A Final Look at Wisconsin’s Two-Year Run

Posted by Alex Moscoso on April 16th, 2015

It’s been more than a week since the final buzzer went off at Lucas Oil Stadium, signaling the end of the National Championship game, another Duke national title, and the last moments of an incredible two-year run from the unlikeliest of powerhouses, Wisconsin. This year’s squad of goofy and affable but supremely talented Badgers had come up just a little short in the biggest game of their lives. With a nine-point lead, 13:23 left on the clock, and two of Duke’s best players, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, on the bench due to foul trouble, Wisconsin was certainly as close as any Big Ten team has been in 15 years to winning the crown. But there would be no story book ending. Instead, things played out as they usually do in college basketball, as the team with more talent eventually took control and won the game. Even if not on this night, Bo Ryan’s program throughout his 14 seasons in Madison has consistently bucked that trend, winning a bunch more games than what his roster suggested was possible.

Wisconsin is the most efficient offensive team in a long time. (Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

Wisconsin has accomplished much in the last two years, including a change in the perception of its program and coach. (Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

This group of Badgers was no different. Sure, they boasted the National Player of the Year in Frank Kaminsky, but the senior was a shining example of expectations exceeded — going from an unheralded high school recruit to the shiniest of college basketball stars. But in the end, the Blue Devils surged on the back of a little-used but nevertheless talented freshman, Grayson Allen. The bouncy guard effectively ended the narrative many casual fans hoped would win the day — that of a pristine basketball environment of yesteryear with in-state kids playing all four years for their home university, versus the more itinerant one-and-done culture of today. This thinking vastly oversimplifies the makeup of both these teams and programs, of course, but it is a common sentiment in college basketball and it is one of the reasons the Badgers attracted so many new fans in their run to the Final Four.

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Michigan State Turnaround Started When Izzo Spurned the NBA

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 25th, 2015

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There’s not much that can be said about Tom Izzo as a basketball coach that hasn’t already been said. After Michigan State’s upset of #2 Virginia in the Round of 32, there was overwhelming media praise for the 60-year old icon and his ever-growing reputation in March. It’s an accolade that’s well-deserved — in 20 years as the Spartans’ head coach, Izzo has taken Michigan State to six Final Fours, eight Elite Eights and 13 Sweet Sixteens (including this season). He also won a National Championship in 2000 – representing the last Big Ten coach to successfully reach the mountain top. While he was certainly a celebrated figure well before this weekend’s upset victory, this season’s run is earning him even more praise because of the flawed roster he’s taken there. Because of Villanova and Virginia’s losses in the East Region, the Spartans find themselves with a realistic path from the Sweet Sixteen to the Final Four. Even more remarkable is that Izzo’s latest run comes merely a year after he seriously considered a jump to the NBA because of frustrations with the current environment of college basketball.

Izzo

Tom Izzo Could be Coaching the Detroit Pistons Right Now (USA Today Images)

Last May, Izzo faced quite a professional choice. He could either take an offer to finally move on to the NBA – where the Detroit Pistons were set to pay him a hefty salary and give him general management responsibilities over the franchise – or he could return for his 20th season to a Michigan State club where three crucial players had moved on. Add that to the fact that he had experienced some high-profile misses on the recruiting trail and was apparently growing increasingly frustrated with the entire process — it just seemed as if all the stars had finally aligned for him to make the jump to the pros, a move he had flirted with as recent as 2010. He obviously chose East Lansing, which meant that he would be returning to what appeared to be on paper a flawed team. From a talent perspective, the Spartans looked barely capable of making the NCAA Tournament with only one blue-chipper, Branden Dawson, on the roster. That result still seemed possible in early February when Michigan State lost to Illinois in the Breslin Center, sinking them to 6-4 in the Big Ten standings. Since then, however, Izzo has done what he does best — push his team with a late surge so that it was playing well enough to finish among the top four of the Big Ten and make a run in March. Is anyone surprised that Michigan State nearly upset Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament championship game a couple of Sunday ago, or that his group is among the last 16 schools standing? Read the rest of this entry »

