Big Ten Feast Week Primer: Part One

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 18th, 2016

Ten of the 14 Big Ten teams will play in early-season tournaments over the next 10 days. Most of the action will occur in the heart of Feast Week between November 21-28, but a pair of teams will get things started this weekend. Michigan is already in New York City for the 2K Classic while Penn State will travel to Connecticut on Saturday to play in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. Here’s a quick guide to this weekend’s festivities.

Zak Irvin will try to lead Michigan to a 4-0 start in the 2K Classic this weekend. (Getty).

Zak Irvin will try to lead Michigan to a 4-0 start in the 2K Classic this weekend. (Getty).

2K Classic Benefiting Wounded Warrior Project

  • Teams: Michigan, Marquette, SMU, Pittsburgh
  • Capsule: Michigan beat Marquette convincingly last night and has started the year 3-0. The Wolverines are getting excellent balance in scoring across its starting lineup, with four players averaging double figures but only one instance of an individual breaking 20 points (Derrick Walton hit for exactly 20 against Howard). Michigan advances to play SMU, also 3-0 after a surprising win over Pittsburgh, in the 2K Classic championship game tonight.
  • Key Player: Duncan Robinson: Robinson needed to find his shooting stroke and a 3-of-4 performance from three-point range last night could set him on his way. As a whole Michigan hasn’t shot the ball all that well yet from the perimeter (36.8 percent from three), but expect this team of excellent shooters to eventually push that number toward 40 percent.
  • Prediction: The Wolverines will win this event. SMU notched a nice win over Pitt, but Michigan utterly dismantled a Marquette team that looked great last week against Vanderbilt.

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It’s Time to See What Ohio State’s JaQuan Lyle Is All About

Posted by Jerry Scherwin Jr. on November 17th, 2016

When JaQuan Lyle signed on the dotted line for Ohio State that cold January day back in 2015, I thought the Buckeyes were on the verge of doing something really special — yet again. Lyle was the last shoe to drop in a top-10 class (according to ESPN) that included four other four-star recruits, but there was never a question as to who was most important. The point guard just had that look to him. He was one of the most versatile point guards in the country with great size, plus-side athleticism, hidden strength and an innate ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands. If Frank Sinatra has the world on a string, Lyle has every Spalding. Admittedly, I fell in love with Lyle’s recruiting profiles and mix tapes. Despite the rocky road to get to Columbus, the kid looked like the next evolution of the Buckeyes’ point guard.

JaQuan Lyle (USA Today Images)

It’s Becoming JaQuan Lyle’s Time to Put Up or Shut Up (USA Today Images)

His freshman season was inconsistent. There were moments that reminded me of why I was the self-proclaimed captain of the Lyle hype machine. And then there were moments when Lyle looked lost, unhappy and uninterested. In a sport where prospects become stars by staying connected to that fine line that is consistency, Lyle’s play more closely resembled a kindergartner’s idea of mountains and hills. He was both infuriating and electric. And you could tell that it was getting to Thad Matta and the coaching staff (remember the Michigan State game in the Big Ten Tournament?). Despite the red flags that became rather prevalent, most of the media that surrounded the Ohio State basketball program kept their Lyle blinders on. I did too. That’s not to say that we all weren’t going into this season being cautious, but the agreed-upon ceiling for Lyle was just too high to fail.

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Purdue Enhances Its Reputation Despite a Loss

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 15th, 2016

Aside from not coming away with a hard-fought victory, Purdue‘s Monday night loss at home against the reigning National Champion Villanova went about as well as possible. The Boilermakers proved that they can play at a roughly equivalent level to a top five team in coming back from double-figure deficits twice to tie the game before falling late. Matt Painter would undoubtedly argue that a loss is still a loss, but there are some things that Purdue should take away from this game that represent encouraging signs for the rest of the season.

