Big Ten M5: 03.06.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 6th, 2015

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

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 4th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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Northwestern and Michigan Show in Instant Classic the Future Appears Bright

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 4th, 2015

Given all the talk about the Big Ten’s bubble teams, there wasn’t much hype for a game between two squads with losing conference records. But Michigan and Northwestern played a double-overtime classic in Evanston on Tuesday night, exhibiting that both programs are clearly trending upward with young rosters and an eye on 2015-16. Here are some quick observations from last night’s game that echo the larger point.

Tre Demps is one of the best late-game shooters in the B1G. (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

Tre Demps is one of the best late-game shooters in the Big Ten. (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

  • Alex Olah could be one of the most improved players in the league, as he has become a solid low post threat for the Wildcats. Other than Frank Kaminsky, he might have the best footwork in the conference. He is fundamentally sound with the ball, keeping it high when he makes the catch after establishing his position in the lane. Olah murdered Michigan on the low blocks last night and also displayed an ability to knock down an open 15-footer as well. He went for 25 points and 12 rebounds, his seventh double-double of the season.
  • Tre Demps has evolved into a much more complete player this season. Mainly just a bench option last season, he’s become a much better all-around offensive threat. He’s still a bit streaky, but he has the mentality to take and make big shots in late-clock situations. In Northwestern’s last six games, Demps has averaged 15.5 points along with 3.8 assists per contest. His ability to get into the lane makes the Wildcats’ offense much more diverse, as he’s shown that he can either finish at the rim or kick the ball out without turning it over.

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Big Ten M5: 03.04.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 4th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. What once looked like a promising season for Indiana is now fizzling, as the Hoosiers dropped another conference game Tuesday night to Iowa. The late-season swoon where the team has lost seven of their last 11 games has moved them dangerously close to the bubble. Even when things were going well, their was a bit of a gimmicky element with the large dependency on the three ball, and the lack of size. Now home fans are booing, and Tom Crean’s job security is once again going to be a hot topic of discussion. Indiana plays in front of their home audience again Saturday against Michigan State. It will get ugly if they produce another lackluster and uninspired effort.
  2. Neither team is playing for an NCAA Tournament bid so the exciting Michigan-Northwestern game on Tuesday evening got lost in the shuffle a bit. Those who missed it however missed the most entertaining game of the regular season in the league, where the Wildcats hung on to win in two overtimes. The list of heroes was a large one for Chris Collins’ hard luck team on Senior Night. JerShon Cobb came back after missing six games to play 33 minutes, Alex Olah posted a double-double, and Tre Demps made some of the most clutch shots of the season. If you were busy watching the Kentucky or Kansas games, do yourself a favor and watch the replay of this one. It’s well worth it simply for entertainment value.
  3. Three Big Ten players made the list of the ten Waymon Tisdale Award finalists announced earlier this week. It’s no surprise that the three named were D’Angelo Russell, Melo Trimble, and James Blackmon Jr. All three players are currently leading their teams in scoring, and all have had vast impacts throughout most of the season. The award is probably going to go to either Jahlil Okafor from Duke, or Russell. It’s still a distinctive honor to make the final list of ten, as many of the names on the list will more than likely be lottery picks in the 2015 NBA Draft.
  4. Many Purdue fans once thought Indiana native Branden Dawson would be playing for Matt Painter instead of Tom Izzo. Ever since then, the two sides have had an unfriendly relationship. Dawson has put up killer numbers against the West Lafayette school, and he even got into an altercation with Painter during his freshman season. So there is a great deal of vitriol coming from Purdue fans as the one that got away torments them in a different colored uniform. The two teams meet in East Lansing tonight, with plenty on the line. Maybe seeing the Purdue uniform guarding him will get Dawson back on track after recent struggles.
  5. Jarvis Johnson is probably the most important incoming recruit for Minnesota. An incredible athlete, the guard has been in and out of the top 100 of the Class of 2015. He’ll look to come in and take some of the minutes that will need to be replaced with the departures of Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu. Adapting to life in the B1g shouldn’t be a problem for Johnson however, as he almost didn’t live long enough to play high school ball. In 2010, he collapsed on the basketball court, where paramedics determined he didn’t have a pulse. Amazingly enough, he was able to get back on the court and contribute as a high school freshman, where he won a state championship. Much like the Austin Hatch story, Johnson will be another Big Ten player that will be difficult to root against.
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Breaking Down the Big Ten Bubble Games This Week

