Iowa’s Recipe for Surviving Without Aaron White

Posted by Patrick Engel on November 10th, 2015

Fran McCaffery built Iowa from Big Ten bottom-feeder into NCAA tournament team in three years. The Hawkeyes have now reached the Big Dance in two straight seasons and blew out Davidson in their most recent appearance. The challenge this winter will be to replace three seniors, most notably first-team all-Big Ten selection Aaron White. Repeating last year’s 12-6 conference record will probably be difficult with White, Josh Oglesby and Gabriel Olaseni all gone. While Iowa may be a notch below a slew of teams with legitimate Big Ten title aspirations, it’s still a threat in the league that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Here’s the recipe for Iowa to reach March Madness without its superstar, White.

Iowa seniors (from left) Jared Uthoff, Adam Woodbury and Mike Gesell will be a major part of the team's core this year after the loss of Aaron White. (AP)

Iowa seniors (from left) Jared Uthoff, Adam Woodbury and Mike Gesell will be a major part of the team’s core this year after the loss of Aaron White. (Photo: AP)

  • An experienced, talented frontcourt: White is gone, but Jared Uthoff became a star playing next to him and earned a third-team all-conference selection last year. Now, the former Wisconsin forward is ready to be the go-to scorer. Last season, he shot a higher percentage from three than White (37.2 to White’s 35.6), tied for the team lead in blocks per game (1.6) and turned the ball over a minuscule 10 percent of the time. Frontcourt running mate Adam Woodbury may not score a lot, but the 7-footer is a tough defender who cleans up on the glass well (5.2 rebounds per game in just 20.5 minutes in 2014-15). Junior college transfer Dale Jones will provide depth off the bench, filling the role that Olaseni did last season.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-Big Ten Third Team

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 10th, 2015

There are a whole bunch of excellent players who decided to return to school this year, a number of whom populate one of RTC’s three Preseason All-Big Ten teams. We’ll start out with the Third Team in this post — which includes two hyped freshmen along with the veterans — and unveil the first two teams a bit later this week.

Malcolm Hill will be the go-to guy in Champaign this season .(Mark Jones, Illinois Athletics)

Malcolm Hill will be the go-to guy in Champaign this season. (Mark Jones, Illinois Athletics)

  • Malcolm Hill (JR, Guard, Illinois) The lanky 6’6” wing — Illinois’ highest returning scorer from last season (14.4 PPG) — made a significant jump in production by displaying an ability to score both on the inside (65.0 percent field goal shooting at the rim) and the perimeter (38.9 percent from three). With Rayvonte Rice graduated and Kendrick Nunn sidelined by injury, Illinois will necessarily look to Hill to become the offensive centerpiece of a young team.
  • Shavon Shields (SR, Guard, Nebraska). The Olathe, Kansas, native finally gets his turn in the spotlight after two seasons of playing second fiddle to Terran Petteway, who left school early for the NBA. Shields averaged 15.4 PPG and 6.0 RPG last season and actually shot better from the field (44.0%) than his more celebrated teammate. But with a thin supporting cast, Shields will become familiar with the frequent double teams that were once reserved for Petteway. If he can overcome the additional attention while also keeping his teammates involved, Nebraska has a chance to get back to the postseason.

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Is Michigan State Being Overlooked?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 9th, 2015

It was supposed to happen with the group led by Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, and Keith Appling two seasons ago — that was the team that was supposed to end Tom Izzo‘s four-year Final Four ‘drought.’ Instead, that Michigan State squad lost to Connecticut in the Elite Eight and it was his follow-up group — led by leftovers like Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice — that recovered from a shocking early home loss to Texas Southern to play in the season’s final weekend. Most of that team returns this season, and some high-impact newcomers are also on board. Shouldn’t Izzo’s Spartans be ranked higher to start the season? Isn’t another March run a distinct possibility?

Denzel Valentine will look to lead Michigan State to bigger and better things in his senior season (Getty).

Denzel Valentine will look to lead Michigan State to bigger and better things in his senior season (Getty).

