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2014 Big Ten basketball preview: Part two

Thursday, October 30th, 2014


2014-15 B1G BBall Preview-Part2

Over the past few years an incredible change has passed over the Midwest, which was long praised for elite football programs like Michigan and Ohio State and largely uncompetitive on the hardwood with Michigan State taking the cake nearly every season. Now, the sports landscape has been turned on its head, as Big Ten football struggles to keep three teams ranked in the Top 25 while the basketball conference continues to solidify itself as the best in the nation.

Last season was another great campaign for the conference as a whole. Wisconsin fought its way through a tough West regional to reach the Final Four, while Michigan and Michigan State were just seconds away from doing the same, eventually losing to the two National Championship competitors. Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska were also selected for the Big Dance, giving the Big Ten six teams that made the cut. Minnesota also had a successful postseason, winning the NIT championship.

The Big Ten has climbed to the top of the basketball world by featuring a deep slate of teams led by a few legitimate Final Four contenders. This season will be no different, even as the conference welcomes two new teams that have struggled in recent years.

Below is part two of our Big Ten preview. Although there are no divisions in basketball, we split up our preview into the Big Ten West and Big Ten East divisions for the sake of organization. Part one (the Big Ten West) was posted earlier this week.

Note: In the 2013 Stats & Rankings tables for each team, the darker the shade of maize, the better that team was in that category; the darker the shade of blue, the worse that team was in that category.

Indiana Hoosiers Indiana logo
Head Coach: Tom Crean (7th season)
2013-14: 17-15, T-8th in Big Ten (7-11), No postseason
Returning starters: 3 (Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson, Yogi Ferrell)
Recruiting class rank: #17 (James Blackmon, Jr., Robert Johnson, Emmitt Holt, Max Hoetzel, Tim Priller, Jeremiah April)
Key non-conference games: Dec 2 vs Pitt, Dec 9 vs Louisville, Dec 20 vs Butler, Dec 27 vs Georgetown

Indiana was surprisingly mediocre last season coming off two straight 27-plus win seasons under Tom Crean. As a sophomore, Yogi Ferrell took over the team and averaged 17.3 points and 3.9 assists per game to lead the offense. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, dominant freshman Noah Vonleh declared for the NBA draft and senior leader Will Sheehey graduated, leaving Ferrell without much help on the offensive side of the ball.

As Ferrell continues to lead Indiana as a junior, the team will have to solidify itself on defense without that dominating presence inside. The roster is small and turnover-prone, which is a formula for disaster in a difficult Big Ten conference. If strong defensive teams lock up on Ferrell and force the rest of this group to make plays, it could be another empty March for the Hoosiers.

Player to watch: Yogi Ferrell. This guy is really fun to watch, as he is quick and creative off the dribble but also accurate from the outside. As one of the most dangerous offensive players in the Big Ten, Ferrell can explode and give Indiana a chance to win on any given night.

Best-case scenario: Indiana sees even more growth from Ferrell and freshmen James Blackmon and Robert Johnson make a quick transition to the college game, landing Indiana a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Worst-case scenario: Last year’s mess leaks over into this season and Indiana hovers around .500 all season, giving the players plenty of time to study for exams in March.

Projected finish: 9th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 72.2 5 108
Scoring Defense 67.6 8 96
Field Goal Percentage .448 6 132
Field Goal Percentage Defense .412 4 59
3-pt FG Percentage .344 6 173
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .299 2 8
Free Throw Percentage .730 7 66
Rebounding Margin +7.6 1
Assist/Turnover Ratio 11.5/15.1 = 0.8 12 321
Steals 5.9 7 179
Blocked Shots 4.3 6 82

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Maryland Terrapins Maryland logo
Head Coach: Mark Turgeon (4th season)
2013-14: 17-15, 9th in ACC (9-9), No postseason
Returning starters: 1 (Evan Smotrycz)
Recruiting class rank: #14 (Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley, Jared Nickens, Michal Cekovsky)
Key non-conference games: Dec 3 vs Virginia, Dec 21 at Oklahoma State

Maryland will make the move to the Big Ten and find itself in uncharted territory as a grueling conference schedule offers challenge after challenge during the winter months. Despite battling to stay relevant over the past few seasons, Maryland brought in a top 10 recruiting class to counter its first Big Ten slate, including Melo Trumble, who will join the team’s top returner Dez Wells in the backcourt.

Though the Big Ten is much deeper than the ACC, Maryland is no stranger to tough games and atmospheres. The Terrapins lost to eventual champion UCONN by just one point last season and even knocked off the conference champion Virginia Cavaliers.

Player to watch: Evan Smotrycz. Michigan fans will remember the curly-haired senior well from his two seasons in Ann Arbor. The 6 foot 9 forward averaged 11 points and six rebounds per game in 2013-14, both better than his totals in the Big Ten. He will miss at least the first month of the season after breaking his foot in October.

Best-case scenario: Maryland surprises the Big Ten and finishes in the top half of the league behind elite backcourt play from Wells and Trumble. Finishing with just over 20 wins earns the Terps a late invite to the Dace.

Worst-case scenario: The Big Ten proves to be much more difficult than the ACC and Maryland wears down early in 2015, finishing with a losing conference record and missing the tournament once again.

Projected finish: 11th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank* National Rank
Scoring Offense 70.9 8 157
Scoring Defense 67.7 9 103
Field Goal Percentage .430 8 218
Field Goal Percentage Defense .417 7 78
3-pt FG Percentage .342 7 172
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .341 9 154
Free Throw Percentage .679 12 253
Rebounding Margin +3.3 5
Assist/Turnover Ratio 11.7/12.8 = 0.9 11 243
Steals 6.3 6 138
Blocked Shots 4.3 6 81
*Where Maryland’s stats would have ranked in the Big Ten last season

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Michigan Wolverines Block M - Maize
Head Coach: John Beilein (8th season)
2013-14: 28-9, 1st in Big Ten (15-3), Elite Eight NCAA Tournament
Returning Starters: 2 (Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Jr.)
Recruiting class rank: #28 (Kameron Chatman, D.J. Wilson, Ricky Doyle, Aubrey Dawkins, Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Austin Hatch)
Key non-conference games: Nov 24 vs Oregon, Dec 2 vs Syracuse, Dec 13 at Arizona, Dec 20 vs SMU

John Beilein has certainly turned the Michigan basketball program around. After leading his team to the National Championship game in 2013 and losing stars Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. to the first round of the NBA draft, Beilein simply reloaded and came within one miracle heavy by Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison of returning to the Final Four. Now the team is hoping to recover from major losses once again as Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III left for the NBA, Jordan Morgan graduated and Jon Horford transferred to Florida for his final year of eligibility.

It’s no secret that Beilein needs to continue developing his players to maintain Michigan’s recent success. Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, Jr. weren’t the most highly-rated recruits, but they will be asked to lead the offense from the backcourt this season after shouldering a big load last year. LeVert, who was named to the 2014-15 preseason All-Big Ten team, set the precedent for sophomore Zak Irvin, who is the popular choice for Michigan’s third straight breakout star.

As the former Mr. Basketball in Indiana, Irvin should welcome lofty expectations. He gave the offense a shot in the arm in a lesser role last season, and will hope to become a more versatile scorer as a starter, much like Stauskas and LeVert did last year.

Michigan also brings in a trio of talented freshmen in D.J. Wilson, Kameron Chatman and, perhaps most importantly, Ricky Doyle. While Wilson and Chatman figure to join a deep rotation of talented guards, Doyle will join redshirt freshman Mark Donnel as the top options at center for Michigan. The two freshmen stand at just 6 foot 9, so Michigan will have to hide that weakness with another elite offensive season.

Player to watch: Derrick Walton. Michigan figures to get great production from the wings while struggling down low because of a size disadvantage. If Walton can build off of an impressive freshman season, he could give Michigan enough of a backcourt to make another run at the Big Ten

Best-case scenario: John Beilein does it again, and the revamped Wolverines improve throughout the nonconference season and emerge as one of the top teams in the Big Ten. After a top-3 finish in the conference, Michigan enters March with a return to the Final Four in mind.

Worst-case scenario: The exodus of centers from last season bites Michigan, and the Big Ten exposes a lack of size and experience in the paint. Michigan finishes the conference season in the middle of the pack and approaches Selection Sunday with a nervous twinge of doubt about their status.

Projected finish: 3rd

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 73.9 3 70
Scoring Defense 65.1 5 48
Field Goal Percentage .477 1 18
Field Goal Percentage Defense .445 12 196
3-pt FG Percentage .402 1 4
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .318 6 46
Free Throw Percentage .763 1 10
Rebounding Margin +0.2 10
Assist/Turnover Ratio 14.2/9.3 = 1.5 2 7
Steals 5.2 9 273
Blocked Shots 2.4 12 301

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Michigan State Spartans MichiganStateLogo
Head Coach: Tom Izzo (20th season)
2013-14: 29-9, T-2nd in Big Ten (12-6), Elite Eight NCAA Tournament
Returning starters: 2 (Denzel Valentine, Branden Dawson)
Recruiting class rank: #51 (Lourawls Nairn, Jr., Javon Bess, Marvin Clark)
Key non-conference games: Nov 18 vs Duke, Dec 3 at ND

Michigan State battled through some regular-season adversity to emerge as one of the favorites to reach the Final Four last March, but fell short when eventual champion UCONN sent the Spartans home. In the following weeks, head coach Tom Izzo said goodbye to his three top players: Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling.

This season, a variety of role players will be asked to fill the void left by those starters, as the incoming freshmen are far from elite. Branden Dawson will be asked to finally embrace his full potential and anchor the starting lineup alongside streaky Denzel Valentine. Travis Trice and Matt Costello will be asked to step into bigger roles this season and give the Spartans a chance to contend for another Big Ten title.

Izzo’s teams often start slowly during the nonconference season, but they will always improve enough to offer a challenge as the calendar turns to March. With all the new faces in East Lansing, this team will likely follow that same script.

Player to watch: Branden Dawson. Will Dawson finally turn the corner and become the dominant inside presence Izzo recruited him to be? He’s no longer in the (exceptionally large) shadows of Derrick Nix or Payne, which means this is his team now.

Best-case scenario: Though this group may not be one of Izzo’s more talented teams, the best-case scenario for Michigan State is always to be in contention for a Final Four run. If Dawson has an All-Big Ten season and the role players progress significantly, no coach in the country will want to match up with MSU in the NCAA Tournament.

Worst-case scenario: A loaded Big Ten proves difficult for the Spartans during a transition year and the team lands somewhere around .500 in the conference and barely squeezes into the Big Dance.

Projected finish: 5th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 75.5 2 49
Scoring Defense 65.6 7 57
Field Goal Percentage .474 2 21
Field Goal Percentage Defense .397 1 18
3-pt FG Percentage .392 2 16
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .332 8 103
Free Throw Percentage .707 9 151
Rebounding Margin +5.1 3
Assist/Turnover Ratio 16.8/11.6 = 1.4 3 18
Steals 6.8 5 85
Blocked Shots 4.6 4 63

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Ohio State Buckeyes Ohio State logo new
Head Coach: Thad Matta (11th season)
2013-14: 25-10, 5th in Big Ten (10-8), Second Round NCAA Tournament
Returning starters: 2 (Amir Williams, Sam Thompson)
Recruiting class rank: #8 (D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate, Dave Bell)
Key non-conference games: Nov 18 vs Marquette, Dec 2 at Louisville, Dec 20 vs UNC

Remember when Ohio State was 15-0 last season and ranked in the top five? Not many do, because the Buckeyes finished the season 10-10 with a loss to 2014’s Cinderella, the Dayton Flyers, in their first tournament game. Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. graduated, and LaQuinton Ross signed with a team in Italy, so things can only get worse for Than Matta’s group, right?

Wrong. Matta countered the loss of three starters by welcoming a top-five recruiting class into Columbus for the 2014-15 season. Top-ranked shooting guard D’Angelo Russell offers a much-needed shot in the arm for what was a terrible Buckeye offense last season. Shannon Scott will take over as the defensive anchor in wake of Craft’s departure, as OSU tries to match last year’s 59.8 points allowed per game (12th in the nation).

In the paint Ohio State will rely on two potential studs to mask an otherwise thin roster. Amir Williams is a beast on the defensive end and will have to stay out of foul trouble. Anthony Lee joins the Buckeyes after transferring from Temple and will partner with Williams to compose a duo that has to grab all the rebounds for this team.

Player to watch: D’Angelo Russell. He’s the top-ranked recruit joining the Big Ten this season, and Matta has a way of getting the most out of his guards. He has to be the go-to man on offense right out of the gates.

Best-case scenario: Matta turns Russell into one of the top players in the country and pairs him with a dominant defense led by Scott and Williams to win the Big Ten and enter the NCAA Tournament as one of the favorites to reach the Final Four.

Worse-case scenario: A talented trio of recruits suffers growing pains and fails to live up to sky-high standards in Columbus, while foul trouble exposes a thin inside presence on defense. Ohio State struggles in the conference season and finishes sixth in the Big Ten, earning a double-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament

Projected finish: 2nd

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 69.5 9 190
Scoring Defense 59.8 1 11
Field Goal Percentage .450 5 124
Field Goal Percentage Defense .406 2 34
3-pt FG Percentage .324 9 263
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .293 1 5
Free Throw Percentage .689 11 211
Rebounding Margin +0.3 9
Assist/Turnover Ratio 12.0/11.3 = 1.1 6 161
Steals 7.7 1 21
Blocked Shots 4.5 5 85

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Penn State Nittany Lions Penn State Logo
Head Coach: Patrick Chambers (4th season)
2013-14: 16-18, T-10th Big Ten (6-12), CBI Quarterfinals
Returning starters: 4 (Jordan Dickerson, D.J. Newbill, Brandon Taylor, John Johnson)
Recruiting class rank: #86 (Shep Garner, Isaiah Washington, Devin Foster)
Key non-conference games: Dec 3 vs Virginia Tech

It might be another tough year for Pat Chambers and Penn State, especially now that Tim Frazier’s rein of terrorizing the Big Ten is finally over. But five of Penn State’s Big Ten losses came by five points or less last season, which means the Nittany Lions were reasonably within reach of finishing 11-7 in the nation’s top conference. That would have put PSU in fourth place with an overall record of 20-12 at the end of the regular season, a resume that almost exactly mirrors the one that put Nebraska in the NCAA Tournament.

