Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 10th, 2017

The second weekend of conference action did nothing to solve the Big Ten puzzle. Wisconsin could have gotten a massive head start in the league race by winning at Purdue, but instead the Badgers were stymied by Matt Painter’s team. Maryland had looked vulnerable in losing a home game to Nebraska, but the Terrapins bounced back by winning at Michigan. Indiana, coming off a three-game losing streak, thoroughly outplayed Illinois in Bloomington and reminded everyone how well the Hoosiers were playing earlier this season. You get the idea. If you like chaos and unpredictability, the Big Ten is your conference this season. Here’s the best and worst of the weekend.

Thomas Bryant did not miss a shot from the field as Indiana beat Illinois on Saturday. (Kelsey Kremer, Des Moines Register).

  • Player of the Weekend: Unlike his sophomore counterpart in West Lafayette who is generating buzz for Player of the Year recognition, Thomas Bryant has not yet broken out this season. His statistics are down across the board, and much of this is attributable to no longer having one of the best point guards in the nation (Yogi Ferrell) to find him in premium scoring situations. It was therefore encouraging that Bryant went for a season-high 20 points and added a team-high six rebounds in Saturday’s 96-80 victory over the Illini. The Hoosiers made a point of finding their big man when Illinois started to make things interesting, and he responded by showcasing some nifty post moves to seal the win. For Indiana to make its way back to the top of the Big Ten, it will need to get Bryant going down low more frequently.

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Three Biggest Surprises & Disappointments in the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 3rd, 2017

Each and every season people like myself who cover college basketball make predictions as to how the season will go. Each and every season people like myself are wrong. What follows are three of the biggest surprises and disappointments in the Big Ten so far this season. Whether they will hold true over the next two months is anybody’s guess.

Three Surprises

  1. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: That the Purdue sophomore is having a massive impact this season isn’t the surprise — the surprise, rather, is in the level of dominance he has displayed 14 games into the season. Swanigan is averaging 18.5 PPG, 13.0 RPG and 2.9 APG in high-possession usage, while shooting 41 percent from the three-point line, 59 percent inside the arc and converting 77 percent of his free throws. He has already notched four 20/20 games in points and rebounds, including a few flirtations with a triple-double. Swanigan made the preseason All-Big Ten team with good reason after a freshman campaign where he led the conference in rebounds, but his play to this point makes him the early frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year.

    Caleb Swanigan has played like a potential All-American so far this season. . (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

    Caleb Swanigan has played like a potential All-American so far this season. . (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

  2. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights were 44-84 over the last four seasons and that’s why little was expected of them despite adding a new coach (Steve Pikiell) and some impact newcomers this year. An 11-2 non-conference record has ceded to an 0-2 start in the Big Ten (losses at Wisconsin and vs. Penn State), but Rutgers should be commended on the defensive end for protecting the rim (ranking among the nation’s best 25 teams in two-point field goal percentage defense and block percentage). Someone on this microsite mentioned that the Scarlet Knights’ goal this season should be to win 10 games and a 15-win season seems reasonable on this trajectory. In a position that requires a certain kind of coach, Pikiell appears to be the right person to eventually turn this program around. Read the rest of this entry »
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Should Purdue Think About Going Small?

Posted by Jim Root on December 28th, 2016

Entering the season, West Lafayette, Indiana, had a fairly legitimate claim to possession of the best collegiate frontcourt in college basketball (apologies to Wisconsin and a couple of other teams). Between incredibly versatile swingman Vince Edwards, half-man/half-Terminator center Isaac Haas, and former five-star power forward and Big Ten POY candidate Caleb Swanigan, the Boilermakers had the bodies to own the paint in most any match-up.

