Teams and Players to Watch in the BIG Ten

big ten

The Big Ten showed up in a big way last year. Even while perennial powerhouse Michigan State struggled, the Big 10 was one of the most solid conferences through and through. This year should be more of the same as we preview some of the best teams and some of the best players you should watch this season.

Talented Teams

michigan state, big ten

Michigan State

The Spartans had an uncharacteristically average season last year, finishing 10-8 in conference play, placing them directly in the middle of the pack at 7th place. Much of MSU’s struggles can be chalked up to inexperience. The Spartans were loaded with underclassmen last year and even a coach like Tom Izzo cannot be expected to do much with such a green roster. However, since Izzo is one of the best to ever do it, one year of growth for his young squad will be all they need. Look for the Spartans to be back on top of the Big 10 this year.

Minnesota

While a first round exit in the NCAA tournament was not what Minnesota was hoping for, the Golden Gophers will return a bunch of key players that carried them to the postseason. Minnesota is returning 4 of their 5 starters. Nate Mason, last year’s leading scorer and floor general, will return for his senior season Look for the Golden Gophers to be one of the most complete teams in the country, as they will exhibit strong guard play paired with 2 veteran big men.

Purdue

The Boilermakers may have lost Caleb Swanigan to the NBA Draft, but almost everyone else from last year is back. Like last year, Purdue’s success will largely come from their dominant inside presence. Issac Hass’ 7-2 frame will be more than enough for Purdue to continue their recent trend of winning by dominating the paint and boards on both ends of the floor.

 

Teams on the Downswing

maryland, big ten

Maryland

The Terrapins had a very underwhelming season last year. Expectations were high and they did not quite meet them. They managed to finish 3rd in the Big 10 but did not necessarily impress en route to doing so. They also got bounced in the first round of the Big Dance by Xavier. Justin Jackson will return, but I doubt this will be enough to cover up for the loss of Melo Trimble, who was the face or Maryland basketball for the past couple of years. Besides Jackson, the only player returning who averages double-digit points per game is Anthony Cowan. So unless some like Kevin Huerter or Jared Nickens can help carry the load, expect a very pedestrian showing from Maryland this year.

Wisconsin

The Badgers are coming off of an incredibly hot ending to the season, in which they went all the way to the Big 10 Championship and kept the momentum going, knocking out the #1 overall seed Villanova. However, like Maryland, the Badgers are also losing two key players in Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. Ethan Happ is the only returning starter from last year’s squad, as Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown are also gone. With so many question marks and such a high level of competition, I wouldn’t count on the Badgers to be much of a force this year.

Ohio State

The departure of Thad Matta signals a culture shock for the Buckeyes. After a couple of mediocre seasons, change at the top was needed and now Chris Holtmann is leading the charge with 10 toes in. Ohio State returns leading scorer Jae-Sean Tate, but there is a major drop off after that. It could be a tough year in Columbus, but hey, it’s always darkest before the dawn right?

 

Big 10 Player of the Year Candidates

miles bridges, big ten, michigan state

Miles Bridges

You can’t talk about talent in the Big 10 without talking about Miles Bridges. Many are shocked to him return to school after averaging 17 points and 8 rebounds after his freshman year at Michigan State. Bridges is the ideal wing player, as he shoots well inside and beyond the arc. He shot an incredible 55% from inside the arc last year thanks to his pure stroke and magnificent finishing abilities. Pair that with a 39% percentage from deep and add in a year of development under Tom Izzo, the results could be insane. Not only will Bridges be one of the best players in the conference, he will be one of the best players in the nation.

Nate Mason

The senior floor general is coming off a solid 2016-2017 campaign where he averaged 15 points and 5 assists per game. Mason is crafty with the ball and has above average awareness and vision, as he turned the ball over under 2 times per game as well. Mason will also have a strong supporting cast around him, including Amir Coffey, who many think will have a breakout year. Mason is an experienced and proven leader surrounded by a familiar, and talented, team so there is no reason he cannot improve upon his stellar performance from last year.

Moe Wagner

The stretch 4 should have a huge year for the Wolverines, especially with the departure of Derrick Walton. Wagner will be the go-to man for Michigan this year so expect his production to sky-rocket. Wagner perfectly fits the trend we are seeing from contemporary European big men. He is tall, long and can score from inside and out. Many believe that Wagner made the right decision in leaving the NBA Draft, as he will now have another year to prove his worth. He averaged 12 points and 4 rebounds last year, but look for him to pump those numbers up and perform similar to another European of recent memory, Lauri Markkanen.

