Wisconsin Smashes Syracuse Zone by Getting Back to Basics

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 30th, 2016

Wisconsin‘s match-up against Syracuse last night represented a particularly concerning challenge on the offensive end of the floor. Despite an experienced core that includes two potential All-Americans in the starting lineup, Greg Gard‘s offense has been inconsistent. The Badgers made only 11 of a whopping 39 three-point attempts in their loss to Creighton. They turned the ball over 18 times against a Tennessee team that is one of the least experienced squads in the country. To bolster that point, Wisconsin has committed at least 11 turnovers in all seven of its games this season. The notion of a Badgers team easily solving Jim Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3 zone and its corresponding top 10 defense should have spelled disaster in Madison. Instead, they won by 17 points and showed that by simply getting back to basics, Wisconsin may very well end up being the team many expected to win the Big Ten this season.

Ethan Happ (right) had a game-high 24 points in Wisconsin's 77-60 win over Syracuse on Tuesday night. (USA Today Images)

Ethan Happ had a game-high 24 points in Wisconsin’s 77-60 win over Syracuse on Tuesday night. (USA Today Images)

The biggest takeaway from last night’s win over the Orange was just how well forward Nigel Hayes played as a facilitator. Because of his size and passing ability, the senior is the perfect player to set up shop in the middle of a zone. His repeated simple yet effective passes in high-low sets with center Ethan Happ led to a multitude of layups and dunks. Hayes has proven that he can make threes, but he’s only shooting 29 percent from beyond the arc on the season. The best move for the Wisconsin offense is to play Hayes mostly in the post with occasional flashes out to the perimeter. As Purdue has shown with Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas doing likewise, the Badgers should use this option against man-to-man defensive schemes as well. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Feast Week Winners and Losers

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 28th, 2016

After 10 days of games in eight different tournaments, the picture as to how things will play out in this season’s Big Ten has become clearer. It is still somewhat murky and disjointed, but Feast Week gave us some insights as to the ceilings and floors for each squad. Here’s a brief look at which teams helped their cause last week and those that came away looking like they still have considerable work to do.

Winners

  • Maryland: While not playing in the most prestigious of events, Maryland was able to pick up wins over Richmond and Kansas State in the Barclays Center Classic. Neither were huge resume boosters, but they should help come March rather than hurt. The Terps pounded the offensive backboards all weekend, snatching an average of 40 percent of their own misses in the two victories. The most significant aspect of Maryland’s performances was that Mark Turgeon’s freshmen trio of Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson all played heavy crunch time minutes in a pair of tight games. Their continued improvement will largely determine the arc of the Terrapins’ season.
Justin Jackson helped lead Maryland to two wins in Brooklyn last weekend. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports).

Justin Jackson helped lead Maryland to two wins in Brooklyn last weekend. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports).

  • Michigan: The shine from the Wolverines’ two wins at the beginning of Feast Week lost some of its luster when they lost at South Carolina last Wednesday. Concentrating solely on their play in the 2k Classic, however, Michigan looked like it could be a serious threat to finish in the top three of the Big Ten. DJ Wilson’s defensive versatility was on full display, as he successfully guarded almost every position on the floor. The Wolverines held both Marquette and SMU under 1.00 point per possession and under 39 percent shooting from the field. They also hit 22 three-pointers and paired stellar outside shooting with their typical runs that led to easy buckets. Overall, Feast Week was a net plus for John Beilein’s team.

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Big Ten Feast Week Primer: Part Three

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 24th, 2016

Eight of the 14 Big Ten teams have already started, finished or will play in early-season tournaments this week. The festivities began Monday afternoon with Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational, but continue for much of the week as turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce commingles with basketball in far-flung locales. Here’s the third of a three-part breakdown that discusses what each participating Big Ten team faces this week.

