Big Ten Storylines Heading Into Next Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 17th, 2015

There are still some dominoes to fall in terms of Big Ten roster turnover in coming weeks but we already have a pretty good idea of how the league will look next year. Here are a few things to ponder as Big Ten fans brace themselves for seven months without any games with which to occupy their time.

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

  • Return to Multiple Conference Championship Contenders: Wisconsin essentially went wire-to-wire this season, going from the unanimous preseason favorite to winning both the conference regular season and postseason titles. Next season should be a bit more like the 2013-14 campaign with several teams with a realistic shot to win the league. Maryland is rightfully getting a good deal of love in the preseason “way-to-early” top 25 lists. The Terps will return two of their top three players in Melo Trimble and Jake Layman and will add a bruiser down low in freshman Diamond Stone. Indiana (assuming both Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. return to Bloomington), and Michigan State could also very well start the season in the top 15 nationally. Thomas Bryant will give the Hoosiers someone to keep defenses honest inside, while Sparty adds Eron Harris, Devonta Davis, and Caleb Swanigan to a nucleus of eight players who were contributors on a Final Four squad. These three should all challenge for the top spot in Big Ten play next season.
  • Wisconsin Rebuild: It will be fun to observe how Bo Ryan replaces the multiple talented pieces that he is losing from a group that went to back-to-back Final Fours. He has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt so as to figure that players like Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter will break out with more playing time next season. Getting key starters Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig back is also a pretty decent starting point. How far will the Badgers actually fall, and how long will it take for the newcomers to make an impact?

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Even With Two F4 Teams, Was the Big Ten a Disappointment?

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 14th, 2015

Coming off of the high of putting three teams into the Elite Eight and one of those into the Final Four a year ago, the Big Ten slipped back to the pack in terms of conference superiority this season. Despite winning the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and advancing two more teams to the sport’s final weekend, the Big 12 and the Big East put together better regular seasons by most reasonable metrics. The question coming out of this season is whether the 2014-15 campaign actually was a disappointment or did Wisconsin and Michigan State’s runs to the Final Four erase the league’s previous sins?

Did the tournament runs by Wisconsin and Michigan State help make up for the non-conference losses in the B1G?

Did the NCAA Tournament runs by Wisconsin and Michigan State make up for the Big Ten’s non-conference performance?

  • Reasons for Disappointment: The league took a hit in terms of its early credibility with some really bad non-conference losses. Some of those opponents — like Eastern Washington and Texas Southern — eventually went on to make the NCAA Tournament, but a 136-44 record with 16 losses to non-power conference foes led to the writing of the league’s epitaph before conference play had even started. Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska weren’t Top 25 teams for very long after rough starts. Ohio State, Iowa and Indiana blew multiple chances for marquee wins. And while the addition of Maryland made the league stronger at the top, Rutgers’ 8-5 non-conference record was fool’s gold on its way to a 2-16 Big Ten campaign. It’s an open question whether Illinois and Minnesota underachieved with experienced lineups that were unable to notch NCAA Tournament berths this season.

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Big Ten 2015-16 Way-Too-Early Power Rankings

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 8th, 2015

The “way-too-early” portion of this exercise holds even more weight this year because so many elite prospects are still uncommitted. Both Caleb Swanigan and Jaylen Brown —  elite McDonald’s All-Americans with program-changing potential — as well as Thon Maker, another possible immediate impact player, could still pick Big Ten teams. There are also a half-dozen or so NBA decisions pending from underclassmen that could significantly alter next season’s Big Ten landscape. What follows here is a look at where things stand right now, assuming that Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker and Nebraska’s Terran Petteway all leave early.

Melo Trimble returning for his sophomore year has Maryland looking like an early B1G title favorite for next season. (David J. Philip/AP)

Melo Trimble returning for his sophomore year has Maryland looking like an early Big Ten title favorite next season. (David J. Philip/AP)

  1. Maryland: The Terps should return three starters unless Jake Layman decides to leave early. Melo Trimble could be a national Player of the Year candidate and star freshman Diamond Stone will be an upgrade down low. The return and probable improvement of this year’s freshmen combined with newcomers like Stone and transfer Robert Carter Jr. should make this team deeper and better than this year’s unit that exceeded expectations.
  2. Michigan State: Losing Travis Trice and Branden Dawson to graduation will sting, but newcomers Eron Harris and Devonta Davis will do more than balance out those losses. Everyone else who played more than 10 minutes per game this season is expected to be back, and Denzel Valentine should develop into a star in his senior season. This year’s March run will be a catalyst for much bigger things in 2015-16.
  3. Indiana: This spot among the Big Ten’s top three could change if any of Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams or James Blackmon Jr. decides to leave, but all are expected to return. The primary addition that makes next season look so promising is that 6’10” freshman Thomas Bryant will enter the program. The center who can run the floor and defend will give the Hoosiers what they were missing on the inside during an up-and-down 9-9 Big Ten season. If Tom Crean can get Thon Maker to commit to Indiana as well, he has enough talent on hand to become a top 10 team nationally next season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Transfer/Attrition Roundup