Kentucky’s Alumni Game May Come With a Twist

Anthony Davis, Kentucky

Kentucky’s 2017 Alumni Game May Come With A Twist

First, Kentucky played each other. Then, they played North Carolina. Now, Kentucky is looking to play an NBA team in their yearly alumni game.

It has been the classic Calipari question for nearly eight years running: could a team of all Kentucky alumni  really beat an NBA team? Well, according to Kentucky Athletic Director DeWayne Peevy, “I don’t care if they combine themselves, they’re not taking down Big Blue Nation.” However, whether or not Peevy will be able to pull off this seemingly difficult feat before the scheduled date of August 25th is another question entirely.

Say Peevy pulls it off.; he gets all the NBA talent he hopes to bring in, on both sides. Say millions of Americans across the country tune in to watch. How does the game go? The success of the game largely hinges upon one factor: whether or not Peevy’s “Big Blue Dream Team” faces up against an established NBA super team–we’ll use the Warriors as an example–or a combination of five of the league’s best players, barring Kentucky graduates. Why does this fact matter? It’s simple.

Could Kentucky Win?

Let’s line up Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Zaza Pachulia on the court, face to face with what would likely be John Wall, Devin Booker, Anthony Davis, Karl Anthony Towns, and DeMarcus Cousins (sub in MKG for a big man if you want). Would Kentucky win? It’s unlikely; Golden State are NBA champions two of the past three years, they practice and play together on a daily basis, and know each other back to front. They have grit and determination, and after all, that’s what it takes to win championships. While the players cannot realistically be expected to give 110% for 48 minutes with the risk of injuries, there is no reason a roster of Big Blue talent like said team would go down without a fight. The game would be intense and interesting, nationally loved, no matter the outcome, so much so that the only sporting event that could possibly follow it up would be a boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor (set to take place on pay-per-view the following day).

Now, take those same five Kentucky alumni, and place them on a court with LeBron James, Russel Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Marc Gasol (or any combination of five NBA All-Stars you can imagine), and the dream game that DeWayne Peevy so greatly desires turns into a glorified All-Star game, with scores that toe the line of 200-200, as in the year’s past. Two teams of hand picked All-Stars pitted against each other see the game as nothing more than what it is: an All-Star game. The intensity and interest from the players drop exponentially, and the flashy and showy dunks with no opposition continue to flow; if you think defense is a dying art in league play, this game would put it in a mental coffin for you.

Though at the end of the day, no matter who steps on the court to face the Big Blue alumni, the game can only help the NBA. With each passing year, basketball becomes harder and harder to watch. Fans are tired of seeing the same small handful of teams provide the only real competition in the league; the past three championships have pitted the same two teams against each other each year, and the three prior to 2015 saw only one contest that was not between the Spurs and the Heat, and even that one included the Heat as well. The truth remains that the National Basketball Association doesn’t offer the fights and power plays of the NHL, or the relegation factor and cutthroat Champions League race of European soccer. A small yet necessary step in the right direction, games like the one Athletic Director Peevy has in mind have the possibility to peak fans’ interest and attract new viewers to one of sports’ most dynamic games.

 

Follow Andrew more on Twitter: @andrew_mck11

Early Big East Predictions

An Early Look at What To Expect from the Big East in the 2017-2018 Season

Class may not be in session, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start talking about college hoops. With that in mind, let’s look at how the standings may shape up in the Catholic Conference this year.

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Giving in to Summer League Hype

nba summer league

The other day I found myself legitimately excited for an NBA summer league game. Wait, what?

This time a few years ago, I could have cared less. But I am starting to realize how relevant these contests are becoming with the summer league in full swing.

This NBA off-season has been arguably better than the entire 2016-2017 NBA regular season. In a time of “super teams” basketball fans alike are eager to see new talent … to see what newbies are going to take so-called mid-major teams to the next level.

It’s not far off from the NFL preseason. Think about it. Who cares if the team wins or loses? If I cared so much about winning, I wouldn’t be an Eagles fan, let’s face it. But preseason for me is about so much more. What draft picks are going to make the most waves? How are players in their sophomore year going to adjust? Are 6 and 7 year veterans worth a damn plugged into a new system?

