Big Ten Weekend In Review: 03.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 1st, 2016

We’re now only 13 games away from complete resolution to the Big Ten regular season, as last weekend’s action, like much of the regular season, gave us some close games sprinkled among a few blowouts. Indiana clinched a share of the regular season crown without playing a game, and the four teams chasing the Hoosiers still have a double-bye in Indianapolis to play for. Here’s are the highlights from the second-to-last weekend of the regular season.

Keita Bates-Diop (right) influenced things offensively and defensively for Ohio State as they knocked off Iowa( Jay LaPrete, AP).

Keita Bates-Diop (right) influenced things offensively and defensively for Ohio State as they knocked off Iowa (Jay LaPrete, AP).

Player of the Weekend: With apologies to Illinois’ Malcolm Hill, who teamed with Kendrick Nunn to look like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen toying with Toni Kukoc in the 1992 Olympics because Minnesota was playing without guards, Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop gets the nod because he essentially out-Uthoffed Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff. He had a highly efficient scoring night with 19 points (8-of-11 shooting) and four blocks as Ohio State came back in the final few minutes to beat Iowa. The surging Buckeyes held an Iowa team that scores 31.4 percent of its points on the season from the three-point line to a quiet 3-of-12 from the perimeter, and Uthoff in particular continued to struggle (16 points on 5-of-14 shooting). Iowa is now in the midst of another late-season swoon.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Before Saturday’s game against Maryland, Purdue sophomore Dakota Mathias had only scored in double figures twice all season. Both of those instances occurred in games where Purdue scored over 100 points against weak competition. But Mathias saved his best game of the year for Saturday as Purdue held off Maryland for a big win in West Lafayette. Mathias has now shot 6-of-11 from distance over his last five games, hitting three treys against the Terrapins en route to a career-high 17 points for the game. One of Purdue’s strengths is its outstanding depth, and in order to make a postseason run, players like Mathias need to step up.

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The RTC Big Ten Podcast: And Your Big Ten Champion Is…

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 1st, 2016

The Big Ten microsite crew is back to chat the league as the regular season winds down. In the second RTC Big Ten PodcastAlex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso), Brendan Brody (@berndon4) and Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) discuss a slew of topics that include Iowa’s now-familiar late-season meltdown, Indiana clinching a share of the regular season title, Denzel Valentine’s dominance, John Groce’s grip on his team, Wisconsin’s resurgence back to relevance, the amazing group of rookies in the Big Ten, and whether adding Rutgers was worth it. The full rundown is below. Push play and enjoy the lively banter between three Big Ten basketball heads, and let us know if you want us to cover any new topics for the next episode at @rushtheB1G.

  • 0:45 – 6:30 — Iowa’s late season meltdown
  • 6:31 – 12:59 — Indiana as Big Ten champs
  • 13:00 – 28:53 — Denzel Valentine’s historic season (with some ranting about Illinois and John Groce in between)
  • 28:54 – 37:59 — Wisconsin’s resurgence
  • 38:00 – 53:15 — The league’s best rookies
  • 53:16 – 59:40 — Quick hits: Ohio State’s postseason and Rutger’s ineptitude
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Big Ten M5: 02.29.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 29th, 2016