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 2nd, 2015

Lost amid the noise of two Big Ten teams advancing to the Final Four this weekend, there has been some important news over the last week involving the futures of several players around the league. A common occurrence for this time of year, a number of Big Ten players have decided that their futures lay elsewhere. While there haven’t been any earth-shattering moves in terms of drastically shifting the conference landscape next season, these moves could still have an impact on the programs they’re leaving. Here’s a brief look at what has happened so far.

Tarin Smith has decided to transfer from Nebraska after playing one season under Tim Miles. (Eric Francis, Getty)

Tarin Smith has decided to transfer from Nebraska after playing one season under Tim Miles. (Eric Francis/Getty)

  • Nebraska: The Cornhuskers are still waiting on an NBA decision from leading scorer Terran Petteway but in the meantime lost two other players in freshman guard Tarin Smith and junior center Walter Pitchford. The loss of Smith has to come as a surprise to head coach Tim Miles as the freshman played in 43.3 percent of the team’s available minutes and averaged 19.1 MPG in Big Ten play. The point guard seemed to have gained his coach’s trust as the season progressed, displaying an ability to run the team and get to the rim when necessary. Still, with top 100 recruit Glynn Watson coming to Lincoln and former Kansas guard Andrew White expected to become eligible after a transfer season, Smith would have been facing increased competition for playing time. Pitchford, on the other hand, simply decided to forgo his final basketball season (but he is expected to remain in school). The junior regressed significantly from a sophomore campaign where he made 41.0 percent of his three-point attempts playing as a stretch five. With his loss added to the mix, Nebraska is essentially devoid of inside players with Leslee Smith, Moses Abraham and David Rivers all graduating. Freshmen Ed Morrow Jr. and Michael Jacobson might have to play significant minutes next season, and Jacob Hammond will need to take some large strides from a freshman season when he barely played.

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How Can Michigan State Keep Things Rolling Against Oklahoma?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 27th, 2015

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Michigan State has made yet another Sweet Sixteen appearance under Tom Izzo and it did so by surprising a very good Virginia team in the Third Round. The Spartans are now 6-2 since March 1, with both losses coming at the hands of Wisconsin. With the two highest seeds now removed from the East Region, it’s looking like another Final Four run for Coach Tom Izzo is a realistic possibility. But first things first. Tonight the Spartans will have to get through an Oklahoma team with the sixth-best defensive efficiency in college baskeball. Here are several ways for Sparty to get the job done and advance to the Elite Eight.

Branden Dawson needs to continue to be a factor for Michigan State to advance Friday night.  (Al Goldis/AP)

Branden Dawson needs to remain a factor for Michigan State to advance. (Al Goldis/AP)

  • Bryn Forbes > Frank Booker: Both teams have a sniper coming off the bench who can swing things simply by knocking down outside shots. Forbes has been more consistent, as he led the Big Ten in eFG (60.0%) and shot 43.0 percent from behind the three-point line on the season. Booker has only shot 31.3 percent from behind the arc, but he’s been hot since mid-February in making six of 12 attempts in Oklahoma’s two NCAA Tournament wins. Forbes needs to enter the game and be more of a factor than Booker here. If he can make shots and give Michigan State another scoring option outside of Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice on the perimeter, the Spartans have the tools to offset Oklahoma’s stellar defense.
  • Keep Spangler off the Glass: Ryan Spangler would be a perfect fit as a Spartan. He’s physical and he crashes the boards with a zeal that many players under Tom Izzo have exhibited. Unfortunately, he plays for Oklahoma. This means that Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello need to do their best in preventing the junior banger from notching his 15th double-figure rebounding game tonight. Spangler and TaShawn Thomas cannot be the tougher duo here, and the two Michigan State post players have the ability to make Oklahoma pay for surrounding their inside pair with three guards.

