Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part III

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on April 8th, 2016

We continue to address key questions for each Big Ten team as they head into the offseason. Today we will tackle Michigan, Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Parts I and II can be found here and here.

Michigan (23-13, 10-8 Big Ten)

John Beilein will need a dominant presence in the paint to compete for the Big Ten title. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

John Beilein will need a dominant presence in the paint to compete for the Big Ten title. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

Will the Wolverines have any presence at all in the paint?

With the unexpected departure of Ricky Doyle, John Beilein suddenly has a dearth of big men on his roster. The Wolverines ranked 12th in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding percentage and badly need a big man who can consistently hold his own on the defensive glass. Michigan returns a lineup of athletic wings with excellent range on their jumpers, but it won’t rise to the top of the Big Ten standings without better rebounding — particularly on the defensive end of the floor.

Iowa (22-11, 12-6 Big Ten)

Can the Hawkeyes fill the huge void left by their four well-traveled seniors?

Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons and Adam Woodbury were the foundation of a Hawkeyes’ squad that spent over a third of this season ranked among the top 10. Peter Jok will be the team’s primary offensive weapon next season, but the rest of the roster will be very inexperienced. Dom Uhl showed good range in shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc; he is in line for a big increase in minutes and production.

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Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part II

Posted by Patrick Engel on April 7th, 2016

Part one of our four-part review of each Big Ten team examined key questions for the league’s bottom three finishers: Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois. Part two tackles important offseason questions for Penn State, Nebraska and Northwestern. (note: Scout.com used for all player and class ranks).

Penn State (16-16, 7-11 Big Ten)

Pat Chambers signed the highest-rated recruiting class in Penn State history, but will it bring immediate results (AP Photo/Michael Conroy).

Pat Chambers signed the highest-rated recruiting class in Penn State history, but will it net immediate results? (AP Photo/Michael Conroy).

Can the best recruiting class in program history bring immediate results?

Penn State signed a top-20 recruiting class that includes top-40 overall point guard Tony Carr, top-75 overall wing Lamar Stevens, three-star wing Nazeer Bostick and three-star center Joe Hampton. It comes on the heels of a 2015 class that included four-star wing Josh Reaves – who showed great promise in 19 starts as a freshman — and big man Mike Watkins, who had to sit out the year with academic issues. How quickly can all these young players make an impact? Carr is a natural point guard, a good transition player and passer who can get into the paint and find quality shots. He’s not known for long-range shooting, but he’s good enough that head coach Pat Chambers could move Shep Garner off the ball. At 6’6″, Stevens is a hybrid forward in the mold of former Maryland star Dez Wells. He should fit well in the Brandon Taylor role for the Nittany Lions. Penn State’s post offense was a significant weakness this year, but with two of its three centers finishing their careers, Watkins and Hampton will have an opportunity to produce. A potential starting five of Carr, Garner, Reaves, Stevens and Watkins, Hampton or junior Julian Moore is a very good lineup on paper. But the young stars will need to adjust right away for Penn State to finish higher than 10th in the Big Ten for the first time under Chambers.

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North Carolina’s No Good Very Bad Ending to Fairy Tale Season

Posted by Matt Patton on April 7th, 2016

There’s no arguing that North Carolina is among college basketball royalty. The Tar Heels are one of only three programs with a truly national fan base (the other two are Duke and Kentucky). They own five national championships and consistently recruit a level of talent that most programs can only dream of. But with the news of a multi-year academic scandal and corresponding NCAA investigation hanging overhead, the carefully-curated lustre of “the Carolina Way” had faded. The uncertainty of the drawn-out investigation resulted in a surplus of negative recruiting and several classes that lagged behind the other national powerhouses.