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  1. The combination of Xavier taking a loss at Seton Hall along with Michigan State winning its home game against Penn State moved the Spartans up to a #1 seed on Jerry Palm’s latest bracket. Tom Izzo’s squad has now won eight out of its last nine games, and although they don’t have a chance for an outright claim to the Big Ten regular season title, their overall resume which includes wins over Kansas and Louisville in non-conference action, combined with wins over Indiana, Maryland, and Wisconsin in Big Ten play makes them have a compelling case for a spot on the number one line in two weeks when the brackets are unleashed to the masses.
  2. Minnesota took on Illinois on Sunday night with a rather unique lineup. That’s because their top three guards were all benched due to a violation of team rules. Nate Mason, Kevin Dorsey, and Dupree McBrayer all had to sit, and the result was predictable. Illinois overwhelmed the Gophers in the second half, cruising to an 84-71 victory. It’s not known whether the trio will miss more than this game, and it casts a significant pall over the improvements the struggling team has made in winning two of their last three games.
  3. Analysts on the Big Ten Network used to refer to Tre Demps of Northwestern as “The Microwave” two years ago when he came off the bench and proceeded to give the Wildcats instant offense. For those born after 1985, its origin comes from Vinnie Johnson, a guard on the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons who was known for the same thing. Kam Williams of Ohio State is the 2015-16 version, and his clutch baskets were vital for the Buckeyes as they knocked off Iowa Sunday afternoon. Williams went 5-for-5 from the floor for 11 points in the last eight minutes of a closely-fought win for Ohio State. While this win only brings Ohio State’s record to 2-8 against the RPI top 50 on the season, it certainly makes their once bleak NCAA Tournament hopes look a little better heading into a crucial road game at Michigan State next weekend.
  4. Maryland was doomed by a slow start and a lack of effort on the boards as they fell to Purdue on Saturday afternoon. The Terrapins are the fourth tallest team in the country, yet they managed to give up 19 offensive rebounds to the Boilermakers. They also went down 24-8 early, which ended up being too much of a hole for them to overcome. Melo Trimble continued to struggle shooting from the outside, and their starting frontcourt only managed 13 rebounds for the game. This team has the talent to make a deep late-season run, but one would think that it would have fixed some of its issues by this point in the season.
  5. One play does not win or lose a basketball game, but sometimes a specific play can be used as a strong symbol that it just isn’t your day. Take for example Derrick Walton Jr’s missed opportunity at the rim for Michigan in their loss to Wisconsin Sunday. Walton Jr had a wide-open path to the basket, blew the layup, and then the Wolverines gave up a layup to the Badgers on the other end. It was an example of how a potent offense could never really get things going as they dropped to 10-7 in league play in being held to 0.93 points per possession on the evening. Combine that offensive showing with getting blitzed on the glass, and you why Michigan lost, and why they might be sweating on Selection Sunday.
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Levy’s Layup Line: Week 12

Posted by Adam Levy on February 26th, 2016

Need proof that the Big Ten is as watered down as it’s ever been? Only 15 – yes, 15 – of the 107 conference games played this year have been won by four points or less, or ended in overtime. That means just 14.0% percent of Big Ten games have been considered “close” – the third lowest percentage of all 32 Division I conferences. As sad as it is that the regular season is nearing its end, it’s nice to know that we soon won’t have to hear, see or think about Rutgers, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Nebraska and Penn State basketball until next fall. It’s Week 12 of the Layup Line.

Tom Izzo

Another year, another ho-hum top of the line finish for Tom Izzo and Michigan State. (Getty)

REPORT CARD

A: Michigan State Spartans

Deja vu for Tom Izzo’s boys. They hit a rough patch in mid-January, then destroyed seven of their next eight opponents. The Spartans completely worked Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio State over the past couple of weeks and should have no issue running the table from here on out. Denzel Valentine has quietly put himself right back into the NPOY conversation, Matt Costello has solidified himself as the best rebounder in the conference (also 10th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage), and the Spartans, as a whole, are shooting a nation-best 43.2 percent from three. This team is going to the Final Four. You heard it here first. Or probably 101st, but whatever. In Izzo we trust.

A: Indiana Hoosiers

Back in December, if you thought Indiana was going to win a Big Ten title after its performances in Maui and at Duke, you were just lying. Nobody had that pick – not with Maryland and Michigan State coming in with those preseason expectations of theirs. But here we are on February 26, and Indiana is coming off a huge week after a home win over rival Purdue (only committed four turnovers for a 6.5 percent turnover rate – the lowest ever rate in a Big Ten game in the entire Tom Crean era in Bloomington, per Luke Winn) and a 27-point shellacking of Illinois in Champaign. Indiana is now 13-3 with a two game lead and two games left against Iowa and Maryland – both of whom are tied for second. Win one and the Hoosiers win at least a share of the title; win both and the title is theirs outright. Indiana control its own destiny.

