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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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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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


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


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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How Will Traevon Jackson’s Return Impact the Badgers?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 26th, 2015


There isn’t much stopping Wisconsin’s offensive stride right now. The Badgers won the Big Ten regular season and tournament championships by averaging a whopping 1.21 points per possession despite playing the last 17 games of the season without senior point guard Traevon Jackson, who broke his foot on January 11. Some observers thought that the injury would set the Badgers back on both ends of the court but Wisconsin instead has held strong with its only loss since coming at Maryland. Sophomore replacement Bronson Koenig has done a terrific job of running the offense by hanging on to the ball, distributing it in the right spots and shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc.

Traevon Jackson's confidence to take big shots during the final minutes of key games will be needed over the Sweet 16 weekend of Wisconsin.

Traevon Jackson’s confidence to take big shots for Wisconsin during the final minutes of key games will be needed in the Sweet Sixteen and possibly beyond. (Getty)

Jackson said yesterday that he has confidence in his foot and he is “100 percent” ready to play against North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen. With two more wins needed to reach the program’s second consecutive Final Four, it is an intriguing dilemma for Bo Ryan to determine how many minutes Jackson should play. The argument against inserting him completely back into the rotation is that the move could disturb the seamless rhythm of what has been an offensive juggernaut. The argument for playing him is that he was the starter of last season’s Final Four squad and it’s not as if the Badgers were doing poorly before he was injured (15-1 with the sole loss coming to Duke). Ryan will definitely play his senior point guard some minutes tonight, but the question is how much and in what spots? The reason that this is a particularly difficult decision for the head coach is because Koenig has been a more effective player than Jackson.

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Michigan State Turnaround Started When Izzo Spurned the NBA

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 25th, 2015


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.


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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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


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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