If anything else, the NBA is that in a heightened sense.

No other sport has such a low starter to roster ratio. Teams more or less put all their stock in first-round picks, pricey trades and flashy acquirements. Does it matter if a team loses by 10 in a summer league game? No. Who cares. We all know that the five players on the floor will not be the five players in the starting lineup come mid-October. But boy do we eat up sideline chatter and over-speculate personnel changes and free agency moves.

And it’s not just about young guns making a name for themselves in the big boy league. “B-rated” players are auditioning for their future. The veteran-but-not-so-seasoned ballers are at a crossroads, trying to prove themselves worthy of a spot on a roster with 13 other heads while D-league standouts try to make a name for themselves.

Basketball fans are dying for something to change in a league of great disparity. While college basketball seems to be growing into a level playing ground with mid-major teams on the up-and-up, the age of the super team in the NBA is becoming less and less desirable to watch, unless you’re a Warriors or Cleveland fan.

So we hang out to whatever basketball we can watch. Fans are eagerly consuming these glorified exhibition games. We are over-analyzing and over thinking stat and story lines. We can’t get enough.

For now, it will do.

Bigger Than Ball Vol. 4: Souleymane Koureissi

Known as the mecca of basketball, New York City is home to a large percentage of the world’s top youth basketball talent.  In a one block radius in Harlem you’ll find one future NBA lottery pick in Mohammed Bamba, and at least two other high level Division I prospects (Jalen Carey & Anthony Nelson).  6’9” wing Souleymane Koureissi grew up in these same houses, but took a much different road to success than that of his peers.  

Souleymane, or Sal as his friends call him, was the definition of a late bloomer.  Two years ago Koureissi was three inches shorter, less skilled, and playing the Center position for his High School-Iona Prep in New Rochelle, NY.  Sal was forced to watch his friends be courted by college coaches and spoiled by shoe companies, while he struggled to make a name for himself in the basketball world.  His AAU team, Castle Athletics, was not a shoe sponsored team at the time, and he was playing in a limited role for his high school.  Koureissi had no scholarship offers.  

Both of Sal’s parents immigrated to United States from the African country of Mali in search of a better life for their children and Sal seems to have adopted the same attitude of personal advancement as his parents  He was very vocal about witnessing the success of others and aspiring to have a better life than he’s had.  Growing up and seeing his peers achievements inspired Koureissi to be better–to want more.  Sal had an impressive summer on the Adidas Circuit in 2017, proving his name belongs on the short list of elite basketball players.  He now holds more than a dozen scholarship offers, including one from St. Louis University.  He is an example to younger basketball players around NYC who have yet to receive their break, that hard work makes anything achievable.  We sat down for a brief Q & A with Souleymane Koureissi, the Most Outstanding Prospect of Hoop Group Elite Camp.

 

 

We saw you play a few years ago at the gotham league when you were relatively unknown.  You’re obviously a completely different player now..so what’s the motivating factor behind you wanting to take your game to the next level?  

 

Wanting to change my family’s lives and going to school for free…hopefully making the pros some day. I want my family to have a different lifestyle.  But, honestly it’s just fun for me.  I love to play so…

 

Over the last couple of years, your mindset on the court has grown to be more determined. What drives you? Why do you play?

 

I don’t have really have a set thing to think about — but I would say I play because my older brother played it before me – he was good and he always used to beat me.  So I was just always determined to beat him.  So, I play it because I’m determined to be better than him.  

 

What made you choose to go to Iona Prep to play high school basketball?

 

Honestly? I didn’t really have a lot of options at the time.  I was going to go to a school in Washington Heights – a public school called WHEELS, and then last minute I played for an AAU team – Castle Athletics, and my coach helped me get in there.

 

How has it been for you playing there?

 

They actually recently just got a new coach, he coached the JV originally.  He’s tough, he’s gonna make us run a lot, but it will be good.  

 

Do you have any teammates who are going through the same recruiting process as you?

 

Yeah its funny, me and my teammate Josh were both unknown – now we have a competition to see who can pick up the most offers.  I think I’m up two or three right now.  

 

Who’s the best player you’ve played against at hoop group camp so far?

 

Probably Adrian Nelson.  I didn’t know who he was at first – he was strong and athletic, and it was an early morning game so it was tough.