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Vince Edwards, Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan provide a potent trio up front for the Boilermakers .(Associated Press)

Despite all of that front line talent, though, head coach Matt Painter has faced an interesting decision in how to deploy his best three players. Playing them at the 3-4-5 spots gives the Boilermakers a massive size advantage, but there are drawbacks with that lineup too. Haas, for example, can be a liability on both ends of the floor when pulled outside of the paint, and his presence on the offensive end — despite being a major weapon in drawing fouls and double-teams — can clog up the lane for the more dynamic Swanigan. To his credit, Swanigan has developed his outside shot to the point of greater respectability (52 percent from three-point range this season, compared with 29 percent last year), which resolves some of the prior spacing issues. But Painter’s tradeoff of playing Swanigan with Haas usually takes him out of the interior, where his combination of strength and quickness make him a match-up nightmare for most defenders.

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Evaluating Maryland’s Freshman Duo: Anthony Cowan & Justin Jackson

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 27th, 2016

Losing experienced seniors such as Jake Layman and Rasheed Sulaimon was a big concern for Maryland heading into this season. Without Layman’s energy and Sulaimon’s offensive versatility, the Terrapins needed the talented trio of Robert Carter, Diamond Stone and Melo Trimble to stick around campus. Trimble’s sole decision to return saved whatever was left of Mark Turgeon’s roster, but considering all the key personnel losses, Turgeon has to be pleased with a 12-1 record heading into today’s Big Ten opener against Illinois. The primary reason that the Terps have not dropped off the cliff has been the surprisingly consistent contributions from freshmen Anthony Cowan and Justin Jackson.

Anthony Cowan's emergence at the point guard position should help Melo Trimble's offensive production.

Anthony Cowan’s emergence at the point guard position should help Melo Trimble’s offensive production. (Getty)

Cowan’s reliability in handling the ball allows Trimble to roam around to find his shot. This dynamic was blatantly obvious in the second half against Charlotte last week when Trimble nailed multiple long-range shots that were assisted by the freshman. Cowan is averaging a team-high 3.7 assists per game, and while his 2.5 turnovers per contest is too many for a player getting over 70 percent of the available minutes at the position, he will improve as he gains more experience. During Maryland’s one-point wins over Georgetown and Oklahoma State, Cowan took some of the pressure off Trimble by averaging 11 points per contest. Another impressive aspect of the young point guard’s game is his ability to get to the free throw line — he attempted 23 total free throws against Georgetown, Charlotte and Oklahoma State, already showing his maturity in understanding there’s more to the game than long jump shots. Read the rest of this entry »

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Six Big Ten X-Factors Heading Into Conference Play

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 26th, 2016

Conference play is almost here, and after a 138-42 (.767) combined non-conference start, Big Ten teams will begin squaring off against each other tomorrow afternoon. As of right now, it looks like three front-runners (Wisconsin, Purdue and Indiana) have emerged, followed by a group of good-not-great teams competing for the top of the next tier — a glance at the most recent KenPom ratings reveals eight teams ranked within the NCAA Tournament at-large sweet spot of #29-#68. With things so relatively even, a number of x-factors around the league could very well swing the race with improved performances. Here are six players who could heavily influence how the Big Ten standings ultimately end up.

Carsen Edwards (USA Today Images)

Carsen Edwards is a Possible X-Factor For Purdue (USA Today Images)

  • Carsen Edwards, Purdue: One of the reasons why Purdue is a perceived title threat is because the majority of their players are reasonably consistent. Edwards, however, is the biggest wild card in the rotation, and his continuing development could be the key for the Boilermakers in March. Since the freshman moved into the starting lineup on December 3, he has averaged 9.3 PPG and a couple assists per outing. His shooting can stand to improve, but he’s a blur in the open court and causes havoc defensively on the perimeter. If Edwards can become a more efficient scorer during Big Ten play (95.0 Offensive Rating on 24.9 percent usage), Purdue’s offense (as well as the team) could move into the top 10 nationally.
  • D’Mitrik Trice, Wisconsin: With five returning starters this season, little was expected from Wisconsin’s lone true freshman. And yet Trice has been an efficient and capable third guard off the bench, including some outstanding shooting from deep so far (18-of-30 3FG). He has basically stolen the minutes that were going to Jordan Hill last season, and if he continues to give the Badgers another backcourt option beyond Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter, Wisconsin could make another run at the Final Four.