Frazier’s departure hurts the Nittany Lions, but D.J. Newbill quietly took over much of the leadership from the senior last year, leading the team with 17.8 points per game and finishing second in rebounds, blocks and steals. Newbill won’t be alone as the team returns each of its top six scorers from last season, with the exception of Frazier.

Ross Travis and Brandon Taylor will start in the frontcourt for Chambers, who will have no shortage of veteran depth across the board.

Player to watch: Devin Foster. The junior college transfer quietly chose Penn State during the offseason and should take over as the starting point guard right off the bat. Foster averaged 12.2 points and 4.8 assists per game last season with Vincennes and gives Chambers a much-needed distributor on offense.

Best-case scenario: A host of returning players continues to improve under Chambers and Penn State wins half of its Big Ten games, threatening fellow bubble teams in the race for a NCAA Tournament bid.

Worst-case scenario: While Newbill performs much like he did last season, the loss of Frazier turns Penn State into the team it was two years ago, when its leader missed the entire season with a ruptured achilles. If so, the Nittany Lions could end up near the bottom of the league.

Projected finish: 10th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 70.9 8 158
Scoring Defense 70.2 10 172
Field Goal Percentage .428 8 228
Field Goal Percentage Defense .414 5 63
3-pt FG Percentage .319 10 284
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .352 12 222
Free Throw Percentage .741 4 38
Rebounding Margin +0.7 6
Assist/Turnover Ratio 11.3/10.6 = 1.1 8 144
Steals 4.5 11 327
Blocked Shots 4.7 3 58

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Rutgers Scarlet Knights Rutgers logo
Head Coach: Eddie Jordan (2nd season)
2013-14: 12-21, 7th in AAC (5-13), No postseason
Returning starters: 2 (Kadeem Jack, Myles Mack)
Recruiting class rank: #66 (D.J. Foreman, Mike Williams, Ibrahima Diallo)
Key non-conference games: Dec 3 vs Duke, Dec 6 at Marquette, Dec 22 at California

Rutgers has battled controversy in its basketball program over the past couple of years, and the looming Big Ten schedule could make the winter just as ugly on the court for the Scarlett Knights. Eddie Jordan’s team failed to knock off a ranked opponent last season and now faces a conference slate that could feature as many as eight ranked teams over the course of the coming months.

Last year’s 20-loss team returns only three of the seven players that averaged more than five points per game. Luckily for Jordan, top playmakers Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack will lead the offense after averaging a combined 29.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and five assists per game last season. Jack is a slightly undersized center who will battle more physical defenses in the Big Ten, and his transition will be a major factor for Rutgers.

Player to watch: Kadeem Jack. His special 2013-14 season was masked by the team’s struggles, but the 6 foot 9 forward put up 14.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field. His 68.8 percent free throw rate will be a number to watch as Big Ten centers bang with him in the paint.

Best-case scenario: Rutgers fans are treated to another version of the Mack and Jack show, carrying the team out of the Big Ten cellar in its first go-around.

Worst-case scenario: Rutgers finished 1-11 on the road last season with the lone win coming over last-place South Florida. With that in mind, Rutgers could realistically lose nearly every single Big Ten game if the players don’t make a smooth transition from the American.

Projected finish: 14th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank* National Rank
Scoring Offense 71.1 8 185
Scoring Defense 76.2 13 298
Field Goal Percentage .426 11 270
Field Goal Percentage Defense .447 13 232
3-pt FG Percentage .336 7 230
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .371 13 302
Free Throw Percentage .706 10 163
Rebounding Margin -0.6 11
Assist/Turnover Ratio 12.7/12.6 = 1.0 9 194
Steals 5.8 8 209
Blocked Shots 4.2 7 114
*Where Rutgers’ stats would have ranked in the Big Ten last season

Michigan basketball season preview: Freshman Kameron Chatman

Thursday, October 30th, 2014


2014-BBall-FreshmanPreview-KameronChatman

Michigan Basketball is right around the corner, and it’s time now to start looking at the new and returning Wolverines as we begin to preview the upcoming 2014-15 season. As in the past, we will begin by taking a look at the unknowns – the freshmen – and continue with position-by-position breakdowns featuring the rest of the squad and conclude with a complete season preview, including our picks for breakout players, team MVP, record, postseason finish, and more. Get excited!

Next up is freshman wing Kameron Chatman.
Previously: Ricky Doyle

#3 Kameron Chatman
Measurements 6’7″, 210 7/18/14 Men's basketball promos
Hometown Portland, Ore.
High School Columbia Christian HS
High School Stats (2013-14) Unavailable
AAU ICP Elite
Projected Position(s) Wing
Committed Oct. 1, 2013
Major Suitors Arizona, Oregon, USC, UConn, UCLA
Chance of Redshirt 0 percent
Recruiting Rankings
Rivals 4-star – Overall: 25
Scout 4-star – Overall: 23, Position: 6
ESPN 4-star – Overall: 38, Position: 11, State: 1, Grade: 88
247 4-star – Overall: 28, Position: 8, State: 1, Grade: 97
247 Composite 4-star – Overall: 27, Position: 7, State: 1

Background:

Kameron Chatman

(247 Sports)

Unlike many prospects John Beilein goes after, Kam Chatman’s recruitment was relatively normal, if that is a thing anymore. Michigan pursued the lengthy Portland native early in his career while still attending Jefferson High School until his junior year, when Chatman decided to transfer to California powerhouse Long Beach Poly. Due to transfer rules, Chatman was ruled ineligible by the California Interscholastic Federation and was relegated to the junior varsity team, where he tore through the competition with averages of 25 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists per game.

Despite his inability to compete at the highest level of high school basketball, Chatman continued to draw major interest from top-notch colleges, particularly on the West Coast and in the PAC-12, and eventually earned invitations to the Jordan Brand Classic, the USA Basketball U-18 national team tryouts, and the LeBron James Skills Academy. By the time Chatman transferred to Columbia Christian back in Portland, he had offers from just about every PAC-12 school, including presumed leaders Arizona and Oregon, and a host of other schools around the country, like UConn and Memphis. But Michigan, led by recruiting guru Jeff Meyer, was persistent in their pursuit of the rising senior and never gave up hope.

With this persistence, Michigan’s coaching staff was able to secure an official visit from Chatman for the weekend of the football team’s heart-pounding 41-30 triumph over Notre Dame and made another impression.

Not to be outdone, Oregon, USC, and favorite Arizona hosted Chatman on officials the next three consecutive weeks. Once again, it looked like Michigan’s chances were nil.

Apparently Chatman had other thoughts, though, inviting Coach John Beilein out for an in-home visit on October 1 and committing to play across the country in Ann Arbor later that day.

For Beilein and his staff, it was the first major recruiting battle won against other national powers since reigning in Mitch McGary two years prior.

Now, Chatman and his fellow freshmen have a chance to show what they’ve got with plenty of minutes up for grabs. The lefty wing from the West Coast has been climbing up the boards of scouts across the country, and looks to be perhaps next in line at the Beilein NBA Molding Factory, but will he be able to back up those lofty expectations in the Big Ten?

Video:



What He Will Provide:

1. Versatility: Chatman himself has said that he’s never stuck to one position throughout his career, having played everything from point guard to the four spot. This will be a huge asset on a very young and inexperienced Michigan team who will be looking for depth at just about every spot on the floor. Right now, Chatman is widely assumed to be the front-runner to start at the four-position, but he will also likely be one of the primary backups at the two and three wing spots.

Chatman should be one of those players that can do a lot of things well but doesn’t do any one thing great. He should be a reliable third or fourth scorer who grabs rebounds, dishes out a few nice assists, and plays tough defense. Lastly, having a southpaw should give Beilein even more freedom in running his offense, as Chatman will be able to mirror actions from right-hand dominant players and give the defense that much more to think about.

2. Length and Size: Kam Chatman is not the most athletic player out there, but he does possess above-average length and size for where he will be playing. At 6’7″, Chatman is at least three full inches taller than the last southpaw Michigan played at the four, Zack Novak, and with a 6’9″ wingspan, Chatman should make up for his lack of athleticism on defense and on the glass. Whether you consider it size or versatility, Chatman will also enable Beilein to go bigger than ever before, with a potential lineup of LeVert-Irvin-Chatman-Wilson-Doyle (and maybe even Abdur-Rahkman at the one), to give defenses fits and offenses even more trouble in dealing with a long man-to-man across the board

What He Will Have to Work On:

1. Consistency: The big knock on Chatman right now is consistency, especially in outside shooting. I really like the Oregonian’s efficient stroke and release point, and with Beilein as his coach I expect great improvements in this department, but it deserves to be said that Michigan won’t be at its best unless Chatman can be a consistent three-point and mid-range threat. Obviously all players go through ups and downs throughout the season and Chatman has plenty of things to focus on as a freshman, but pay special attention to how many attempts he is taking from deep per game. I’d like to see him attempting 2-3 per game and work his way through any hiccups. In summer EYBL play, Chatman shot under 20 percent from downtown; a number that low is not going to cut it in college.

2. Athleticism: Chatman will never be an above-the-rim type player, but I’d like to see him improve his strength and quickness especially for the defensive end of the floor. Scouts rave about Chatman’s ability to get where he wants on the court and to find the open man when his shot isn’t there; now, if he can gain some muscle, jump a few inches higher, and body up against bigger opponents, Chatman will be an explosive and incredibly dynamic wing.

Burning Question: Can Kameron Chatman replace Glenn Robinson III’s production?

As a role-playing freshman on a Michigan team that eventually came up just short of an NCAA Championship, Glenn Robinson III was able to put up 11 points, more than five rebounds, one assist, and one steal per game. Chatman has the ability to put up similar numbers and will be given every opportunity to do so, and quite frankly Michigan is in a pretty similar situation to where they were two years ago, but will the freshman find his shot consistently enough to be that stat-sheet stuffer?

Stat Predictions: 8.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.2 turnovers, 46% FG, 34% 3pt., 70% FT, 25 minutes per game

Bottom Line: Chatman is the crown jewel of yet another sizable Beilein recruiting class, and fans have high expectations for the freshman playing more than 2,000 miles from home. He’ll have his highs and lows, but look for Chatman to be a balancing and calming force for this young team.

Michigan basketball season preview: Freshman Ricky Doyle

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014


2014-BBall-FreshmanPreview-RickyDoyle

Michigan Basketball is right around the corner, and it’s time now to start looking at the new and returning Wolverines as we begin to preview the upcoming 2014-15 season. As in the past, we will begin by taking a look at the unknowns – the freshmen – and continue with position-by-position breakdowns featuring the rest of the squad and conclude with a complete season preview, including our picks for breakout players, team MVP, record, postseason finish, and more. Get excited!

First up is freshman big man Ricky Doyle.

#32 Ricky Doyle
Measurements 6’9″, 245

7/18/14 Men's basketball promos

Hometown Cape Coral, Fla.
High School Bishop Verot HS
High School Stats (2012-13) 24.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 blocks per game
AAU SWFL Gold
Projected Position(s) Center
Committed March 11, 2013
Major Suitors Miami (FL), Boston College, Notre Dame
Chance of Redshirt 0 percent
Recruiting Rankings
Rivals 3-star – Not ranked
Scout 3-star – Not ranked
ESPN 3-star – Position: 22, State: 9, Grade: 78
247 3-star – Overall: 212, Position: 55, State: 22, Grade: 88
247 Composite 4-star – Overall: 203, Position: 50, State: 21

Background: Ricky Doyle is in a unique position on this year’s Michigan basketball team as probably both the most important newcomer for this season’s squad while also being the biggest unknown. Hailing from Southwest Florida, Doyle never faced great high school competition, often towering over his opponents and seeing consistent double- and triple-teams. He also stayed away from the AAU scene for the most part, preferring to work on his game under the tutelage of his father Richard, who himself played professionally in France for 11 seasons.

Ricky Doyle

When the big man committed more than a year and a half ago, he could have never imagined the situation he’d be in when arriving in Ann Arbor. At the time, Michigan was preparing to make a run that would eventually turn into a magical NCAA runner-up finish. Jordan Morgan would be a fifth-year senior the next season, Mitch McGary was thought to be a surefire NBA lottery pick after his dominant tourney performance, and Jon Horford seemed like the heir apparent while then-commit Mark Donnal would be the back-up. Doyle, the big man whom little was known about, would have plenty of time to develop under the tutelage of John Beilein and Bacari Alexander before ever seeing meaningful minutes.

One year later and everything had changed. Morgan’s eligibility indeed ran out, but Mitch McGary ended up staying in Ann Arbor an extra season only to be forced into declaring for the Draft in early 2014 after testing positive for marijuana, Horford decided to transfer for his final year of college basketball, and Donnal redshirted his first year in Ann Arbor.

All of a sudden, the largest of doors had opened for Doyle without so much as a push.

Sensing the unexpected opportunity, Doyle went to work, packing on some muscle while reportedly following a personalized practice and workout regimen right from the hands of the Michigan coaching staff. He then went on to arrive on campus weeks before he needed to in order to put in extra work with strength and conditioning guru Jon Sanderson.

Now the one-time afterthought is sure to have a major hand in what is to come this season. In the Wolverines’ summer trip to Italy, Doyle looked up to the challenge, scoring 11.5 points per game while also leading the team with eight boards an outing – besting presumed starter Donnal in both departments – off the bench.

The once gangly looking high schooler also looks more the part of a Division I contributor these days with a svelte 6’9″, 245-point frame and reported 7’2″ wingspan.

So the question now is not whether or not Ricky Doyle will get a chance to show what he’s got as a freshman. The question, of course is whether Ricky Doyle is up for the challenge.

Video:



What He Will Provide:

1. A true back-to-the-basket presence: Throughout John Beilein’s coaching career, one could probably count the number of true big men he’s rostered on one hand. Put one more finger up for Doyle, though, because everything about him screams low-post player. Doyle showcases an array of moves on the block, many starting with his back to his defender, and finishes at a very high clip.

