Four Big Ten Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 27th, 2017

Now that the 2016-17 college basketball season has been put to bed, it’s time for hoopheads to peer into the future and prepare for the 2017-18 season. There is a fair amount of intrigue attached to how the Big Ten will look next season, so here’s a quick look at the biggest stories to consider within the league over the next several months.

The draft decision of Miles Bridges set the bar for the 2017-18 Big Ten championship. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • The Return of Miles Bridges: Michigan State’s uber-talented forward decided to stay in school for his sophomore season, making the Spartans the clear favorite to win the Big Ten and enter next season ranked among the nation’s top five. Plenty of solid pieces were already slated to return to East Lansing next season — sophomores Nick Ward, Cassius Winston, and Joshua Langford — but having the future lottery pick back means Tom Izzo is smiling this offseason.

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Big Ten Survival Guide: The Keys For Each Squad’s First Round Survival

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 16th, 2017

The brackets have been set and all of the Big Ten teams left dancing will begin seven separate quests to bring home the league’s first National Championship since Michigan State did so in 2000. Before anything approaching that level of success can take place, however, each team must win its First Round game. Here’s a brief look at how all seven Big Ten teams can get past their first opponent.

Reggie Lynch has to stay on the floor for Minnesota against Middle Tennessee on Thursday. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

  • Minnesota: The Gophers have almost no depth now with the season-ending injury to senior wing Akeem Springs, which means Reggie Lynch has to stay on the floor and out of foul trouble. As a result, Minnesota will have to win this game with defense. If Lynch suffers early foul issues, Middle Tennessee and its 54.3 percent eFG rate will be able to score in the paint at will.
  • Northwestern: Northwestern has a dangerous tendency to go through long scoring droughts. For the most part the Wildcats runs their offense well, but when they go cold, they go frigid. This cannot happen against Vanderbilt because a three-minute drought will feel like five or more with in a one-and-done format. Vanderbilt shoots 37.7 percent from three-point range on the season, so long dry spells could be disastrous against a team that can effectively bomb away from the perimeter.

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Rushed Reactions: Michigan 71, Wisconsin 56

Posted by Chris Stone on March 12th, 2017

RTC’s Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) is providing on-site coverage of the Big Ten Tournament in Washington, DC.

Derrick Walton Jr. led Michigan to a Big Ten title. (AP)

Three Key Takeaways. 

  1. Michigan didn’t look like the tired team. If you asked a neutral observer with no knowledge of prior events which of these two teams had played four games in four days, the answer probably would have been Wisconsin. In the first 10 minutes of the second half, however — a time when you might expect Michigan’s weariness to show — the Wolverines went on a 13-4 run while the Badgers sputtered. During that stretch, Wisconsin shot 1-of-10 from the field and committed five turnovers. It helped Michigan open up the lead that carried them to victory.
  2. Zak Irvin showed up huge. The Michigan senior was hyped during the team’s warmups and he delivered a magnificent performance to back up his talk. Irvin finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists, including a backbreaking three-pointer with 5:46 remaining. Irvin’s three followed a five-point Wisconsin run that forced a John Beilein timeout and briefly quieted the largely pro-Michigan crowd. The scary thing about the Wolverines is that they have so many pieces who can heat up in a hurry. Irvin came up big for them today.
  3. This was not Ethan Happ’s best day. Early on in conference play, Happ looked like a serious contender for Big Ten Player of the Year, but Happ’s candidacy went with it as the Badgers suffered a late season slide. The Wisconsin sophomore is a great talent who does a bit of everything, but Sunday simply wasn’t his day. Happ ended up with a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds), but really struggled to score efficiently around the rim. He finished 6-of-16 from the field and most of his misses came in the paint.

Star of the Game: Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan. Irvin was excellent, but so was Walton for the second day in a row. The senior finished with 22 points, seven assists, six rebounds and two steals en route to the tournament title. Walton was once again terrific in directing traffic and if anyone leads the Wolverines on a March run, it will be him.

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Rushed Reactions: Wisconsin 76, Northwestern 48

Posted by Chris Stone on March 11th, 2017

RTC’s Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) is providing on-site coverage of the Big Ten Tournament in Washington, DC.

Wisconsin won the hustle stats against Northwestern. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Is Wisconsin back? All too frequently this season we’ve had to ask ourselves, “Is Duke back?” Maybe it’s time to shift the subject and ask the same thing about the Badgers. Before their home win over Minnesota in the final game of the regular season, the Badgers had lost five of six. They are now on a three-game winning streak with victories over the Gophers, Indiana and Northwestern. Wisconsin’s defense against the Wildcats today was smothering, holding them to a measly 0.76 points per possession. The Badgers also seemed to find a groove offensively. They made 12-of-29 three-pointers en route to 76 total points. Wisconsin’s late season losing streak likely pushed it several spots down the seed ladder, but when the Badgers are playing like this, they are a very dangerous opponent.
  2. Northwestern’s offense is its biggest March limitation. There’s no doubt that Wisconsin’s defense played a role in this, but the Wildcats’ offensive weaknesses were on display Saturday as it delivered its worst performance of the season — the fifth time this year (all losses) that they had scored below 0.90 points per possession. Northwestern’s most valuable offensive pieces are inefficient scorers, with Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsay all logging effective field goal percentages under 51.0 percent. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Wildcats are doomed to a short stay in their first NCAA Tournament ever, but if they want to win a game next week, they’ll need more out of their offense or a significantly better defensive outing to get the job done.
  3. Wisconsin won the hustle stats and that mattered. Both Northwestern head coach Chris Collins and McIntosh mentioned the Badgers’ work on the offensive boards and getting to loose balls as a turning point in Saturday’s game. “I thought those were the areas where they were able to stretch out their lead,” Collins said. Wisconsin grabbed 12 offensive boards, and while the box score doesn’t keep track of loose balls, it was often the Badgers who seemed to come up with them.

