Levy’s Layup Line: Week 10

Posted by Adam Levy on February 5th, 2016

How times have changed. As recently as 2014, the Big Ten was the best basketball conference in the nation for four years running, and it wasn’t particularly close. This season? It’s hard to rank it any higher than fourth due to too many terrible teams wasting away and not enough really good ones to can hang our hats on. Of the 32 Division I conferences, the Big Ten as a whole ranks 28th or worse in four statistical categories (tempo, turnover percentage, free throw rate and steal percentage) and 21st or worse in two other big ones (three point percentage and offensive rebounding percentage). Fortunately, there are still about six to seven teams that are likely tourney-bound, but the bottom half of the conference is simply unwatchable. I’d rather pick my eye lashes off, one lash at a time, than waste two hours of life watching any of those horror shows. Here’s to hoping the top half of the conference provides as much entertainment down the stretch that the bottom half will not.

A.J. Hammons and Purdue have the toughest matchup this weekend against New Mexico. (Brian Spurlock/USA Today)

A.J. Hammons Had a Very Good Week. (Brian Spurlock/USA Today)

It’s week 10 of the Layup Line.

REPORT CARD

A: A.J. Hammons

Decent week for Purdue’s senior center, who snatched up his fourth career Big Ten Player of the Week honor and third plaudit this season. Hammons had the best game of his career against Nebraska, putting up 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting with 11 rebounds, five assists and four blocks. The inconsistent manchild is in the midst of some of the best basketball of his career right now, evidenced by his per game averages of 15.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks on 59.0 percent shooting in conference play. With the Robert Carter/Diamond Stone and Matt Costello/Deyonta Davis frontcourt duos on the docket for Purdue in the next four days, it’ll be interesting to see which version of Hammons shows up to play.

B: O.G. Anunoby

Say “hello” to my lil’ friend – Tom Crean’s next unheralded star-in-the-making – the “Original Gangsta,” O.G. Anunoby. The 6’8” forward from Jefferson City, MO has seen his minutes increase from 7.7 to 15.4 minutes per game since James Blackmon’s injury (also the start of conference play), and he has taken advantage in a huge way. Anunoby is one of, if not the, most skilled defenders on Indiana’s roster, having pickpocketed Big Ten foes multiple times in five of 10 conference games and using his incredible length to slow down star players (see Zak Irvin’s 1-for-8 performance). He is crashing the glass with authority and continuously finds ways to shift the game’s momentum in Indiana’s favor when it needs it most. O.G. has solidified his spot as the fan favorite in Bloomington and for good reason (chill out, Tim Priller fans). Pay attention, Big Ten fans. This kid is for real. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 02.05.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 5th, 2016

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  1. With Minnesota’s Thursday night loss at Northwestern and Rutgers’ Wednesday night triple-overtime loss vs. Illinois, the Big Ten has two teams that are each 0-10 in conference play, making up two of eight Division I teams that have yet to win a conference game this season. The other six are Boston College, St. John’s, Delaware, Western Illinois, Chicago State and Penn. Minnesota and Rutgers play each other twice this season, with the first matchup in Minneapolis on February 23.
  2. Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes has been invaluable during his team’s five-game winning streak and he was rewarded with a little personal glory on Wednesday. The junior forward earned a spot among the 10 finalists for the Julius Erving Award, which is given to the best small forward in college basketball. Hayes is averaging 17.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game this season. Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine is the other Big Ten small forward among the finalists — the senior is averaging 18.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game. The winner of this award will be announced on April 8.
  3. Illinois’ terrible luck with injuries continues. Center Michael Finke sat out Wednesday’s win against Rutgers with a hip contusion, joining Mike Thorne, Jr. and his persistent knee problems on the bench. Finke did not practice on Monday or Tuesday and is considered day-to-day for now. With Finke’s recent absence, that means that only four Illinois players have played in every game this season. His status for Sunday’s game at Iowa is uncertain.
  4. Both Michigan State and Michigan are dealing with some injury issues before their intrastate rivalry resumes in Ann Arbor on Saturday afternoon. For the Spartans, point guard Tum Tum Nairn is likely to miss his sixth straight game, while at Michigan, head coach John Beilein finally gave a clear update on guard Caris LeVert, saying there is a chance he could play this weekend. Both teams would certainly like to be at full strength heading into the home stretch.
  5. Jarrod Uthoffs impressive senior year at Iowa has put him in the conversation for Big Ten and National Player of the Year and, as a result, gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated. Brian Hamilton’s cover story on Uthoff details the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native’s simple, metronomic personality and consistency on a surprising and surging team.
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The RTC Big Ten Podcast: Debut Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 2nd, 2016

Welcome to the first-ever Big Ten microsite podcast! Big Ten microsite writers Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) and Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) are here to give you a quickish overview of the league at the turn. In this episode, we analyze the two first-place teams in detail, select a few others that are poised to challenge for a regular season title, discuss whether any of the teams currently outside the bubble can get back on to it, consider a few Big Ten POY candidates, and finally talk about the few coaches on the hot seat. Let us know if you enjoyed the podcast and, if so, what topics we should cover next time, at @rushtheB1G. The complete rundown is below.