A few things really stand out about the three videos above in this regard. First, in the Italy cut-up, the big man does not put the ball on the floor a single time, rather preferring to put it in the hole with a quick and simple one- or two-step move. Second, Doyle will make big man assistant Bacari Alexander sleep a little more soundly at night because he never takes the ball low after catching an entry pass. I have spoken with Alexander numerous times about how much it frustrates him when a big man does this, but Doyle looks very smart in this department. Lastly, the Floridian is adept at finishing around the basket with both hands off his arsenal of moves and rarely takes a shot he’s uncomfortable with.

2. Rebounding: Highlight videos generally skip over more of the blue collar work that players put in on the court, and this is mostly the case here with Doyle, but the reports of his rebounding prowess are enough to list this as a strength for me. After Mitch McGary’s fleeting career that promised so many more big-time rebounds came to an end this spring, Michigan fans were left wondering where this team’s work on the boards would come from. Enter Doyle, who led the team in rebounding in Italy, has the size and willpower to bang down low, and should be much more focused on gathering than scoring, and we could have a very good rebounder on our hands.

3. Defensive Presence: Doyle will undoubtedly have plenty of growing up to do on the defensive side of the court, especially once a bevy of strong post players comes in Big Ten play, but he has the size, wingspan, and instincts to at least provide some defensive presence and make guards think twice about driving to his protected basket – another skill that’s been lacking of late in Ann Arbor.

What He Will Have to Work On:

1. Adapting to the college game: All freshmen will have some growing up to do, but few will be asked to do it as fast and at as tough a position as Doyle. To make things even more interesting, Doyle is not the most hyped recruit out there and has unfortunately spent the bulk of his career facing far over-matched teams on the high school circuit. Guys like Frank Kaminsky, Kaleb Tarczewski, and A.J. Hammons will be licking their chops going into their game(s) against Michigan if Doyle doesn’t show a ferocious competitive side early on in his career. One stat to keep an eye on here: fouls per 40 minutes. Doyle fouled more than any other Wolverine in Italy and will need to be careful about how many ticky-tack violations he is picking up while getting acclimated to this level.

2. Free throw shooting: Because Beilein teams are usually packed with outside shooters, free throw shooting is generally not a huge issue, but Ricky Doyle looks to have some work to put in at the charity stripe after making 60 percent in his four games overseas. If he can make his freebies consistently at a 60-65 percent clip, that will be a win for the Maize and Blue, but if his percentage starts dipping closer to the 50-50 range, teams could start to employ the hack-a-Shaq strategy early and often.

3. Range: Michigan does not lack in the shooting department, something that always makes them so tough to guard, and Ricky Doyle is a ways off from being asked to contribute anything more than finishing around the paint, but eventually the young big will have to at least make defenders respect him from 12-15 feet in order to reach his potential. Doyle looks well on his way to doing that, but it’s something he will have to continue to work on.

Burning Question: Will Ricky Doyle be a liability on the floor?

Perhaps this question is a bit blunt and unfair, but it’s the one thing everyone is dying to know. Most Michigan fans are level-headed and understand that Ricky Doyle is not going to come in and be a Trey Burke-level world-beater. Those types of players are once-in-a-decade types, and even rarer when it comes to big men, but Doyle is going to need to play at least 10-20 minutes per game. In that time on the floor, will Michigan be able to hold up against more experienced, savvy opposing centers, or will the Wolverines be scrambling to get the freshman off the floor and in the Player Development Center more?

Stat Predictions: 6.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, 0.3 assists, 0.8 turnovers, 59% FG, 57% FT, 17 minutes per game

Bottom Line: Doyle seems to be putting in the work necessary to be the role player he will asked to be early on in his college career. Look for him to have his ups and downs like any freshman, but the less he’s noticed, the better it should be. He’ll be a solid, if quiet, contributor this season.

2014 Big Ten basketball preview: Part one

Monday, October 27th, 2014


2014-15 B1G BBall Preview-Part1

Over the past few years an incredible change has passed over the Midwest, which was long praised for elite football programs like Michigan and Ohio State and largely uncompetitive on the hardwood with Michigan State taking the cake nearly every season. Now, the sports landscape has been turned on its head, as Big Ten football struggles to keep three teams ranked in the Top 25 while the basketball conference continues to solidify itself as the best in the nation.

Last season was another great campaign for the conference as a whole. Wisconsin fought its way through a tough West regional to reach the Final Four, while Michigan and Michigan State were just seconds away from doing the same, eventually losing to the two National Championship competitors. Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska were also selected for the Big Dance, giving the Big Ten six teams that made the cut. Minnesota also had a successful postseason, winning the NIT championship.

The Big Ten has climbed to the top of the basketball world by featuring a deep slate of teams led by a few legitimate Final Four contenders. This season will be no different, even as the conference welcomes two new teams that have struggled in recent years.

Below is part one of our Big Ten preview. Although there are no divisions in basketball, we’re splitting our preview up into the Big Ten West and Big Ten East football divisions for the sake of organization. Part two will be posted later this week.

Note: In the 2013 Stats & Rankings tables for each team, the darker the shade of maize, the better that team was in that category; the darker the shade of blue, the worse that team was in that category.

Illinois Fighting Illini IllinoisLogo
Head Coach: John Groce (3rd season)
2013-14: 20-15, T-8th in Big Ten (7-11), No postseason
Returning starters: 4 (Nnanna Egwu, Rayvonte Rice, Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn)
Recruiting class rank: (according to 247 Sports): #47 (Leron Black, Michael Finke)
Key non-conference games: Dec. 2 at Miami, Dec. 9 vs Villanova, Dec. 13 vs Oregon

Jon Groce took a major step backwards in his second season in the Big Ten, missing the NCAA Tournament and falling to Clemson by one point in the second round of the NIT. Illinois received a major blow during the offseason when Tracy Abrams tore his ACL, putting the senior point guard out of commission for the entire year.

Despite the loss of Abrams, the Illini offense will have to improve on an average of 64.6 points per game last season, which was good for 311th in the nation. Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice joined Illinois and led the team in scoring with 15.9 points per game last year, but he’ll need help from young players like Kendrick Nunn to give the team a chance to play deep into March in 2015.

Player to watch: Rayvonte Rice. He led the team in scoring in his first Big Ten season, shooting 43 percent from the field and grabbing six boards per game.

Best-case scenario: Rice continues to improve his offensive game, and Nnanna Egwu becomes a defensive force in the paint, leading Illinois to an NCAA Tournament berth.

Worst-case scenario: The team feels the loss of Abrams and lets that set a defeated tone for the season, which carries into the gauntlet Big Ten schedule and Groce’s team ends up in a second straight NIT.

Projected finish: 8th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 64.2 11 303
Scoring Defense 62.2 2 19
Field Goal Percentage .411 11 303
Field Goal Percentage Defense .421 9 94
3-pt FG Percentage .317 11 292
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .343 11 164
Free Throw Percentage .733 6 59
Rebounding Margin +0.5 8
Assist/Turnover Ratio 10.0/10.4 = 1.0 10 209
Steals 6.1 6 155
Blocked Shots 3.6 9 164

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Iowa Hawkeyes Iowa logo
Head Coach: Fran McCaffery (5th season)
2013-14: 20-13, 6th in Big Ten (9-9), First round NCAA Tournament
Returning starters: 3 (Adam Woodbury, Aaron White, Mike Gesell)
Recruiting class rank: #72 (Brady Ellingson, Trey Dickerson, Dominique Uhl)
Key non-conference games: Nov. 20 vs Texas, Dec. 3 at UNC, Dec 12 vs Iowa State

Iowa returns most of a team that put together one of the most confusing resumes in the country last season, ultimately finishing with 20 wins and squeaking into an NCAA Tournament first-round game. The only major loss is that of Roy Devyn Marble, who was the most dangerous offensive player for Fran McCaffery last season.

On offense the Hawkeyes ranked in the top 15 in points, rebounds and assists per game a year ago. At the same time, the defense ranked 12th in rebounds, 37th in blocks and 54th in steals per game, combining to form one of the most impressive statistical resumes in the country. But a 1-6 finish to the regular season set up the overtime loss to Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and sent Iowa home as an afterthought.

This year the team will rely heavily on do-it-all man Aaron White and an athletic backcourt of Mike Gesell and junior college All-American transfer Trey Dickerson to lead a lethal offense. Center Adam Woodbury will be asked to anchor the defense as a junior.

Player to watch: Trey Dickerson. McCaffery brought in Dickerson to give the offense an element of speed, which helped him earn All-American honors in junior college. He could be a huge addition to this deep Iowa rotation.

Best-case scenario: With a balanced offense returning, the Hawkeyes learn from their late-season collapse and put together a complete season, finishing near the top of the Big Ten and priming themselves for a deep NCAA Tournament run.

Worst-case scenario: The loss of Marble puts too much of the load on White and the offense takes a step back, exposing an overmatched defense. Iowa fights through an inconsistent conference season and lands on the wrong side of the bubble in March.

Projected finish: 6th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 81.5 1 8
Scoring Defense 70.3 11 175
Field Goal Percentage .463 3 51
Field Goal Percentage Defense .415 6 68
3-pt FG Percentage .350 5 135
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .317 5 47
Free Throw Percentage .735 5 52
Rebounding Margin +7.0 2
Assist/Turnover Ratio 16.1/11.2 = 1.4 4 20
Steals 7.1 3 53
Blocked Shots 5.0 2 35

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Minnesota Golden Gophers Minnesota-Logo
Head Coach: Richard Pitino (2nd season)
2013-14: 2013-14: 25-13, 7th in Big Ten (8-10), NIT Champions
Returning Starters: 4 (Maurice Walker, Joey King, Andre Hollis, Deandre Mathieu)
Recruiting class rank: #71 (Nate Mason, Jr., Carlos Morris, Josh Martin, Bakary Konate, Gaston Diedhiou)
Key non-conference games: Nov 14 vs Louisville, Dec 2 at Wake Forest

Minnesota put together quite a run to end the 2014 season, winning five straight games by single digits to take home the NIT crown. As the best of the teams that didn’t make the tournament, Minnesota proved that it probably should have received an invite to the Dance.

Now, Richard Pitino returns three of his four leading scorers, including the explosive Andre Hollins, to an offense that must improve on its 71.2 points per contest from last season. Top rebounder Elliot Eliason is also back, and joins Hollins and Deandre Mathieu to form a solid core in Minnesota.

Pitino will have to fill the void left by Austin Hollis, who did a little of everything for the Gophers, averaging 12.4 points, 2.4 assists, five rebounds and two steals per game. Minnesota should be back on the bubble for an NCAA Tournamnt berth, if it can finish .500 in the Big Ten.

Player to watch: Deandre Mathieu. The Morehead State transfer burst onto the Big Ten scene last season, averaging 12 points and 4.2 assists per game for the Golden Gophers. If he can improve on his numbers as a season, he could become an even better version of Austin Hollins.

Best-case scenario: Mathieu clicks, Andre Hollins makes smart decisions as an upperclassman, and Pitino leads his team to double digit conference wins in his second year with Minnesota.

Worst-case scenario: The consistency and playmaking ability of Austin Hollins is sorely missed and the committee of talented guards in Minnesota struggles to fill that gap. Minnesota ends up back in the NIT with a chance to defend their bittersweet title.

Projected finish: 7th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 71.1 7 149
Scoring Defense 67.7 9 106
Field Goal Percentage .447 7 121
Field Goal Percentage Defense .426 10 110
3-pt FG Percentage .352 4 118
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .343 10 170
Free Throw Percentage .742 3 45
Rebounding Margin +0.6 7
Assist/Turnover Ratio 13.9/11.7 = 1.2 5 71
Steals 7.6 2 36
Blocked Shots 4.1 7 115

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Nebraska Cornhuskers Nebraska logo
Head Coach: Tim Miles (3rd season)
2013-14: 19-13, 4th in Big Ten (11-7), Second Round NCAA Tournament
Returning starters: 5 (David Rivers, Terran Petteway, Walter Pitchford, Shavon Shields, Tai Webster)
Recruiting class rank: #87 (Jake Hammond, Tarin Smith)
Key non-conference games: Dec 1 at Florida State, Dec 7 vs Creighton, Dec 13 vs Cincinnati

After an 0-4 start to the Big Ten season landed Nebraska at 8-8 on the season, rumblings of a tournament bid completely died in Lincoln as the team featured no quality wins and two terrible losses. But then, in perhaps the most unlikely turnaround in the country, the Cornhuskers won 11 of their last 14 regular season games before being bounced out of the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament on consecutive Fridays.

The X-factor for Nebraska was obvious: Tim Miles’ team simply didn’t lose in the brand-new Pinnacle Bank Arena. In 16 games at home, Nebraska went 15-1 with a last-second loss to the conference champion Wolverines in early January. With that type of home court advantage this season, the Cornhuskers should be well on their way to another tournament appearance.

Of the nine players that averaged over 10 minutes per game for Miles, seven of them are returning, including two of the top offensive players in the conference: Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields. The two forwards make up perhaps the most dynamic duo in the Midwest and figure to lead this team as it enters the season with something new surrounding the program: Expectations.

Last season it was a miracle for Nebraska to sneak into the NCAA Tournament, but this year it will be a massive letdown if they don’t return.

Player to watch: Terran Petteway. This guy is a legitimate contender for conference player of the year. He averaged 18.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last season while leading the underdog Cornhuskers to fourth place in the best conference in basketball.

Best-case scenario: Nebraska returns with all the magic from last season and puts together a complete campaign, winning 25 plus games and challenging Wisconsin for the Big Ten crown.

Worst-case scenario: Shields and Petteway can’t match their 2013-14 level of play and the team spends the whole season searching for a leader. In March Nebraska sits near the middle of the pack in the Big Ten and on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble.

Projected finish: 4th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 66.8 10 263
Scoring Defense 65.2 6 50
Field Goal Percentage .427 9 235
Field Goal Percentage Defense .420 8 88
3-pt FG Percentage .333 7 210
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .315 3 42
Free Throw Percentage .717 8 117
Rebounding Margin -1.9 11
Assist/Turnover Ratio 9.5/10.9 = 0.9 11 284
Steals 6.9 4 72
Blocked Shots 3.1 11 213

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Northwestern Wildcats NorthwesternLogo
Head Coach: Chris Collins (2nd season)
2013-14: 14-19, T-10th in Big Ten, No postseason
Returning starters: 4 (Alex Olah, Sanjay Lumpkin, JerShon Cobb, Tre Demps
Recruiting class rank: #54 (Vic Law, Bryant McIntosh, Scott Lindsey, Gavin Skelly, Johnnie Vassar)
Key non-conference games: Dec 3 vs Georgia Tech, Dec 6 at Butler

The hire of Chris Collins from Duke University sparked a buzz around the Northwestern program last season, and the team did show signs of competing within the Big Ten. In fact, with a 5-5 conference record on the first day of February, the Wildcats were in fourth place in the conference with just 10 games to go. Unfortunately, those 10 games didn’t go well.