 

Your sophomore year of high school, you had no college scholarship offers.  How has your opinion of recruiting and selecting a school changed from then to now?

 

Then I just wanted to get an offer bad.  I was seeing everyone else getting offered and I just wanted one bad.  I needed one.  But, now that I have plenty, I’m looking at the schools actually, and looking into the academic and athletic aspect and where I can fit in.  So there’s a lot more thinking that goes into it.  

 

What are you looking for in recruiting? What do you expect out of the coaches and university?

 

Definitely a good academic school first – because basketball always stops and I want to be able to get a job after college.  After that, I want to go to a school where I can play and where I’m comfortable with the coaches and basketball side of it – just a good fit.  

 

How do your parents feel about you getting scholarship offers?

 

Honestly, they’re just excited that they don’t have to pay.  I was probably going to college regardless..they’re actually proud of my grades.  This year I ended up with an 86 average. I put in a lot more work in the classroom this year.  When I try hard, usually I get good grades so-   

 

What do you like to do when you’re not playing basketball?

 

When I’m not playing I’m usually just hanging out with my girlfriend – chillin with my brothers, my friends – a lot of stuff.  I play a lot of 2k…I’m the best in my house though.  I’m a Cavs fan but I usually play with Toronto, but as long as I know who the player is I get buckets.  Like the Nets..they’re from brooklyn and I can’t name half the players on their roster.  

 

Do you have any siblings or family that lives with you?

So there are five people in my house other than me and my parents.  There are two sets of twins – my brother and sister are older than me, they’re twins.  Then there’s my younger brother – he’s 16.  Then there are twins under him, and they’re 9.

 

Where is your family from?

 

My family is from Mali in West Africa.  We all speak mandingo.  I always get jokes…you know the movie, I never watched it – it was some movie where the guy is like “I’m the captain now”.  [laughing] I hate that.  

 

New York City is known for its basketball talent.  How does the talent level in your area compare to others? Do the better players ever play together?

 

We have the most talented basketball block in the country.  Jalen Carey actually lives there, Mohammed Bamba lives across the street, Anthony Nelson’s also from that block – so there’s a lot of talent.  We do something called midnight madness every once in awhile.  At like 12 o’clock at night everybody just comes out to the court and plays basketball.  It’s cool.  

 

What do you think the difference is between you and somebody who is ranked in the top 50?

 

Honestly I think it’s athleticism.  I think if I was able to take my strength and athleticism to the next level I would be right there.  I think skill wise I’m there already.  

 

Favorite Rapper?

 

Right now? It’s Jay kritch.  Listen to him.  He’s from my area.  He’s gonna blow up, remember the name.  

 

Who has been the most influential person in your life?

 

Probably my dad.  He’s a hard working guy – seeing him wake up every morning and go to work.  He drives a truck – so he wakes up at 4 am everyday and comes in at like 6 – he’s a hard working guy – seeing him go to work everyday motivates me.  

 

How was it playing on the Adidas circuit?

 

We didn’t play on it last year, so this was our team’s first year – just the amount of coaches that we’re there – the competition level was great all around.  It really helped me explode with my recruiting – I played great so that helped…I remember we had a game versus Exum Elite.  They had Emmanuel Akot I think his name was, who’s committed to Arizona and some 7’2” kid. They had a good team.  We ended up losing, but it was a good game for me.  

 

You grew up in an area in Harlem, the Foster Buildings, that had so much basketball talent. Growing up with these guys, seeing them grow and seeing yourself grow, what sets you apart from everyone else who’s not in your position?

 

I think I was kind of a late bloomer.  As far as them, they’ve always been pretty good, but for me I just started getting offers so yeah – but it’s been really competitive.

 

What advice would you give to someone else who’s also a late bloomer and is in the same position you were in a couple years ago; undiscovered, with no college offers?

 

Just to keep working.  You can’t hide talent – so if you keep working and keep putting in work day in and day out you’re bound to get seen.  Trust the process.  

 

You have had a huge jump in your game over the last couple years and have had to work extremely hard to take your game to the next level.   How do you plan on taking your game up a notch again when you reach college, playing against better competition?

 

I’m going to do the same thing that got me here. Keep working.   Getting in the gym as much as I can, putting up shots as much as I can, and hopefully I can continue to improve.  

 

-Thomas Hayden