Sparty begins the season ranked #13 in both major polls. It returns eight of its top 10 scorers from last season and adds West Virginia transfer Eron Harris (17.2 PPG in 2013-14) to the mix. The freshman class includes McDonald’s All-American Devonta Davis along with a couple more knockdown shooters in Kyle Ahrens and Matt McQuaid. Perimeter shooting definitely appears to be a major positive for this team. Multiple shooters could hit close to 40 percent from deep, as Valentine, Bryn Forbes and Harris have all reached that benchmark in recent seasons. Sharing the ball is another positive aspect of what should be an elite offense. Michigan State logged the seventh best team assist rate in the nation last year, assisting on 63.7 percent of its field goals. Valentine in particular has shown an ability to find the open man as a point forward, ranking eighth in the Big Ten in assist rate (26.9 percent) last year and cutting down his turnover rate by two percent despite much higher usage. Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn also notched an assist rate above 20 percent, and that number should increase if he gets added minutes with the departure of Trice. This could be an elite Spartans’ offense once the season gets rolling. Read the rest of this entry »

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Defense is the Only Thing Holding Indiana Back

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 6th, 2015

There’s not many programs out there that will be more interesting to follow this season than Indiana. For starters, Hoosiers’ head coach Tom Crean is on the hot seat. Given his team’s lofty preseason ranking (#15 in AP preseason poll) and icy relationship with a sizable portion of the Indiana fan base, the 49-year old head coach could find himself in the unemployment line in April if he fails to lead his team to an NCAA Tournament run this year. Luckily for him, Indiana is a team more than capable of doing such a thing, thanks to a high-powered offense (116.7 adjusted efficiency, ninth in the nation) that will be led by one of the best point guards in the country (Yogi Ferrell). Now entering his senior season, the two-time all-Big Ten performer looks to lead the Hoosiers back to how he found the program when he was freshman — capable of winning the Big Ten and becoming legitimate national title contenders.

Yogi Ferrell will need to improve his defense and his teammates to make a run in his senior year. (Darron Cummings, AP).

Yogi Ferrell will need to lead the Hoosiers to play better defensively if he is to make a serious run in the NCAA Tournament in his final year. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Ferrell (16.3 PPG last season) is lucky to have talented players like James Blackmon, Jr. (15.7 PPG) and Troy Williams (13.0 PPG) on his wings. The trio fuels a frenetic uptempo offense (77.4 PPG) that can score in bunches against any team, but even with the addition of five-star center Thomas Bryant to man the post, the Hoosiers won’t go anywhere next March if they don’t improve their atrocious defense. There’s no nice way to put it: Last year’s defense — ranked 214th nationally, per KenPom — was an unmitigated disaster. It was an inexcusable display of ineptitude in almost every defensive area from a power conference team, as only four other NCAA Tournament teams had a worse defensive rating last season (all were #13 seeds or higher). The table below illustrates Indiana’s woeful play on the defensive end of the court. Read the rest of this entry »

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Three Ways the Big Ten’s Bottom Tier Can Move Up

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 5th, 2015

Along with Rutgers, Minnesota, Penn State and Nebraska finished among the bottom four of the league standings last season. Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, they appear to have more than one fix they need to make in order to climb out of the Big Ten basement. The other three cellar-dwellers, however, are in better shape, with each having a reasonable chance to move up the ladder if a few things break their way this season. Here are three things that, if enabled, would allow the Gophers, Nittany Lions and Cornhuskers to make their way into the middle of the pack.

Richard Pitino needs heavy contributions from his freshmen to exceed expectations(Getty).

Richard Pitino needs heavy contributions from his freshmen to exceed expectations. (Getty).

Freshmen Playing Above Expectations (Minnesota): Richard Pitino did not sign a single top 100 recruit this year, according to, as the Gophers brought in the 11th best recruiting class in the league. Yet, given the team’s heavy personnel losses, freshmen will by necessity play a crucial role in the success of this year’s team. None started in the Gophers’ recent scrimmage against Minnesota-Crookston but the newcomers scored 31 of their team’s 74 points in an easy win. Jordan Murphy led the way with 19 points and nine boards on 7-of-11 shooting from the field, while fellow newcomers Dupree McBrayer, Kevin Dorsey and Ahmad Gilbert all contributed while playing at least 14 minutes each. Some recruits play above their rankings and some classes pan out better than expected. If Pitino’s incoming class can play better than its ranking and develop a couple solid Big Ten players as soon as this year, the Gophers are poised to finish in the middle of the pack. Read the rest of this entry »