Northwestern lost their next seven games and eight of their last 10 to finish just a game out of the cellar. Now Collins has to move forward without his best all-around player Drew Crawford, who has taken his talents to the NBA. Crawford led the team in scoring and rebounding and was among the top three in assists and blocks last season.

The team will feature much of the same core in 2014-15, with guards JerShon Cobb and Tre Demps leading the charge from the backcourt. Seven-foot center Alex Olah is back after a solid sophomore season, and Dave Sobolewski will have to step up as a senior coming off the bench. Vic Law was a top 100 recruit and should give the team a future to build around going forward.

Player to watch: Vic Law. The freshman forward should grow into a significant role this season and play a big part in what Collins hopes to do at Northwestern. The team is deep in the backcourt, but could really use a breakout season from Law on the wing.

Best-case scenario: Northwestern’s starting lineup gels and keeps them in most of their games, thanks to career seasons from Cobb and Demps and a solid freshman campaign from Law. The Wildcats enter the final weeks of the season with an opportunity to put themselves on the bubble.

Worst-case scenario: Big Ten defenses no longer have to worry about Crawford, so the host of Wildcat guards are slowed by more focused defenses.

Projected finish: 12th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 59.5 12 347
Scoring Defense 63.4 3 30
Field Goal Percentage .396 12 335
Field Goal Percentage Defense .411 3 55
3-pt FG Percentage .306 12 318
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .315 4 45
Free Throw Percentage .700 10 177
Rebounding Margin -4.5 12
Assist/Turnover Ratio 11.0/10.9 = 1.0 9 175
Steals 4.3 12 335
Blocked Shots 3.7 8 162

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Purdue Boilermakers Purdue logo
Head Coach: Matt Painter (10th season)
2013-14: 15-17, 12th in Big Ten (5-13), No postseason
Returning starters: 3 (A.J. Hammons, Kendall Stephens, Rapheal Davis)
Recruiting class rank: #34 (Isaac Haas, Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias, P.J. Thompson, Jacquil Taylor)
Key non-conference games: Nov 24 vs Kansas State, Dec 2 vs NC State, Dec 20 vs ND

It took a truly impressive collapse from Matt Painter’s team to finish with a losing record last season, as Purdue stood at 13-5 midway through the season. A 2-12 finish certainly wasn’t what Painter had in mind, and losing his top two scoring threats for this season won’t help.

When two-time MVP Terone Johnson graduated and moved on to play professional ball in Greece, his brother, Ronnie decided to transfer and take his talents to Houston. With the loss of the Johnson brothers Painter waved goodbye to a total of 22.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game. The only saving grace is that starting center A.J. Hammons is ready to take over the team as a junior, much like JaJuan Johnson did under Painter as a sophomore five years ago.

Hammons will be joined by returning guards Kendall Stephens and Bryson Scott, who played major roles for Purdue last season. Transfer Jon Octeus could be the most important player for the Boilermakers this season after he averaged 13.4 points and 4.7 rebounds out of the backcourt for Colorado State last season.

Player to watch: A.J. Hammons. When Purdue was a Big Ten powerhouse under Painter, the centerpiece was a dominant big man inside. Now Hammons looks like the team’s only chance to get back to that level of success following a last-place finish.

Best-case scenario: Hammons takes the reins and runs with them, drawing double and triple teams to help out the trio of potential breakout guards. Purdue fights its way into the top 10 in the conference and gives the top teams headaches in February and March.

Worst-case scenario: Purdue continues to trend downward and finishes at the bottom of the league once again. Hammons isn’t ready to be a go-to scorer and Painter’s seat gets ever hotter.

Projected finish: 13th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 72.2 5 109
Scoring Defense 71.7 12 208
Field Goal Percentage .427 10 239
Field Goal Percentage Defense .419 7 83
3-pt FG Percentage .327 8 239
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .326 7 77
Free Throw Percentage .671 12 271
Rebounding Margin +3.5 4
Assist/Turnover Ratio 13.1/12.3 = 1.1 7 140
Steals 5.6 8 229
Blocked Shots 5.3 1 28

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Wisconsin Badgers Wisconsin logo
Head Coach: Bo Ryan (14th season)
2013-14: 30-8, T-2nd in Big Ten (12-6), Final Four NCAA Tournament
Returning starters: 4 (Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser)
Recruiting class rank: #108 (Ethan Happ)
Key non-conference games: Dec 3 vs Duke, Dec 6 at Marquette, Dec 22 at California

Wisconsin has finished in the top four of the Big Ten standings each year since 2001, but this season, the Badgers are the favorites to land on top and return to the Final Four. Bo Ryan’s returns Big Ten preseason player of the year Frank Kaminsky along with fellow starters Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser.

The Badgers used an eight-game winning streak near the end of the Big Ten season to position themselves as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A one-point overtime win against top-seeded Arizona sent Wisconsin to Arlington, where a one-point loss to Kentucky ended a 30-win season.

Now Ryan enters the 2014-15 season with lofty expectations, thanks to a team that lost little more than Ben Brust during the offseason. Wisconsin should be one of the top teams in the Big Ten and battle for a No. 1 seed in March.

Player to watch: Frank Kaminsky. The seven-footer averaged just 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last season, but his strong second half was enough to earn him preseason player of the year honors heading into his senior season.

Best-case scenario: Wisconsin picks up where it left off, blazing through the Big Ten and storming back to the Final Four behind Kaminsky and a more mature Dekker.

Worse-case scenario: Wisconsin’s veteran players take a step back and the team ends up in the fourth or fifth spot in the conference, earning a middling seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Projected finish: 1st

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 73.5 4 77
Scoring Defense 64.0 4 36
Field Goal Percentage .459 4 73
Field Goal Percentage Defense .429 11 118
3-pt FG Percentage .376 3 57
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .341 9 152
Free Throw Percentage .746 2 27
Rebounding Margin +1.5 5
Assist/Turnover Ratio 12.3/8.1 = 1.5 1 8
Steals 4.8 10 302
Blocked Shots 3.3 10 195

Beilein, Michigan hungry to get back to Final Four

Thursday, October 16th, 2014


Beilein(Julian H Gonzalez, Detroit Free Press)

John Beilein took the podium for the first time in this new season Thursday morning to preview Michigan’s upcoming season. Big Ten Media Day came just one day after the preseason conference media rankings were released, pegging Michigan as the fifth-best team in the Big Ten.

“It is good to be here and get the season going again,” Beilein said in his opening statement. “We’ve been practicing for a little bit, but Oct. 15, yesterday, was the first day we really opened up camp and said we’re in it now.”

Beilein was peppered with questions about this season’s young team and whether it’s equipped with the tools to make another deep tournament run in March. When asked what challenges standin the way of a return to the Final Four, Beilein spoke from experience, having reached that stagejust two seasons ago.

“I’m as hungry or probably hungrier than ever to get back there,” he said. So I think it’s great motivation for everybody because they’ve experienced that run.”

Last season the Wolverines were just seconds away from another trip to the Final Four, but a deep three-pointer by Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison with virtually no time remaining took Michigan out of the running.

But Beilein wasn’t brooding over the past, he’s ready for what promises to be another long journey with the 2014-15 team, though one filled with ups and downs.

“It’s maybe not getting [to the Final Four], it’s the way you get there and how you get there and those moments in between, the journey,” Beilein said. “It makes it so valuable. So yes, it’s hard. You’d like  to stay injury-free…it’s very normal to have times during that year where you’re not going to play well. You won’t look like a Final Four team, and that’s exactly what you may need in February or late January or even in March.”

Questions surround a Michigan program that lost starters Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Jordan Morgan along with big men Mitch McGary and Jon Horford. Beilein’s group will count on another big year from their guards to lead the team.

Among the returning guards is junior Caris LeVert, who was named to the All-Big Ten first team.Beilein thinks his star shooting guard can handle the spotlight in Ann Arbor.

“He was in it a bit last year,” Beilein said. “I mean, there were several games where we just wentto him because people were doing things with Nik or Glenn, Jordan Morgan, Mitch, so we just went with him. He’s sort of used to it.”

Beilein said he loves LeVert’s personality because he doesn’t let anything both him. His level demeanor keeps him from getting too high when the team is rolling or too low when times get hard.

Of the trip to Italy, the head coach said it helped his team learn more about the world as a whole, but also about the game of basketball. He said the coaching staff has a better understanding of who can make adjustments on the fly and adapt to situations quickly.

Michigan will start the regular season against Hillsdale College on Nov. 15 in Ann Arbor.

Caris LeVert named to preseason All-Big Ten first team

Thursday, October 16th, 2014


Big Ten Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals(Getty Images)

Michigan junior guard Caris LeVert was named to the All-Big Ten first team Thursday during Big Ten basketball media day.

LeVert, who was named to the second team last season, started all 37 games as a sophomore and averaged 12.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. He helped lead Michigan to an outright Big Ten championship and the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

This is the third straight season a Michigan player has received the honor. LeVert joins Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, Nebraska’s Terran Petteway and Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky on the squad. Kaminsky received Big Ten player of the year honors.

LeVert was also named to the 2014 USBWA All-District V Team, was the Rudy Tomjanovich Most Improved Player and Steve Grote Hustle Award recipient at the Wolverines annual postseason celebration.

As a junior LeVert will be asked to lead the Wolverines in the wake of departures from Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgans from last season.

Michigan opens the regular season against Hillsdale College on Nov. 15 at the Crisler Center.

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Coaches (part two)

Friday, August 15th, 2014


Big-Ten-position-rankings-header-Coaches

This week, as part of our summer-long preview of Michigan football in 2014, we at Maize and Go Blue are ranking who will be the top head coaches in the Big Ten this upcoming season. This may be bending the definition of “position,” but this series has already listed who will be the best offensive, defensive, and special-teams players in the Big Ten in 2014. The head coaches included in this top 10 are whom we believe have been the best coaches recently and will be next season, not necessarily those who have had the best overall careers. Yesterday, we revealed the Big Ten head coaches ranked No. 6 through No. 10. If you missed it, we encourage you to catch up here. Done? Perfect! On that note, let’s unveil who will be the five best head coaches in the Big Ten this fall.

Previously

Quarterbacks: Part One, Part Two | Running Backs: Part One, Part Two | Wide Receivers: Part One, Part Two
Tight Ends: Part One, Part Two | Offensive Line: Part One, Part Two | Defensive Line: Part One, Part Two
Linebackers: Part One, Part Two | Cornerbacks: Part One, Part Two | Safeties:Part One, Part Two
Special Teams: Kicking Specialists, Return Specialists | Coaches: Part One

5. Gary Andersen, Wisconsin | Overall Record: 39-35 (6 yrs) – Record at Wisconsin: 9-4 (1 yr)
Big Ten Records Overall W/L Big Ten W/L Standing Bowl
2013 9-4 6-2 2nd (Leaders) Capital One (L)
Career Totals 9-4 6-2   0-1
(Brian Ebner, AP)

(Brian Ebner, AP)

Of all the head coaches in the Big Ten, Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen probably is the toughest to peg. Until this past season, Andersen had no experience coaching in a Power Five conference. He made his head-coaching debut at Southern Utah, a Division I-AA program, in 2003. He departed after the season to become an assistant at Utah—before it joined the Pac-12—where eventually he was promoted to defensive coordinator. He held that position when the Utes’ undefeated squad upset Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Andersen utilized that success to land the head-coaching gig at a floundering Utah State program. The Aggies had not won more than seven games in a season since 1979. Andersen’s first two years there were no different, but, thereafter, he took Utah State to unforeseen heights. The next two seasons, the Aggies totaled an 18-8 record, which included a program-best 11 wins in 2012. No longer was Utah State some bottom-of-the-barrel program. It now was a legitimate “mid-major” power.

Andersen’s achievements in college football’s lower levels were noticed after 2012 as Power Five schools with head-coaching vacancies came calling. One such school was Wisconsin, whom former head coach Bret Bielema had stunned by ditching the Badgers for Arkansas in the SEC. Bielema left behind a Big Ten powerhouse that won a share of the conference crown and appeared in the Rose Bowl each of his final three seasons in Madison. With Bielema no longer in the picture, someone needed to step in and maintain Wisconsin’s success; Andersen was tabbed to be that person. He did well in his first season with the Badgers last year, too. Although their streak of Big Ten championships ended, Andersen coached them to a 9-4 record and national rank of 19th in the F/+ Combined Ratings—a set of rankings which combines two advanced statistical algorithms. It was an encouraging sign that Wisconsin experienced little drop-off with Andersen holding the reins.

Yet this will be the season that really tests whether Andersen deserves to be considered one of the five best coaches in the Big Ten. While Wisconsin will benefit from possessing what should be one of the nation’s most explosive rushing attacks and a weak conference slate, the Badgers still must replace their entire starting front seven on defense and find answers—any answer—for their depleted receiving corps. The talent and depth that has bolstered Wisconsin in years past does not seem to be quite there in 2014. This means that Andersen’s coaching ability will need to be at the top of its game because Wisconsin will not be able to afford as many errors. Then, after the season, we will be able to evaluate Andersen’s performance and finally peg exactly where he should fall on this list.

4. James Franklin, Penn State | Overall Record: 24-15 (3 yrs) – Record at Penn State: 0-0 (0 yrs)
Record at Vanderbilt Overall W/L SEC W/L Standing Bowl
2013 9-4 4-4 4th (East) BBVA Compass (W)
2012 9-4 5-3 4th (East) Music City (W)
2011 6-7 2-6 T4th (East) Liberty (L)
Career Totals 24-15 11-13   2-1
(Matthew O'Haren, USA Today Sports)

(Matthew O’Haren, USA Today Sports)

James Franklin has been a collegiate head coach for only three seasons, but he has taken the nation by storm in that short span. Franklin made his head-coaching debut at Vanderbilt in 2011. Vanderbilt always has been one of the toughest coaching jobs in America due to its small enrollment, academic focus, and SEC membership. Since 1982, the Commodores had recorded only one winning season—a 7-6 record in 2008—prior to Franklin’s arrival and consistently found themselves near the bottom of the F/+ Combined Ratings. They were perennial losers, a team SEC powerhouses viewed as an automatic conference win. But Franklin changed all of that the instant he stepped on the Vanderbilt campus.