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 3rd, 2015

The eyes of not only Big Ten fans but much of the country will be watching this week as there is much still to be determined. As many as eight league teams have legitimate NCAA Tournament aspirations, and there is also a logjam with conference tournament seeding still to be sorted out. Luckily, much will be settled with head-to-head match-ups pitting impacted teams against one another this week. This means that you shouldn’t get too comfortable with the standings as they are right now, because things will change rapidly over the next six days. Here’s a look at the must-see games for the final week and why they’re important.

Iowa needs Jarrod Uthoff to have a big game in Bloomington Tuesday. (AP)

Iowa needs Jarrod Uthoff to have a big game in Bloomington Tuesday. (AP)

  • Iowa at Indiana, 7:00 EST, ESPN, Tuesday. These two teams haven’t played yet this season and the Hoosiers will once again face a team with more size than them. Iowa does a pretty solid job defensively against the three (52nd nationally), so this game should come down to whether the Hoosiers can handle Iowa’s pressure and shoot over the top. Troy Williams against either Aaron White or Jarrod Uthoff will be a quality match-up worth watching.
  • Ohio State at Penn State, 6:00 EST, BTN, Wednesday. It’s worth noting that Penn State beat Ohio State twice last season although they did lose by 20 in Columbus earlier this year. Ohio State really can’t afford to slip up here and lose to a Nittany Lions’ group that just can’t get out of their own way in crunch time. At a minimum, the Buckeyes need to stockpile more wins to move up a seed line or two from where they’re projected — another Big Ten road win won’t hurt their cause.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 3rd, 2015

On the penultimate weekend of Big Ten conference play, the heavy hitters came up with some large performances.Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, Iowa’s Aaron White, and Illinois’ Rayvonte Rice all stated their cases for all-Big Ten inclusion in leading their teams to key wins. The quartet combined for 99 points over the weekend, showing that they are ready to go as the calendar has flipped to March. Nothing too earth-shattering happened in terms of results from the weekend games, but as always, here are some of the highlights.

Frank Kaminsky managed to put up 31 points in his final home game in Madison Sunday. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Frank Kaminsky managed to put up 31 points in his final home game in Madison Sunday. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Player of the Weekend: As he’s done for the majority of the season, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky lit up the stat sheet against Michigan State in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. If you thought that the Spartans’ front line may have given the Badgers a tough time down low, think again. Rather, Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes had their way inside with Tom Izzo’s team, combining for 28 points in the first half. Kaminsky, quiet from the outside lately, nailed 3-of-4 attempts from deep en route to 31 points for the game. He led the Badgers in scoring, steals and blocks, and tied for the team lead in assists — just a typical game from a senior who’s having an absolutely tremendous season.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Iowa’s Josh Oglesby hasn’t had a very good senior season. Considered one of the better outside shooters in the Big Ten, he is only shooting 31.4 percent from behind the arc, even after his 4-of-8 effort in Iowa’s 81-77 overtime win over Penn State on Saturday. That number won’t matter if Oglesby can find his stroke to give the Hawkeyes a consistent perimeter threat from here on out. He managed 12 points off the bench, combining with fellow senior Gabriel Olaseni to produce 24 of Iowa’s 27 bench points for the game. The Hawkeyes are still one of the most difficult teams in the country to figure out, but the riddle will be easier to answer if Oglesby can give his team some consistent outside scoring.