  • 1:06 – 8:35 — Indiana and Iowa
  • 8:36-17:39 — Maryland and Michigan’s regular season title hopes
  • 17:40-25:59 — Ohio State and Nebraska’s chances at an at-large bid
  • 26:00-31:41 — Jarrod Uthoff and A.J. Hammons as possible Big Ten POYs
  • 31:42-47:00 — Coaches on the hot seat
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Wisconsin Slowly Finding Its New Identity

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 1st, 2016

The first half of January wasn’t kind to Wisconsin. Losing its first three games by an average of just three points per contest to Indiana, Maryland and Northwestern put the Badgers behind the Big Ten eight-ball. As we now head into February, however, Greg Gard‘s new team seems to be slowly recovering just in time for the back half of the league schedule. Four straight wins to finish January has delivered some hope of making a run toward an NCAA Tournament bid, but to make that a reality, the Badgers will need to find answers to the following three questions.

Nigel Hayes will need to mix up his game to be effective with Ethan Happ.

Nigel Hayes will need to mix up his game to be effective with Ethan Happ.

  • Can Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes continue to effectively share the low post? The Badgers’ freshman star, Happ, isn’t a secret anymore. After averaging almost 20 PPG in wins over Michigan State, Penn State and Indiana, he drew consistent double teams from Illinois on Sunday. While he was able to pass the ball capably out of the post yesterday, there is a risk that Happ could slow down the offense if he starts to force bad shots in those situations. He and Hayes have been clicking inside together during the winning streak, but that trend will continue into the stretch run only if Hayes can remain active without the ball. The junior has struggled from the perimeter this season, making only 30 percent of his three-point attempts, so having him stand on the wing looking for jumpers while Happ works inside isn’t the long-term solution.

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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 01.29.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 29th, 2016

The Big Ten season is about halfway done and it looks like the top six schools–Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Purdue, and Michigan State – are putting some distance between themselves and the rest of the conference. While there are no head-to-head matchups between any of these teams this weekend, there are still a handful of consequential games. Here are the three most important of them:

Shavon Shields faces a huge frontline this weekend when they face Purdue. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Shavon Shields will take on a huge frontline this weekend when the Cornhuskers battle Purdue. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Nebraska at #21 Purdue (Saturday 4:30 pm ET, BTN). Time is running out for the Cornhuskers’ hopes for an at-large bid. While they have a nice win at Michigan State, they’ll need another win over a highly-ranked team to make up for some of the questionable losses of late 2015. They will get a great opportunity to do so this weekend when they travel to West Lafayette. The Boilermakers are still ranked in the Top 25 and sit 27th in RPI. But Purdue has also recently had some shaky performances, most notably a loss at Illinois and a near-defeat at Minnesota. If the Boilermakers look past Nebraska towards a matchup with Maryland next week, they could easily be upset. Look for Shavon Shields to try to find some open lanes against the massive Purdue frontcourt; if he’s successful, the Cornhuskers will have a shot at a critically important victory.

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Levy’s Layup Line: Week 9

Posted by Adam Levy on January 29th, 2016

What a strange season it has been for the Big Ten this year. This is the most top-heavy Big Ten conference we’ve seen in quite some time, as evidenced by the insane blowout rate (victories by 20+ points). For as long as KenPom has been around, there has only been one season in which blowouts have occurred in more than 20 percent of games (2013). This season? 16 of 59 games have resulted in blowouts – good for 27.1 percent, the highest rate of any league in the country. So what the heck is going on? It’s Week 9 of the Layup Line.

