All posts by Jason Schwartz

B1G Ten BULLets: Conference play is underway

Well, we are almost a quarter of the way through Big Ten (B1G) basketball season already, so let’s take a look back at some highlights and lowlights over the first four B1G conference games of the season with some B1G Bullet Points.

  • Iowa (3-0 in B1G play) has been by far the most impressive team of the conference slate so far. Not only have they beaten the previously undefeated Michigan State Spartans, but they also went into West Laffayette (Purdue) and came out with a win over the twin towers of Haas and Hammond. The Hawkeyes are also averaging 76.7 point per game in conference play so far thanks to Jarrod Uthoff (18.6 PPG) who still goes unnoticed despite leading the conference in scoring. Of course none of this comes as a surprise if you read my B1G conference preview. 
  • The Boilermakers (2-2) have been a roller coaster team so far in the B1G Ten. Winning in Madtown against the Badgers is never easy, and beating an up and coming Wolverine team in Mackey Arena go down as the positives for the Boilers so far. However, blowing a huge lead at home to Iowa and losing against a struggling Illinois squad has people questioning whether this version of the Boilers can find enough consistency to finally get fans off of Matt Painter’s back. Haas needs to help out his frontcourt mate Hammond as he is averaging only 6.2 PPG in conference play so far.
  • Northwestern (2-2), looking for their FIRST NCAA tourney bid ever in case you haven’t heard, has gone 2-0 on the road but an unfortunate 0-2 in Evanston to start B1G play. The Wildcats really seem to miss Alex Olah, their starting center out with a foot injury, against premier conference opponents. No center scored more than eight points for NU in either loss to Ohio State or Maryland. They will need to find more consistent low-post play if they want to get the key victories desperately needed on their March resumé.
  • Are the Illini (1-3) finally breaking out of their patented early season slump that has become so infamous under John Groce? The Illini looked mediocre at best in their first three games of the B1G season in losses to Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State, but looked like a completely reborn team in a dominating win over Purdue at home. The Illini put up 84 points on one of the best defensive teams in the country. Led by Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn, the Illini have two of the most dynamic scorers in the league, but they will have to improve their defense (giving up at least 70 points in every B1G game) if they want to find some consistency.
  • Here’s a scary thought for the rest of the country, the Spartans (3-1) have learned to play without Denzel Valentine. After a tough loss at a surprising Iowa team, the Spartans have rebounded to win their next three games by an average margin of 20 points per game. Izzo has also found a second scorer that has more than stepped up in Valentine’s absence. Bryn Forbes has averaged 19 PPG in the three games following the defeat in Iowa City. That should bode well for Sparty having that second scorer to rely on come tourney time.
  • The Hoosiers and Terrapins are the only 4-0 teams in the conference but neither has a huge win on its conference resumé. Melo Trimble created some magic with a buzzer-beating three to beat Wisco in Madison, while Indiana has some solid wins at home over Wisconsin and Ohio State. The Hoosiers somehow don’t play a ranked opponent until February 11th against Iowa, so expect the Hosiers to stay in the conference race for some time.
  • On the opposite side of the spectrum, Minnesota and Rutgers are both winless (0-4). Rutgers could be looking for that elusive first W for awhile as the Scarlet Knights don’t play a team in the bottom half of the conference until February 3rd against Illinois. Minnesota meanwhile gets a shot in Lincoln against the Cornhuskers for their next conference game as the two cellar-dwellers duel it out for the prestigious right to finish in last in the B1G.

Well that’s all I got for you from the first 22.22% of conference games. May more buzzer-beaters and upsets be in our future.

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BULLet Points: Jimmy wills Bulls to OT victory over Pacers

  • Jimmy Butler somehow found a way to put a pretty bow on a game that was anything but aesthetically pleasing. The Bulls scratched and clawed their way to a 102-100 overtime win over the Pacers at the UC on Wednesday night. The win was the Bulls third in their last four games, and this one came without the help of Derrick Rose, who sat out due to tightness in his hamstring.
  • Playing without Rose, Butler was the clear alpha dog for the Bulls on the night. He struggled getting going at first, only putting up five points in the first half when it looked like he was forcing the action too much to compensate for Rose’s absence. But Butler picked up his game big time in the second half, and especially down the stretch, ending the game with 28 points, four rebounds, and four assists. That included the game winning basket with 1.2 seconds remaining when Pau Gasol lobbed up an alley-oop pass from the top of the key to Butler who put a magisterial touch on it to float it home to Paul George’s bewilderment.