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Team Goals in the Big Ten Tournament

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 11th, 2015

Tournament week officially begins for the Big Ten on Wednesday afternoon, and with it, a new opportunity for each team to write their own ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Some teams are already guaranteed an at-large bid and are playing for seeding; some sit squarely on the bubble and are playing for entry into the field; and some are trying to make history as the first team lower than a #6 seed to win this tournament. In this analysis we will describe what certain teams aim to accomplish this week in Chicago — and to save both time and sanity, this will only address the eight teams that have a realistic chance at an at-large bid. Enjoy!

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  • Illinois: The Illini really put themselves in a deep hole when they blew a big lead and lost at Purdue on Saturday. That defeat dropped them to an #8 seed in the Big Ten Tournament  (BTT) and guaranteed Illinois a quarterfinal matchup against Wisconsin. That loss and the resultant placement in this week’s bracket effectively ended the Illini’s potential for a deep conference tournament run. The realistic team goal for Illinois is to beat Michigan on Thursday and hope for early exits from several other bubble teams — Indiana among them. Then pray they can sneak into the field’s First Four.
  • Indiana: The Hoosiers have a singular goal to get themselves off the bubble and into the at-large field. To do that, they’ll need to start with a win over Northwestern. That alone may not be enough, though, which means they probably also need a win against Maryland in the quarterfinals on Friday. Adding a top 10 RPI win to Indiana’s resume will all but assure that the Hoosiers will hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
  • Iowa: The Hawkeyes appear to be safely in the field and are now playing to improve their NCAA Tournament seed line. Most pundits list Iowa as a #7 seed so the Hawkeyes’ main goal should be to avoid losing its opening Big Ten Tournament game against either Penn State or Nebraska. A bad loss to their resume at this point could result in a dreaded #8 seed.

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Big Ten Coach of the Year: Mark Turgeon

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 10th, 2015

Whenever it’s time to decide a Coach of the Year award, there’s always a debate on the approach. Should we give it to the coach with the most successful team or should we give it to the coach who outperformed expectations? More often than not, we associate excellent coaching with those who overachieve. That’s because we also associate the concept of “coaching” with those who excel in game strategy and player development — if your team is perceived as better than the sum of its talented parts, you’re labeled a “good coach.” This notion, however, discounts some of the other important aspects of modern college coaching like recruiting, scheduling and fundraising — which lays the foundation for dominant programs to have such high expectations. Our Big Ten Coach of the Year, Maryland’s Mark Turgeon, has had a successful year because of the excellent recruiting and in-game coaching that he’s done, but also because of his ability to successfully lead Maryland through a number of obstacles all season long.

Mark Turgeon's Terps could get off to a rocky start in the Big Ten.

Mark Turgeon led his Terps to a big splash in their first Big Ten year.

First, some praise to our two runner-ups: Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan and Purdue’s Matt Painter. Despite the highest of national and regional expectations on his team, Ryan delivered. The Badgers’ season wasn’t flawless in that they were easily handled in Madison by a younger Duke team and suffered an inexplicable January loss to Rutgers on the road (even without Frank Kaminsky). But make no mistake, Ryan has readied his team to make another legitimate run at the Final Four. Painter, our second runner-up, started the season on the hot seat after two consecutive campaigns below .500. Some smart offseason additions in the forms of Vince Edwards and Jon Octeus, coupled with the development of A.J. Hammons and Raphael Davis, catapulted the Boilermakers to a surprising 12-6 Big Ten record. But as impressive as Ryan and Painter were this season, Turgeon is the coach whose team best exhibited on-court success and overcame significant hurdles to do so. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Big Ten Third and Fourth Place Race Cheat Sheet