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Five Keys For Wisconsin Against North Carolina Tonight

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 26th, 2015

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Lost in the anticipation of a Wisconsin vs. Arizona rematch in the Elite Eight is the fact that the Badgers still have to get there by beating a North Carolina unit that has played its best ball of the season since the calendar turned to March. While the Badgers are favored to win the game, it won’t be an walk in the park for a number of reasons. Here’s are five ways that Bo Ryan’s squad can keep things rolling against the Tar Heels in Los Angeles.

Bronson Koenig needs to help Wisconsin control the tempo if they want to beat North Carolina.  (AP)

Bronson Koenig needs to help Wisconsin control the tempo if they want to beat North Carolina. (AP)

  1. Control the Tempo: North Carolina likes to push the ball upcourt and get easy baskets in transition. They don’t necessarily do so by forcing a bunch of turnovers; rather, the Heels like to grab the ball off of either a make or a miss and run their patented secondary break. Wisconsin doesn’t get sped up too often but the Badgers still need to ensure that this remains a half-court game rather than a track meet. The days are gone when Wisconsin cannot keep up with the Tar Heels athletically, but it still doesn’t make sense to try to run with them. Half-court execution and good shot selection will win the day; the leadership and facilitation of Bronson Koenig and Traevon Jackson (assuming he plays) will be the keys here.
  2. Win the Battle of the Boards: Wisconsin ranks fourth in the nation in defensive rebounding while North Carolina comes in fifth on the offensive glass. Roy Williams may be without its leader in this department with Kennedy Meeks and his 12.9 percent offensive rebounding rate potentially sidelined with a knee injury, but backup Isaiah Hicks (11.3%) is no slouch here either. Without anyone who can shoot consistently from deep, the Tar Heels’ best offense on many possessions is just to hit the boards. If the Badgers control the glass tonight, they can force a bunch of one-possession trips from the Heels and effectively shut down their offense. Read the rest of this entry »
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Sweet Sixteen Reset: Big Ten Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 23rd, 2015

We’re now down to only two B1G teams left playing in the 2014-15 season, as Michigan State and Wisconsin are the only two teams that won both their games this weekend. This is one less team that made the Sweet 16 one season ago, as these two along with Michigan were still alive one year ago. Here are some other quick takeaways from the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament as it relates to the B1G.

Sam Dekker had 17 points to lead to Wisconsin past Oregon and into the Sweet 16 Sunday night. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker had 17 points to lead to Wisconsin past Oregon and into the Sweet 16 Sunday night. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

  • They are Who We Thought They Were: Having two teams left in the field sounds about right for a league that was down a bit this season. As ludicrous as it is to completely bemoan a conference for being overrated (Big 12), or underrated (Pac 12) based simply off the small sample size that is the Big Dance, the Big Ten generally did about as well as expected. They had five teams in the round of 32, which is about the same number of teams that were in or around the top 25 all year. Maryland got a tough break with being a bit underseeded, and paid the price in losing to West Virginia. Iowa and Ohio State played about to expectations, as they would have had to pull off outstanding performances to get the best of Gonzaga and Arizona respectively. Michigan State was a bit of a surprise, but anyone who has seen Coach Tom Izzo‘s March resume, or saw how Sparty played in the Big Ten Tournament knows that this team was geared up to potentially make another March run.

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What Are Big Ten Teams Seeking This Weekend?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 19th, 2015

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While it’s unlikely that all seven Big Ten teams will still be around at the end of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, each has something to gain from even just one win. None of the matchups on Thursday and Friday are overly imposing, and in actuality, many of them seem to be pretty equal. The Round of 32 could be a different story, but here’s what each team has on the line with a quality opening weekend performance:

Troy Williams will need to play well for IU to advance.   (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

Troy Williams will need to play well for Indiana to advance. (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