Purdue Gave Villanova Nearly All It Could Handle (USA Today Images)

Purdue Gave Villanova Nearly All It Could Handle (USA Today Images)

  • Physical Mismatches: Villanova is not a big team at all but few teams in college basketball will be able to match Purdue’s size down low. Seeing how the Boilermakers’ front line played against the gritty Wildcats, though, proves that Purdue should be able to run its offense through the paint. When Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan are both on the floor together, they can run some beautiful high-low action to take advantage of Swanigan’s exceptional abilities as a passer. Both players can also get to the free throw line at will, so expect many more nights where the pair combines to shoot 70 percent (14-of-20) on two-point field goals as they did on Monday night.

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Big Ten’s Opening Night Debut a Win For All

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 15th, 2016

It’s been a few days since the sensational opening-night doubleheader that featured both Michigan State and Indiana, but the attention the Armed Forces Classic in Honolulu brought to the Big Ten deserves further discussion. Unlike most other sports, college basketball rarely opens its season with a number of truly marquee match-ups. Coaches instead typically opt for easy wins against low-majors out of fear of being exposed. This strategy may make sense for individual programs, but it hardly does the sport any favors. This year, however, we were treated to two compelling bouts featuring a quartet of top 15 teams. Each game was action-packed and came down to the wire, as the Spartans lost to Arizona on a last-second layup and the Hoosiers eked out a 103-99 overtime win over Kansas. Kudos should be given to Tom Izzo and Tom Crean for ignoring the “risk” of being exposed early. These coaches instead saw the event as an opportunity to showcase their programs to a captive Friday night national audience, in addition to supporting the brave men and women of the armed forces on Veterans Day.

Miles Bridges' team may have lost the game, but he was the star of opening night (Fansided photo).

Miles Bridges (#22) may not have been on a winning team, but he was the star of opening night (Fansided photo).

In the first game, Michigan State charged to a big early lead before eventually giving up a coast-to-coast layup to lose at the buzzer. While the Spartans missed an opportunity for a nice early resume win, they did get to showcase their celebrated freshmen class. Miles Bridges was especially spectacular, contributing 21 points, seven rebounds and an early candidate for the dunk of the year. In the second game, Indiana outlasted Kansas in a back-and-forth contest that went to overtime. The impressive win against the perennial Big 12 favorite was propelled by a 26-point performance from James Blackmon, Jr., who looked completely healthy after last year’s season-ending surgery.

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Michigan Starts Finding Answers on Opening Weekend

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 14th, 2016

When Michigan was again forced to adjust to life without star shooting guard Caris LeVert — whose college career ended after suffering a season-ending leg injury last December — it posed two silver linings. On the one hand, it was a blessing in disguise. The Wolverines still snuck into the NCAA Tournament, and the increased workload for guards Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin gave the experienced duo more to build on entering 2016-17. LeVert’s exit, however, also marked the first in a series of unforeseen departures which have created more questions than answers entering this season, even with the team’s starting five fully intact. If its opening weekend victory over IUPUI is any indication, Michigan’s questions will take some time to fully answer—but the blueprint for progress is there.

Derrick Walton and the Wolverines looked sharp over the final 30 minutes vs. IUPUI. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

Derrick Walton and the Wolverines looked sharp over the final 30 minutes vs. IUPUI. (Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)

Emerging Frontcourt Depth

The Wolverines’ chief concern is depth, and not just because LeVert is gone. 2013 Final Four hero Spike Albrecht briefly retired last December because of a hip injury before eventually heading to Purdue. In April, guard Aubrey Dawkins (6.5 PPG) transferred to Central Florida to play for his father. A month later, frontcourt role players Ricky Doyle and Kameron Chatman—whose clutch triple against Indiana last March helped Michigan reach the Dance—also departed. The spate of transfers has left John Beilein with a short and inexperienced bench; on Sunday, only seven players saw meaningful minutes. The good news? One of those players, forward D.J. Wilson, looked like a breakout star. After barely seeing the floor last season, the springy sophomore scored seven points and ripped down 14 rebounds in a career-high 30 minutes against the Jaguars, providing a much needed spark off the bench. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Preseason Superlatives: POY, COY, FrOY

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 11th, 2016

The season-opening tip-offs are set for tonight and the RTC Big Ten microsite has arrived at our predictions for the coming year. We’ve huddled our clairvoyant minds together and selected our conference preseason Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year, and Coach of the Year. Some of these predictions are likely to miss, but the three individual profiled below are definitely worth keeping a close eye on during the regular season.