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Big Ten M5: 02.27.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 27th, 2015

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  1. It looks like Jim Delany is going full steam ahead in promoting the idea of implementing freshmen ineligibility. The Big Ten commissioner has assured fans that the conference won’t move alone on this plan, but he is trying to build national consensus around the idea. This comes after Thad Matta was recently quoted as saying that he’s received negative feedback from recruits who are worried that if they commit to a Big Ten team, they won’t be able to play right away. This all goes to show how unbelievably ill-conceived this whole strategy is. Why Delany felt compelled to walk the plank on this issue is something many can’t comprehend. We’ll see if this endeavor starts hurting Big Ten teams on the recruiting trail this summer, but if it does, you may see the issue of freshmen ineligibility die altogether.
  2. In statistics, you hear the phrase “regression to the mean” often used, which is just an elitist way of saying “everything evens out.” This theory seems to be playing out before our eyes with Northwestern. After countless heartbreaking losses — everything from blown leads to comebacks that fell just short — the Wildcats have finally gotten some breaks and have managed to win four straight, including a 72-65 victory over Indiana on Wednesday, the first such streak for Northwestern since 1967. This finish is a real boon for Chris Collins, whose second season was going as disastrous as he could have imagined when the team’s Big Ten record was 1-10 a couple of weeks ago. Now, as it turns out, Northwestern may have created some momentum to build for next season.
  3. Also on Wednesday, Iowa got a nice 68-60 home win over Illinois. Aaron White, the Hawkeyes’ dark horse candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year, was dominant in contributing 29 points. His latest performance increased his career total to 1,726 points, moving him past B.J. Armstrong into fourth place on the program’s all-time scoring list. White has had a storied career in Iowa City, but this year he is averaging 15.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG and is carrying a PER of 28.4, good enough for second in the league. If it weren’t for names like Frank Kaminsky and D’Angelo Russell, the media would be talking more about the certain Big Ten first-teamer as one of the best players in the country.
  4. One of the big stories around the Big Ten this week was Wisconsin suffering its third loss of the season when the Badgers came up short at Maryland. The team already had the tough loss in their minds on its flight back to Madison, but that was quickly forgotten when the plane was forced to make an emergency landing due to an engine malfunction in Pittsburgh. What a scary moment that probably just adds to the feeling that Wisconsin’s trip to Maryland is a forgettable event from start to finish. Hopefully the Badgers can put all of this behind them and get back to their winning ways on Sunday against the Spartans.
  5. Speaking of Michigan State, the Spartans took a surprising 96-90 home loss to Minnesota in overtime on Thursday. This is a considerable setback for what was one of the hottest teams in the league before last night — the team had won four straight including two on the road at Michigan and Illinois. Things don’t get any easier for the Spartans as they travel to face Wisconsin in Madison this weekend. Losing that game could now mean Tom Izzo’s team is in serious jeopardy of losing its place in the top four of the Big Ten standings and having to play an extra game in the Big Ten Tournament.
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Big Ten M5: 02.25.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 25th, 2015