  • What probably went unnoticed from Butler’s night however was his extraordinary defense on Paul George. He held one of the best players in the league to 7/20 shooting and forced him into three turnovers while keeping him off-balance all night. This allowed the Bulls to stay in the game while the offense struggled through a 16 point third quarter.
  • I’m officially all-in on Bench Mob 2.0. PBS (Portis, Brooks, and Snell) all did their part in contributing to this victory. Brooks led all scorers in the game with 29 points and 5 assists. Of course he also turned the ball over six times, which we’ll get to later, but his key plays down the stretch more than made up for some of his mistakes. Portis had another strong performance recording 16 points and seven rebounds on 7/12 shooting. Finally, Snell, whose numbers don’t tell the whole story. He only shot 1/6 and totaled only two points, but he also grabbed 7 boards and was a +14 on the night. His defense also caused havoc for the Pacers all night as his long wing-span helped force turnovers. The Bench Mob 2.0 was the sole reason the Bulls had any sort of lead at halftime with Butler struggling the entire first half.
  • Things weren’t all rainbows and sunshine on the night as the Bulls turned the ball over 21 times, leading to 27 points off turnovers, which kept the Pacers in the game despite shooting only 38.1% on the night. The Bulls lacked a killer instinct yet again after going up by as many as 14 in the 3rd quarter. They became complacent and flat-footed leading to no ball movement and forced passes into the paint which led to the aforementioned turnovers. If it weren’t for some Jimmy Butler heroics, the heart on this team would have been called into question after losing out on nearly every 50/50 ball in the 2nd half.
  • Another somber note is reserved for Nikola Mirotic. The Montenegro native scored a grand total of zero points in his 20 minutes on the floor, bringing his total to two points over 37 minutes played in his previous 2 games. It is no mystery that Mirotic struggles on the defensive side of the floor, so leaving him on the court for almost half the game when he can’t score calls into question the rotations Hoiberg is using when the team is struggling on offense like in the 3rd quarter tonight.
  • Coming up: The Bulls ring in the New Year by hosting 3 6 Latvia (Kristaps Porzingis) and the New York Knickerbockers on January 1st. Happy New Years!

B1G Ten Conference Preview and Power Rankings

While Christmas has passed and New Years is just around the corner, many people are focusing on the NFL or College Football bowl games. But here at DRosesAndThorns, not only are we focused on the NBA, but also looking forward to the start of Big Ten (B1G) conference play this week.

With that in mind, let’s do a quick power rankings and check in with each team’s season so far and where it might be headed once the bloodbath that is the B1G conference season gets underway.

  1. Michigan State

Looking Back: This is an easy one. The #1 team in all the land is the only undefeated left in the conference (13-0). With big wins over Kansas, Providence, and Louisville, the Spartans easily have the best resume of any team in the B1G. They have also been demolishing teams, with an average margin of victory north of 20. The Spartans have been powered by the do-everything Denzel Valentine who will be out for the next couple of weeks with a knee injury.

Looking Ahead: Fortunately for the Spartans, they won’t face a tough beginning to the B1G schedule without Valentine, as their first big test doesn’t appear until January 23rd against Maryland. The Spartans have arguably the easiest conference schedule, facing Indiana, Maryland, and Purdue only once, while facing bottom-feeders Penn State and Rutgers twice. Michigan State appears to be a lock for the tourney as Izzo looks to put his stamp on this team before making a deep run into March.

Editor’s note: since these rankings were submitted, Iowa upset Michigan State to start conference play.

  1. Maryland

Looking Back: In a good but not great non-conference slate, the Terps (11-1) played some solid ball. However, their only notable wins are against UCONN and an underachieving Georgetown team. They played their best game in a loss to UNC up in Chapel Hill that had the feel of a tourney game. Maryland was led by their stud point guard, Melo Trimble who is averaging 14.8 PPG on 52% shooting and 5.8 APG heading into conference play.