Thomas Bryant is the RTC Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year (USA Today Images).

Thomas Bryant is the RTC Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year (USA Today Images).

Player of the Year: Thomas Bryant, Indiana. This was by no means a unanimous choice among our group. While we believe our other two Badger candidates — Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ — will each also have a terrific season, we settled on Bryant for a couple of reasons. First, he is one of the nation’s most talented big men in an offense full of second options — expect him to significantly improve on his 11.9 PPG and 5.8 RPG freshman tallies with an added a year of experience. Second, he is the anchor of a reigning Big Ten champion that is expected to contend for a second consecutive title and a deep NCAA Tournament run. Given the talent and opportunity here, we believe that Bryant is ready for a monster year.

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Big Ten Conference Preview: Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 11th, 2016

The ballots have been revealed and the results have been tabulated. Unlike another round of voting that took place this week, there isn’t as much shock value in seeing these results. We at the Big Ten microsite have voted and determined how the league will shake out this season. The last of three segments lists our top four teams (the bottom tier can be found here and the middle tier can be found here).

4. Purdue: The Boilermakers enjoyed their best season since 2010-11 by winning 26 games and finishing 12-6 in conference play. They lost two All-Defensive Team members, including the Defensive Player of the Year AJ Hammons, but expectations are still high in West Lafayette. This is mainly because there just aren’t many teams nationally that can unleash a frontcourt with a trio of players as talented as Vince Edwards, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. With this trio in place, Purdue can expect the defense and interior scoring to comparable to last season. If PJ Thompson and Dakota Mathias can also consistently knock down shots from the perimeter, Purdue should equal, or surpass last season’s success.

Caleb Swanigan leads a deadly Purude frontcourt that is one of the best in the nation. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Caleb Swanigan leads a deadly Purude frontcourt that is one of the best in the nation. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Best-Case Scenario: Elite Eight

3. Michigan State: A brutal early schedule and some nagging injuries on the interior makes Sparty’s preseason ranking a little fluid, but it’s difficult to not give Tom Izzo a well-earned benefit of the doubt. A star freshman crew of Miles Bridges, Josh Langford, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward will all have to contribute early, but they have the skill sets to do so. Bridges (26.5 PPG, 4.0 BPG) in particular dominated in Michigan State’s two exhibition wins and could be a First-Team Big Ten talent. Also keep an eye on Eron Harris and Matt McQuaid. They will have to make many of the shots that Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes took last season. If Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter can return well at some point from their injuries, this will be one of the best and deepest teams in college basketball.

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Big Ten Conference Preview: Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 11th, 2016

The ballots have been revealed and the results have been tabulated. Unlike another round of voting that took place this week, there isn’t as much shock value in seeing these results. We at the Big Ten microsite have voted and determined how the league will shake out this season. The second of three segments lists our middle five teams (the bottom tier can be found here).

9. Iowa: The Hawkeyes arguably lost more than any other squad in the Big Ten, with four senior starters moving on from Iowa City. The good news, however, starts with guard Peter Jok staying put for his senior season. Jok will lead an inexperienced crew highlighted by freshman Tyler Cook, and jack-of-all-trades Dom Uhl. The point guard situation here is dicey, but if either Christian Williams or Jordan Bohannon can handle it, this team could still be in the mix for another NCAA Tournament bid. Jok needs to put up large numbers on the offensive end, though, and several secondary scorers need to emerge for this to happen.

Fran McCaffery and his Iowa Hawkeyes are predicted to finish in the middle of the Big Ten. (AP)

Fran McCaffery and his Iowa Hawkeyes are predicted to finish in the middle of the Big Ten. (AP).

Best-Case Scenario: NCAA Tournament Berth

8. Illinois: Things will be much better at Illinois this season if the Illini can simply keep their roster healthy for the first time in two years. The transfer of Kendrick Nunn will sting a bit, but six seniors make this the most experienced roster in the conference. Malcolm Hill is the team’s best player, but the key to the season will be the health of sixth- year seniors Tracy Abrams and Mike Thorne Jr. If that pair can stay on the floor, last season’s 135th ranked defense should be much better and that ugly 15-19 record should also improve.