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Is This Finally the Year for Northwestern?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 4th, 2015

It’s legendary throughout the North Side of Chicago for its pure length of futility. It’s one of the longest streaks in sports, and dogged followers have hoped for decades that the drought would soon be over. Now, here in 2015, it appears that better days are finally coming. For the fans that have stuck around, the imminent snap of the curse will only be sweeter for their having endured decades of losing. And while the Chicago Cubs may soon end their 107-year World Series championship drought, we are not talking about the boys from Wrigley Field here. Rather, Northwestern hoops and its string of 77 seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance (the Wildcats are the only original Division I school in a power conference that has never made the field) could very well come to an end this season. They’ve been close before and there are some extremely positive signs appearing in Evanston as we approach tipoff. Here are three reasons why Northwestern — yes, those Wildcats — could indeed go dancing this March.

Tre Demps and fellow senior Alex Olah will be team leaders for Northwestern(Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

Tre Demps will be a key leader for Northwestern (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

  • Experienced Leadership: Two seniors who have been in Evanston through thick and thin over the last three seasons have steadily improved throughout their careers. Alex Olah and Tre Demps were both honorable mention all-B1G selections last season and are without question two of the league’s top returnees. Olah in particular has made leaps and bounds since his freshman season, improving his scoring from 6.1 PPG as a freshman to 11.7 PPG as a junior. His offensive rating went from 88.8 to 106.2 in the same period despite the fact that he is also using more possessions (21.8 to 24.1 percent). Notwithstanding the math, the eye test confirms that Olah has come a long way and it’s tough to find any player in the Big Ten who has improved as much over the same timeframe as he has. Demps has also become a more complete player, having evolved from a modest scoring option off the bench into a high-usage, heavy minutes offensive leader. He’s increased his assists every season and has also seen a spike in both his scoring (from 7.6 PPG as a freshman to 12.5 PPG last season), and offensive rating (94.3 to 102.6). Quality backups for Olah and Demps are also in place this season, with Virginia Tech transfer Joey van Zegeren prepared to spell the former and freshman combo guard Jordan Ash ready to supply good minutes for the latter. In general, Chris Collins has more talented depth at his disposal than he’s ever had in Evanston. Read the rest of this entry »
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John Groce’s Illini Simply Can’t Catch a Break

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 3rd, 2015

Everyone has had one of those days where NOTHING goes right. You wake up late and burn the coffee, only to realize there isn’t enough time to make another pot. You try to brush your teeth but forgot you threw out your toothbrush last night, so you have to use your finger. You leave the lunch you made the night before in your fridge. This and more, all before 9:00 AM.

John Groce has had a rough offseason; exactly when he needed a break or two.

At a time when he needed a break or two, John Groce has had a rough off-season.

For Illinois head coach John Groce, this kind of bad day must have felt like it lasted for the entire offseason. Now entering his fourth season as the Illinois head coach, the 44-year old is at a breaking point in his tenure. The Illini have missed two consecutive NCAA Tournaments and are an uninspiring 24-30 in conference play over the same span. Memories of the excitement of his first season in Champaign are long gone; in those days, the Illini were a play or two away from the Sweet Sixteen and in the mix to land a few different blue-chip recruits. But monumental setbacks this offseason both within and outside his basketball program have the likelihood of a comeback campaign feeling quite remote. The head coach needs to coax some signs of life out of his program soon in order to rally the troops.

The list of mini-crises that have adversely affected the Illinois basketball program is long; here are a few of the lowlights:

  1. Football and women’s basketball scandals. The revelation that Illini football coach Tim Beckman was a real life Bud Kilmer — and appropriately fired one week before the start of the season — summoned a dark cloud over the entire athletic program. Ultimately, a different investigation found no wrongdoing into claims of racial discrimination against the women’s basketball coaching staff, but the public relations damage had already been done. These external distractions do not create an environment for the kind of administrative “support” the head basketball coach needs coming into a make-or-break season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Six Big Ten Teams Land in the AP Preseason Top 25

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 2nd, 2015

College basketball fans can breathe a little easier today. Certain milestones come along during October and November that make the season seem that much closer. Midnight Madness, conference media days and the release of your go-to preseason magazine all show incremental progress toward that first tip-off. On Monday afternoon, the second of the two major college basketball preseason polls was finally released, meaning that we really aren’t very far away now — just 11 days, in fact. A total of six Big Ten teams were on the AP voters’ initial ballots — Maryland, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan — so here are a few quick takeaways from today’s release.