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Big Ten M5: 02.26.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) on February 26th, 2016

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  1. Nebraska’s Shavon Shields played for the first time since a February 6 game against Rutgers when he suffered a serious concussion on a nasty fall. As if nothing had ever happened, the senior returned to the lineup last night against Penn State and scored a game-high 25 points. It was not enough for the Cornhuskers to win the game, however, as Shields’ off-balance 15-footer at the buzzer misfired, giving the Nittany Lions a 56-55 win.
  2. Bracketology becomes increasingly popular as the calendar inches ever closer to March. ESPN’s February 25 NCAA Tournament bracket projections from Joe Lunardi lists seven Big Ten teams among his field of 68: Michigan State is a #2 seed; Iowa #3; Maryland #3; Indiana #5; Purdue #5; Wisconsin #7; and Michigan #9. CBS SportsJerry Palm’s latest projections differ only slightly: Iowa is a seed line lower at #4, while Wisconsin comes in as a #9 seed and Michigan a #10 seed.
  3. Michigan’s Duncan Robinson started the season as one of the nation’s best shooters, but his prolonged slump in Big Ten play is a growing concern. He is converting only 31 percent of his three-pointers in the second half of conference play, prompting head coach John Beilein to consider shortening his minutes. Fortunately for Michigan, sophomore Aubrey Dawkins has picked up the slack in knocking down a conference-best 51 percent of three-pointers in Big Ten play.
  4. Michigan State has used a deep bench all season and the latest player to get an extended look in the wake of Kenny Goins’ knee injury is sophomore forward Marvin Clark Jr. He was a useful reserve during Sparty’s run to the Final Four a year ago and is finding his confidence in an expanded role. Clark played 19 minutes against Ohio State on Tuesday and made both his three-point attempts for a total of six points. His shooting (35.3% 3FG) has kept him head of Javon Bess in the rotation.
  5. During Wisconsin’s admittedly slow start to the season, some believed that mediocre recruiting was a key reason for the team’s lack of quality depth this season. Now, however, with Wisconsin sitting at 10-5 in the Big Ten, that notion has dissipated. The Wisconsin State Journal reviewed Bo Ryan’s class of 2011, finding that it had considerable talent from top to bottom. Frank Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson led the program to consecutive Final Fours but played their final seasons in 2014-15. Jarrod Uthoff became a star after transferring to Iowa, and George Marshall, now at South Dakota State, is leading the 22-7 Jackrabbits in scoring.
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Evaluating Iowa’s Recent Slump

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 25th, 2016

In a home loss to surging Wisconsin last night, Iowa again refused to control its own destiny on the way to a Big Ten title. Every time Indiana or Maryland slips up and leaves the Hawkeyes with a big opening, Fran McCaffery’s team just can’t seem to string together a consistent 40 minutes. The loss to the Badgers is Iowa’s third in its last four outings, with the only win coming against cellar-dwelling Minnesota. The perplexing part of the Hawkeyes’ recent slide is that there hasn’t been a clear statistical reason for it — rebounding and turnovers, for example, have been within normal ranges. Rather, a consistent theme in the losses seems to be a relative lack of leadership and a diverse offensive tool kit which doesn’t expand much beyond the three-point shot. Let’s evaluate both of these concerns.

McCaffery's Hawkeyes need to prove they can win out-score their opponents in the half-court. (AP/C. Neibergall)

McCaffery’s Hawkeyes need to prove they can win out-score their opponents in the half-court. (AP/C. Neibergall)

  • Limited offensive game plan. A three-point percentage of 27.8 percent last night from a team that relies so heavily on the three-point shot is a troubling sign, but the bigger concern is limited shot selection from its sharp-shooters, Jared Uthoff and Peter Jok. While Jok prefers to be set up for this threes, Uthoff likes to create his own shot in isolation. Both of these maneuvers have become too predictable. The formula for defensive success here includes initially cutting off the corners and the trailing Hawkeye during transition. Once Iowa settles into the half-court, Mike Gesell usually tries to take his defender off the dribble, but smart defenders give him space to shoot a long two. Gesell is reluctant to shoot the three, so limiting his options to a shot at the top of the key is a much better strategy than letting him draw and dish to Jok or Uthoff in the corners. Putting Uthoff in isolation is another worthy defensive gamble because it typically extends the length of the offensive possession. Iowa’s average offensive possession length is 16.3 seconds, but isolation tends to slow down activity for everyone else without the ball. Uthoff shot a paltry 6-of-23 from beyond the arc during the recent three losses so he needs to be more mindful of defenses challenging him to put the ball on the floor rather than allowing him to line up open jump shots.