Best-Case Scenario: 20+ wins and a return trip to the NCAA Tournament Read the rest of this entry »

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Can Iowa’s Dom Uhl Make a Leap?

Posted by Jerry Scherwin on November 11th, 2016

There is nothing certain but the uncertain in college basketball. Unless someone figures out a way to “Biff” themselves into the past fully equipped with a Sports Almanac and some KenPom rankings, we’re going to get some things wrong. We make suggestions. We make arguments. We make picks. But nothing is 100 percent when it comes to the NCAA. Teams come out of nowhere to capture our basketball hearts (here’s to you, Villanova) and outgoing seniors and bright-eyed freshmen alike make some of the biggest differences for contending programs. Things ultimately get weird. It’s in that weirdness where we get a player like Dom Uhl, the Iowa Hawkeyes’ now starting four/five/positionless-high-ceiling-athlete heading into the 2016-17 season.

Dom Uhl (USA TODAY Sports)

Dom Uhl is a key to Iowa’s possible return to the Big Dance. (USA TODAY Sports)

Uhl, a top reserve during the early part of last year’s schedule, slowly saw his role on last year’s 22-win team decrease as the season rolled along. Call it what you will, but Uhl got lost in the shuffle as Fran McCaffery turned to playing his senior starters more minutes during Big Ten play. As Uhl’s minutes dipped, so too did his confidence, consistency and any sort of urgency that came along with it. That’s not to say there weren’t flashes of the NBA-level athletic talent we’ve all heard about; because there were. It’s just that it came in-between large chunks of time when Uhl seemed like just another guy. When last year was all said and done, Uhl ended the season averaging six points per game on 41.6 percent shooting from the field (45% from three, on nearly two attempts per game) and 3.6 rebounds in 17.9 minutes. As a contributor who was learning how to play out of position for the majority of the year (Uhl was way more comfortable scrambling along the wing than subbing in for Adam Woodbury in the post), that stat line isn’t so bad. If you take into consideration that he had only played a few years of actual basketball before coming to Iowa, well, you can see why fans are hoping Uhl can make a considerable leap heading into his junior season.

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Big Ten Conference Preview: Rutgers, Nebraska, Minnesota, Penn State, Northwestern

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 10th, 2016

The ballots have been revealed and the results have been tabulated. Unlike another round of voting that took place this week, there isn’t as much shock value in seeing these results. We at the Big Ten microsite have voted and determined how the league will shake out this season. The first of three segments lists our bottom five teams.

14. Rutgers: There’s a new coach and correspondingly new enthusiasm at Rutgers. Eddie Jordan is gone and former Stony Brook head coach Steve Pickiell has taken over. There’s still some talent on this roster, with sophomore lead guard Corey Sanders returning along with Mike Williams on the wing. The Scarlet Knights’ biggest issue is that they need to shoot the ball much better all over the floor, ranking 282nd on three-point percentage and 311th on two-point field goals last season. Things weren’t much better defensively, but they added some size and versatility with graduate transfer CJ Gettys and the return of Deshawn Freeman. Pickiell has a great reputation for development, but this won’t be a quick rebuild in the Garden State.

Best Case Scenario: Double-figure wins

Corey Sanders is the leading returning scorer for Rutgers. (Getty).

Corey Sanders is the leading returning scorer for Rutgers. (Getty)

13. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers actually improved by three wins last season, but the program has still fallen sharply after making the NCAA Tournament in 2014. This team loses a second-team all-conference performer (Shavon Shields) as well as an honorable mention selection (Andrew White, transfer to Syracuse). They will replace some of that talent with Louisville transfer Anton Gill, but the majority of the roster aside from senior Tai Webster is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. Scoring is going to be a question mark for this team, but the defensive side doesn’t look much better (last year’s team dipped from 28th in defense efficiency in 2014-15 to 114th last season). It looks like another long season in Lincoln.

Best-Case Scenario: Winning Record Read the rest of this entry »

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