Under Franklin, the Commodores were no longer pushovers. In his first season in 2011, he coached Vanderbilt to a 6-7 record and only its second bowl appearance since 1982. The record was not flashy, but, unlike previous seasons, Vanderbilt actually was competitive against its tougher opponents, losing to Georgia, Arkansas, and Florida by a combined 13 points. It is no surprise that advanced statistics really liked what the Commodores offered in 2011, ranking them 39th in the F/+ Combined Ratings just one year after placing 101st. It was significant progress in just one season with Franklin in charge, but he was not finished. In each of the next two seasons, the Commodores posted a 9-4 record and no less than four SEC victories. The last time they had a nine-win season? 1915. And Vanderbilt just accomplished the feat two years in a row. In three seasons at Vanderbilt, Franklin tallied 24 wins overall, which tied the best three-year stretch in school history. Franklin’s stint at Vanderbilt was an overwhelming success as he was able to achieve things there that no one had done in decades and decades.

This translated into instant stardom for Franklin and made him a hot commodity as the coaching carousel spun and spun. Initially, it seemed like Franklin would remain at Vanderbilt for a fourth season. But, then, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien left Happy Valley for a shot at the NFL with the Houston Texans. The Nittany Lions, hoping to appease its disappointed fan base with a popular hire, traveled into SEC territory and persuaded Franklin to join them in the Big Ten. Since then, Franklin and Penn State have torched the recruiting trail. According to 247 Sports, Penn State already has 19 commits in the 2015 class, 12 of which are four-stars, and the sixth-best class in the nation. While Franklin’s recruiting prowess certainly has been noted, the real question is how Franklin will do on the sidelines in his first season at Penn State. The Nittany Lions still are dealing with the scholarship reductions and postseason ban handed to them in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Will Franklin continue to be a star and have immediate success at Penn State like he did at Vanderbilt? Or will the lack of talented depth at multiple positions be too much to overcome? My guess: Franklin’s star may not shine as bright after a 2014 season that will be a tougher challenge than most expect.

3. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern | Overall Record: 55-46 (8 yrs) – Record at Northwestern: 55-46 (8 yrs)
Big Ten Records Overall W/L Big Ten W/L Standing Bowl
2013 5-7 1-7 6th (Legends)
2012 10-3 5-3 3rd (Legends) Gator (W)
2011 6-7 3-5 5th (Legends) Meineke Car Care (L)
2010 7-6 3-5 T7th Ticket City (L)
2009 8-5 5-3 T4th Outback (L)
2008 9-4 5-3 T4th Alamo (L)
2007 6-6 3-5 T7th
2006 4-8 2-6 T8th
Career Totals 55-46 27-37   1-4
(US Presswire)

(US Presswire)

Similar to Penn State’s James Franklin, Pat Fitzgerald has built his coaching reputation by transforming what has traditionally been a down-in-the-dumps football program with lofty academic standards and limited resources into a respectable one. In 2006, Fitzgerald, a former All-American linebacker at Northwestern, was promoted by his alma mater from an assistant to head coach. Prior to Fitzgerald assuming the top spot on its coaching staff, Northwestern had managed an eight-plus-win season only three times since it had joined the Big Ten in 1953. Yet it took the Wildcats only the first seven seasons of Fitzgerald’s tenure to accomplish the same feat, recording nine wins in 2008, eight in 2009, and a program-best 10 in 2012. Not every season has been such a triumph for Fitzgerald’s Wildcats, but no longer are they an easy out for Big Ten opponents.

For example, many may question Fitzgerald’s spot at No. 3 on this list following Northwestern’s underachieving 2013 campaign. Entering last season, the Wildcats were projected to build off their 10-win season in 2012 and possibly contend for a Big Ten championship. However, after sweeping its four non-conference foes, Northwestern suffered one bad break after the other. There was quarterback Kain Colter’s bobbled snap on fourth-and-one as Northwestern was driving for a game-winning score late in the fourth quarter against Ohio State. Then, there was the Hail Mary the Wildcats allowed to Nebraska on the final play of the game to lose by three points. There was also the hurried field goal Michigan somehow managed to kick before time expired to force overtime, which led to Northwestern losing in the third extra frame. And none of this bad luck even accounts for the countless number of Northwestern players that went down with injuries all season. Essentially, everything that could go wrong went wrong. Should Fitzgerald be responsible for some of this? Possibly. But most of the reasons why Northwestern had a 5-7 record last season were out of his control.

This is why Fitzgerald still is considered one of the best coaches in the Big Ten. He put Northwestern in a position to potentially contend for a Big Ten title before bad karma struck and struck hard. Do you know how many other coaches could put Northwestern in such a position? Very, very few. Fitzgerald very likely would experience much more success and more wins if he chose to leave Northwestern for a blue-chip, top-of-the-line college football factory that has exponentially more resources. But he has chosen to stay in Evanston and sustain Northwestern’s new reputation as a respectable program. This fall, even after the recent news that playmaker Venric Mark will transfer and top wideout Christian Jones suffered a season-ending knee injury, the Wildcats still have an outside shot at winning what will be a weak Big Ten West. And this is all possible because of Fitzgerald.

2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State | Overall Record: 128-25 (12 yrs) – Record at Ohio State: 24-2 (2 yrs)
Big Ten Records Overall W/L Big Ten W/L Standing Bowl
2013 12-2 8-0 1st (Leaders) Orange (L)
2012 12-0 8-0 1st (Leaders)
Career Totals 24-2 16-0   0-1
(Bradley Leeb, USA Today Sports)

(Bradley Leeb, USA Today Sports)

There is no doubt that Urban Meyer has the best resume of any head coach in the Big Ten and one of the best in the nation.  Meyer won at an astonishing level at each of his first three stops. When he was first hired as a head coach by Bowling Green in 2001, he took over a program that went 2-9 the previous season. But this did not prevent the Falcons from earning 17 wins in Meyer’s two seasons at the helm. Meyer then moved to the Mountain West Conference to become Utah’s head coach. Just like at Bowling Green, he was there for only two seasons. This time, though, Meyer coached the Utes to a 22-2 record and two conference championships, including an undefeated season and Fiesta Bowl victory in 2004. Meyer experienced the same type of success once he departed for Florida prior to 2005 and joined the “big leagues,” so to speak. In his six years with the Gators, he compiled a 65-15 record, three 13-win seasons, and two BCS national championships (2006 and 2008). In just a short decade, Meyer’s status skyrocketed from being a nobody to being considered one of the best coaches in the country.

After a one-year “reprieve” from college coaching in 2011 to “spend more time with his family,” Meyer dove back into it by taking the head job at Ohio State. The Buckeyes needed a new coach to guide the program after Jim Tressel resigned amid NCAA violations resulting from a tattoo-parlor scandal that saw the NCAA allege that Tressel had knowingly withheld information to maintain his players’ eligibility. Meyer decided he was the man to replace Tressel as the face of the prestigious program. His first two seasons have seen him win just like he has at every other stop he had as a head coach. The Buckeyes won their first 24 contests under Meyer and achieved a perfect season in 2012. Their only two losses were to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game and Clemson in the Orange Bowl last season. Given Ohio State’s current recruiting and Meyer’s astounding track record of winning, Ohio State does not seem like it will be slowing down any time soon.

Accordingly, you are probably wondering why Meyer is at No. 2 on this list rather than in the top spot given the accolades he has received throughout his head-coaching career. Once again, the purpose of this list is to rank who will be the best head coaches in 2014, not necessarily the ones who have had the best careers. There is no doubt that Meyer has had the best career among Big Ten coaches. No other Big Ten coach can claim winning a national championship, let alone two. And no other Big Ten coach can claim to have won 24 consecutive contests at any point of their head-coaching career. Nonetheless, there is another Big Ten coach who has been more impressive than Meyer recently, turning a mediocre program into a consistent contender despite having far less to work with in the cupboard.

1. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State | Overall Record: 82-46 (10 yrs) – Record at Michigan St: 64-29 (7 yrs)
Big Ten Records Overall W/L Big Ten W/L Standing Bowl
2013 13-1 8-0 1st (Legends) Rose (W)
2012 7-6 3-5 4th (Legends) Buffalo Wild Wings (W)
2011 11-3 7-1 1st (Legends) Outback (W)
2010 11-2 7-1 T1st Capital One (L)
2009 6-7 4-4 T6th Alamo (L)
2008 9-4 6-2 3rd Capital One (L)
2007 7-6 3-5 T7th Champs Sports (L)
Career Totals 64-29 38-18   3-4
(AP)

(AP)

Before Mark Dantonio left Cincinnati to assume command of the Michigan State football program in 2007, the Spartans were in a funk. Since the 1987 season, which had been the last time they had participated in the Rose Bowl, the Spartans had managed to win more than eight games only once—a 10-2 record in in 1999 with Nick Saban as head coach. Not only was Michigan State failing to win enough games to contend for conference championships, it also was struggling mightily against its premier rival Michigan. During that two-decade span, the Spartans were only 5-15 against the Wolverines from Ann Arbor. Accordingly, Michigan State was looked down upon by the Big Ten’s best, seen only as a middle-of-the-pack program that caused a minor inconvenience.

When Dantonio first arrived in East Lansing, there was not much to write home about. In his first three seasons at Michigan State, Dantonio’s Spartans put together only a 22-17 record, even though they did beat Rich Rodriguez-led Michigan twice. It was unclear whether Dantonio could take them to the top. It is not fuzzy anymore. In the past four seasons, Michigan State has been one of the best programs in the Big Ten. The Spartans have attained a 42-12 record and 77.8-win-percentage in those four years, which is second in the Big Ten only to Ohio State in that span, and won at least 11 games in three of those years. This increase in wins has brought the Spartans a share of two Big Ten championships—their first since 1990—and their first Rose Bowl victory since 1987. The Spartans now are surging under Dantonio.

So why is Dantonio slotted in the top spot ahead of Meyer? Michigan State’s win against Ohio State in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game could be used as evidence, but let’s move that to the side for a minute. In the past four seasons, both Michigan State and Ohio State have 42 wins. Ohio State has a better winning percentage only because it has two fewer losses. It is that close. And, yet, Dantonio has achieved this with either loads of recruiting gems or less talented players than Ohio State. From 2009 to 2013, Michigan State’s recruiting classes’ average national ranking was 30.6 according to 247 Sports. Ohio State’s? 7.6. The Buckeyes have had much more raw talent at their disposal than the Spartans, but this has not stopped Dantonio, with the help of defensive wizard Pat Narduzzi, from putting out an equivalent product. No, Meyer has not been at Ohio State for the past four years, but he had much more to work with the moment he stepped foot in Columbus. And, despite this, Michigan State is on the same playing field as Ohio State, which is why Dantonio currently is the best head coach in the Big Ten.

So what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with our list? Is Mark Dantonio currently the best head football coach in the Big Ten? Or should that honor belong to Urban Meyer? And what about Brady Hoke? Does he deserve to be in the top five? Please leave your thoughts below in the comments section.

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Coaches (part one)

Thursday, August 14th, 2014


Big-Ten-position-rankings-header-Coaches

This is the 11th installment of Maize and Go Blue’s series that ranks the best Big Ten players at each position for the upcoming season. Each week, until Michigan’s opener, one position will be previewed, looking at the players who will excel in 2014, not necessarily the ones who did so in previous seasons. However, now that offense, defense, and special teams have been covered, we are bending the definition of the words “position” and “players” and ranking the Big Ten’s best head coaches. This list will be split into two parts in order to provide you with thorough and in-depth analysis. Here’s Part One:

Previously

Quarterbacks: Part One, Part Two | Running Backs: Part One, Part Two | Wide Receivers: Part One, Part Two
Tight Ends: Part One, Part Two | Offensive Line: Part One, Part Two | Defensive Line: Part One, Part Two
Linebackers: Part One, Part Two | Cornerbacks: Part One, Part Two | Safeties:Part One, Part Two
Special Teams: Kicking Specialists, Return Specialists

10. Kevin Wilson, Indiana | Overall Record: 10-26 (3 yrs) – Record at Indiana: 10-26 (3 yrs)
Big Ten Records Overall W/L Big Ten W/L Standing Bowl
2013 5-7 3-5 4th (Leaders)
2012 4-8 2-6 5th (Leaders)
2011 1-11 0-8 6th (Leaders)
Career Totals 10-26 5-19    
(Michael Conroy, AP)

(Michael Conroy, AP)

Two Big Ten head coaches vied for the 10th spot on this list: Indiana’s Kevin Wilson and Maryland’s Randy Edsall. Both enter 2014 with their respective programs in oddly similar predicaments. Both assumed the head-coaching position at their respective programs prior to 2011, and both wish that their first seasons in Bloomington and College Park—Indiana went 1-11 and Maryland went 2-10—could be wiped from everyone’s memory Men in Black-style. Since those initial debacles, though, their programs have progressed gradually. Wilson’s Hoosiers increased their win total to four in 2012 and five in 2013, while Edsall’s Terrapins notched four and seven wins in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Both now find themselves in the Big Ten East, where they both yearn to lead their programs into the upper echelon of the division, joining the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State.

So which of these two head coaches is most capable of making this possible? At first glance, Edsall seems like the correct choice. Edsall spent his first 12 years as a head coach at Connecticut, transforming the Huskies from a Division I-AA football program into a two-time Big East champion and 2011 Fiesta Bowl participant. Then, after a rocky start in College Park, his Terrapins were poised to break out last year. They won five of their first six games, suffering their only loss, albeit a rout, to eventual national champion Florida State. However, significant injuries to key players, like quarterback C.J. Brown, wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, and defensive backs Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson, derailed their season. What could have been a nine- or, heck, even a 10-win season finished with an underwhelming seven victories. This fall, though, most of those injured Terps will be back and healthy, which is why Maryland has been selected by many as a potential sleeper in the Big Ten. Accordingly, an inclusion of Edsall in the top 10 of this list would be justified.