REPORT CARD

A: Yogi Ferrell and Ethan Happ

Viewed as an afterthought in the wake of being destroyed by Duke back in December, the Indiana Hoosiers have engineered an incredible turnaround, in large part thanks to Yogi Ferrell. Since the start of Big Ten play, the senior point guard is averaging 20.3 points, 5.6 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 3.1 threes and shooting 55.6 percent from distance. He continues to put this team on his back when they need it most, hitting big shot after big shot and smoothly setting up teammates for easy looks. In fact, he’s done the latter so many times in his career that he became Indiana’s all-time assist leader last week. It’s clear that Ferrell is quite salty about being left off of the Midseason Top 25 Wooden Award List, and his performance in Madison was nothing short of incredible. If only his frontcourt could stop…

Yogi Ferrell Has Been Dynamic For The Hoosiers (USA Today Sports)

Yogi Ferrell Has Been Dynamic For The Hoosiers (USA Today Sports)

Ethan Happ, who earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors for the second consecutive week. He completely had his way with Indiana’s bigs on Tuesday night, getting to the rim with ease and showing off great footwork and underrated quickness in the post. As of Monday, he ranked third in the conference with 8.1 rebounds per game and second with over two steals per game. From Brian Butch to Jon Leuer to Jared Berggren to Frank Kaminsky to Ethan Happ, the story of the unheralded Wisconsin big man never seems to end. Enjoy another three years of this kid, Badger fans.

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Big Ten M5: 01.29.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on January 29th, 2016

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  1. Iowa lost its first conference game of the year on Thursday at Maryland, 74-68, and perhaps the most surprising part of the loss was Jarrod Uthoff’s poor play. Uthoff had scored double-digit points in every game this year entering Thursday and was shooting 48 percent on both two-pointers and three-pointers. The Terps held him to nine points on 2-13 shooting; Uthoff did not make a field goal in the first half. Eleven of his 13 field goal attempts were jumpers, and he missed them all. Iowa’s loss means no more Big Ten teams are unbeaten in conference play, although the Hawkeyes retain pole position in the conference standings.
  2. Michigan and Penn State will play each other in basketball and hockey on Saturday in the inaugural “Super Saturday – College Hoops and Hockey” doubleheader at Madison Square Garden. The Big Ten announced the teams for the doubleheaders in 2017, 2018 and 2019 on Wednesday. Rutgers and Wisconsin will play in basketball in 2017, while Ohio State and Wisconsin will play hockey. In 2018, Minnesota and Ohio State will take the court and Minnesota and Michigan State will take the ice. Maryland and Illinois square off in basketball in 2019.
  3. Purdue beat Minnesota on Wednesday night, but by a much smaller margin that expected, 68-64. Boilermakers wing Vince Edwards played the game with a bruised patellar tendon suffered in a Jan. 24 loss at Iowa, but logged 39 minutes and scored 24 points to go with eight rebounds. He did not sustain any ligament damage, but admitted his knee was not close to fully healthy. It hasn’t impacted Edwards’ play of late: He is averaging 17.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists in his last five games.
  4. Wednesday’s games produced two of the stranger plays of the season. Rutgers, trailing Michigan by eight with 45 seconds to go, tossed a free throw rebound out of bounds because its players thought Michigan’s Zak Irvin was shooting two free throws. Irvin was actually shooting a 1-and-1 and had missed the front end, but no Rutgers player realized that. In Purdue’s win over Minnesota, A.J. Hammons grabbed a rebound with one hand over two Minnesota players. He used one hand because his other hand held his shoe, which fell off earlier in the play. He put his hand inside it and kept playing. That board has to be the most impressive rebound of his college career.
  5. Illinois center Mike Thorne Jr.’s season was considered over when he had meniscus surgery in late November. But he returned to the court for the Illini’s Jan. 19 loss at Indiana. However, he hasn’t played since. He did not play in Thursday’s overtime loss vs. Ohio State, but did pregame work and was a game-day decision. As Scout.com’s Jeremy Werner said Monday, Thorne is no longer eligible for a medical redshirt after playing against Indiana.
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Big Ten M5: 01.27.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 27th, 2016