Denzel Valentine is a big reason why Michigan State is one of six teams ranked in the preseason AP top 25(Getty).

Denzel Valentine is a big reason why Michigan State is one of six teams ranked in the preseason AP top 25(Getty).

  • Best Conference Debate: Many pundits feel that the ACC and Big Ten will be battling all season for the crown as best conference this season. Score round one for the B1G, as the league put two more teams inside the Top 25 (six) than the ACC (four). The Big 12 also has four teams listed in the AP poll, while the SEC and the Pac-12 each have three. Give credit to the ACC, however, for listing three teams (UNC, Duke, Virginia) among the top six. The ACC also has four more teams listed within the next 10 of the “Others Receiving Votes” category, while the Big Ten only has one (Iowa). We’ll have to wait for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in early December and the rest of the non-conference portion of the schedule to see how this particular competition between leagues plays out.
  • Purdue and Michigan Get Extra Love:  Maryland (#3), Michigan State (#13), Indiana (#15), and Wisconsin (#17) all start in the exact same spot in both polls, whereas Purdue and Michigan both ended up with a slightly better position in the AP poll. The Boilermakers were tied for 24th in the Coaches’ Poll but will tip off at 23rd in the AP. Michigan just barely finished outside the Coaches’ Top 25 by two points, but they cracked the AP by taking the place of West Virginia in these rankings.
  • Plenty of Chances Against the Top 25: There will be at least 16 games where Big Ten teams will have a chance to knock off a Top 25 team, as of the current rankings within this poll. Many of these games were already highlighted in our previous posts. In addition to these match-ups, there are also 10 possible games in tournaments, where if the bracket plays out a certain way, more resume-enhancers will be available for the league.
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Thad Matta Has Tough but Doable Task: Winning with Youth

Posted by Patrick Engel on November 2nd, 2015

Thad Matta’s entire career can be summed up in one word — winner. Think of it this way: The 48-year old has won at least 20 games in each of his 15 seasons as a head coach. He’s missed the NCAA tournament only twice, and he ended up as the NIT champion in one of those two years. In the other year — his first season at Ohio State — he took over a team that finished below .500 in Big Ten play and was ineligible for the 2005 postseason and led it to a 20-12 record that included an upset of top-ranked and then-undefeated Illinois on the regular season’s final weekend. Doubt him if you dare.

Thad Matta is a proven winner, but leading a freshmen and sophomore-laden team through the Big Ten is a tough task. (USA TODAY Sports)

Thad Matta is a proven winner, but leading a freshmen and sophomore-laden team through the Big Ten is a tough task. (USA TODAY Sports)

While Matta has proven his knack for winning year in and year out, he has a big challenge ahead of him this season. He’s got plenty of talent but not much experience on this year’s team. Seven of Ohio State’s scholarship players have never played a minute of college basketball in Columbus; six are freshmen; one is a junior. There are no seniors. Departed players from last year’s Round of 32 squad accounted for 65 percent of the scoring, 87 percent of the assists and 61 percent of the rebounding. The bottom line is that Matta will have to rely on a group of freshmen and sophomores to replace star guard D’Angelo Russell and four seniors.

Russell is the glaring loss. The wunderkind freshman accounted for 26 percent of the team’s scoring, took 26 percent of the shots and logged a usage rate of 30.2 percent, per KenPom. He was the go-to scorer for a team that didn’t have a consistent second scoring option and really hasn’t since the Jared Sullinger/William Buford days. The good news for Ohio State is that beside Russell (and Shannon Scott’s terrific on-ball defense), no one else did anything completely irreplaceable. No other player averaged more than 10.2 points per game and no departing player had a usage rate higher than Scott’s 21 percent, a relatively average rate. Read the rest of this entry »

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Can Perimeter Depth Carry Michigan?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 2nd, 2015