NIT Season Tip-Off

Malcolm Hill will need to display the form that made him a Preseason All Big-Ten player in New York City this weekend. (USA Today Sports)

Malcolm Hill will need to display the form that made him a Preseason All-Big Ten player in New York City this weekend. (USA Today Sports)

  • Teams: Illinois, West Virginia, Florida State, Temple
  • Capsule: Things were looking relatively good for Illinois as it got off to a 4-0 start… and then the Illini lost to Winthrop at home. In what might be a make-or-break season for John Groce, a couple of wins against quality teams in the Big Apple would definitely ease some stress. Illinois squares off today against the national leader in creating turnovers and steals when it plays West Virginia. Those same 22 turnovers against Winthrop will end this game quickly.
  • Key Player: Tracy Abrams will be the key here. The sixth -year senior not only needs to break the Mountaineers’ press, but unlike the offensively-challenged Jaylon Tate, he can also be a threat to score. Abrams needs to max out his experience and ability for Illinois to come away with two wins in New York this week.
  • Prediction: The West Virginia game will be an ugly loss, but expect the Illini to respond and beat Temple in the consolation game on Friday.

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Big Ten Feast Week Primer: Part Two

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 21st, 2016

Eight of the 14 Big Ten teams will play in early-season tournaments over the next seven days. The festivities begin this afternoon with Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational, but continue for much of the next week as turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce commingles with basketball in far-flung locales. Here’s the first of a two part-breakdown that discusses what each participating Big Ten team faces this week.

Nigel Hayes needs to have a productive stretch of games in Maui for Wisconsin to win it. (Getty).

Nigel Hayes needs to have a productive stretch of games in Maui for Wisconsin to win the event. (Getty).

Maui Jim Maui Invitational

  • Teams: Wisconsin, Tennessee, Georgetown, Oregon, Oklahoma State, UConn, North Carolina, Chaminade
  • Capsule: Wisconsin is 2-1 and looking to gain some momentum after losing a road game to Creighton and not playing well in a win over Chicago State. The Badgers’ offense is attempting a robust 29 three-pointers per game, so establishing Ethan Happ in the paint should help. Top 10 teams like Oregon and North Carolina potentially await later in the week if Wisconsin can get past Tennessee.
  • Key Player: Nigel Hayes hasn’t shot the ball well this season (38.7% FG), only scoring three points in 16 minutes of action against Chicago State. The preseason Big Ten Player of the Year needs to start producing for Wisconsin to earn some big wins on the islands.
  • Prediction: Wisconsin will go 2-1 in Maui. They will win their first game against Tennessee; lose to an Oregon squad that expects to have Dillon Brooks back; and then beat either UConn or Oklahoma State on Wednesday.

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Big Ten Feast Week Primer: Part One

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 18th, 2016

Ten of the 14 Big Ten teams will play in early-season tournaments over the next 10 days. Most of the action will occur in the heart of Feast Week between November 21-28, but a pair of teams will get things started this weekend. Michigan is already in New York City for the 2K Classic while Penn State will travel to Connecticut on Saturday to play in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. Here’s a quick guide to this weekend’s festivities.

Zak Irvin will try to lead Michigan to a 4-0 start in the 2K Classic this weekend. (Getty).

Zak Irvin will try to lead Michigan to a 4-0 start in the 2K Classic this weekend. (Getty).

2K Classic Benefiting Wounded Warrior Project

  • Teams: Michigan, Marquette, SMU, Pittsburgh
  • Capsule: Michigan beat Marquette convincingly last night and has started the year 3-0. The Wolverines are getting excellent balance in scoring across its starting lineup, with four players averaging double figures but only one instance of an individual breaking 20 points (Derrick Walton hit for exactly 20 against Howard). Michigan advances to play SMU, also 3-0 after a surprising win over Pittsburgh, in the 2K Classic championship game tonight.
  • Key Player: Duncan Robinson: Robinson needed to find his shooting stroke and a 3-of-4 performance from three-point range last night could set him on his way. As a whole Michigan hasn’t shot the ball all that well yet from the perimeter (36.8 percent from three), but expect this team of excellent shooters to eventually push that number toward 40 percent.
  • Prediction: The Wolverines will win this event. SMU notched a nice win over Pitt, but Michigan utterly dismantled a Marquette team that looked great last week against Vanderbilt.