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  1. On Monday, Wisconsin delivered to Indiana its first conference loss of the season when it beat the Hoosiers 82-79 in overtime. The game was dominated by each team’s stars: Nigel Hayes scored 31 points for the Badgers and Yogi Ferrell came back with 30 points of his own for the Hoosiers. Going forward, Wisconsin still has an uphill battle to get back into the bubble picture with upcoming road games against Maryland, Michigan State, Iowa, and Purdue. For Indiana the schedule also gets tougher, but not enough to knock them out a likely top 4 finish thanks to its 7-1 start to the conference.
  2. Speaking of Yogi Ferrell, the senior point guard was awarded Big Ten Player of the Week for the first time in his career on Monday. It seems shocking this is the first time the former first team All-Big Ten player has received POTW honors, but that just goes to show the talent level of the league. Against Illinois last Tuesday, Ferrell scored 16 points and dished out 9 assists before following it up with a 17 points, 6 assist performance against Northwestern last Saturday. However, despite last night’s second half heroics, Ferrell was unable to lead Indiana to a win at the Kohl Center. But the Hoosiers still have a favorable path to a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament, thanks in large part to their senior point guard.
  3. Another player who had a great performance in Tuesday’s game was Ethan Happ (25 points), who was awarded Big Ten Freshman of the Week for a second consecutive time on Monday. Against Penn State last Thursday, the 6’8″ big man scored 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a Badger victory. One of the biggest reasons for Wisconsin’s current three-game winning streak has been the emergence of Happ as a force on offense and on the boards. If the young forward can keep it going, the Badgers can still make a late run for an NCAA Tournament bid.
  4. Tonight, Purdue travels to Williams Arena to play Minnesota. The Boilermakers hope to get back to their winning ways after dropping another game to Iowa last Saturday – the second loss to the Hawkeyes this season. Also looking to get back on track are two Boilermakers who have struggled  of late: Rapheal Davis and Caleb Swanigan. Both have suffered through a recent offensive lull, with Davis and Swanigan going 7-of-32 combined from the field in the last two games. Davis is still recovering from an injury that caused him to miss four games in December, while Swanigan is managing an ankle issue that may sideline him for tonight’s game. If both players can find their mojo back on offense, the Boilers’ will find the climb back into Big Ten title contention far easier.
  5. Finally, Iowa has been the toast of the league thus far thanks to Jarrod Uthoff’s incredible play – which has firmly entered him into the National Player of the Year conversation. Roman Stubbs from the Washington Post has a good summary of the season for the Hawkeyes in the lead up to their big game at Maryland. According to KenPom, the game at College Park is the most difficult matchup remaining on Iowa’s schedule. If they are able to come out of Thursday’s game with a win, a Big Ten regular season title would become an amazingly realistic scenario for the surging Hawkeyes.
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It’s Time to Believe in Indiana

Posted by Patrick Engel on January 25th, 2016

Seven short weeks ago, Indiana was 5-3 with losses to Wake Forest, UNLV and Duke. The Blue Devils had just pounded Indiana 94-74 in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, scored an absurd 1.52 points per possession while shooting 52 percent from the field, grabbing 19 offensive rebounds and committing just six turnovers. Angry Tom Crean pictures and photoshopped crying Michael Jordan pictures making fun of Indiana quickly became memes.

OG Anunoby has become an Indiana fan favorite because of his defense and dunks. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images).

OG Anunoby has become an Indiana fan favorite because of his defense and dunks. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images).

Since that loss, Indiana has rattled off 12 straight wins and is one of two unbeaten teams in Big Ten play. The most recent victory was a 32-point romp of Northwestern on Saturday to give Indiana its seventh conference win. The Hoosiers are back in the AP Top 25 and atop the Big Ten. It’s time to believe they might be that good.

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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 01.22.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 22nd, 2016

After a three-week hiatus, the Weekend Look Ahead is back! The return is well timed: there are four top-notch games that may have lasting impact on both the Big Ten title race and NCAA Tournament seeding. Here are the games to watch in the B1G this weekend:

Denzel Valentine is will try to stop the Spartan's free fall when they host Maryland at home. (Getty)

Denzel Valentine will try to help stop the Spartans’ losing streak when they host Maryland at home Saturday. (Getty)

Northwestern at #25 Indiana (Saturday 12 pm ET, ESPNU). On Tuesday, the Wildcats almost got the marquee win their resume so desperately needs, ultimately losing in overtime at Maryland. Northwestern gets another shot to upset a ranked team on the road when they head to Bloomington on Saturday, while Indiana tries to keep up with Iowa as the only remaining teams undefeated in conference play. In addition to conference race ramifications, this game also treats us to a matchup between Bryant McIntosh and Yogi Ferrell – two of the best point guards in the Big Ten. The Wildcats competed with Maryland largely due to their defense stifling the Terps’ offense (only 0.91 points per possession for Maryland). They’ll have their hands full with an Indiana attack that has been on fire; most recently, it put on a clinic against Illinois in scoring an amazing 1.45 points per possession.