  • Indiana: This NCAA Tournament appearance is all about showing that the program hasn’t hit a wall under head coach Tom Crean and it’s about quieting the critics that have been out in full force this year. A win over a Wichita State squad with plenty of excellent experience in four starters who made the Final Four two seasons ago would be a nice victory for a team with no seniors and almost no size. Winning a second game against fellow blue-blood Kansas would give the Hoosiers valuable March experience to build upon with a great majority of the team scheduled to return next season.
  • Iowa: Iowa can regain some of the credibility it lost from last season’s nosedive. The Hawkeyes still have some problems with consistency although they’ve been slightly better in closing out the 2014-15 campaign. Fran McCaffery‘s team avoided the First Four this time around but it still has a difficult opener against the Atlantic 10 regular season champion, Davidson. Just being back in March Madness, though, isn’t good enough for Hawkeyes fans. Mostly the same cast of characters played significant minutes in last season’s opening round loss to Tennessee, so winning a game or two here will show that this talented crew didn’t underachieve during its time in Iowa City. McCaffery doesn’t have to face the same amount of pressure that someone like Crean does at Indiana, but losing early in March once again won’t exactly help him either.
  • Maryland: The Terrapins were ranked for most of the season, eventually making their way into the top 10 at the end of the year. Despite how Maryland fared in the polls, they ended up with only a #4 seed and have a challenging road to the Sweet Sixteen. This means that they need to get to the second weekend to show the committee and others that they were justifiably ranked where they were. They were the second best team in the conference for much of the season, but an early flame-out in March would give the critics of Big Ten basketball plenty of ammunition in saying that the league didn’t deserve seven bids. The Terps need to avoid the upset bug and make a solid run.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big Ten Teams

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 15th, 2015

Seven teams from the Big Ten made it into the field of 68 after the selections were announced late Sunday afternoon. There were some surprises in terms of seeding and matchups which will be covered later in this post, but all in all there wasn’t anything too earth-shattering in terms of where the seven conference teams ended up. Here are five quick takeaways from this year’s bracket.

Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin ended up getting a one seed and avoiding Kentucky for now. ( USA Today Images)

Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin ended up getting a one seed and avoiding Kentucky for now. ( USA Today Images)

  1. Wisconsin Avoided Kentucky But.…: There is a good news/bad news element with Wisconsin’s draw. The good news is that because the Badgers navigated their way through the Big Ten Tournament to get to 31-3, they secured a #1 seed. The bad news is that they procured that seed in an absolutely loaded West Region. The Badgers will potentially face a rematch of last season’s wild Round of 32 game against #8 seed Oregon followed by a battle with Arkansas or North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen. Then perhaps another southern California regional final against Arizona in the Elite Eight. Avoiding Kentucky after everyone thought the Badgers might be the #2 seed in the Wildcats’ region is obviously a positive, but this is by no means an easy road to Indianapolis.
  2. Maryland Gets Shafted?: The second-best team in the league ended up as a #4 seed in Kentucky’s Midwest Region despite its strong 27-6 overall record (15-5 in the Big Ten). It’s surprising that the Terps ended up with a seed similar to that of Georgetown, a team that lost 10 games on the year. The Terps have to play #13 Valparaiso in their first game, which is not a gimme by any stretch. They then would have to play either of West Virginia or Buffalo in the round of 32. It can definitely be argued that Maryland should have been given more respect and a better seed line for such a successful regular season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 03.11.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 11th, 2015

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  1. After a junior season that saw him dip from a first-team all B1G performer to a third-team selection this season, Terran Petteway still has a decision to make about whether or not to declare for the NBA Draft after the season is over. Nebraska is on Spring Break March 22-30, and with him on pace to graduate in May, look for a decision after the break is over. An argument could be made that he probably should have left after last season when his stock was at its highest. But with what the Huskers were returning this season, one can’t blame the wing for wanting to come back and take Nebraska even further.
  2. Illinois has a great deal to accomplish in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, as they are essentially trying to play their way off of the bubble in trying to avoid a second consecutive season in the NIT. The Chicago Tribune’s Shannon Ryan took a look at five keys for the Illini in advance their opening game Thursday against Michigan, and to keep winning in the tournament at large. Some of the things listed included getting more out of sophomore guards Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate, and simply making shots. The Illini have a tough road ahead of them, and may need to upset Wisconsin. A win over Michigan in the second round simple might not be enough.
  3. Another looming NBA Draft decision could happen at Indiana, as junior first-team All Big Ten point guard Yogi Ferrell might have a decision to make as well. His father said that Yogi is leaning towards coming back, but some factors that could play a role in whether he does so include getting some size added to the roster in the offseason, and whether or not Tom Crean remains the coach. The Ferrell family remain some of Crean’s biggest supporters, so that’s an added variable to all the drama in Bloomington right now. Right now, the Hoosiers need to concentrate on taking care of Northwestern on Thursday, because losing that one will make their NCAA Tournament hopes faint.
  4. It’s been a game of musical chairs at the backup point guard position for Purdue this season. PJ Thompson and Bryson Scott have seemingly fallen in and out of favor with Coach Matt Painter. It was Thompson’s turn on Saturday against Illinois, and the freshman didn’t disappoint. He sparked a rally at the end of the first half with a steal and a basket, and ended things with a crucial three-pointer near the end of the proceedings. Octeus will get most of the minutes from here on out this season, but whether it’s Thompson or Scott that emerges as a starter next season is going to be one of the biggest stories that plays itself out before 2015-16.
  5. Minnesota has not had quite the season that it hoped for after finishing with a 6-12 record in conference play. Despite the fact that they’re 61st on KenPom- which is within striking distance of Big Ten bubble squads like Purdue (48), Illinois (53), and Indiana (55)- the Gophers would need a miracle finish to get into the NCAA Tournament. While bad luck played a role, the Gophers really didn’t get the production they needed from their senior class this season. Coming off of the momentum from winning the NIT last year, the senior class just simply didn’t perform many times as they lost multiple close games.
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Big Ten Player of the Year & Defensive Player of the Year