Looking Ahead: Maryland has a pretty tough slate ahead of them. The Terps play Michigan, Purdue, and Wisconsin all twice while facing Indiana and Michigan State only on the road. Maryland should have no problem making the tournament, but getting a few marquee wins in conference play will go a long way towards getting this team a more favorable draw come Selection Sunday.

  1. Purdue

Looking Back: Purdue rounds out the clear top tier heading into conference play. The Boilers (12-1) were steamrolling opponents until facing the Butler Bulldogs in the Crossroads Classic. Purdue, powered by their two-headed monster down low in Isaac Haas, and A.J. Hammons, had some quality wins against Florida, and at the Zoo in Pitt, before hitting a wake-up call in Indy where they couldn’t crawl their way back against Butler. The Boilers rebounded with a nice win over Vanderbilt to close out the non-conference slate.

Looking Ahead: Purdue has double dips against Maryland, Michigan, and Wisconsin. This isn’t the easiest trio to play multiple times but the Boilers will be ready. Their main concern going forward is getting more consistent play out of their backcourt with only one of their guards, Rapheal Davis, averaging more than 9.0 PPG. Purdue will make the tourney, but to get past the first weekend, improved guard play will be a must.

  1. Indiana

Looking Back: With their only notable win coming at the end of non-conference against Notre Dame, it appears the Hoosiers (10-3) are peaking at the right time. Before that, the team struggled in Maui, loosing a pair to Wake Forest and UNLV and getting man-handled by Duke. It looks like they aren’t quite ready for the big time yet. The Hoosiers were led by veteran point guard Yogi Ferrel, who has stuffed the stat-sheet with 16.1 PPG, 5.9 APG, and 4.7 RPG.

Looking Ahead: The Hoosiers only face the top tier of this conference (Michigan State, Maryland, and Purdue) once each in conference play. Playing Wisconsin twice won’t be easy but this is a down year for the Badgers. The main issue with this team is defense, giving up 70 points per game (tied for 155th in the nation). The Hoosiers should make it to March with their schedule, but to make some noise some much-needed defensive toughness will need to emerge.

  1. Iowa

Looking Back: The Hawkeyes (9-3) played some great basketball in non-conference games. If they could’ve won a couple more of their close games (*cough cough* Iowa State), this team would be ranked heading into B1G play. Iowa has a great win over an underrated Marquette team, and three excruciatingly close losses to Dayton, Notre Dame, and the aforementioned Iowa State. Led by the most underrated player in the conference, Jarrod Uthoff (18.3 PPG), the Hawkeyes are the best team no one is talking about.

Looking Ahead: The Hawkeyes face a tough conference schedule with Indiana, Michigan State, and Purdue on the slate twice each. However they have a pretty soft home schedule outside of their double-dips in Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. Iowa must stiffen up their defense, which is surrendering 68 points per game, but expect them to make the tourney and even make some noise for the conference crown.

  1. Michigan

Looking Back: The Wolverines (10-3) faced a pretty calm non-conference schedule with their best win coming against Texas and no bad losses. Michigan has been led by senior guard Caris LeVert who has been averaging 17.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 4.8 APG. Now if only he could get more help this team could make some noise.

Looking Ahead: Michigan gets Maryland and Purdue twice, but plays Indiana and Michigan State only once and they are both in Ann Arbor. As previously stated, the Wolverines will need to find more help for LeVert as only 3 of their players are averaging double figures. If they want to make it back to the tournament after a one year hiatus, Michigan will need to find some low-post scoring; their leading frontcourt scorer is Ricky Doyle with 5.4 PPG.

  1. Ohio State

Looking Back: Thad Matta’s Buckeyes have had an interesting season thus far, to say the least. His team (8-5) followed up a disappointing start by capping off its non-conference schedule with arguably the best win of any B1G team to date, at Kentucky. However, bad losses to Louisiana Tech and Texas-Arlington will leave a bad taste in the Buckeyes mouths come Selection Sunday.

Looking Ahead: Ohio State easily has the toughest road schedule playing at Purdue, Indiana, and Wisconsin, and doubling up against Maryland and Michigan State. The Buckeyes as a team need to learn to share the ball better, as their 11.9 APG ranks them 272nd in the nation. OSU is still in need of a lot more marquee wins like the one against Kentucky if it wants to crawl its way back into the tourney picture.