Brice Johnson and North Carolina met their match Monday. (photo: Chuck Liddy / Raleigh News & Observer)

Brice Johnson and North Carolina met their match Monday. (Photo: Chuck Liddy / Raleigh News & Observer)

“When you’re a kid growing up, you don’t dream of missing the last second shot, or a team beating you at the buzzer,” he said. “You dream of having that moment. That confetti. Seeing your family over there crying tears of joy. Hugging guys you’ve had blood, sweat and tears with for four years. That’s what you dream of. We were close to that dream.”Marcus Paige

All of this set the stage for Roy Williams to rebrand his team — one of college basketball’s elites — as a Cinderella despite starting the season as the top dog (preseason AP #1). Some experts quickly left the Tar Heels’ bandwagon after they blew a mid-November double-figure second half lead at Northern Iowa (a team that was ultimately one broken press away from the Sweet Sixteen, remember). A narrative has existed over the last few years — promoted incessantly by Dan Dakich’s egocentric view of history — that North Carolina lacked toughness. The early loss to the Panthers played into that narrative, but it more or less became gospel when the Tar Heels allowed a lesser Duke squad to steal a February victory in Chapel Hill even with Matt Jones injured for most of the game. Suddenly Doug Gottlieb was mentioning that Williams was considering retirement to allow Hubert Davis to assume the helm. Since that loss on February 17, the Tar Heels played with an “us against the world” mentality that we hadn’t seen from them. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Big Ten’s Shift East Begins in Earnest Next Season

Posted by Alex Moscoso on April 7th, 2016

On Monday night in Houston, Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hit a three-point buzzer-beater to lift his team over North Carolina for the school’s second championship all-time and the first for the remade basketball-only Big East. Having one of the conference’s premier programs reach the sport’s pinnacle gives the Big East a much-needed boost in relevance. However, that sense of accomplishment could be fleeting. Enter the Big Ten, which starting next year will initiate a series of expansive events in the northeastern United States, essentially trying to establish a beachhead in traditional ACC and Big East territory. For example, the 2017 Big Ten Tournament will be in Washington D.C. and the 2018 edition will be in New York. The league will also continue its “Super Saturday – College Hoops & Hockey” double-header in Madison Square Garden until at least 2019. This strategic shift focused on the Northeast marks the beginning of an arms race for the nation’s most coveted television markets.

The Big Ten starts their East offensive with the Big Ten Tournament in DC and New York the next two seasons.

The Big Ten starts its eastern offensive with the Big Ten Tournament in Washington, DC and New York over the next two seasons.

Recent championship aside, the Big East’s reorganization of a footprint that left half of its schools in the Midwest resulted in a vacuum. A 12-year contract with the fledgling Fox Sports 1 network, significantly restricting its viewing audience (average viewership for a Big East FS1 game is 91,000 people), hasn’t helped. The Big Ten, on the other hand, has a $1 billion contract with ESPN along with its own Big Ten Network, which reaches 90 million households. It’s with these munitions that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany plans on swamping the East Coast with Big Ten basketball for the rest of the decade. He hopes to capture the market by blowing out any lingering Big East passion and outflanking the ACC in its own surge northward.

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ACC Way Too Early Power Rankings: Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 7th, 2016

After a pair of impressive performances in the NCAA Tournament over the last two years, how will the ACC measure up next season? Based on what we know to this point, it looks like 2016-17 could be another very strong year for the league. Some roster adjustments — transfers and the like — will naturally occur between now and October; and a new NCAA policy allowing college players until May 25 to declare for the NBA Draft is likely to impact a few rosters as well. Today we list our bottom five teams heading into next season; tomorrow we will reveal our top 10. To get started, here is how the 15 ACC teams finished this season, ranked in order of their final KenPom rating.

Final Stand

Most of this season’s lowest-rated teams are projected as improved next year, while several schools near the top may drop off slightly. That means we should once again expect a logjam in the middle of the league standings. The following predictions assume the return of the following players who have declared for the NBA Draft but will more than likely be back.

  • Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
  • Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State
  • Chinanu Onuaku, Louisville
  • Abdul-Malik Abu, N.C. State

On to the 2016-17 way too early power rankings:

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Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part I

Posted by Patrick Engel on April 6th, 2016

The college basketball season concluded Monday night with Villanova as this year’s national champion, but the Big Ten’s season ended with North Carolina’s Sweet Sixteen trouncing of Indiana back on March 25. A lot has already happened among league teams in the interim, including a coaching hire at Rutgers and a great number of transfers. Over the next few days as we close out the 2015-16 season, we’ll review a key offseason question for each Big Ten team, starting at the bottom of the conference standings.

Rutgers (7-25, 1-17 Big Ten)

Among Steve Pickiell's many tasks as Rutgers head coach will be to gain recruiting appeal in New York and New Jersey (Photo: Julio Cortez — The Associated Press).