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 10th, 2015

After making appearances on the RTC First Team All-Big Ten squads, it should come as no surprise that two members of that team will receive additional individual honors here. Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky is our choice for Big Ten Player of the Year and Purdue’s AJ Hammons is our Defensive Player of the Year.

AJ Hammons and his ability to alter and block shots makes him the RTC Defensive Player of the Year. (Darrell Hoemann, AP)

AJ Hammons’ ability to alter and block shots makes him the RTC Defensive Player of the Year. (Darrell Hoemann, AP)

Anyone who’s followed college basketball at all this season knows that Kaminsky has had an outstanding year. His breakout campaign last season resulted in the Badgers running all the way to the Final Four, but he’s elevated his game this season with even greater versatility. Mostly just a spot-up shooter during his first two seasons in Madison, the Illinois native has expanded his last season’s more developed post game to finish better at the rim and do so in a number of ways — he closed out the regular season shooting 60.0 percent on two-point shots. He’s also continued to shoot well from the outside, closing the year with marks of 41.0 percent from three and an effective field goal rate of 60.3 percent, best in the Big Ten. Two major gains in production this season that haven’t gotten as much attention are his improvements on the defensive boards and as a passer. He sports a 25.5 percent defensive rebounding rate, up from 18.4 percent a season ago, helping his team prevent extra possessions by holding its opponents to just one shot. His passing has also picked up by necessity in light of Traveon Jackson’s midseason injury, turning Kaminsky into a more willing passer adept at finding the open man out of a double-team. There aren’t too many other centers who can lead an offense at the top of the key, but Kaminsky has no problem doing just that. The NPOY candidate can beat teams in so many different ways that it makes him a logical selection for our top player honor in this season’s Big Ten.

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Big Ten All-Freshman Team

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 10th, 2015

In a year when the Big Ten’s freshman class made much more of an impact than last season, picking a five-man outfit of rookie players was an arduous process. That difficulty exhibits that the future of the league is in good hands if the majority of these players stick around for several years at their respective schools. That’s probably wishful thinking for a couple of them, but here’s our RTC Big Ten All-Freshman Team.

D'Angelo Russell was the best freshman in the B1G this season. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

D’Angelo Russell was the best freshman in the Big Ten this season. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

  • D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State (19.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 5.2 APG, 42.2% 3FG)
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland (16.1 PPG, 3.1 APG, 1.3 SPG, 87.6% FT)
  • James Blackmon Jr., Indiana (15.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 82.1% FT, 38.5% 3FG)
  • Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern (11.4 PPG, 4.7 APG, 84.8% FT, 36.4% 3FG)
  • Jae’Sean Tate, Ohio State (8.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 59.8% FG)

Tate really came on once he became a starter, as his numbers jumped to 12.1 PPG and 5.5 RPG over the last 12 games. An undersized power forward, the Ohio native plays much bigger than his listed height of 6’4″. McIntosh was not the most highly-touted member of Northwestern’s five-man recruiting class this season but he admirably assumed the point guard duties right away. He has some defensive issues to improve but he is an adept passer with the ability to make shots from deep and score in a variety of other ways. Blackmon Jr. was one of many three-point bombers on an Indiana team that ranked third in the nation in shooting the three (41.0%). His numbers dipped late in the season ( 22-of-68 from three in his last 11 games), but he still led the Hoosiers in scoring 12 times on the year. In many seasons Trimble would have been the clear Freshman of the Year as he led Maryland to a highly-surprising 26-5 regular season mark. He’s not a pure point guard in terms of his passing abilities but his skill in finishing plays coupled with a respectable 39.1 percent mark from three-point land makes him a major reason why the Terps are back on the national scene.

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