Star of the Game: Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin. Hayes finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, his fifth double-double of the season. Most importantly, he was a very efficient player today on the offensive end of the floor. Hayes shot 7-of-11 from the field and made a pair of three-pointers.

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Rushed Reactions: Michigan 84, Minnesota 77

Posted by Chris Stone on March 11th, 2017

RTC’s Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) is providing on-site coverage of the Big Ten Tournament in Washington, DC.

Moritz Wagner and Derrick Walton Jr. helped lead Michigan to the Big Ten title game. (AP)

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Good offense beats out good defense once again. With 12:17 remaining in the second half and the score tied 55-55, Michigan’s Duncan Robinson caught a pass in the left corner, took one shuffle dribble to his right, and rose up to drain a three-pointer over a pair of Minnesota defenders. Robinson’s three was significant not only because Minnesota was unable to close the gap again after it went down, but because it was the latest remainder that in college hoops, good offense beats good defense. The Gophers came into the game with a top 15 defense based on adjusted efficiency, but Michigan’s top 10 offense was simply too good in getting to its desired spots and knocking down shots when the ball got there.
  2. Derrick Walton, Jr. can help carry Michigan in March. If there’s one March mantra that always seems to come true, it’s that good guard play is imperative to a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Well, Walton could be the latest senior point guard to add his name to a long line of those who have carried their teams into the second weekend and perhaps beyond. Walton was methodical, frequently directing traffic while calling for ball screens to attack Minnesota’s defense, en route to 29 points. He made sure to let the Gophers know about it, too, by talking trash on his way back down the floor.
  3. The Wolverines’ interior defense may still prove to be a problem. For as good as Michigan’s offense can look, its defense does not. For the second straight day, the Wolverines struggled to stop a team inside the arc. Michigan frequently gave up dribble penetration that often resulted in layups or dump-off passes for easy baskets. Minnesota center Reggie Lynch also had a field day, scoring 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. Add in 15 offensive rebounds for the Gophers and it’s easy to find the thing that could doom the Wolverines in a single-elimination tournament. It just wasn’t enough today.

Star of the Game: This award pretty easily goes to Michigan’s Derrick Walton. In addition to 29 points, he added nine assists and five rebounds. As Walton shot a couple of free throws near the end of the game, one Michigan fan hollered, “That’s the best point guard in the Big Ten right there.” With Maryland at home, there was nobody left to dispute his claim.

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Michigan Has the Look of a March Sleeper

Posted by Chris Stone on March 11th, 2017

After dispatching Illinois in their opening round game of the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan upset top-seeded Purdue on Friday behind 26 points from DJ Wilson and 54.3 percent shooting inside the arc. Now, just two days after an incredibly harrowing incident in which the Wolverines’ plane aborted takeoff, skidded off the runway and nearly ended up in a ravine, the team has the look of a potential NCAA Tournament sleeper. “We’ve been selling the fun of a run,” head coach John Beilein said after Friday’s victory. “You throw in what happened on Wednesday, now they’ve got a lot of memories. We don’t want it to stop.”

Derrick Walton Jr. and Michigan are built to win in March. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Michigan figures to make the NCAA Tournament field come Selection Sunday, likely ending up with a middling seed after amassing a 10-8 record during Big Ten regular season play. Recent history suggests that might not be such a bad thing. Under-seeded major conference teams who are well-respected by efficiency metrics like KenPom have been known to deliver. Last season, Syracuse became the first No. 10 seed to make a Final Four. In 2015, Michigan State made the final weekend as a No. 7 seed, and in 2014, No. 11 Tennessee found its way into the Sweet Sixteen after winning a play-in game. After Friday’s win, the Wolverines rank 24th in KenPom, a placement that would put them in line for a No. 6 seed if the Selection Committee seeded strictly on that ranking. Michigan may end up a couple lines lower than that.

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Five Key Storylines in This Week’s Big Ten Tournament

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 8th, 2017

The Big Ten Tournament begins this afternoon in Washington, D.C., when Penn State takes on Nebraska. It will end Sunday afternoon presumably with a postseason picture looking much closer to clarity. In anticipation of the proceedings, here are a handful of quick potential storylines to keep an eye on over the next five days.