Among Steve Pickiell’s many tasks as Rutgers head coach will be to gain recruiting appeal in New York and New Jersey (Photo: Julio Cortez — The Associated Press).

How quickly can new head coach Steve Pickiell give Rutgers some local recruiting appeal?

Steve Pickiell, who led Stony Brook to the NCAA Tournament this season and won three America East regular season title in five years, is already a known name in the greater New York area. It’s no secret that New York/New Jersey has plenty of basketball talent, and Rutgers is located in the heart of the same recruiting territory. Pickiell didn’t waste any time in accomplishing what Eddie Jordan couldn’t in three years: earning a commitment from a New Jersey high school playerMatt Bullock from prep powerhouse Roselle Catholic will play for the Scarlet Knights next season.

Pickiell has already made a home run hire, luring away Karl Hobbs from Connecticut to become his new associate head coach. His staff would be wise to make offers to a number of the area’s best players in the classes of 2018 and 2019 right away. Rutgers needs to develop good working relationships and credibility with with the region’s top high school and AAU coaches, and getting the program’s name out there now is a key element to that strategy. The school’s local perception can drastically stand to improve, so if Pickiell can snag a couple of the area’s under-recruited but well-known players in the next class, it will pay dividends in future years. Bullock, while a recruit in this year’s senior class, is a good start who fits that description.

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Way-Too-Early Power Rankings in the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 6th, 2016

The “Way-Too-Early” part of doing power rankings predicting the next Big Ten season is even more difficult this year. That’s because those players who declare for the NBA Draft but do not sign with an agent can decide to return to school as late as the last week in May. So even though it’s likely that things will change between now and early summer, here’s our early rundown of how things look heading into next season.

Michigan State and Bryn Forbes Should Expect to be at the Top of the Big Ten Again Next Season (USA Today Images)

Michigan State Will Say Goodbye to Several But Should Expect to be at the Top of the Big Ten Again Next Season (USA Today Images)

  1. Michigan State: Even if Deyonta Davis decides to leave after his freshman season, Michigan State has another loaded class coming to East Lansing. Miles Bridges and Josh Langford should be special from the start, and even though the losses of Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello will sting, the returns of Eron Harris, Gavin Schilling and Alvin Ellis should lessen the blow considerably.
  2. Wisconsin: After an underwhelming junior season, it just doesn’t seem likely that Nigel Hayes will leave Madison early. Even if he does depart, though, four other starters will be back as the program gets a full offseason with Greg Gard leading the way. Expect the Badgers to once again be in the mix for the Big Ten crown.
  3. Indiana: We know that Yogi Ferrell is finished (graduation) but we don’t know for sure about Troy Williams, Thomas Bryant or OG Anunoby. Chances are the Hoosiers won’t slip much if at least two of those three come back along with expected returnees James Blackmon, Jr. and Robert Johnson.
  4. Michigan: There’s a lot to like here with potentially all five starters returning to Ann Arbor next season. The keys seems to be whether Zak Irvin can be consistent for a full season and whether Marc Donnal can make additional strides. If they can, the Wolverines should be a Top 25 team. Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Key Factors For Villanova Tonight…

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 4th, 2016

One game remains in the 2015-16 college basketball season and the storylines surrounding it are plentiful. Villanova and North CarolinaKenpom‘s #1 and #2 teams, will square off in a battle between the most statistically efficient offenses in the nation. Two-point shooting aside, however, these teams could not be more different. The former bases its scoring attack on guard play — all of which are proficient shooters and slashers — while spotting a lone big man inside to aid with ball movement and spacing. The latter runs an offense heavily predicated on second chance points with the focus on getting the ball to its dominant frontcourt players in scoring position. North Carolina thrives in transition and pushes the ball frequently off of defensive rebounds; Villanova has succeeded by running controlled half-court sets. Tonight should come down to two different styles: winning with size vs. winning with spacing. Below are three keys that will decide the champion.