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Big Ten M5: 02.24.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 24th, 2016

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  1. The Big Ten on Monday awarded Indiana forward Troy Williams its conference Player of the Week honors for averaging 18.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assist and 2.5 steals per game in wins over Nebraska and Purdue last week. It was the second award of the year for a junior who has been instrumental in helping the Hoosiers move into contention for their second Big Ten title in four years. Williams may not have made the giant leap he had hoped — he averages fewer points and rebounds than last season — but he remains the team’s third-leading scorer and has improved on the defensive end. With his contributions leading the way, Tom Crean’s team hopes to win that regular season title as well as make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors went to Minnesota‘s Jordan Murphy for his 17 points and 11 rebounds against Maryland last Thursday. Although it wasn’t considered in the award, he forward followed up that performance with another terrific effort with 19 points and 14 rebounds in a win over Rutgers last night. His emergence is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season at Minnesota. He, along with classmate Nate Mason, gives Richard Pitino a glimmer of hope for Minnesota basketball going into the next season.
  3. Michigan State earned its sixth win in its last seven contests last night when Sparty handled Ohio State, 81-62. The Buckeyes prevented Denzel Valentine from scoring 20 points or dishing out 10 assists (he finished with “only” 17 points and eight assists), but they were unable to stop Bryn Forbes 27 points on 7-of-10 shooting from behind the three-point line. While a regular season title is still a long shot for a team two games back in the standings, Tom Izzo’s team is playing as well as any team in the country and is certainly in the mix for a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. As always, the Spartans appear to be peaking at just the right time.
  4. As Michigan makes a push to solidify its place in the NCAA Tournament with a game against Northwestern tonight, the Wolverines may again find themselves without the services of senior guard Caris Levert. In fact, the Wolverines’ two upperclassmen leaders, Levert and Spike Albrechthave been absent from John Beilein‘s lineup for a majority of the season. Despite those limitations, Michigan has managed to win enough games to remain competitive in the Big Ten race and appears poised to get back to the NCAA Tournament. It will come one step closer to that objective if it protects home court against the Wildcats this evening.
  5. The biggest conference game of the week will take place tonight when Wisconsin visits Iowa in a game that has major implications for both teams. The Hawkeyes need a victory to keep up with Indiana in the loss column in pursuit of a Big Ten title. The Badgers with a win could seal their place in the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin has steadily climbed back from a 2-5 Big Ten record to likely being a big win away from its 18th consecutive trip to March Madness. That would make quite the case for the administration to permanently hire Greg Gard and continue the Bo Ryan legacy in Madison for years to come.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 23rd, 2016

There are now two weeks to go before the close of the 2015-16 Big Ten season. Senior night ceremonies and the conference tournament are on the horizon, and the NCAA Tournament not too far beyond them. It’s unfair to jump to the conclusion that the long season has taken its toll on Big Ten teams, but there was some flat out ugly offense in the league last weekend. Four teams were held under 1.00 point per possession, and three of the five teams that came away with victories failed to crack 50 percent eFG shooting. On the brighter side, Indiana was able to fight off a late Purdue rally, and Maryland held serve at home against Michigan. This means that the regular season tournament is still a three team race at the moment (with Ohio State and Michigan State lingering a couple games back). Here are some of the noteworthy and not-so-noteworthy performances from the weekend before the final sprint.

Ethan Happ controlled the paint as Wisconsin rallied to beat Illinois Sunday night. (Nick Lisi, AP)

Ethan Happ controlled the paint as Wisconsin rallied to beat Illinois Sunday night. (Nick Lisi, AP)

Player of the Weekend: Ethan Happ isn’t always the prettiest or most graceful post player in the Big Ten, but the Wisconsin freshman is having a sensational first go of it in the Big Ten. After going up against the likes of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker in practices last season, Happ has played with a veteran edge that his former practice combatants would be proud of. He doesn’t shoot from the outside, nor does he dominate physically, but the “old guy at the YMCA” element to his game has proven valuable. He’s seemingly always in the right spot on the floor, and flashes a unique creativity in the shots he both attempts and makes in the post. Illinois had the Badgers in danger of enduring another bad resume loss at home, but Happ was there to notch his fourth double-double since conference play began. He also added a career-high six steals, bringing his average to 2.5 SPG in conference games. In a season where four other freshmen big men — all with much higher profiles than Happ — have also made large contributions to probable Big Ten NCAA Tournament teams, Happ could be the best freshman in the league.