  1. Illinois

Looking Back: Has their ever been a team hit worse by the injury bug in the first couple months of the season? Before the season the Illini (8-5) lost their veteran point guard Tracy Abrams, then lost terrible games at home to North Florida and Chattanooga with Kendrick Nunn out of the lineup. Following that was promising transfer, and previously starting center, Mike Thorne tearing his meniscus and missing the remainder of the season. And most recently, with Leron Black being ruled out indefinitely after suffering a set-back from his meniscus injury. Injuries aside, this team shows promise but no consistency. Losing tight at Providence and on a neutral floor to Iowa State shows they have talent, but no quality wins will hurt come tourney time. The Illini have the best scoring combo in the league with Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn averaging 18.7 and 18.5 PPG, respectively.

Looking Ahead: Luckily, for the injury-riddled Illini, they have a rather easy conference schedule. They face the top 3 teams only once while facing Rutgers and Minnesota twice. The team gives up 74.4 points per game which ties them for 234th in the country and that rate will be unacceptable come B1G play. If the Illini can tighten up on D and win the few marquee games it has on its conference slate, John Groce’s bunch may yet hear their names called in March.

  1. Wisconsin

Looking Back: No team in the league had a more tumultuous non-conference than the Badgers (8-5). The team beat Syracuse and Temple while losing a heartbreaker to Marquette, but the players took a backseat to the coach on December 15th when the legendary Bo Ryan abruptly retired. This obviously threw a wrench in the Badgers’ season and it will be interesting to see how the team handles it come conference play.

Looking Ahead: Wisco plays their first B1G game in 15 years without Bo Ryan at the helm against Purdue. After that, the schedule doesn’t get any easier as the Badgers play the Boilers, Maryland, Michigan State, and Indiana all twice. If interim coach Greg Gard can hold his own against this gauntlet the Badgers will find a way into this tournament and Gard will be able to remove the interim tag.

  1. Northwestern

Looking Back: Just when everything finally looks to be going right for the ‘Cats to go dancing for the first time in their history, they lose starting Center Alex Olah indefinitely. The Wildcats (12-1) played a fairly easy non-conference schedule, with their only loss coming to North Carolina and their biggest win against a mediocre Virginia Tech squad. Bryant McIntosh has been one of the most improved players in the conference, with the sophomore point guard averaging 16.2 PPG and 6.8 APG. Coupled with senior guard Tre Demps, this duo makes up the most underrated backcourt in the league.

Looking Ahead: The Wildcats will struggle to replace big man Olah, with offensively-limited Joey van Zegeren and size-limited Gavin Skelly the only options to replace the senior. On the bright side, the ‘Cats get Nebraska and Minnesota twice while only drawing Indiana, Michigan State, and Purdue once. Given their lack of quality wins, Chris Collins will probably need 10 conference wins if he wants to make history in Evanston.

  1. Nebraska

Looking Back: There were no surprises in the Huskers non-conference performance. With their best win against a middling Tennessee, Nebraska beat who it was expected to, and fell to the stronger opponents on their schedule. Junior guard Andrew White has been a nice surprise for coach Tim Miles, as the Cornhuskers look to replace Terran Pettaway.

Looking Ahead: The Huskers get Indiana and Purdue twice, but only face Michigan State and Maryland at home. Much like the Buckeyes, Nebraska will need to learn to share more as their team averages only 12.5 APG with the team leader, Shavon Shields, averaging only 2.9 APG as a forward. This team looks unlikely to make the tourney.

  1. Penn State

Looking Back: Pat Chambers has done a solid job with this relatively young group. The Nittany Lions (9-4) have solid wins over DePaul and Boston College. Led by senior guard Brandon Taylor (16.2 PPG), Penn State should be able stay competitive in most games. However their lack of firepower–just 67.3 points per game–will be their undoing.

Looking Ahead: Of all the teams that struggle sharing the rock in the B1G, no team is worse than the Nittany Lions. In fact, no team in the country is worse than the squad from Happy Valley, who manage only 9.5 APG as a team. To give you an idea, the leading assister is Kahlil Felder of Oakland with 9.3 APG. The Nittany Lions have a fairly favorable schedule, but with the lack of scoring and ball movement, this young team has no chance of making it to late March.