Josh Hart and Villanova Seek to Take Home Its Second National Title (USA Today Images)

Josh Hart and Villanova Seek to Take Home the School’s Second National Title (USA Today Images)

  1. North Carolina’s ability to successfully make entry passes and establish post position. Villanova’s numerous defensive schemes have been wildly effective when it comes to stifling opposing offenses. Its guards put constant pressure on ball-handlers, forcing difficult entry passes (see: Kansas’ Perry Ellis) that often result in bigs catching the ball out of scoring position. Marcus Paige is far from turnover prone, but Villanova’s 2-3 half-court zone set could complicate his entry passes. Moreover, Villanova’s guards time their low post double-teams well, limiting easy scoring opportunities in the paint. Given how heavily UNC relies on inside scoring, the time that Villanova’s guards spend playing help defense on Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks will be worth monitoring. The other key factor here will be Daniel Ochefu’s foul situation – his team’s help defense will have to be aggressive to avoid putting the Villanova big man in dangerous spots. Read the rest of this entry »
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Buddy Hield Out to Make Norman a Two-Sport Town

Posted by Chris Stone on April 2nd, 2016

Oklahoma isn’t a college that is historically known for basketball. That doesn’t mean that a number of outstanding basketball players and several teams haven’t passed through Norman over the years, but the Sooners are set to play in just the program’s fifth Final Four in history (the most recent was in 2002). They have twice made the national title game (1947 and 1988), but the school has never raised a championship trophy in hoops. Oklahoma is much more commonly known as a football school — the only such entity in this season’s Final Four (North Carolina, Villanova and Syracuse are, without question, basketball schools) — and while the Sooners can lay claim to seven gridiron national titles, Buddy Hield is ready to challenge football’s dominance in the Sooner State this weekend.

Buddy Hield will lead the charge for Oklahoma in the Final Four. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield will lead the charge for Oklahoma in the Final Four. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

What makes this Oklahoma team the one that can cut down the nets in Houston? The short answer is Hield himself, one of the most prolific collegiate scorers in recent memory. The senior guard is the only player since 2009-10 (the first year Basketball Reference began tracking minutes played) to average more than 25.0 PPG and finish the season with a true shooting percentage higher than 65 percent. The long answer is that Oklahoma is a lot more than just the RTC National Player of the Year. The Sooners’ backcourt, comprised of Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard, is one of the best in the country. Both players shoot better than 40 percent from behind the arc and can act as point guards capable of navigating Villanova’s stingy trapping defense. And contrary to popular belief, the Sooners are more than just an offensive show. Oklahoma is also stout on the defensive end where it can flexibly switch one through three on the perimeter and employ the shot-blocking prowess of Khadeem Lattin inside — whose grandfather, incidentally, played on the 1966 Texas Western team that won an NCAA championship.

The last time the Sooners were national title good was in 2008-09 when future #1 pick Blake Griffin was a sophomore. Griffin’s squad lost to the eventual champion, North Carolina, in an Elite Eight game that was generally noncompetitive. This season offers the Sooners a shot at redemption. If they can make it past Villanova this evening, they’ll likely get another shot at the Tar Heels, and this time with a national title on the line. Oklahoma has already become the first school to make both the College Football Playoff and the Final Four in the same season, but Lon Kruger‘s group have a chance to surpass their football counterparts, if only for a weekend. Still, given the folk hero popularity of Hield around Norman, maybe this is the team that could help turn it into a two-sport town.

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On Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim: Hall of Fame Alumni

Posted by Matt Patton on April 2nd, 2016

Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim couldn’t seem more different on most days. Both reflect their environments: one is a cranky New Yorker; the other sounds every bit like he grew up in Swannanoa, North Carolina (a town of fewer than 5,000 people in the eastern North Carolina mountains). But the two have fascinating reputations to unpack.

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, left, and North Carolina head coach Roy Williams, right, greet each other before for the start of an NCAA college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. Syracuse won 57-45. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, left, and North Carolina head coach Roy Williams, right, greet each other before for the start of an NCAA college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. Syracuse won 57-45. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)

Williams was a longtime assistant for Dean Smith, and he rarely lets an opportunity get by without letting you know about it. Everything from his disinterest in calling timeouts to stop opponent runs to his frequent first half subbing harken back to his assistant coaching tenure under Smith. After a decade on the Tar Heels’ bench, Williams left in 1988 to take over a Kansas program in disarray as a result of Larry Brown. Hardly a rebuilding job, though, Williams made the NCAA Tournament in every year he was in Lawrence except his first (the Jayhawks were still on probation). He wound up taking Kansas to the Final Four a total of four times, including the 2002-03 season, right before he left for Chapel Hill. At the time, Williams famously said, “I could give a sh– about North Carolina,” immediately following his championship game loss to (ironically) Jim Boeheim and Syracuse.