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Purdue Enhances Its Reputation Despite a Loss

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 15th, 2016

Aside from not coming away with a hard-fought victory, Purdue‘s Monday night loss at home against the reigning National Champion Villanova went about as well as possible. The Boilermakers proved that they can play at a roughly equivalent level to a top five team in coming back from double-figure deficits twice to tie the game before falling late. Matt Painter would undoubtedly argue that a loss is still a loss, but there are some things that Purdue should take away from this game that represent encouraging signs for the rest of the season.

Purdue Gave Villanova Nearly All It Could Handle (USA Today Images)

Purdue Gave Villanova Nearly All It Could Handle (USA Today Images)

  • Physical Mismatches: Villanova is not a big team at all but few teams in college basketball will be able to match Purdue’s size down low. Seeing how the Boilermakers’ front line played against the gritty Wildcats, though, proves that Purdue should be able to run its offense through the paint. When Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan are both on the floor together, they can run some beautiful high-low action to take advantage of Swanigan’s exceptional abilities as a passer. Both players can also get to the free throw line at will, so expect many more nights where the pair combines to shoot 70 percent (14-of-20) on two-point field goals as they did on Monday night.

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Big Ten Conference Preview: Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 11th, 2016

The ballots have been revealed and the results have been tabulated. Unlike another round of voting that took place this week, there isn’t as much shock value in seeing these results. We at the Big Ten microsite have voted and determined how the league will shake out this season. The last of three segments lists our top four teams (the bottom tier can be found here and the middle tier can be found here).

4. Purdue: The Boilermakers enjoyed their best season since 2010-11 by winning 26 games and finishing 12-6 in conference play. They lost two All-Defensive Team members, including the Defensive Player of the Year AJ Hammons, but expectations are still high in West Lafayette. This is mainly because there just aren’t many teams nationally that can unleash a frontcourt with a trio of players as talented as Vince Edwards, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. With this trio in place, Purdue can expect the defense and interior scoring to comparable to last season. If PJ Thompson and Dakota Mathias can also consistently knock down shots from the perimeter, Purdue should equal, or surpass last season’s success.

Caleb Swanigan leads a deadly Purude frontcourt that is one of the best in the nation. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Caleb Swanigan leads a deadly Purude frontcourt that is one of the best in the nation. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Best-Case Scenario: Elite Eight

3. Michigan State: A brutal early schedule and some nagging injuries on the interior makes Sparty’s preseason ranking a little fluid, but it’s difficult to not give Tom Izzo a well-earned benefit of the doubt. A star freshman crew of Miles Bridges, Josh Langford, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward will all have to contribute early, but they have the skill sets to do so. Bridges (26.5 PPG, 4.0 BPG) in particular dominated in Michigan State’s two exhibition wins and could be a First-Team Big Ten talent. Also keep an eye on Eron Harris and Matt McQuaid. They will have to make many of the shots that Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes took last season. If Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter can return well at some point from their injuries, this will be one of the best and deepest teams in college basketball.

Best-Case Scenario: Final Four Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Conference Preview: Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 11th, 2016

The ballots have been revealed and the results have been tabulated. Unlike another round of voting that took place this week, there isn’t as much shock value in seeing these results. We at the Big Ten microsite have voted and determined how the league will shake out this season. The second of three segments lists our middle five teams (the bottom tier can be found here).

9. Iowa: The Hawkeyes arguably lost more than any other squad in the Big Ten, with four senior starters moving on from Iowa City. The good news, however, starts with guard Peter Jok staying put for his senior season. Jok will lead an inexperienced crew highlighted by freshman Tyler Cook, and jack-of-all-trades Dom Uhl. The point guard situation here is dicey, but if either Christian Williams or Jordan Bohannon can handle it, this team could still be in the mix for another NCAA Tournament bid. Jok needs to put up large numbers on the offensive end, though, and several secondary scorers need to emerge for this to happen.