  1. Minnesota

Looking Back: Richard Pitino’s group has had a disappointing start to the year to say the least. The Gophers are a measly 6-6 with their only decent win coming at home against a struggling Clemson team. Close losses to Temple and Oklahoma State should have this team encouraged it can compete, but their are still several holes to be fixed and B1G play is not the time for resolving issues.

Looking Ahead: Someone on this Golden Gopher squad needs to step up. Joey King is their leading scorer at 13.8 PPG, which is only good for 20th in the conference. King, or sophomore Nate Mason needs to to take charge of this team or Pitino’s third year at the helm will easily be his worst yet, despite a soft conference schedule.

  1. Rutgers

Looking Back: Rutger’s continues to disappoint. With the worst record in the B1G at 6-7 and no notable wins to speak of, this team will struggle to beat the low-bar mark of 10-22 (2-16 in the B1G) from last year’s team. One bright spot has been freshman Corey Sanders, who leads the team in points (14.0) and assists (3.5).

Looking Ahead: It will be tough for Rutgers to scratch out more than a few wins, but home games against Penn State, Minnesota, and Nebraska present their best chances to pick up a few Ws. Eddie Jordan has his work cut out for him in trying to get his young core to compete in the B1G.

BULLet Points: Maskless Rose helps lead Bulls to ugly victory over Clippers

  • The Bulls got a much needed victory Thursday night with an 83-80 win over the Clippers at the UC. The game was an ugly, grind-it-out victory for the Bulls as the score would indicate but after a three game losing streak the Bulls will take any W they can get. Leading from the 2nd quarter on, the Bulls hung on by the slimmest of margins after a desperation triple by Chris Paul was off the mark. The Clippers had been 6-1 in their last 7 games before Thursday night.
  • Pau Gasol had a monster game for the Bulls scoring 24 points and grabbing six boards. He was the best player on the court for either side, shooting 10/19 from the floor including 3/3 from deep. Gasol kept the Bulls in it early when it looked like the Clippers might run away with the game, and helped secure the win in the 4th with two of his three triples coming in the final frame. Gasol has been picking it up as of late having scored 22+ three out of his last five games, after not putting up that many points the first 15 games of the season.
  • Additionally, Derrick Rose, while not exactly in MVP form, showed signs of improvement in the second half after the masked-man forgot to grab his protection and went without it. The former MVP scored all of his points after halftime and even showed some elevation on a back-door cut that almost ended in a slam that would have brought the roof down in the UC.
  • Unfortunately, even in a win there were several warning signs from Thursday night’s performance. First, Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose still do not look comfortable on the floor together. Through a quarter of the season the guard pairing still lacks any sort of flow. One always has to dominate the ball and they can not work off of each other. This creates poor spacing which has forced the whole offense to come to a halt at times when these two share the court.
  • Two more trends continued in the game against the Clippers: an uninspired start with the Clippers beating the Bulls badly on the glass and in hustle plays, as well as poor fourth quarter offense that saw a 10 point lead entering the frame vanish within minutes. The Bulls were able to recover thanks to a pair of unexpected treys from Gasol, but the Bulls must find a way to buck this trend of starting the final frame slowly as it is sure to cost them games going forward.
  • Nikola Mirotic has officially lost his touch from deep. The native of Montenegro finished the night 1/5 from distance, which brings his total to 6/26 (23%) over his last five games. If Nikola can’t start knocking down some of these triples, his game will become very limited and it will only further hurt a struggling Bulls offense.
  • The Ugly: At the halfway point of the 3rd quarter Blake Griffin was ejected after being handed a Flagrant 2 for smacking Gibson in the head under the basket. Gibson appeared lucky to escape any injury as the replays showed Griffin winding up before striking Gibson. The loss was obviously a huge blow to the Clips as Griffin was the only Clipper able to consistently create any offense. The forward showcased his versatility with his jumper, post-moves, and driving abilities all on display. Griffin finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds in only 25 minutes before getting tossed.
  • Coming up: The Bulls play host to the New Orleans Pelicans and Chicago native Anthony Davis on Saturday night.