Back at his alma mater starting in 2003, Williams took over a floundering program that had lost 36 games in its previous two seasons (it would take Williams six years to log 36 losses). Matt Doherty bequeathed him a young team with many of the players Williams would ride to his first national championship — Raymond Felton, Jawad Williams, Sean May and Jackie Manuel. But Williams’ Tar Heels bore no resemblance to the ones coached by Doherty. They ran like the wind and turned the undersized May into an unstoppable juggernaut. It’s impossible to consider now, but North Carolina was arguably one more bad hire away from long-term irrelevance (with Coach K just down the road having just won his third championship in 2001).

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Pac-12 Postseason Odds and Ends

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 1st, 2016

The college basketball season isn’t quite over yet but the page has already turned for the Pac-12. Once Oregon was rudely bounced from the tournament by Oklahoma last weekend, it was time for the always exciting period when coaches are hired and fired, players declare for the NBA Draft, and some others decide on a change of scenery. The Pac-12 has been full of these changes in the past two weeks — from Stanford hiring a new coach to Washington’s precocious freshmen hiring agents to a multitude of players transferring — there’s been a lot of action.

Let’s break down some of the moves that have already been announced and what they mean for their respective teams.

Jerod Haase Hired by Stanford

Jerod Haase Has Won A Lot In C-USA But Can He Do It In The PAC-12 Too?

Stanford Coach Jerod Haase Has Won A Lot In C-USA But Can He Do It In The PAC-12 Too?

Stanford isn’t the can’t-miss job that many think it is, but it still feels like the Cardinal made a reach in its replacement of Johnny Dawkins. Haase came up as an assistant to Roy Williams and made headlines when his team at UAB beat Iowa State last season, but he has only been to the NCAA Tournament once and his three seasons of 20+ wins are as much a result of Conference USA being awful as his coaching prowess. Furthermore, advanced statistics have not been impressed with the Blazers at all despite their several-year win totals. The former Cal graduate and Bay Area native will bring energy and excitement to the Stanford program, but the jury is out on whether he can coach at this level.

Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss Declare for NBA Draft

It isn’t surprising that Murray and Chriss have decided to test the waters after excellent freshman seasons at Washington. It also wouldn’t have been surprising if they had decided to stay in the draft after gathering enough information. What is surprising is that both signed with agents almost immediately, effectively ending their college careers before March was even finished. Both players have a shot at at the lottery, which will mean that their decisions are probably good ones. But Washington could have been poised for a special season next year with the duo back in Seattle. Now, Lorenzo Romar’s rebuilding project looks to be moving a bit slower now.

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Breaking Down Villanova’s Enhanced 1-2-2 Zone Press

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 1st, 2016

Jay Wright’s teams have long employed a 1-2-2, three-quarter-court press as a variant to its standard halfcourt man-to-man defense. This has been partly used as a way to force turnovers, but it also helps the Villanova defense by burning valuable time off the shot clock. Its efficacy largely hinges on its personnel. Villanova has always had talented backcourts with proven abilities to score, but the necessary buy-in on the defensive end has only occurred in recent years. As a result, the zone press has experienced a significant uptick in usage — a testament to both Jay Wright‘s acknowledgement of its success and increased practice time in mastering its implementation. But the biggest development in this defensive scheme hasn’t been just added practice time — rather, the arrival of freshman Mikal Bridges has drastically improved the defensive scheme. Bridges gives Villanova a deceptively long, athletic wing with above-average foot speed who can wreak havoc within this extended defense.

The set-up of the 1-2-2 is as follows. The most important position is the player circled in red at the top, whose job it is to force the opposing ball-handler to one side of the floor.

Some of the more aggressive variations of the 1-2-2 press will attempt to trap the ball-handler in his own backcourt. While that strategy may force more turnovers, the downside is that it leaves the press exposed on the other end of the floor — especially true if the opponent has multiple ball-handlers. Wright’s adjustment is that Villanova presses in a more passive manner. The first objective is to bait the dribbler into throwing a pass, whereby players 1 -3 will aggressively pursue anything thrown over the top.

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