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Big Ten M5: 01.22.15 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on January 22nd, 2016

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  1. Former Boilermaker Robbie Hummel is out for the rest of the season after a mid-December labrum tear while playing overseas in Italy. Upon hearing of his injury, Purdue head coach Matt Painter quickly offered his former star player the chance to rehab at his alma mater and help the current Boilermakers squad as an adviser and mentor. He accepted the offer and will travel with the team and hang around the players as much as possible, while also living with Painter and rehabbing. Hummel considers it an internship of sorts to give him a taste of coaching as a post-playing career possibility.
  2. Michigan is holding its own without injured guard Caris LeVert, but John Beilein said Wednesday the senior is making “encouraging” progress with his lower left leg injury and is “doing more and more” on and off the court. The on-court work is still only light ball-handling and shooting, but he just recently has been able to walk without pain. Beilein said he still is not sure of a return date. In LeVert’s absence, Zak Irvin has found his shooting touch after a bad start: he has made 15 of his last 32 three-point attempts (47 percent).
  3. Rutgers hit a new low Monday, losing to Purdue at home by 50 and furthering the team’s perception as a colossal mess with no improvement in sight. But the school is launching a $100 million athletic facilities project called “R B1G Build,” a move designed to help improve the messy state of Rutgers athletics. The school released a video Wednesday that said athletic director Patrick Hobbs, head basketball coach Eddie Jordan and head football coach Chris Ash will each pledge $50,000 toward the effort. The video came a day after New Jersey governor Chris Christie signed a bill that will allow Rutgers to use $25 million in tax credits toward the project.
  4. Nebraska’s surprising 72-71 road win over Michigan State on Wednesday may say more about the reeling Spartans than the Cornhuskers, but it also revealed a Nebraska offense that has improved significantly from last season. Through seven conference games, Nebraska leads the Big Ten in field goal percentage, shooting 49 percent in conference play. Brian Rosenthal of the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star writes that the new freedom of movement rules have contributed to the more efficient offense. Shavon Shields scored 28 points in Wednesday’s win, but foul-prone Michigan State gave him plenty of space to score, perhaps in fear of fouling too much.
  5. Indiana is back in the top 25 and riding an 11-game winning streak, including five in a row to open Big Ten play. The team’s second-leading scorer, James Blackmon Jr., hasn’t played since Dec. 22 and will not play for the rest of the season due to injury. The Hoosiers’ hot streak has caused some fans and media to wonder if Indiana is better without Blackmon. The Indianapolis Star’s Zach Osterman considers the idea ridiculous. Instead, he asks the question, is Indiana better because it had to confront and deal with losing Blackmon? He points to its defensive improvement and determination to play better defense as a big reason why the answer is yes.
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Big Ten Player of the Year Ladder: Volume Two Part Two

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 21st, 2016

After finishing roughly two months of the college basketball season, it’s time to revisit the leaderboard for the Big Ten Player of the Year race. Injuries have played a role in shaking things up a bit since the last listing, but eight of the ten listed last time are still in the top ten. Isaac Haas has seen his productivity and minutes go down since conference play started and Robert Carter Jr also is off the list for now. Players 6-10 can be seen here, so now here’s the top five.
  • 5. AJ Hammons, Purdue: (13.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.5 BPG, 60.8% FG)- In the beginning of the season, Hammons took a back seat to Haas as the sophomore was playing really well. The burly seven-footer has know since reclaimed his starting spot, averaging 14.3 PPG and 2.9 BPG in his last eight games. The blocks only tell half the story, as he alters many more as a presence in the lane. Purdue still has a top ten defense nationally, and Hammons remains one of main reasons why.
  • 4. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: (17.1 PPG, 6.1 APG, 1.3 SPG, 44.3% 3’s, 126.1 Offensive Rating)- The Hoosiers were supposed to take a dip once James Blackmon Jr was lost for the season. Instead, they’ve started off league play 6-0 and Ferrell has been the main reason why. He’s averaging 19.2 PPG and 6.3 APG since his backcourt mate went down, and he has now had six games where he has made more than four three-pointers. In a league filled with quality point guards, Ferrell is one of the best.
Yogi Ferrell has Indiana off to an undefeated start in conference play. (Getty).

Yogi Ferrell has Indiana off to an undefeated start in conference play. (Getty).

  • 3. Melo Trimble, Maryland: (13.9 PPG, 5.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 87.8% FT)- Trimble has continued to be at his best in big moments, as his game-winner against Wisconsin displayed. He is the best ball-handler in the conference, and he has continued to improve as a passer. Maryland has to be considered one of a handful of favorites to win the National Championship, and this is partially because they have so many weapons capable of beating people. Trimble has been a master at deferring to his gifted teammates, and he deserves a lot of the credit for the uptick in production from Diamond Stone of late.

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