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on March 6th, 2015

Last week, I broke down the race for the top four seeds in the Big Ten because finishing in that group guarantees those teams a double-bye in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament. Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, we have a much clearer picture of this race. Wisconsin and Maryland have already locked up the #1 and #2 seeds, but the #3 and #4 seeds are still very much up in the air. Currently, there is a four-way tie for third place between Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Purdue. All teams have a record of 11-6 with one game remaining — none of which are against each other. This means that there are 16 possible (and very confusing) combinations of outcomes from this weekend’s games. To help clear things up, I created a cheat sheet showing where each team will be seeded given each scenario. The table below displays the 16 possibilities: Michigan State gets a double-by in 12 of the 16 options; Purdue in nine; Iowa in six; and, Ohio State in five.

cheat sheet b1g

Below is a synopsis for each team:

  • Michigan State. Thanks to a 3-0 record against the other three teams, the Spartans would win all of the tiebreakers and end up with a top four seed in 12 of the sixteen scenarios and with the #3 seed in nine of the 16 scenarios. It breaks down like this: If the Spartans beat Indiana on the road, they’ll lock up the #3 seed; if they lose, they’ll need at least two other teams to also fall to get the double-bye. In this four-team race, Michigan State clearly has the upper hand.
  • Iowa. The Hawkeyes finish with a top four seed in six of the 16 possible scenarios. In head-to-head tiebreakers, they will have the advantage over Ohio State (2-0) but not against the other two teams (0-1). In situations where multiple teams are tied, Iowa is hurt by its two losses to Wisconsin because the others only have one loss from the Badgers.

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Big Ten M5: 03.06.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 6th, 2015

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  1. Indiana’s Tuesday night loss to Iowa marks another defeat in the Hoosiers’ recent skid, where they’ve only won four times in their last eleven games. After the latest loss, fans could be heard heckling Tom Crean. This prompted Indiana athletic director, Fred Glass, to come out and give a statement of support, “He has my full support. I have a great deal of confidence in Tom’s body of work. This team overachieved early and then hit a tough patch”. Glass has a point. Crean is a victim of his early success this season, but the Hoosiers are still in a much better position than many thought they would be at the start of the season. This season — unlike other Crean campaigns in Bloomington — Indiana has overachieved.
  2. Illinois eeked out a win in its final home game of the season against Nebraska on Wednesday. It was also senior night where both Rayvonte Rice and Nnanna Egwu were honored. Egwu was recruited by Bruce Weber to play for Illinois, but the head coach he thought he would be playing for was fired after his freshman year. But the native-born Nigerian quickly won over the new coaching staff with his work ethic and model behavior off the court. Egwu may have not have fully developed on offense like Illini fans had hoped, but he’s proven himself to be a well-rounded student-athlete — something fans should be proud of.
  3. On Thursday, Wisconsin defeated Minnesota 76-63 in Minneapolis to claim its first Big Ten championship since 2008. Like seven years ago, it was an outright title and guarantees the Badgers the #1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. The win caps off what’s been an amazing season that’s met the lofty expectations placed upon the Badgers in the preseason. With Frank Kaminsky as the slight favorite for National Player of the Year, this season is one for the ages for both Wisconsin and Bo Ryan . And it should be recognized as such no matter what happens in the NCAA Tournament.
  4. The regular season is coming to an end, which means soon all the end-of-the-year accolades by different media sites will start being published. BTN kicked it off with a poll of Big Ten beat writers asking “Which teams were the most surprising and disappointing this season?” Purdue was the hands-down winner for most surprising team as they turned their season around after going 8-5 in the non-conference with two bad losses. Both Minnesota and Nebraska were chosen as the most disappointing teams. I described earlier this week what a disappointment the Cornhuskers have been, but the Gophers have also suffered a severe setback this season. After barely missing the NCAA Tournament and winning the NIT championship last season, Minnesota is now fighting just to stay out of the bottom four in the league.
  5. With Selection Sunday only nine days away, the bracketologists have been out in full force with their predictions. And the most popular one, Joe Lundari, just put out his most recent projections. Wisconsin (#2 seed), Maryland (#3), Iowa (#7), Michigan State (#7), and Ohio State (#8) all seem to be safely in the field. Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue, however, are squarely on the bubble. The Boilermakers and Hoosiers are currently in the field, while the Illini have some work to do.
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Nebraska: What Happened and What’s Next?