Whether or not Malcolm Hill can lead Illinois to a couple of Big Ten victories is one of many questions heading into the B1G Tournament. (Getty)

Bubble Teams: Two of the more fascinating games in the early portion of the Big Ten Tournament will be Illinois vs. Michigan and Iowa vs. Indiana. With late-season surges, both the Illini and the Hawkeyes have moved into bubble consideration. Illinois has improved defensively over the past month but will be tested by Michigan’s sixth-most efficient offense in the country. Iowa has won four in a row (including a win over the Hoosiers) on the strength of 10.5 made three-pointers per game at a 46.7 percent clip. If both teams lose early this week, the number of Big Ten teams heading to the NCAA Tournament will essentially be set. Two wins, however, will keep the debate alive.

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Big Ten Tournament Mission Sheet: What Can Each Team Get From the Event?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 8th, 2017

There are 14 teams in the Big Ten and although each team is ultimately playing to win a conference championship on Sunday afternoon, there are smaller, somewhat more realistic goals for each school involved in the five-day hoops extravaganza. Here’s a closer look at what each Big Ten team should look to gain from the event.

  • Illinois: The goal for the Illini is fairly obvious. After losing its regular season finale to Rutgers, Illinois likely has to get to Saturday’s semifinals in order to feel truly confident about its chances.
  • Indiana: Indiana needs to find a way to bottle its offense during the first 10 minutes — wherein the Hoosiers scored 32 points — of last weekend’s win over Ohio State. If Tom Crean’s offense can play at that level in Washington, DC, this weekend, Indiana can legitimately win the Big Ten Tournament.
  • Iowa: The Hawkeyes have the same goal as Illinois but with less urgency because of the youth of their roster. The longer Iowa stays in this weekend’s tournament, the more quality experience their underclassmen will have heading into next season.
  • Maryland: Maryland has taken a whopping 24 three-pointers per contest over its last nine games, making only 33.8 percent of those attempts. The key for the Terrapins is to return to attacking the rim for easy looks and foul shots. Continued over-reliance on the three-ball from a team that requires greater balance could spell an early postseason exit in DC and beyond.

Derrick Walton Jr. will look to lift Michigan to multiple wins in the Big Ten Tournament. (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

  • Michigan: The metrics suggest that Michigan is better than its 20-11 overall record. This means that the Wolverines have a golden opportunity to win the Big Ten tournament and jump a couple of seed lines prior to Sunday’s bracket release.

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Three Thoughts From Illinois’ Bubble-Saving Win Over Michigan State

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 2nd, 2017

A senior wing on a mission to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his career guarding a freshman wing determined to complete his comeback from an early injury was an appropriate ending to last night’s game between Illinois and Michigan State. The Illini’s Malcolm Hill has been on a complete tear lately, averaging approximately 20 points per game in leading his team to four straight wins to keep the team’s postseason hopes alive. The Spartans’ Miles Bridges did his part with 21 points and 10 rebounds, but the freshman could not close the deal in Champaign. Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, Illinois (18-12, 8-9 Big Ten) is clearly back on the bubble while Michigan State (18-12, 10-7 Big Ten) cannot afford to lose a pivotal road game against Maryland. Let’s review three key takeaways from the Illini’s 73-70 victory over the Spartans last night.

Malcolm Hill is Carrying the Illini on to the Bubble (USA Today Images)

  1. Malcolm Hill isn’t ready to finish his career without a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Illinois’ senior wing has played over 130 games for the Illini without a single minute in college basketball’s marquee event. As a freshman, Illinois didn’t have a point guard to support his offensive versatility. As a sophomore, a late season swoon cost the Illini a chance at an otherwise promising season. Last year, the team’s second-best offensive player wasn’t healthy. As a senior, Hill hasn’t had a consistent complementary player on the offensive end of the floor. Despite these many setbacks over his career, Hill has persevered. On Wednesday night, the senior contributed 22 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals — including the game-winning free throws — as Illinois played itself back on to the NCAA Tournament bubble after appearing all but dead just a few short weeks ago. Read the rest of this entry »
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Four Big Ten Storylines to Follow in the Final Week of Regular Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 28th, 2017

There are now 14 games left in a Big Ten regular season that has been marked by numerous highs and lows throughout. The major takeaway at this point of the season is that almost nothing in terms of the conference standings has yet been settled. That means that every game over the next six days has considerably more meaning than in other conferences where much is already determined. Here are four other Big Ten storylines worth monitoring during the final week of the regular season.

Scottie Lindsey needs to find his scoring touch in the final week for Northwestern to be as though its safely in the NCAA Tournament (USA Today).

  1. Can Northwestern Earn One More Win? The Wildcats appeared to be a near-lock for the NCAA Tournament after knocking off Wisconsin on February 12, but they’ve since lost three of four and are really struggling to put points on the board. Northwestern closes out the Big Ten season with two home games this week against Michigan and Purdue, where a victory in either contest would likely be enough to certify things. Two more losses, however, would result in a 9-9 record in conference play, creating a teetering mountain of pressure on Chris Collins‘ team to win a game or two in the Big Ten Tournament. Read the rest of this entry »
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