s ability to handle expectations when they don’t know what else to criticize them for and the Badgers fit that mantra. They have the league’s best big man, best NBA Draft prospect, an experienced point guard and all of the right role players. It’s hard to argue that the Badgers don’t have a legitimate shot of winning the league and competing for a trip back to the Final Four.

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Burning questions facing Big Ten teams (Part 1)


Big Ten players and coaches took to Chicago last week to face the media for the first time this season and answer questions about expectations, offseason development and more. With the start of the season less than a month away, we ran through the conference to look at one major question facing all 14 teams. 

Iowa: Can the Hawkeyes bounce back from last year’s disappointing finish without Devyn Marble?

In mid-February, Fran McCaffery appeared to be on the verge of his big breakthrough in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes were 19-6 and looked like a team headed for a top-5 NCAA tournament seed. Then Iowa finished the season losing seven of its final eight games, ending the season with a NCAA tournament play-in defeat to Tennessee.

It’s going to be tough to shake the bitter taste of last year’s finish and it’ll be even tougher without Roy Devyn Marble. Despite the fact that Iowa was the deepest team in the Big Ten last season, it was still as reliant on one player as anyone in the conference other than Nebraska. Now the question is who will replace his production? McCaffery gave Aaron White the nod at Big Ten Media Day.

“Well, the leadership and talent, obviously it shifts to Aaron White,” McCaffery said. “ It’s Aaron White’s team.  But again, he’s got two other seniors and four juniors all of whom played a lot, and they’re all good people and they’re all good players.”

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LeVert improving jumper, distribution as season approaches

Michigan 73, Tennessee 71-2
Dustin Johnston

The moment was emblematic of Michigan’s run to the Big Ten title last season.

With the seconds ticking down in the first half of the Wolverines’ game against Michigan State on February 23rd, Caris LeVert caught a pass and immediately elevated for a three from his sweet spot, the left corner. As the ball arced toward the hoop, the guard turned and began sprinting back to the locker room.

He didn’t need to keep watching to know the shot was going to drop.

LeVert finished with 23 points that afternoon as part of a breakout sophomore campaign that saw his transformation into an elusive ballhandler who was deadly from three.

The lanky guard was one of the best players in the conference last season, but John Beilein and the rest of the Michigan coaching staff believe there’s substantial room for improvement this winter.  [click to continue…]

2014-15 Player Preview: Zak Irvin

Michigan 79, Wayne State 60-6

With the start of college basketball around the corner, we’re breaking down Michigan’s roster player-by-player. Previously: Spike Albrecht. (Photo: Dustin Johnston)

Zak Irvin was Michigan’s sixth man last season, but he never had trouble making himself noticed on the floor.

When Irvin checked into the game he was ready to do one thing: shoot, and then shoot some more. Irvin shot the ball on 25.9% of Michigan’s offensive possessions while he was on the court. That’s more than Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert or Glenn Robinson III, the focal points of last year’s offense.

If there’s anyone that should be comfortable with a dramatic increase in offensive opportunities it’s the 6-foot-6 scorer from Fishers, Indiana.

Irvin played just 15.4 minutes per game last season and is very likely to double that this year. If he does double his playing time and produce at a similar level, his scoring average would project to 14 points per game and he could realistically push toward 300 three-point field goal attempts after averaging over 10 3-point attempts per-40 minutes last season. While that’s nowhere near the Division I record of 395 it would crush the Michigan record of 222 3-point attempts set by Robbie Reid in 1999. [click to continue…]

How do you stop Michigan? ‘Hope they miss shots’

Michigan 77, Purdue 76-16
Dustin Johnston

ROSEMONT, Ill. — If you like offense, you’ve enjoyed watching Michigan lately.

The last two seasons, the Wolverines have led the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, operating at such a high pace in 2013-14 that they finished with the best recorded mark in Ken Pomeroy’s history. Michigan returns plenty of talent from last year, including preseason All-Big Ten team member Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, and Zak Irvin. Plus, the Wolverines should see immediate offensive contributions from 4-star forward Kameron Chatman.

All told, John Beilein has said this may be his most versatile team since the coach arrived in Ann Arbor. With that in mind, we spent Thursday’s Big Ten Media Day asking some of the conference’s better players how to stop Michigan.

‘Hope they miss shots’

Tre Demps, Northwestern

“Oh, man. I think one of the main things, you hope they miss shots. I think the way that they’re spaced in their offense is just so hard to stop. The reads that they make are so precise. If you help too much off of one guy, another guy is going to be wide open for a three. Our scouting versus Michigan, you have to really buy into what the coaches are saying.

“A team like Michigan, you’re going to have to run a lot of schemes. You can’t just play them straight up defensively just by how talented they are. The preparation, the scouting, the different wrinkles we put into our defense, you have to really pay attention and lock in before the game.”

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Five takeaways from Big Ten Media Day

Michigan 57, Wofford 40-9
Dustin Johnston

ROSEMONT, Ill. — John Beilein, Caris LeVert, and Spike Albrecht were all in attendance to represent Michigan at Big Ten Media Day on Thursday morning. They were among the most popular groups at the event, fielding questions from reporters throughout the hour of availability.

Though Wisconsin is the unanimous favorite to win the conference, coaches and players alike asserted that several other teams, including the Wolverines, could compete for the Big Ten title. And given Michigan’s penchant to reload rather than rebuild under Beilein, the attention Thursday wasn’t much of a surprise.

Here’s what we learned from this year’s Big Ten Media Day.

Freshmen are acclimating quickly, but expect frustrating non-conference losses

Beilein has maintained that achieving success is difficult, but sustaining it might be harder still.

For the Wolverines to repeat as Big Ten champions, they’ll need to find a way to replace the bevy of talent that left after the 2013-14 season. And that means some of the burden will fall on Ricky Doyle, Kameron Chatman, D.J. Wilson, Aubrey Dawkins, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, the freshmen most likely to contribute immediately.

“This could be three, four, five guys are going to play, and they’re first-year players,” Beilein said. “We have to get them ready.”

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