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 4th, 2015

The buzzer sounded at Value City Arena in Columbus last Thursday as Nebraska suffered an embarrassing 24-point loss to Ohio State. It was the Cornhuskers’ sixth straight loss — sinking their record to 5-11 in the Big Ten and 13-15 overall — and the margin served to emphasize the altogether deflating season it has been. It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Tim Miles in his third year as the head coach in Lincoln. Nebraska was the surprise of the league last year when it went 11-7 in Big Ten play and made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 15 years. Backed by an administration finally willing to invest in its basketball program, Miles had the program trending upward and there was no reason to believe that this season wouldn’t be just as successful. The returns of Terran Petteway (the team’s leading scorer and a Big Ten First Teamer), Shavon Shields (second-leading scorer) and much of their supporting cast promulgated chatter about a deep NCAA Tournament run. With this season’s losing record, however, Miles will instead have to figure out what went wrong and how to move forward.

Terran Pettaway is hoping to lead Nebraska to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. (NU Media)

Without much of supporting cast, Terran Pettaway’s efficiency numbers have taken a hit. (NU Media)

What went so wrong this season? Put simply, the Nebraska offense that last year was just good enough to get into the NCAA Tournament (107.7 – 112th nationally) has sunk to one of the worst in the country with an adjusted offensive rating 95.7 (297th). Breakout star Petteway still takes a plurality of the team’s shots (34%) and scores most of the points (17.9 PPG) but his offensive rating has dropped to a 94.2 after last season’s 102.4. Some of the factors contributing to this decline are that Nebraska turns the ball over more often (+3.0%), shoots worse from the behind the arc (-4.5%), and hardly ever gets to the line. But probably the most staggering difference from last season is the dropoff in production from the Cornhuskers’ supporting cast. As of right now, the duo of Petteway and Shields tallies 53.5 percent of all the team’s points per game; last year, they scored 46.3 percent of Nebraska’s total points. Last year’s third- and fourth-leading scorers, Walter Pitchford and Ray Gallegos, averaged 9.3 and 7.3 PPG, respectively — this year, the third- and fourth-leading scorers contribute 7.5 and 4.5 PPG. This vanishing of the Corhnhuskers’ supporting cast has torpedoed an already-middling offense into a woeful one. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 02.27.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 27th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. It looks like Jim Delany is going full steam ahead in promoting the idea of implementing freshmen ineligibility. The Big Ten commissioner has assured fans that the conference won’t move alone on this plan, but he is trying to build national consensus around the idea. This comes after Thad Matta was recently quoted as saying that he’s received negative feedback from recruits who are worried that if they commit to a Big Ten team, they won’t be able to play right away. This all goes to show how unbelievably ill-conceived this whole strategy is. Why Delany felt compelled to walk the plank on this issue is something many can’t comprehend. We’ll see if this endeavor starts hurting Big Ten teams on the recruiting trail this summer, but if it does, you may see the issue of freshmen ineligibility die altogether.
  2. In statistics, you hear the phrase “regression to the mean” often used, which is just an elitist way of saying “everything evens out.” This theory seems to be playing out before our eyes with Northwestern. After countless heartbreaking losses — everything from blown leads to comebacks that fell just short — the Wildcats have finally gotten some breaks and have managed to win four straight, including a 72-65 victory over Indiana on Wednesday, the first such streak for Northwestern since 1967. This finish is a real boon for Chris Collins, whose second season was going as disastrous as he could have imagined when the team’s Big Ten record was 1-10 a couple of weeks ago. Now, as it turns out, Northwestern may have created some momentum to build for next season.
  3. Also on Wednesday, Iowa got a nice 68-60 home win over Illinois. Aaron White, the Hawkeyes’ dark horse candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year, was dominant in contributing 29 points. His latest performance increased his career total to 1,726 points, moving him past B.J. Armstrong into fourth place on the program’s all-time scoring list. White has had a storied career in Iowa City, but this year he is averaging 15.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG and is carrying a PER of 28.4, good enough for second in the league. If it weren’t for names like Frank Kaminsky and D’Angelo Russell, the media would be talking more about the certain Big Ten first-teamer as one of the best players in the country.
  4. One of the big stories around the Big Ten this week was Wisconsin suffering its third loss of the season when the Badgers came up short at Maryland. The team already had the tough loss in their minds on its flight back to Madison, but that was quickly forgotten when the plane was forced to make an emergency landing due to an engine malfunction in Pittsburgh. What a scary moment that probably just adds to the feeling that Wisconsin’s trip to Maryland is a forgettable event from start to finish. Hopefully the Badgers can put all of this behind them and get back to their winning ways on Sunday against the Spartans.
  5. Speaking of Michigan State, the Spartans took a surprising 96-90 home loss to Minnesota in overtime on Thursday. This is a considerable setback for what was one of the hottest teams in the league before last night — the team had won four straight including two on the road at Michigan and Illinois. Things don’t get any easier for the Spartans as they travel to face Wisconsin in Madison this weekend. Losing that game could now mean Tom Izzo’s team is in serious jeopardy of losing its place in the top four of the Big Ten standings and having to play an extra game in the Big Ten Tournament.
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Analyzing the Big Ten Race For the Top Four Seeds