However, Edsall needs to have one of his best seasons ever as a coach for Maryland to surprise folks, and I do not think he has it in him. Maryland may have a talented team, but let’s just say that the Big Ten did the Terps no favors with regards to scheduling. The two opponents that Maryland must face from the Big Ten West? The two favorites: Wisconsin and Iowa. Throw those two smack dab in the middle of a six-game gauntlet that includes home games against Ohio State and Michigan State and road contests against Penn State and Michigan, and the losses suddenly start to add up quickly.  Maryland has the talent to cobble together a double-digit-win season, but, with that schedule, a six- or seven-game losing streak certainly is not out of the question. If Maryland begins to fall into a tailspin, can Edsall pull the Terps together and out of such a dive? My prediction: no.

This is why Wilson sneaked past Edsall into the No. 10 spot. Indiana by no means has a gimme schedule, but Wilson has already done more with less than Edsall. When Wilson became the head coach at Indiana, he took over a program that had been a perennial doormat in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers have had only one winning season since 1994 (2007). They finished no higher than 69th nationally and higher than 86th only once in the F/+ Combined Ratings—a set of rankings which combines two advanced statistical algorithms—from 2005 to 2011. Yet, in 2012 and 2013, Indiana ranked 74th and 56th in the F/+ Combined Ratings, respectively. With an offense full of firepower, Wilson undeniably has Indiana on an upward trajectory. If Wilson and new defensive coordinator Brian Knorr can repair what has been the Big Ten’s worst defense each season of Wilson’s tenure, the Hoosiers have a fantastic opportunity to play in just their second bowl game in the past two decades.

9. Jerry Kill, Minnesota | Overall Record: 144-94 (20 yrs) – Record at Minnesota: 17-21 (3 yrs)
Big Ten Records Overall W/L Big Ten W/L Standing Bowl
2013 8-5 4-4 4th (Legends) Texas Bowl (L)
2012 6-7 2-6 T5th (Legends) Texas Bowl (L)
2011 3-9 2-6 6th (Legends)
Career Totals 17-21 8-16   0-2
(AP)

(AP)

New Year’s Eve in 2006 was a turning point for the Minnesota football program. It was two days after the Gophers had crapped away a 31-point, third-quarter lead to lose to Texas Tech in the Insight Bowl and finish with a 6-7 record. It was also the day they shockingly announced they had fired head coach Glen Mason. In his ten years in Minneapolis, Mason had transformed Minnesota into a respectable Big Ten football program. His 53.5-win-percentage was the best among any Gophers head coach since George Hauser, who coached them from 1942 to 1944. Mason also led them to seven bowl games in an eight-year span after they had not played in one for 12 straight seasons. However, after the crushing collapse in the Insight Bowl, the Gophers, who never placed higher than fourth in the Big Ten under Mason, believed that he could not take them from mediocrity to excellence. Thus, they kicked him out.

Four years later, Minnesota realized it had made a monumental mistake and needed to rectify it. Jerry Kill, who had been very successful in his first four stops as a head coach at Saginaw Valley State, Emporia State, Southern Illinois, and Northern Illinois, was hired by Minnesota to clean up the mess left behind by Tim Brewster. Minnesota had hired Brewster to lead it to the next tier of Big Ten football, except he submarined the Gophers back to the depths of the obscurity they experienced for decades before Mason arrived. Thus far, Kill seems to be pulling them back to the level where Mason had the Gophers. After a tough first season during which Minnesota won only three games, Kill’s Gophers have been 14-12 the past two years with back-to-back appearances in a bowl game. In fact, the eight wins Minnesota tallied last season were the most by the program since it won 10 in 2003. Kill has Minnesota back on the right track, and he may just be the coach that can take Minnesota to where Mason never could.

On the other hand, Kill unfortunately has a disorder that may prevent him from accomplishing this feat. Kill has been diagnosed with epilepsy, a neurological “disorder in which the nerve cell activity in one’s brain is disturbed, causing a seizure during which one experiences abnormal behavior, symptoms and sensations, including loss of consciousness.” Kill tries to control it by taking certain medication, but he still experiences epileptic seizures occasionally. He suffered at least one seizure each of his first three seasons at Minnesota, including one on the sidelines in his first home game in 2011 and one just before facing Michigan in 2013. The seizure in 2013 forced Kill to take a leave of absence to address his health issues. It would be naïve to think that his epileptic seizures cannot be a distraction to his staff and his players. The seizures are not a distraction in that his staff and players always wonder when the next one will occur. But the seizures can be a distraction when they happen, causing those around Kill to be more concerned for his health and safety, as they should, than anything else. This is not to say that Kill should not coach. This is not to say Kill is a poor coach. This is to say only that his epilepsy may limit his potential as a coach. Nonetheless, nothing would be better than to see Kill fully control his epilepsy and no longer experience seizures in 2014 and beyond. Let’s hope this is what comes to fruition.

8. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa | Overall Record: 120-100 (18 yrs) – Record at Iowa: 108-79 (15 yrs)
Big Ten Records Overall W/L Big Ten W/L Standing Bowl
2013 8-5 5-3 T2nd (Legends) Outback (L)
2012 4-8 2-6 T5th (Legends)
2011 7-6 4-4 4th (Legends) Insight (L)
2010 8-5 4-4 T4th Insight (W)
2009 11-2 6-2 T2nd Orange (W)
2008 9-4 5-3 T4th Outback (W)
2007 6-6 4-4 T5th
2006 6-7 2-6 T8th Alamo (L)
2005 7-5 5-3 T3rd Outback (L)
2004 10-2 7-1 T1st Capital One (W)
2003 10-3 5-3 T4th Outback (W)
2002 11-2 8-0 T1st Orange (L)
2001 7-5 4-4 T4th Alamo (W)
2000 3-9 3-5 8th
1999 1-10 0-8 11th
Career Totals 108-79 64-56   6-5
(Scott Boehm, Getty Images)

(Scott Boehm, Getty Images)

A person may be one of the longest-tenured head coaches in college football, but this does not mean that he or she is one of the best head coaches in college football. I present to you Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. On December 2, 1998, Iowa named Ferentz the head coach of its football program. Over 15 years later, Ferentz still is the head man in Iowa City, making him the fourth-longest tenured active head coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). In 15 seasons, Ferentz has done plenty of good at a program located in a state not fertile with talented high-school recruits. At Iowa, he has won a share of two Big Ten championships (2002 and 2004) and appeared in two Orange Bowls (2003 and 2010). Accordingly, in the past, many have praised Ferentz’s coaching ability, claiming few could do at Iowa what he has done.

However, after Iowa’s appearance in the 2010 Orange Bowl, Ferentz’s coaching ability had slipped as Iowa’s record gradually had dipped each season. In 2010, Iowa had an 8-5 record with the help of a bowl win and finished No. 21 in the F/+ Combined Ratings. In 2011, Iowa lost its bowl game, causing its record and F/+ Combined Rating to fall to 7-6 and 46th, respectively. Then, in 2012, the bottom seemed to drop out. The Hawkeyes managed to win only four games and was not bowl-eligible for the first time under Ferentz since 2000. It should be no surprise that Iowa’s F/+ Combined Rating plummeted all the way down to 72nd. Fans were furious. Yes, they were upset that the program was trending downwards, but they were even more upset because there was nothing the school could do about it. Ferentz’s contract has been extended all the way until 2020, and, if Iowa had chosen to fire him after 2012, the buyout would have been just shy of $19 million! Iowa was stuck with Ferentz, whether it wanted be or not.

Yet Ferentz not only stopped the bleeding last year but momentarily turned the program back around. Iowa’s 8-5 record may not be sparkly, but the Hawkeyes did not suffer one bad loss all season. In fact, the five opponents to whom they lost—Northern Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and LSU—combined for a 56-12 record in 2013. Instead, Iowa defeated all teams it was supposed to and even a few it was not, helping Iowa rank 29th in the F/+ Combined Ratings. It was a satisfying season for the Hawkeyes that gave their fans hope that, with a much more accommodating schedule this season, the program can contend for a third Big Ten championship under Ferentz in 2014. However, with an oft-ridiculed offensive coordinator in Greg Davis on staff, Ferentz still needs to prove that last season was not an outlier and that his coaching ways from a decade ago have indeed returned.

7. Bo Pelini, Nebraska | Overall Record: 58-24 (6 yrs) – Record at Nebraska: 58-24 (6 yrs)
Big Ten Records Overall W/L Big Ten W/L Standing Bowl
2013 9-4 5-3 T2nd (Legends) Gator (W)
2012 10-4 7-1 1st (Legends) Capital One (L)
2011 9-4 5-3 3rd (Legends) Capital One (L)
Career Totals 28-12 17-7   1-2
(Bruce Thorson, USA Today Sports)

(Bruce Thorson, USA Today Sports)

The head coach of a Nebraska football program that has displayed uncanny consistency during his regime has had one heck of a rollercoaster ride. Bo Pelini has been Nebraska’s head coach for six seasons. And, in each of those seasons, Nebraska has recorded exactly four losses. Yes, that is correct. This means that, for six straight seasons, Nebraska has had either a 9-4 or 10-4 record under Pelini.

After enduring the train wreck that was Bill Callahan, Huskers fans initially were pleased. In each of the first three seasons of Pelini’s tenure, Nebraska won a share of the Big 12 North, which led to appearances in the Big 12 Championship Game in 2009 and 2010. In both of those championship games, the Huskers came oh-so close to becoming conference champions. In 2009 against Oklahoma, they blew a 17-point, second-quarter lead to lose, 23-20; in 2010 against undefeated Texas, they conceded a 46-yard field goal as time expired to fall by a one-point margin, 13-12. These undoubtedly were devastating losses for Nebraska and its faithful, but the belief was that Pelini would breakthrough and win that first conference title soon after Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011.

However, this has yet to materialize, and Huskers fans have become more than agitated with Pelini. They thought the conference-championship drought would finally end in 2012 when the hot Huskers met 7-5 Wisconsin rather than undefeated Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game because the Buckeyes had been handed a postseason ban. Instead, Wisconsin wiped the floor with the Huskers, running through them for 539 rushing yards and routing them, 70-31. Things got only worse for Pelini last season. After a home loss to UCLA, a two-year-old audio tape with a profane tirade by Pelini criticizing the fan base was leaked to the media, causing Pelini to further lose fan support. Then, following a humiliating loss to Iowa in the season finale in which Pelini threw multiple temper tantrums on the sideline, he declared in the postgame press conference, “If they want to fire me, go ahead. … I don’t apologize for anything I have done.” It seemed imminent that Nebraska would let Pelini go.

But Nebraska decided to hold onto Pelini, and there subsequently has been an uptick in his support. First, he coached the Huskers to a win against an SEC opponent, albeit the injury-riddled Georgia Bulldogs, in the Gator Bowl, Second, he began to show a lighter, more comedic side to his personality on social media and at Nebraska’s spring game. No longer is Pelini viewed only as a coach that can explode into a thousand suns on the sideline but as a coach that knows when not to take himself too seriously. While this has been positive for Pelini’s public relations, it does not change what is expected from him and his team this fall. Nebraska is facing lots of tough questions about its quarterback, its offensive line, and its defense, which has lost multiple starters to injuries within the past week. It seems quite possible that Nebraska’s streak of four-loss seasons could come to a halt and not for the better. If this is the case, will the slight boost in Pelini’s public perception mitigate the damage? Likely not. Therefore, Pelini must show that Nebraska, a proud football program, is heading in the right direction. Otherwise, his rollercoaster ride may come to a stop.

6. Brady Hoke, Michigan | Overall Record: 73-63 (11 yrs) – Record at Michigan: 26-13 (3 yrs)
Big Ten Records Overall W/L Big Ten W/L Standing Bowl
2013 7-6 3-5 5th (Legends) Buffalo Wild Wings (L)
2012 8-5 6-2 2nd (Legends) Outback (L)
2011 11-2 6-2 2nd (Legends) Sugar (W)
Career Totals 26-13 15-9   1-2
(Charlie Neibergall, AP)

(Charlie Neibergall, AP)

Throughout the offseason, there has been much talk by media and fans alike about Michigan head coach Brady Hoke sitting of the hot seat. They point to Hoke’s sub-.500 record (47-50) prior to his current stint at Michigan as a sign that he is underqualified. They point to him not wearing a headset on the sideline as an indication that he is in over his head. They point to Michigan’s 15-11 record the past two seasons, after the Wolverines had an unexpected trip to the Sugar Bowl in his first year in 2011, as proof that the program is deteriorating under his watch. Heck, the talk was loud enough that even we at Maize and Go Blue had a roundtable to address the topic. The truth is Hoke is not currently on the hot seat. It may be a bit warm, but, unless Michigan fails to be bowl-eligible, Hoke will be back in 2015.

What many fail to realize is just how much the Rich Rodriguez era set Michigan back. Many believed that the Wolverines had completely recovered and returned to prominence after their 11-2 record in 2011, but it was just a façade. The underlying crevices in the foundation were still there, waiting to be unearthed. Rodriguez’s recruiting in 2010 and 2011 left Michigan with too many holes in the depth chart, especially at offensive line, which currently has only one scholarship upperclassman. Hoke has tried to plug the holes in the depth chart as quickly as possible, landing the No. 6 and No. 4 recruiting classes in 2012 and 2013, respectively, according to 247 Sports, but these talented recruits have been only sophomores or freshmen. Mix this in with poor injury luck and head-scratching play-calling from former offensive coordinator Al Borges, and Michigan’s record the past two seasons makes more sense.

This does not mean that Hoke is immune from blame, though. It was Hoke who hired Borges and allowed him to implement such disjointed offensive schemes. It was also Hoke, as the head coach, that reportedly failed to manage the chemistry and leadership among the players last season. However, Hoke seems to have fixed these mistakes, firing Borges to bring former Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier on staff and altering the leadership structure of Michigan’s roster. However, there are few excuses left to shield Hoke. Yes, the offensive line still is ridiculously young and inexperienced, and Michigan must play all three of its main rivals on the road for the first time in school history. But, with the resources at his disposal, now is the time for Hoke to show that Michigan is on its way back to being one of, if not the, best in the Big Ten. If that happens, the “hot seat” talk will die and Hoke will find himself in the top five on this list. If it does not happen, well, he may not be on this list in a few years.