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Mapping Ohio State’s Path to the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) on February 23rd, 2016

After an uninspiring first half of the season, Ohio State has over the last few weeks slowly but surely crept back into the Big Ten race. The Buckeyes are unlikely to contend for the title but they are all alone in fourth place at 10-5. Teams among the top four of power conference standings in late February are usually considered safe bets for the NCAA Tournament, but Thad Matta‘s group is challenging that notion. After a miserable start to the season that included early losses to UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech, the Buckeyes are now in position to lock up a bid with another good win or two. There’s just one problem, though: Winning another regular season game won’t be easy. Ohio State plays Michigan State twice in its final three games with a home date against Iowa sandwiched in-between.

Marc Loving and Ohio State face an important three-game stretch that will determine their postseason fortune (Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch)

Marc Loving and Ohio State face an important three-game stretch that will determine their postseason fortune (Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch)

Double-figure conference wins is usually enough for an at-large bid from the Big Ten, and every 11-win team in the history of the league has made the field of 68. But as we’ve learned in the era of expanded conferences, not all records are created equal. Eight of Ohio State’s conference wins came against Rutgers, Minnesota, Penn State, Illinois and Northwestern. The other two were notched against Nebraska and fellow bubble team Michigan. Furthermore, Ohio State has just one RPI top 100 win from the non-conference season (Kentucky). This means that the two wins over the Wolverines and Wildcats are the Buckeyes’ lone RPI top 100 wins of the season, and that they have more losses to teams outside the RPI top 100 (three) than wins over teams within it. Losses to Texas-Arlington, Louisiana Tech and Memphis all stink about as much or more as they did at the time. The tally to this point is that 18-10 record and an RPI rating of #75.

One more win pushes Ohio State to the 11-victory mark, but that won’t do much to improve the Buckeyes’ overall resume. Two more wins would result in a 4-8 record against the RPI top 50, but even 12 conference wins combined with an early Big Ten Tournament loss would make for a tense Selection Sunday. Three wins, however unlikely, means that Ohio State can think about seeding options instead of worrying about a bid. Go winless and the Buckeyes would need a deep conference tournament run and some luck around the country among the other bubble teams.

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Big Ten M5: 02.19.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 19th, 2016

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  1. Illinois ended its long athletic director search when it formally introduced Josh Whitman as its next AD on Thursday morning (the news of his hire first broke on Wednesday). Whitman, 37, has been the athletic director at Division III Washington University in St. Louis since 2014. He also previously served as athletic director at Division III Wisconsin-La Crosse before that. His first full day on the job will be March 21, but that didn’t stop him from writing an immediate letter to Illinois donors.
  2. The “0-14 Game” won’t happen in the Big Ten after all. Many had been hyping up next Tuesday’s Rutgers at Minnesota matchup as a battle between the winless since both teams appeared headed into that game with zeros in the win column. Not anymore, as Minnesota stunned Maryland last night for its first Big Ten win of the season. The Terps were playing without freshman center Diamond Stone, who was suspended for the game after a technical foul on Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown last weekend. The win was the Gophers’ first of any kind since December 13 against Chicago State.
  3. Minnesota also played a man short on Thursday night, and it will do so for the rest of the season. Gophers head coach Richard Pitino announced on Wednesday that guard Carlos Morris had been dismissed from the program for conduct detrimental to the team. That conduct was later identified as a heated exchange between Morris and Pitino last Sunday. The senior was in his second season for Minnesota after transferring over from Chipola College (FL) and was averaging 9.8 PPG, the fourth-best mark on the team.
  4. Purdue point guard P.J. Thompson’s foot issues have persisted for more than a week, and while he has not yet missed any games, his practice routine is also not back to normal. He was in a walking boot for Thursday’s practice even though he still expects to play against Indiana this weekend. Thompson has committed just 11 turnovers in 585 minutes this season, and for a team that has had turnover issues in road games, he will need to be healthy and in the lineup on Saturday at Assembly Hall.
  5. Nebraska‘s Shavon Shields missed his third straight game after suffering a concussion against Rutgers two weeks ago, and the Huskers’ record dropped to 1-2 without their second-leading scorer in the lineup against Indiana. Nebraska misses his production as well as his leadership, as Robin Washunt of Rivals.com notes. Head coach Tim Miles had no update for Shields’ status for Saturday’s game vs. Ohio State, but suffice it to say that he’s needed back in the line up very soon.
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Indiana’s Relying On Yogi Ferrell Too Much