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on February 24th, 2015

Let’s face it — barring serious injury to another Wisconsin player, the Badgers have all but won the Big Ten regular season. Bo Ryan’s club is 13-1 and comfortably in first place with a three-game lead and four games left in its schedule. While three of those upcoming contests are away from Madison, Wisconsin will be favored in all four games. But that presumed fact at the top of the standings doesn’t mean there’s no excitement to be found in the final two weeks of the regular season. Seven other Big Ten teams are currently vying to finish as one of the three remaining top seeds: IllinoisIndiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue. A top-four finish isn’t just ceremonial, either, as it gives a team a coveted double-bye in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament. That means a team’s first game (on Friday March 13) will come against a team that played the day before (perhaps even twice before), and will need only three wins in three days to be crowned tournament champions. Needless to say, it’s quite the advantage. The table below, provided by Daniel Borup and using KenPom’s win percentages, shows the current probabilities of each Big Ten team finishing at each of the 14 seed lines. After the table is a team-by-team synopsis on each of those squads vying for a top-four seed.

btt probabilities

Source: Daniel Borup

  • Illinois (1% likelihood of a top four finish). The Illini are mathematically still in contention for a top-four seed but a home loss to Michigan State on Sunday really set them back. Now the Illini may need to pull an upset either at Iowa or Purdue to ensure that they’re even on the right side of the bubble.
  • Indiana (11%). The Hoosiers currently sit at fifth place and have three games left — at Northwestern, Iowa and Michigan State. They’ll likely need to run the table on those to have a chance to catch up to Purdue or Michigan State. If they can accomplish that, they’ll still need the Spartans to tumble as Indiana owns the tiebreaker over Michigan State but not the Boilermakers.
  • Iowa (19%). Though two games back of fourth place, the Hawkeyes have a fairly manageable schedule still ahead of them: Illinois, at Penn State, at Indiana and Northwestern. That gives Iowa a fighting chance as two of the teams currently in the top four — Purdue and Michigan State — both have challenging schedules ahead. The problem is that Iowa has run so hot and cold all season — as evidenced by their win at Ohio State and home loss to Minnesota — that it’s hard to put much faith in this team.