So what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with Part One of these rankings? Should Michigan’s Brady Hoke be at No. 6? Or is he too high or too low? Is there a head coach that should be in the bottom half of the top 10 of these rankings? And who do you think will top this list at No. 1? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Tomorrow, we will reveal who will be the five best head coaches in the Big Ten this fall.

2014 opponent preview: Northwestern

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014


2014-Opponent-Preview-NW

Our last two opponent previews have been about the new kids on the block, Rutgers and Maryland. Today, we take a look at one of the old guards, the Northwestern Wildcats, who we feel will be the fifth-toughest opponent on Michigan’s schedule. Previously, we previewed Appalachian State, Miami (Ohio), Minnesota, Utah, Indiana, Rutgers, and Maryland.

Overview

Schedule
Date Opponent
Aug. 30 California
Sept. 6 Northern Illinois
Sept. 20 Western Illinois
Sept. 27 at Penn State
Oct. 4 Wisconsin
Oct. 11 at Minnesota
Oct. 18 Nebraska
Nov. 1 at Iowa
Nov. 8 Michigan
Nov. 15 at Notre Dame
Nov. 22 at Purdue
Nov. 29 Illinois

A year ago at this time, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the Northwestern program that many assumed was ready to take the next step forward. The Wildcats were coming off a 10-win season and a bowl victory and started the 2013 season ranked for the first time in over a decade. A 4-0 start got Northwestern to 16th in the country heading into a Big Ten opener against fourth-ranked Ohio State. ESPN College GameDay was there for the nationally televised primetime battle.

Instead of pulling off a program-building upset, its was the beginning of the end for Pat Fitzgerald’s 2013 squad. Northwestern held a 30-27 lead midway through the fourth quarter, but Ohio State scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes to steal the win. From there, the Wildcats lost seven straight, including two in overtime before finishing the season with a  37-34 win over Illinois. Instead of building on the 10-win 2012 season, Northwestern cut its win total in half at 5-7.

Then came the offseason and the circus came to town. Departing quarterback Kain Colter led a unionization push that Fitzgerald strongly opposed. It led to a team vote and brought the nation’s media to Evanston in search of a story that could forever change the landscape of college athletics. Instead of simply focusing on improving through the offseason, Fitzgerald had to keep his players focused on football despite all of the distractions and visions of grandeur. By many accounts, the situation galvanized the team, but while the vote came and went, the result has yet to be announced and could become a distraction once again this fall when the National Labor Relations Board releases the outcome.

If the process really did bring the team together, and if Fitzgerald can keep his team focused through the NLRB ruling, the expectations from last season could come to fruition this fall. Seventeen starters return from last year’s team, including nine on offense, and the Wildcats don’t have to deal with Ohio State or Michigan State this season. Could Northwestern make a run at the Big Ten West title? Let’s take a closer look.

Offense

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2013 Stats
QB Trevor Siemian 6’3″, 210 178-298 for 2,149 yds, 11 TD, 9 INT
RB Venric Mark 5’8″, 175 97 yds (3.1 avg), 5 rec, 48  rec. yards
SB Dan Vitale 6’2″, 225 34 rec, 382 rec. yds, 3 rec. TD
WR Tony Jones 6’0″, 195 55 rec. for 630 yds, 4 TD
WR Christian Jones 6’3″, 225 54 rec. for 668 yds, 4 TD
WR Cameron Dickerson 6’3″, 235 11 rec. for 125 yds, 1 TD
LT Paul Jorgenson 6’6″, 295 12 starts (13 career starts)
LG Geoff Mogus 6’5″, 295 11 starts (11 career starts)
C Brandon Vitabile 6’3″, 300 12 starts (38 career starts)
RG Matt Frazier 6’4″, 290 4 starts (4 career starts)
RT Eric Olson 6’6″, 290 0 starts (0 career starts)

Last season, Northwestern’s offense stormed out of the gate averaging 41.3 points per game in the 4-0 start. A 30-point performance in the loss to Ohio State was good as well, but the offense took a nose dive from there. The Wildcats failed to score more than 24 points in any of its next six games — all losses — and averaged just 13.7 points in that stretch. The 37 points put up in the finale against Illinois brought Northwestern’s season average to 26.2 points per game, which ranked 83rd nationally. The total offense ranked 73rd (399.6 yards per game), rush offense ranked 62nd (172.4 yards per game), and pass offense ranked 71st (227.2 yard per game). That’s a far cry from the way the first five games of the season went and offensive coordinator Mike McCall will have to find a way to sustain the offense through Big Ten play if the Wildcats want any chance of competing.

The major change will be handing the reigns of the offense completely to fifth-year senior quarterback Trevor Siemian, who has spent the past two seasons splitting time with Colter. The do-everything Colter was a freak athlete playing quarterback to keep defenses off balance while Siemian is your more traditional true quarterback with less big-play ability, but also more stable. In 2013, Siemian completed 59.7 percent of his passes for 2,149 yards, 11 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. In that Ohio State game, he completed 13-of-18 for 245 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick and he capped the season with a 414-yard, four-touchdown game against Illinois.

Venric Mark returns from injury as one of the most explosive running backs in the Big Ten

Venric Mark returns from injury as one of the most explosive running backs in the Big Ten

While the offense loses the mobility of Colter, it still has one of the Big Ten’s most electric running backs, Venric Mark. The 5’8″, 175-pound senior was plagued by injuries last season and played in just three games as a result. But when he was healthy in 2012, Mark rushed for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns on six yard per carry, earning second team All-Big Ten honors. Drew rated Mark the sixth-best running back in the Big Ten this fall, though it likely would have been higher if not for the questions about his health.

Mark isn’t alone in the backfield, however. Fellow senior Treyvon Green picked up the slack in Mark’s absence last season, leading the Wildcats with 736 rushing yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 5.4 yards per carry. At 5’10″, 215, Green is a much bigger back than Mark and creates a nice one-two punch. Then there’s redshirt sophomore Stephen Buckley, who saw limited action in nine games last season and averaged 5.3 yards per carry. In the one game he saw a full workload, he rushed for 99 yards on 17 carries against an Iowa defense that held Michigan to just 60 rushing yards on 29 carries.

Like the backfield, a lot of production returns at receiver, but the one thing the group lacks is explosiveness. Five of the top six receivers from a year ago return, but the only Wildcat that caught at least 10 passes and averaged a respectable yards per catch — Rashad Lawrence (14.9) — is gone. Senior Christian Jones, who led the team with 668 yards and four touchdowns on 54 catches, averaged just 12.4 yards per catch. Fellow senior Tony Jones led the team in receptions (55), finished second in yards (630), and also had four scores, averaged just 11.5 yards per catch. Don’t get me wrong; they’re a good receiving duo — Drew ranked them the sixth- and seventh-best receivers in the Big Ten this fall — but they lack the big-play ability that Stefon Diggs and Deon Long have.

There are a couple of contenders to complement them. USC transfer Kyle Prater, who has been hampered by injuries since he’s been in Evanston, and Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler were both highly-ranked recruits and if at least one of them can pan out, Siemian will have plenty of options to work with. McCall and Fitzgerald have stated their intention to spread the ball around a lot more this season and superback Dan Vitale, who caught 34 passes for 382 yards and three touchdowns in 2013, will also get plenty of targets. Finally, there’s junior Cameron Dickerson, who caught just 11 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown last season but is expected to take on a bigger role in the passing game this fall.

The offensive line has a chance to be among the Big Ten’s best with everyone returning. All 60 starts from last season are back with 100 combined career starts between them. The anchor of the line is fifth-year senior Brandon Vitabile, an honorable mention All-Big Ten performer a year ago who has started 38 straight games. Drew ranked Vitabile as the eight-best offensive lineman in the conference this fall. Last year’s left tackle, Jack Konopka, who has 25 career starts, may be the odd man looking in as he has been replaced by fifth-year senior Paul Jorgensen, who moves over from right tackle to help protect Siemian. Rising redshirt sophomore Eric Olsen will likely take the spot Jorgensen vacated at right tackle, while Konopka will be the top backup to both of them. At guard, redshirt juniors Geoff Mogus (11 career starts) and Matt Frazier (four) will start on the left and right, respectively.

Defense

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2013 Stats
DE Dean Lowry 6’6″, 265 33 tackles, 7 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 2 INT, 1 FR
DT Sean McEvilly 6’5″, 290 9 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 QBH
DT C.J. Robbins 6’5″, 285 3 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 1 PD
DE Deonte Gibson 6’3″, 260 22 tackles, 7 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 QBH, 2 PD
SAM Drew Smith 6’1″, 215 31 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3 QBH
MLB Collin Ellis 6’2″, 230 78 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 3 INT, 9 PD
WLB Chi Chi Ariguzo 6’3″, 235 106 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 sacks, 4 INT, 6 PD
CB Nick VanHoose 6’0″, 190 61 tackles, 5 TFL, 8 PD
CB Matthew Harris 5’11″, 180 36 tackles, 5 PD
S Ibraheim Campbell 5’11″, 205 73 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, 4 INT, 9 PD
S Traveon Henry 6’1″, 200 77 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PD

Fitzgerald came to Northwestern promising a tough, hard-nosed defense just like he was as a linebacker for the Wildcats in the mid-1990s. But last season, Northwestern got pushed around, and while some of that can be pinned on the offensive meltdown in the second half of the season, the defense just wasn’t put to par. It ranked 69th nationally in scoring defense (27.1 points per game), 89th in total defense (423.4 yards per game), 68th in rush defense (167.7 yards per game), and 101st in pass defense (255.8 yards per game).

Senior Ibraheim Campbell is a ball-hawking safety (Michael Bojda, The Daily Illini)

Senior Ibraheim Campbell is one of the top safeties in the conference (Michael Bojda, The Daily Illini)

Fitzgerald’s defensive coordinator, Mike Hankwitz, played at Michigan and was a part of the 1969 Big Ten championship team in Bo Schembechler’s first season. He then served as a graduate assistant for Bo from 1970-72 before moving on. He has been a defensive coordinator since 1982 and has been at Northwestern since 2008.

His first order of business this season will be finding a replacement for the production lost by defensive end Tyler Scott’s departure. Scott led the team with 10 tackles for loss and six sacks and was a second team All-Big Ten selection. The good news is that juniors Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson and redshirt sophomore Ifeadi Odenigbo, a former four-star recruit, are talented and experienced. The three combined for 20.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks in 2013. The interior of the line is where the questions lie. Former four-star Greg Kuhar, now a redshirt sophomore, worked his way into the rotation late last season and will be needed to play an increased role this fall. Seniors Sean McEvilly and Chance Carter are the presumed starters, but Kuhar and redshirt junior C.J. Robbins are pushing them with good spring performances.

Similar to the situation on the line, the linebacker corps has to replace its most productive player from 2013, but does have solid talent and experience returning. Damien Proby led the team with 112 tackles in addition to five tackles for loss and a sack, but will be replaced by either junior Drew Smith or senior Jimmy Hall. Hall, a converted safety, tallied 36 tackles and an interception last year, while Smith contributed 31 tackles, 4.5 of which went for loss. The returning starters are seniors Chi Chi Ariguzo and Collin Ellis, who were second and third on the team in tackles last season with 106 and 78, respectively. Ariguzo had six tackles for loss, two sacks, and a team-high four interceptions, while Ellis had 5.5 tackles for loss, half a sack, and three picks.

Northwestern’s secondary was pretty bad a year ago, but has some good playmakers and enough experience returning that it could be a strength this season. Senior safety Ibraheim Campbell is one of the Big Ten’s best. Drew ranked him the fourth-best safety in the league. He recorded 73 tackles, 2.5 for loss, one sack, and four interceptions last season. His safety mate is junior Traveon Henry, who excels in run support. He notched 77 tackle, four for loss, and one pick. There will be some competition at corner. Redshirt junior Nick VanHoose has 22 career starts and should have one of the spots locked up. Sophomore Matthew Harris started the final five games of last season and will battle with Daniel Jones, who started the season opener in 2013 but blew out his knee and missed the rest of the year, and sophomore Dwight White.

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2013 Stats
PK Arthur Omilian 5’11″, 160
P Chris Gradone 6’2″, 190 37.8 avg, 5 In-20, 1 TB, 1 50+
KR Matthew Harris 5’11″, 180 21 ret, 23.0 avg
PR Venric Mark 5’8″, 175 15 ret, 18.7 avg., 2 TD (in 2012)

While Northwestern has returning starters all over the offense and defense, the Wildcats have to replace a very good kicker. Jeff Budzien made 87.3 percent of his field goal attempts the last three years (48-of-55) and if you throw out his 2011 season, he converted 93.3 percent (42-of-45) in 2012 and ’13. He won the Bakken-Andersen Big Ten Kicker of the Year award both years. But now his reliability is gone and Fitzgerald has to find someone to replace him. That will be a battle between redshirt freshman Hunter Niswander and redshirt junior Arthur Omilian. The former was the 12th-ranked kicker in the 2013 class, while the latter served as Budzien’s backup last season. Punter Brandon Williams is also gone, but he averaged just 36 yards per punt. Junior Chris Gradone, who handled punting duties for the final three games last season, will assume the role.

The return game will be led by Mark and Harris. When healthy in 2012, Mark was a first team All-America punt returner, averaging 18.7 yards per  return with two touchdowns. He was less explosive on kick returns, averaging just 19.8 yards, but he’ll still share the job with Harris, who averaged 23 yards per kick return in 2013.

Outlook

Injuries really hurt Northwestern last season, but in reality, the 5-7 record very easily could have been 8-4 plus a bowl game. The Wildcats lost to Iowa in overtime, Nebraska on a last-second Hail Mary, and Michigan in overtime after the Wolverines converted an improbably last-second field goal in regulation. Five wins should be guaranteed right off the bat — the first three against California, Northern Illinois, and Western Illinois and the last two against Purdue and Illinois. Then they’ll have to fight for wins against a tough middle slate. Mark’s return and more stability at quarterback should certainly help avoid the offensive pitfalls of last season and the overall depth on defense should help them finish games better than they did a year ago. Anywhere between a 6-6 and 9-3 regular season is doable and it will all depend on whether Siemian and Mark can stay healthy.