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 17th, 2016

While it has been a sensational season for Yogi Ferrell (16.8 PPG, 5.7 APG), Indiana may need to find ways to beat teams without its point guard playing so prominent a role in the offense. In recent weeks opposing teams have been forcing Ferrell’s supporting cast to beat them by taking the senior guard out of the equation. Look no further than the Hoosiers’ last two games against Iowa and Michigan State, where Ferrell struggled mightily, shooting 2-of-12 from the field against the Hawkeyes and 3-of-10 against the Spartans. This may not necessarily represent a slump, but it could be a nice recipe for success for future opponents: limit Ferrell’s perimeter shots and force him to use his teammates in the half-court. Barring a monumental collapse during the last few weeks, the Hoosiers will be in the #4-#6 seed range in the NCAA Tournament. But their success once they get there will depend on how they answer two critical questions:

Opposing defenses will take Yogi Ferrell's three-point shot out of his game over the next few weeks.

Opposing defenses may try to take Yogi Ferrell’s three-point shot out of his game over the next few weeks. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

  • Can Ferrell continue to get to the free throw line? Against Iowa, a younger Ferrell would have doubled down on perimeter shooting when his long-range game was rendered ineffective (he shot 2-of-9 from beyond the arc). A more experienced Ferrell, however, showed tremendous maturity in attacking the paint to earn and nail all eight of his free throws. Rarely does he pick up his dribble off ball screens when he doesn’t have sufficient space to fire away from the perimeter, but his defenders will continue to shadow him closely until one of his teammates can consistently make a mid-range jumper. Indiana’s big men don’t have the best mid-range game or great ability to make the extra pass; as a result, most pick-and-roll sets involving Ferrell include Troy Williams or Thomas Bryant. Bryant is a true big man and has excellent footwork in the paint, but he isn’t comfortable driving to the basket. Williams, on the other hand, is nifty with his moves around the basket, but help defense dares him to shoot a jumper. Given that the bulk of Williams’ points come from dunks, tip-ins or layups, this scenario isn’t especially advantageous for Indiana. As a result of this and the other weaknesses of teammates, Ferrell has limited options off of screens and will often have no choice but to dribble around aimlessly and search for his own open look. At some point, his teammates’ lack of shot-making ability stymies the Indiana offense.

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The Big Ten’s Biggest Surprises, Improvements & Disappointments

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 16th, 2016

Iowa is atop the Big Ten after Valentine’s Day, Indiana is (mostly) better defensively and Minnesota still hasn’t won a conference game. Those are typical of the team surprises, improvements and disappointments that appear over the course of every Big Ten season. The same thing happens on an individual level: some players seem to come out of nowhere, others take impressive leaps in production, and still others regress or plateau. With conference play now two-thirds finished, here are some of the biggest surprises, improvements and disappointments among this season’s Big Ten players.

P.J. Thompson's ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

P.J. Thompson’s ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt. (Sandra Dukes/USA TODAY Sports)

Biggest Surprises

  • O.G. Anunoby, F, Indiana: The least-heralded member of Indiana’s freshman class is now a crucial part of its rotation. The Hoosiers found the freshman forward from Jefferson City, Missouri, while scouting another player, but he has been their best defender and owns the second-highest effective field goal percentage (64.8%) on the team (minimum 60 FGAs).
  • Nicholas Baer, G/F, Iowa: An unknown freshman walk-on in November, Baer gives Iowa productive minutes off the bench. He makes 43 percent of his threes and 52 percent of his twos, but is also second on the team with 18 blocks. That versatility means that he can play the three or the four positions.

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