After a run to the National Championship game in 2012-13 and an Elite Eight appearance a year later, Michigan slumped to a 16-16 record a season ago. Injuries were the biggest obstacle to another postseason jaunt last year, but in a roundabout way they may have helped set the Maize and Blue up for success this year. Aubrey Dawkins averaged 11.4 PPG and shot 46 percent from behind the arc in his last 14 games; Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman averaged 7.9 PPG in his last 14 contests; and leading the way, Zak Irvin scored 14.7 PPG, grabbed 5.6 RPG and dished 2.4 APG. With Derrick Walton Jr. and Caris LeVert both sidelined by injuries, Irvin stepped up and performed as the primary option for the first time in his collegiate career. His emergence along with that of the freshmen didn’t lead to much success a year ago, but it does set things up nicely for John Beilein‘s team this season. Michigan’s perimeter attack is one the most talented and deepest in the B1G; is it good enough for the Wolverines to contend for the league title and return to the NCAA Tournament?

Aubrey Dawkins emerged as a diamond in the rough for Michigan last season (Rick Osentoski, USA Today).

Aubrey Dawkins emerged as a diamond in the rough for Michigan last season (Photo: Rick Osentoski, USA Today).

When a Beilein-coached team (including stops at both Michigan and West Virginia) has finished the season with an adjusted offensive efficiency at 113.9 or greater, it has averaged 26.4 wins per season. It has happened five times now, with accompanying postseason results including a trip to the National Championship game, two Elite Eight appearances, a Sweet Sixteen appearance, and an NIT championship. KenPom projects the Michigan offense as the ninth-best outfit in the country this preseason. Last season, Indiana boasted the ninth-best offense in the country with an adjusted offensive efficiency of 116.7.  With Michigan’s injured set to return and their former backups now bolstered by the confidence and experience of playing featured roles last season, the pieces are in place for another Beilein offensive juggernaut. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Halloween Scary Superlatives

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 30th, 2015

In honor of one of the very best holidays around, we here at the Big Ten Microsite have come up with some of the scariest things different players, coaches, and even referees might have to face in the coming season. Welcome to our 2015-16 Scary Superlatives.

Troy Williams is the stuff nightmares are made of for a lone defender back on defense (USA Today Sports).

Troy Williams is the stuff nightmares are made of for a lone defender back on defense (USA Today Sports).

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Is the Loss of Terran Petteway Addition by Subtraction?

Posted by Patrick Engel on October 30th, 2015

Over the course of two seasons at Nebraska, Terran Petteway established himself as one of the Big Ten’s best scorers. His 18.1 points per game led the league in 2013-14, and only Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky (1,308) and Penn State’s D.J. Newbill (1,262) outpaced Petteway’s 1,143 points in the last two years. For a Nebraska team coming off a very disappointing 13-18 season (including a 5-13 mark in the Big Ten), head coach Tim Miles’ task of finding a suitable replacement isn’t easy. But here’s the twist: Nebraska’s offense might be better without him.

Terran Petteway could score, but his below-average efficiency numbers hurt Nebraska's offense. (Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports, via

Terran Petteway could score, but his below-average efficiency numbers hurt Nebraska’s offense. (Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY Sports)

Petteway shot only 39.6 percent from the floor and 31.3 percent from three last season. His 217 three-point attempts tied him for most in the Big Ten and represented 46.6 percent of his total field goal attempts. Four of the Big Ten’s top 12 scorers had three-point attempts account for at higher percentage of their total field goal attempts than Petteway, but the lowest three-point percentage among that group was 36.6 percent (Travis Trice), a full 5.3 percent higher. The other three came in at 38.7 percent (James Blackmon Jr.), 40.8 percent (Yogi Ferrell) and 41.8 percent (Denzel Valentine) — all considerably better than Petteway.

The junior also posted a 94.8 offensive rating last season, good for fourth on his own team but also the second-lowest offensive rating among the 47 players who averaged at least 18 points per game. To his credit, he posted a solid 22.4 percent assist rate, drew 5.7 fouls per 40 minutes, and got to the free throw line nearly six times per contest. But his usage rate was 32.3 percent, an alarmingly high number for a player who doesn’t shoot the ball very well. Petteway’s high number of low-percentage shots manifested in him leading the Big Ten in missed three-pointers with 149. All of these statistics amount to a single conclusion: Petteway may have scored a lot of points, but he wasn’t a very efficient scorer.

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