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  1. Iowa lost a member of its deep roster earlier this week, as sophomore point guard Trey Dickerson decided to leave the program. The junior college transfer simply wasn’t seeing much time with Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons ahead of him in the rotation, playing in only 15 games (9.7 MPG). He did flash some athleticism and the ability to get to the rim in his brief cameos on the floor, but with those two upperclassmen ahead of him, he wasn’t likely to get much of a shot at substantial playing time in Iowa City.
  2. After a 12-1 start to the season inspired questions as to whether Penn State could make a “Nebraska-type run” to the postseason this year, things have since fallen apart for Pat Chambers’ squad. Perhaps rock bottom for the campaign took place in losing by 21 points to fellow bottom-dweller Northwestern on Saturday. Chambers is still on solid footing in terms of his job security, however, as athletic director Sandy Barbour recently said that the coach “deserves more opportunity than he’s gotten.” Penn State’s recruiting class for next year looks promising, so it makes sense to give the fourth-year coach at least another season to put things together. Another lost season in 2015-16 might make things a little dicier for him in State College, however.
  3. Wisconsin has a difficult final stretch to the season that was revealed in last night’s loss to Maryland in College Park. The Big Ten title seemed like a given for the Badgers up to this point, but things just got a bit more interesting. If Michigan State can win its game on Thursday against Minnesota and Purdue can beat a hapless Rutgers unit, there will be three teams within two games of the regular season crown. Bo Ryan‘s group still has road trips to Minnesota and Ohio State during the last week of the regular season, and they will have to beat Michigan State at home this weekend. The Badgers will still probably come away with the crown, but it won’t be easy.
  4. Containing Jarrod Uthoff, holding Iowa to under 64 points, and shaking off its dismal 2-of-16 performance from three against Michigan State are some of the keys for Illinois as the Illini take on Iowa in a bubble battle tonight in Iowa City. Illinois is currently listed as a “Last Four In” team, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, so obviously winning tonight’s game on the road against a team with similar RPI numbers would be a significant boost to their Tourney hopes.
  5. CBS’ Sam Vecenie broke down the Big Ten Player of the Year race, and his assessment is that Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky should get the nod over Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell. He lists Iowa’s Aaron White, Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Maryland’s Melo Trimble as the rest of his First Team. The argument is one that may not get settled until the very last game of the season when Kaminsky and Russell’s teams go head-to-head in Columbus. In almost any other year, Russell would probably be a shoe-in to win the honor — anyone who has seen him play knows what he brings to the table. But while his game is not necessarily flashy, the main point that Vecenie and many others make about Kaminsky is that he’s done everything this season. His defense has improved and he can beat teams offensively in a multitude of ways. It doesn’t hurt that Wisconsin is clearly the better team than Ohio State. That should matter to the extent of whether any ties need to be broken.
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Four Ways for Maryland to (Maybe) Beat Wisconsin Tonight

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 24th, 2015

Wisconsin has won 10 games in a row and has done so by an average of 13.9 points per game. The Badgers are 25-2 on the season and, short of a completely surprising collapse down the stretch, are going to be no worse than a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Maryland has been the second-best team in the Big Ten most of the season, with a 22-5 overall record that includes a 16-1 mark at home. The Badgers as six-point favorites tonight, which may not seem like a lot, but it’s rare to have a spread so wide between two top teams in a power conference where the second-place team is at home. The long story short is that not too many people are giving the Terps much of a chance this evening, but here are some ways that Maryland can pull off the big upset.

 Melo Trimble needs to control the pace for Maryland if they want to beat Wisconsin.  (David J. Philip/AP)

Melo Trimble needs to control the pace for Maryland if they want to beat Wisconsin. (David J. Philip/AP)

  • Push the Tempo: Wisconsin has proven with its current roster that it can play at a much faster tempo than some of Bo Ryan’s past teams. They are athletic enough to handle a higher pace and do not need to stay in a low-possession game to win. But since Traveon Jackson’s injury last month against Rutgers, no Badgers’ starter is averaging less than 32.6 MPG. Admittedly, some of those high totals are because none of the five are ever really in foul trouble, but the other factor at play hers is that the Badgers don’t get much from their bench. Because Wisconsin rarely fouls, Maryland won’t feast at the free throw line as it typically does; this means getting some easy buckets in transition will help offset those missing opportunities while taking advantage of the fact that Wisconsin’s starters won’t get much rest.
  • Make Them Shoot From the Perimeter: Another dirty little secret about Wisconsin that has been masked by all the wins is that the Badgers aren’t an elite three-point shooting team this season. That’s not to say that they can’t make shots from beyond the arc, but their 35.1 percent clip from distance ranks a middling 129th in the nation. Josh Gasser (32.1 % in Big Ten games) and Sam Dekker (32.7%) are the primary culprits in their recent futility, but it’s much easier said than done to take away the Badgers’ profound ability to score in the paint. Still, the Terps would be wise to pack things in to encourage a handful more long-range attempts on this night.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 24th, 2015