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Illinois Finding Consistency During Five-Game Winning Streak

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 21st, 2016

Illinois’ Malcolm Hill is averaging 18.2 PPG and 6.4 RPG in a final season that has so far been nothing short of outstanding. His contributions have been consistent with his talent, but the difference for head coach John Groce this season is that additional weapons across his lineup have mitigated the team’s need to exclusively rely on the senior. Illinois struggled early but has since improved to 9-3 with two of its losses coming against top-30 teams. In a winning streak that is now at five games and includes victories over NC State, VCU and BYU, the Illini have done a much better job in taking care of the ball, have improved defensively, and have had six different players score in double figures. Removing the need for Hill to carry the team on his back enables Illinois to enter Big Ten play next week in good position to end its three-year NCAA Tournament drought.

Tracy Abrams has lead the Illini in scoring over the last two games. (Eric Gay/AP)

Tracy Abrams has lead the Illini in scoring over the last two games. (Eric Gay/AP)

Turnovers were a factor in all three losses, coming to a crescendo when the Illini coughed it up 22 times each in losses to Winthrop and West Virginia — even more troubling was that Illinois seniors (Hill, Jaylon Tate, and Maverick Morgan) were the primary culprits. An average of 12.8 turnovers per game during the winning streak still isn’t great, but it’s an improvement on the 19.0 miscues per game they averaged in the three losses. Another issue that has improved during the last five games is that Illinois has decreased opponents’ three-point field goal percentage from 44.6 percent in the losses to 30 percent since. The Illini have also had three different players lead the team in scoring (Hill, Tracy Abrams, and Leron Black), with several other double-figure scoring outputs coming recently from Jalen Coleman-Lands, Morgan and Michael Finke. Illinois’ improved scoring balance illustrates that the team has options when Hill is struggling.

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Northwestern on Track But Needs Bryant McIntosh to Find His Groove

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 19th, 2016

Northwestern is now 9-2 after holding on for dear life to defeat Dayton in the State Farm Legends Classic on Saturday night. As the Wildcats progress through the rest of the season, the chatter about whether they can string together enough wins to break their infinite NCAA Tournament drought will pick up accordingly. A quick review of Northwestern’s season so far reveals that star point guard Bryant McIntosh has struggled to match his production from a year ago. His numbers across the board is down — shooting, assists, scoring — and his turnovers are up. This can be viewed two different ways. The first is that a good team can become that much better if McIntosh returns to his previous levels of output. The second view of it is that the Wildcats are likely to face some problems once league play starts if their junior point guard is in the midst of a season-long swoon.

Bryant McIntosh has struggled at times as the lead guard for Northwestern. (AP).

Bryant McIntosh has struggled this season for Northwestern. (AP).

McIntosh’s problems start with a prolonged shooting slump through the first 11 games — he is connecting on a miserable 24.4 percent of shots from distance — down from a career mark of 37 percent coming into the season. His shooting woes have bled into other facets of his game, including a higher turnover rate (20.6 percent, up three percent) and lower assist rate (29.3 percent, down eight percent). There have been some better moments against good competition — a 23-point game against Wake Forest and a 20-point outing against Texas — but his production in the team’s two losses of 9.5 PPG with a 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio has been a problem. The Wildcats’ loss to Notre Dame was especially brutal as the team ran several isolation plays for its lead guard during the final few minutes, but he was unable to deliver a bucket.

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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 12.16.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 16th, 2016

We might as well call tomorrow Super Saturday because five of the games involving Big Ten teams are as intriguing of a slate as in recent memory. In addition to the always-enjoyable Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis involving Purdue and Indiana, three other league schools will face off against potential NCAA Tournament teams. This provides each team with a golden non-conference opportunity to a land a resume-enhancing win and build some momentum heading into league play the week after Christmas. Here’s the Weekend Look Ahead:

Caleb Swanigan has a chance to wreak havoc in the paint in the Crosstown Classic against a smaller Notre Dame team. (AP).