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Big Ten M5: 02.20.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 20th, 2015

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  1. After a miserable 0-5 start in the Big Ten, Minnesota was always a long shot to make a run at an at-large bid. Despite the terrible start, Richard Pitino’s team managed to fight back and win five of its next seven games. But the Golden Gophers’ postseason dreams effectively came to an end on Wednesday night when they suffered their worst lost of the season to Northwestern at home. For the second straight game, Minnesota let a team get hot from the perimeter as the Wildcats hit 15 three-pointers in the game. Now, at 5-9 in the conference, the Gophers are likely headed for the NIT or worse. Pitino will need to figure out what went wrong during the offseason and fix it quick as he’ll enter year three in Minnesota with no NCAA Tournament appearances.
  2. On Thursday, Purdue got its best win of the season when the Boilermakers topped its intrastate rival, Indiana, by four points in Bloomington. A.J. Hammons was tremendous in the game on both sides of the court, evidenced by his 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting and four blocks. Purdue’s guards were able to aggressively blanket Indiana’s shooters because of the rim protection Hammons provided all night. The result was that the usually deadly-from-deep Hoosiers were held to 31 percent from the three-point line and one of the best offenses in the country only managed 0.96 points per possession. While the Boilermakers are still on bubble, they finally have a signature win to counter some bad losses from earlier in the season.
  3. With 14 teams and 18 games, unbalanced schedules are a part of life in the new and super-sized Big Ten. Because of this, and the fact that rivalries are not protected for basketball, we as fans miss out on some great home-and-home battles against historic foes. Matt Brown from SBNation makes the argument that the Big Ten should forego the rotating schedule and lock in key games each and every year. It would make sense from the Big Ten’s perspective too, as these games would bring in more impressive ratings and demand better TV slots. It’s tough to argue with the logic, but the greater expansion of leagues throughout the sport has made that just short of impossible in this framework.
  4. Don’t let anyone tell you bad decisions aren’t contagious. After Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott trotted out the idea of reinstating freshmen ineligibility, the Big Ten followed suit saying it’s gauging the interests of its members about the possibility of implementing the rule once again. On Thursday, Maryland’s president, Wallace Loh, said “If they do well because they spend more time, get more academic advising … their freshman year, they’re going to graduate”. That’s quite a lot of hypocrisy to choke down from the president of a university who left their historic (and geographically sensible) conference for a more lucrative one in the Midwest. Next time Maryland flies 1,200 miles to Nebraska on a school night to play a 9:00 PM ET game, they should ask themselves if that may be negative factor for the student-athletes’ academics.
  5. Finally, on Thursday ESPN released Joe Lunardi’s newest brackets, and seven Big Ten schools are projected to make the Big Dance. Wisconsin (#2 seed), Maryland (#5), Ohio State (#7), Indiana (#7), Michigan State (#8), Iowa (#10), and Illinois (#11). Purdue is missing from the field as of right now, but this projection does not include the Boilermakers’ big win at Indiana on Thursday night. By the next time Lunardi updates his brackets, there may be eight teams in the field, which would undoubtedly make this another successful season for the league.
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The Purdue Paradox: Second in the Big Ten and Headed to the NIT?

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on February 19th, 2015

On Sunday, Purdue defeated Nebraska in Mackey Arena to move its record to 17-9 overall and 9-4 in Big Ten play, which puts the Boilermakers in a tie for second place with Maryland and Michigan State. That’s something no one could have foreseen on December 31 when the Boilermakers entered league play at 8-5. If you take a closer look at the standings, you’ll see teams like Ohio State, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa trailing them. Yet, according to Bracketmatrix.com, all of these teams are currently projected to make the NCAA Tournament while Purdue is one of first four teams out. How can this be? Simple, it’s because North Florida and Gardner-Webb, two teams that rank outside the RPI top 150, got the better of Matt Painter‘s team in non-conference play and have become glaring stains on their resume. And unfortunately for Purdue, these two losses threaten to tank what has been a great and much needed bounceback season for this program.