We would hope that the games would improve heading into the Big Ten Tournament in a couple of weeks, but last weekend proved that this isn’t always the case — there was only one Big Ten game where the outcome wasn’t decided until the final minute. Teams at the bottom of the standings like Nebraska, Penn State and Rutgers are basically raging dumpster fires right now, which reveals one of the biggest differences between last season and this one. The notion that “any Big Ten team can beat another on any given night” doesn’t seem to have much to it this year. It’ll therefore be interesting to see if the divisions hold suit as we head into early March and postseason play. There were some positive performances from the weekend, however, and the awards for those follow below.

Aaron White posted a double-double in Iowa's win in Lincoln over Nebraska. (USA Today Images)

Aaron White posted a double-double in Iowa’s win in Lincoln over Nebraska. (USA Today Images)

  • Player of the Weekend: A probable First-Team All-Big Ten selection unless Iowa takes a severe nosedive in the final two weeks, Aaron White did all the things he normally does against Nebraska with the exception of one vital thing — he went 2-of-2 from behind the arc. For a shooter who is still only 11-of-41 from distance on the season, this area of his game is the only thing that could prevent him from becoming a bona fide NBA player. He’s athletic; he can rebound; and he averages 6.7 free throw attempts per game without being a ball-stopper. On Sunday the senior went for 18 points and 11 rebounds as Iowa blitzed Nebraska on its home court. He contributed an offensive rating of 165.0 and now ranks fourth in the conference in that metric on the season. If this game represents the start of White gaining confidence in his outside shot, then he could be well on his way to leading a deep Iowa postseason run where his stock as a prospect skyrockets.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Northwestern’s Vic Law became the second Chicago Catholic League alumnus to win this honor in the last two weeks. Following his classmate Scottie Lindsey’s efforts against Iowa, Law did him one better with an even stronger performance on Saturday as his 3-of-5 shooting from the perimeter and 11 rebounds made him the best player on the floor. In an uneven season where Bryant McIntosh has been the best of the five Northwestern freshmen, Law flashed what Wildcats fans imagined when he entered the school as the first top-100 recruit of the Chris Collins era. He is an elite athlete who can rebound and run. Northwestern is starting to show that it is poised to turn the corner, and the progress of Law is one of the main reasons why.

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Analyzing the Big Ten Race For the Top Four Seeds

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

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

btt probabilities

Source: Daniel Borup

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

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Branden Dawson Leading a Michigan State Resurgence

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 22nd, 2015

One of the teams that no one wants to see on their side of the bracket next month is getting better. Michigan State has managed to keep its efficiency rating high (currently #19 on KenPom) despite being classified as a bubble team by many bracketologists (Sparty is a #8 seed at Bracket Matrix). A shaky non-conference slate along with two early Big Ten losses to Maryland suggested that this might turn out to be a very disappointing season in East Lansing. Not so fast. The Spartans have quietly won four out of their last five games and have worked their way up to a three-way tie in the loss column (four) at second place in the league. The primary reason for this team hitting its stride at just the right time is senior forward Branden Dawson. The 6’6″ workhorse leads the league in rebounding and has been wreaking havoc all overt the floor defensively. His scoring touch around the rim has also returned, reminiscent of his postseason numbers from last year when he averaged 15.7 PPG and 8.1 RPG on 68.1 percent shooting from the floor.

Branden Dawson is making a push to be a First-Team All Big-Ten selection. (Maddie Meyer, Getty Images)

Branden Dawson is making a push to be a First-Team All Big-Ten selection. (Maddie Meyer, Getty Images)

Dawson struggled early this season before missing two games right before conference play. In looking at his statistical splits on a month-by-month basis, it’s easy to see that he’s playing his best ball at just the right time.

  • November: (10.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 52.8% FG)
  • December: (11.2 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 42.4% FG)
  • January: (13.1 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 1.6 BPG, 58.0% FG)
  • February: (15.2 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 3.0 BPG, 66.7% FG)

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