Caleb Swanigan has a chance to wreak havoc in the Crossroads Classic against a smaller Notre Dame team. (AP)

  • #21 Notre Dame vs. #15 Purdue (Saturday 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2). With all four teams ranked, the Crossroads Classic couldn’t ask for a better slate. The annual event tips off with Notre Dame’s high-powered offense facing off against Purdue. While the Boilermakers have been impressive all season, they’ve fallen just short in their two chances against elite competition – losing close games to #1 Villanova and #11 Louisville. If Matt Painter‘s group can establish its inside-out game between Caleb Swanigan and outside threats Dakota Mathias and Ryan Cline, in addition to submitting a respectable defensive performance, the Boilermakers will walk out of Bankers Life Fieldhouse with their best win of the season.

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Maryland: Lucky or Good?

Posted by Jim Root on December 13th, 2016

Is it better to be lucky or good? An argument can be made either way, but the easy answer is to simply be both. Maryland this season appears to have struck a delicate balance between the two, sitting at 11-1 overall with impressive wins versus Oklahoma State and Kansas State as well as a road game at Georgetown. Only a home loss to a respectable Pittsburgh squad tarnishes the ledger, but that’s forgivable given the other successes. So with all of these positives, why do the Terps rank only 61st nationally, per KenPom, and an even worse 73rd according to Jeff Sagarin? The truth is that Maryland’s resume looks better than how well the team is actually playing. Its three resume-enhancing wins came by a combined three points – for the readers without a calculator, that means they won each game by a single point. They also have relatively narrow home wins over minnows American and Stony Brook and needed significant second half comebacks to top Towson and Richmond. Maryland has been slightly more convincing in recent games against Howard and Jacksonville State, but how is this team squeaking by?

trimble-and-turg

Star player Melo Trimble and Mark Turgeon debate their next move. (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

One explanation is luck. This is a notoriously difficult metric to quantify, but KenPom calculates a “luck” rating for every team based on “expected wins” from an efficiency standpoint, compared with their actual record. Here’s the concept explained in his own words in 2006 (nerd note: “correlated gaussian method” is a fancy way of saying bell curve):

pommer
The Terrapins are a sterling 10th nationally in luck, as their series of unconvincing performances contrasts with a nearly-perfect record. On the side of the eye test, Maryland clearly benefited from a game-winner for Oklahoma State coming just after the buzzer, among a few other nice breaks, so it does appear to be an element of the Terps’ success. Read the rest of this entry »

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Recruiting Mishaps Showing Their Impact at Ohio State

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 9th, 2016

After Ohio State’s home overtime loss to Florida Atlantic earlier this week, along with the very real threat of missing a second consecutive NCAA Tournament, it is time to admit that something might be wrong in Columbus. Head coach Thad Matta is currently in the midst of the most difficult stretch of his 13-year career with the Buckeyes after a dominant run that included two Final Four appearances, three Elite Eights, five Sweet Sixteens and four Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. The program’s momentum clearly seems to have stalled, and we’re left to wonder if this is a permanent decline for the former rising star or a just an inevitable rough patch after several years of sustained success. One possible explanation for the recent downturn is related to Matta’s recruiting stumbles in recent years — mistakes which may not be evident to many — and the cascading effects they’ve had on the current roster.

Keita Bates-Diop (right) has been good, but not quite to the level of expectations he had as a Top 30 recuit (Jay LaPrete, AP).

Keita Bates-Diop (right) has been good, but not quite to the level of expectations of a top 30 recruit (Jay LaPrete, AP).

In his most successful years, Matta relied on top-tier talent to fill out his roster. Ohio State landed a top 10 recruiting class in five of the six cycles between 2006-11, populated by transcendent players like Greg Oden, Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger, first round talent like Mike Conley, Daequan Cook, Kosta Koufos and Byron Mullens, and college standouts like David Lighty, Jon Diebler, Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft. Matta’s 2012 and 2013 classes, however, fell outside the top 25. The effects of this lull in talent procurement were latent because Thomas and Craft played into their upperclassmen seasons. The Buckeyes bounced back with top 10 classes in 2014 and 2015, but for various reasons their results have been mixed.

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