Hammons

A.J. Hammons has led the Boilermakers to second place in the Big Ten, but they still find themselves outside the bubble.

After two consecutive years of subpar basketball, Purdue finds itself closing in on 20 wins and an upper-tier conference finish. From a bird’s-eye view, this is the kind of season Painter needed in order to stave off calls for his firing. But the NCAA Selection Committee has made it clear that games in December, when the Boilermakers went 4-4, are just as valuable to an NCAA Tournament resume as those in January and February. Against North Florida on December 6, Purdue was in control for the first 37 minutes of the game before its interior defense collapsed and allowed the Ospreys to go on a run of layups to earn their first ever win over a Big Ten school. Against Gardner-Webb, Purdue once again collapsed in the second half as the Bulldogs went 14-of-25 from the three-point line to steal a victory. Those bad losses are haunting Purdue in the worst way right now.

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Big Ten M5: 02.13.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 13th, 2015

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  1. For every step forward Iowa takes, the Hawkeyes seem to follow it up with another step back. That was the case again on Thursday night when Fran McCaffery’s team lost at home to Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are in the bottom third of the Big Ten standings and have been a major disappointment since league play started. The Hawkeyes, on the other hand, were coming off a statement game where they demolished second-place Maryland — and yet somehow, Minnesota earned its first road win in conference play. Iowa still has a favorable remaining schedule the rest of the way, but if it somehow drops this weekend’s game at Northwestern, it might be time to hit the panic button.
  2. Thursday night also marked the return of Rayvonte Rice to the court in Illinois’ overtime win over Michigan. It was initially an awkward reunion, as the Illini looked uncomfortable in their sets and sputtered to a 20-point first half — their worst offensive half of the year. Rice didn’t score until the overtime period, but his defense and rebounding helped Illinois put together an amazing 21-0 run to overcome an eight-point deficit in the dwindling minutes. If John Groce’s team works out some of the kinks in the integration process, this could still become a very dangerous team in March.
  3. This year is shaping up to be the most successful season for Wisconsin in the Bo Ryan era. And while the head coach is no doubt enjoying his current success, part of his set of responsibilities includes planning for the future of the program as well. That future got a little brighter for the Badgers on Thursday when Ryan secured a commitment from Khalil Iverson — a small forward from Delaware, Ohio. Iverson adds to an already solid Class of 2015 for Wisconsin, but the big prize Ryan is seeking is five-star Wisconsin-native Diamond Stone. Landing a player of that caliber would help the Badgers again compete for a Big Ten championship and Final Four despite several expected personnel losses.
  4. Wisconsin wasn’t the only Big Ten program adding talent this week, as Indiana picked up freshman Jordan Fuchs, who also plays tight end for the school’s football team. Fuchs is not a typical two-sport player who excels in one sport and simply holds his own in the other. The Queens native was considered a top 10 basketball player in New York last year, and he’s already started practicing with the team and made the trip to Maryland. At 6’6″ and 230 pounds, Tom Crean may be looking to add any size he can get down into the post.
  5. Finally, we’ve talked extensively here at the Big Ten microsite about how phenomenal this season’s freshmen class has been. The highlight has been Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, who is making a run at the Big Ten and National POY awards with his 19.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 5.5 APG averages. But other players like Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr., Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh, Purdue’s Vince Edwards, Minnesota’s Nate Mason, and Ohio State’s Ja’Sean Tate, have also made a big impact on their respective teams. BTN decided to compare these seven players against freshmen classes of previous years, and the conclusion? This year’s rookies are the best of the bunch. While theirs is certainly a subjective analysis, it is high praise for all the young talent in this league.
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