Fran McCaffery and his Iowa Hawkeyes are predicted to finish in the middle of the Big Ten. (AP)

Fran McCaffery and his Iowa Hawkeyes are predicted to finish in the middle of the Big Ten. (AP).

Best-Case Scenario: NCAA Tournament Berth

8. Illinois: Things will be much better at Illinois this season if the Illini can simply keep their roster healthy for the first time in two years. The transfer of Kendrick Nunn will sting a bit, but six seniors make this the most experienced roster in the conference. Malcolm Hill is the team’s best player, but the key to the season will be the health of sixth- year seniors Tracy Abrams and Mike Thorne Jr. If that pair can stay on the floor, last season’s 135th ranked defense should be much better and that ugly 15-19 record should also improve.

Best-Case Scenario: 20+ wins and a return trip to the NCAA Tournament Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Conference Preview: Rutgers, Nebraska, Minnesota, Penn State, Northwestern

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 10th, 2016

The ballots have been revealed and the results have been tabulated. Unlike another round of voting that took place this week, there isn’t as much shock value in seeing these results. We at the Big Ten microsite have voted and determined how the league will shake out this season. The first of three segments lists our bottom five teams.

14. Rutgers: There’s a new coach and correspondingly new enthusiasm at Rutgers. Eddie Jordan is gone and former Stony Brook head coach Steve Pickiell has taken over. There’s still some talent on this roster, with sophomore lead guard Corey Sanders returning along with Mike Williams on the wing. The Scarlet Knights’ biggest issue is that they need to shoot the ball much better all over the floor, ranking 282nd on three-point percentage and 311th on two-point field goals last season. Things weren’t much better defensively, but they added some size and versatility with graduate transfer CJ Gettys and the return of Deshawn Freeman. Pickiell has a great reputation for development, but this won’t be a quick rebuild in the Garden State.

Best Case Scenario: Double-figure wins

Corey Sanders is the leading returning scorer for Rutgers. (Getty).

Corey Sanders is the leading returning scorer for Rutgers. (Getty)

13. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers actually improved by three wins last season, but the program has still fallen sharply after making the NCAA Tournament in 2014. This team loses a second-team all-conference performer (Shavon Shields) as well as an honorable mention selection (Andrew White, transfer to Syracuse). They will replace some of that talent with Louisville transfer Anton Gill, but the majority of the roster aside from senior Tai Webster is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. Scoring is going to be a question mark for this team, but the defensive side doesn’t look much better (last year’s team dipped from 28th in defense efficiency in 2014-15 to 114th last season). It looks like another long season in Lincoln.

Best-Case Scenario: Winning Record Read the rest of this entry »

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Is Maryland Really a Top 25 Team?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 8th, 2016

After making the NCAA Tournament twice in the last two years, Maryland must now replace four starters from a 27-9 unit that earned a #5 seed and lost to Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen. The lone holdover, junior guard Melo Trimble, returns along with the addition of some key recruits, causing voters in both the AP (#25) and Coaches (#21) polls to rank the Terrapins among their Top 25s. While Trimble is a known commodity, much of the rest of the team is not, leading to the key question of whether this edition of Maryland Basketball is actually as good as many people obviously think. Let’s examine that question from three different components.

Melo Trimble will have to shake off a sophomore slump that plagued him late last season. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Melo Trimble needs to shake off a sophomore slump that plagued him late last season. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

  1. Can Trimble Return to His Freshman Form? As a precocious freshman, Trimble burst onto the scene two seasons ago by pacing Maryland in scoring (16.2 PPG) and leading the Terps back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years. With more talent surrounding him last season, his assist rate rose to 28.7 percent (from 21.2 percent) but his Offensive Rating (116.5 to 110.7) and shooting percentages (53.4% eFG to 48.2%) decreased. Will he regain the shooting form from a stellar freshman season when he converted 41.2 percent of his attempts from the three-point line? Or will he struggle carrying the load of his inexperienced supporting cast? Maryland needs the first scenario to come to fruition if the Terrapins want to be as good as they were during the last two seasons. Read the rest of this entry »
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