What it means for Michigan

Michigan has to travel to Evanston for a second straight season, but that’s not as bad as having to travel to East Lansing two years in a row. Michigan always has strong fan support in Chicago, so the environment isn’t as tough. But Michigan and Northwestern have essentially played as evenly as it gets the past two years. A case could certainly be made that Northwestern outplayed Michigan in both despite Michigan winning both, as both required near miracles in the closing seconds of regulation. That’s great motivation for Fitzgerald’s squad. Another close one this year is probably a safe bet.

2014 opponent preview: Maryland

Monday, August 11th, 2014


2014-Opponent-Preview-Maryland

Last week we previewed the first of the two new Big Ten additions, Rutgers. Today, it’s time to take a look at the second, the Maryland Terrapins, who we feel will be the seventh-easiest, or sixth toughest, opponent on Michigan’s schedule. Previously, we previewed Appalachian State, Miami (Ohio), Minnesota, Utah, and Indiana, and Rutgers.

Overview

Schedule
Date Opponent
Aug. 30 James Madison
Sept. 6 at South Florida
Sept. 13 West Virginia
Sept. 20 at Syracuse
Sept. 27 at Indiana
Oct. 4 Ohio State
Oct. 18 Iowa
Oct. 25 at Wisconsin
Nov. 1 at Penn State
Nov. 15 Michigan State
Nov. 22 at Michigan
Nov. 29 Rutgers

In last week’s Rutgers preview, I mentioned the intrigue that new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen brings to the Rutgers offense. As the head coach at Maryland for 10 seasons, Friedgen raised the Terrapins profile, transforming a program that had just one winning season in the previous decade — and a 6-5 one at that — into a perennial ACC contender. The program hadn’t won a bowl game for 15 years prior to his tenure, but Friedgen guided the Terps to five bowl victories. But he was unceremoniously let go after a 9-4 campaign in 2010 — a season in which Maryland finished second in the ACC, won a bowl game, and finished ranked nationally — and replaced him with UConn’s Randy Edsall.

Edsall proceded to go 2-10 in his first season and 4-8 in his second. He finally broke the .500 mark last season with a 7-6 record, but at least it was a second straight season of progress. The main problem was that his team was incredibly young and injury-ridden. At one point late in the season, 15 players were listed as out. It would be tough for Alabama to have a successful season in that scenario, and that’s with a team full of five-stars backing up five-stars. Marlyand had talent, but not enough to overcome a tidal wave of injuries.

Now, Edsall has to get acquainted to a new conference, and like Rutgers, will have to cope with a less than friendly schedule. The Terps do miss out on Nebraska, but their other conference no-plays are Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois, and Northwestern. That’s basically the bottom half of the Big Ten. Maryland’s conference opener and closer will be the two most winnable of the bunch, at Indiana and home versus Rutgers, but the middle six will be as tough as any stretch in the conference. Maryland hosts Ohio State and Iowa, travels to Wisconsin and Penn State, comes back home against Michigan State, and then travels to Michigan. Welcome to the Big Ten.

The good news for Edsall is that he brings a wealth of young talent with him, and if his Terps can avoid the injury bug they could make some noise. But with such a difficult schedule, do they have enough talent to have a good season? Let’s take a look.

Offense

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2013 Stats
QB C.J. Brown 6’3″, 218 166-282 for 2,242 yds, 13 TD, 7 INT, 576 rush yds (4.1 avg), 12 TD
RB Brandon Ross 5’10″, 210 776 yds (4.7 avg), 4 TD
FB Kenneth Goins Jr. 5’9″, 230 48 yds (5.3 avg), 4 rec for 49 yds, 1 TD
WR Deon Long 6’0″, 185 32 rec. for 489 yds, 1 TD
WR Stefon Diggs 6’0″, 190 34 rec. for 587 yds, 3 TD
TE P.J. Gallo 6’2″, 250
LT Michael Dunn 6’5″, 300 13 starts (13 career starts)
LG Salvino Altamirano 6’2″, 290 0 starts (0 career starts)
C Sal Conaboy 6’3″, 295 13 starts (22 career starts)
RG Andrew Zeller 6’4″, 310 3 starts (6 career starts)
RT Ryan Doyle 6’4″, 300 13 starts (13 career starts)

Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley is no stranger to the Big Ten, having spent four seasons as offensive coordinator under Ron Zook at Illinois from 2005-2008. His 2007 offense ranked fifth nationally in rushing, led by Rashard Mendenhall and quarterback Juice Williams. The Illini upset top-ranked Ohio State that season and went to their first Rose Bowl since 1984. A year later, Locksley took the head coaching job at New Mexico, but didn’t have the same kind of success, going 2-26 in two and a half seasons before being fired. Maryland scooped him up to replace current Penn State head coach James Franklin, who took the Vanderbilt job following the 2010 season.

Locksley’s offenses at Maryland have been nothing to write hime about so far, ranking 67th nationally in total offense in 2011, 123rd in 2012, and 77th last season. Last year’s squad also ranked 83rd in scoring (26.2 points per game), 84th in rushing (148.4 yards per game), and 49th in passing (248.2 yards per game).

Former Michigan target Stefon Diggs is one of the best receivers in the Big Ten

Former Michigan target Stefon Diggs is one of the best receivers in the Big Ten

The offense will once again be led by dual-threat quarterback C.J. Brown, now a fifth-year senior with about as much experience as Devin Gardner. He started five games in 2011 and was the starter heading into 2012 before tearing his ACL and missing the entire season. He came back and had a very good 2013 campaign, finishing third in the ACC with 256.2 yards per game. He completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,242 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions and rushed for 576 yards and 12 touchdowns on 4.1 yards per carry despite missing two games midseason. He became the first Maryland quarterback to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 500 in a season. Rushing-wise, Brown was hit-or-miss a year ago. He had four 100-yard rushing games, accumulating 487 yards in those games, an average of 122 yard per game. But in the other seven, he had a combined 89 yards — an average of just 12.7 yards per game.

Brown was joined in the rushing game by Brandon Ross, who 776 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. But Ross was the starter in 2013 because Wes Brown, a four-star recruit in the 2012 class, missed all of last season due to a suspension. Brown was the team’s second-leading rusher as a true freshman in 2012. He and Ross are listed as co-starters on the depth chart as of now, but both will likely play a big role in the backfield. Junior Albert Reid and sophomore Jacquille Veii will also serve as change-of-pace backs. The two combined for 109 carries for 440 yards and two scores last season.

The receiving corps is where talent abounds. A pair of five-star receivers, Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, return from broken legs that kept them out of the second half of last season. The duo will form perhaps the top receiving tandem on the conference this fall. Drew ranked them best and fifth-best receivers in the Big Ten. Prior to getting injured in the seventh game, Diggs caught 34 passes for 587 yards and three touchdowns, leading the team with an average of 17.3 yards per catch. In the same time, Long had 32 catches for 489 yards and one touchdown. Average those numbers out for an entire season and Diggs would  have had 63 for 1,090 and Long 59 for 908.

Instead, their injuries allowed Levern Jacobs to step up. Jacobs led the team in receptions (47) and yards (640), but really emerged in the second half of the season, increasing his catches and yards per game from 1.9 and 35 to 6.8 and 79. He had an eight-catch, 158-yard, one touchdown performance against Clemson. Amba Etta-Tawo finished third on the team with 500 yards on 31 catches, while Nigel King added 450 yards and led the group with four touchdowns. All five of those guys are back this season in addition to Marcus Leak, who missed all of last season, but was the team’s second-leading receiver in 2012. Throw in four-star redshirt freshman slot man Taivon Jacobs, and this is as deep and talented a unit as there is in the conference.

While plenty of experience returns at quarterback, running back, and receiver, the offensive line is where things get interesting. The Terps do return 42 starts from last season and 59 career starts, but it’s a very thin depth chart. The entire left side needs to be replaced after the graduation of guard De’Onte Arnett’s, who started all 13 games, transfer of tackle Mike Madaras, who started eight, and suspension of Moise Larose, who started four. The leader of the line is senior center Sal Conaboy, a Rimington Trophy Watch List member who has 22 career starts. The tackles will be redshirt junior Ryan Doyle (13 starts) on one side and redshirt sophomore Michael Dunn (13 starts) on the other. Redshirt junior Andrew Zeller, who started the final three games last season at right guard will keep the job, while senior Silvano Altamirano will move into the lineup at led guard.

Defense

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2013 Stats
DE Andre Monroe 5’11″, 282 42 tackles, 17 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 2 FF
NT Darius Kilgo 6’3″, 319 37 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FR
DE Quinton Jefferson 6’3″, 285 47 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FF
OLB Matt Robinson 6’3″, 245 73 tackles, 10 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 4 PD, 2 FR
MB Cole Farrand 6’3″, 245 84 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 1 FF
MLB L.A. Goree 6’2″, 245 76 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 sacks, 1 PD, 1 FF
OLB Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil 6’2″, 250 18 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT
CB William Likely 5’7″, 175 70 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 INT, 7 PD
CB Alvin Hill 5’11″, 195 24 tackles, 2 PD
FS Sean Davis 6’1″, 200 102 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 2 INT, 5 PD
SS Anthony Nixon 6’1″, 200 60 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 sack

Following Edsall’s first season at Maryland, he also replaced defensive coordinator Todd Bradford and replaced him with former Houston defensive coordinator Brian Stewart. He inherited a defense that ranked 102nd in scoring defense, 108th in total defense, 111th against the run, and 74th against the pass in 2011. He immediately turned that around in 2012, and it slipped a little bit last season, but still ranked 54th in scoring defense (25.3 points per game), 44th in total defense (375.2 yards per game), 46th in rush defense (150.1 yard per game), and 57th in pass defense (225.1 yards per game).

Despite being just 5'7", William Likely is a good corner and a dangerous return man (G. Fiume, Getty Images)

Despite being just 5’7″, William Likely is a good corner and a dangerous return man (G. Fiume, Getty Images)

While the defense regressed slightly in 2013, it returns nine starters and should be at least above average again this fall. The line should be pretty good with everyone of substance returning. Senior end Andre Monroe led the team with 17 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks last season and Drew ranks him as the seventh-best defensive lineman in the Big Ten this fall, one spot ahead of Frank Clark. On the other end is junior Quinton Jefferson, a former four-star who added 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks last season. The middle of the line is anchored by seniors Keith Bowers and Darius Kilgo. They’re listed as co-starters as of now, but both will play regularly. Kilgo started 12 games last season and contributed 37 tackles, 6.5 for loss, and two sacks. Bowers started nine games and recorded 32 tackles.

The linebacker group returns a lot of production, except for outside linebacker Marcus Whitfield, who finished second on the team with 15.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks a year ago. The second- and third-leading tackles from 2013 are the two returning inside linebackers, seniors Cole Ferrand and L.A. Goree. The pair combined for 160 tackles, nine for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Returning outside linebacker Matt Robinson also tallied 73 tackles, a third-best 10 tackles for loss, and half a sack. Senior Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil will replace Whitfield. Cudjoe-Virgil played in six games last season, his first after transferring from Seton Hill University, and notched 18 tackles, 3.5 for loss, three sacks, and an interception. The linebacker corps is full of experienced, but there are some touted youngsters waiting in the wings, such as four-star sophomore Yannick Ngakoue and redshirt freshman Jalen Brooks, who had a solid spring.

The secondary is also pretty stacked with potential, most notably sophomore corner William Likely, who Drew ranked as the ninth-best corner in the Big Ten this fall, one spot behind Raymon Taylor. Likely was fifth on the team with 70 tackles as a true freshman last season and led the team with seven passes defended while picking off one pass. Opposite Likely will be a battle between fifth-year senior Jeremiah Johnson, who started 12 games in 2012 and began last season as the starter but broke his toe and missed 10 games, and junior Alvin Hill, who was listed as the starter in the pre-camp depth chart.

Junior free safety Sean Davis was the team’s leading tackler last fall with 102 tackles. He also picked off two passes and had five passes defended. Drew ranked him the seventh-best safety in the conference, right behind Jarrod Wilson. Junior Anthony Nixon returns as the strong safety after a 60-tackle campaign in 2013.

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2013 Stats
PK Brad Craddock 6’0″, 190 21-of-25, Long 50
P Nathan Renfro 6’0″, 175 40.8 avg, 18 In-20, 9 TB
KR William Likely 5’7″, 175 28 ret, 26.0 avg
PR William Likely 5’7″, 175 16 ret, 12.8 avg., 1 TD

Both kicking specialists are back from last season. Kicker Brad Craddock is our fourth-best kicker in the conference after converting 21-of-25 field goal attempts in 2013 with a long of 50. He missed only two from inside 50 yards. Punter Nathan Renfro averaged 40.8 yard per punt last season, which ranked 10th in the ACC.

There is big-play potential in the return game from Diggs and Likely. Diggs averaged 23.4 yards per kick return prior to his injury and Likely averaged 26, which ranked third in the ACC. Likely also handled punt return duties and averaged a conference fourth-best 12.8 yards per return, including one touchdown.

Outlook

It’s quite obvious that this Maryland team has a lot of experience and talent in its starting lineup, certainly enough to improve on its 7-6 record if it avoids the injury bug and if it were still in the ACC. But the conference schedule is a tough one and the Terps have West Virginia and Syracuse on the non-conference slate. Both of those teams should be beatable, but they have more meat on them than the usual non-conference foes. Maryland should be able to get through the first four unscathed and then face a shootout at Indiana. The Terps will need to win that one if they want to have a successful season because then the gauntlet begins.

With all the talent Maryland has at receiver and an experienced returning quarterback and backfield, the offensive line is still an issue and could be the stumbling block against Big Ten defenses. Edsall’s squad will need to steal one that it shouldn’t in October or November to ensure a winnings season, but may need to beat Rutgers at season’s end to simply break even. A 7-5 regular season should be considered a positive one for the Terps this fall and anything beyond that a great one. But 5-7 is also a very realistic possibility.

What it means for Michigan

Michigan will be in for a good test from Maryland in late November with a trip to Columbus looming the following week. The good news is that Michigan gets a bye week after Northwestern on Nov. 8 to prepare for Maryland, and by then they’ll have plenty of film to look at. Michigan’s defense projects to be very good this season, and this late in the season will be battle tested. The secondary will have its hands full with Diggs and Long, but Michigan certainly has enough talent and depth on its defense to handle them. Look for a close, hard-fought game throughout that Michigan should be able to win.