Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part IV

Posted by Patrick Engel on April 11th, 2016

In three parts over the last week, we’ve examined a key offseason question for 10 of the 14 Big Ten teams. Part I reviewed Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois; Part II featured Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern; Part III examined Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa. The fourth and final part today examines the Big Ten’s top four teams from this season: Purdue, Maryland, Michigan State and Indiana. (Note: Scout.com used for all player and class ranks).

Purdue (26-9, 12-6 Big Ten)

Dakota Mathias (31) needs to be a productive three-point shooter again for Purdue. (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

Dakota Mathias (#31) needs to be a productive three-point shooter again for Purdue. (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

Can Purdue find consistent offensive production from its guards?

The Boilermakers this season possessed one of the most productive frontcourts but one of the least productive backcourts in college basketball. P.J. Thompson boasted a 4.8-to-1 assist-turnover ratio, but the group of Dakota Mathias, Ryan Cline and Kendall Stephens (if he returns) and himself are mainly three-point shooters, none of whom attempted more than 16 percent of his shots at the rim. This group of guards shouldn’t experience much turnover outside of senior Raphael Davis and possibly Stephens, if he transfers, meaning that freshman point guard Carsen Edwards should have every chance to become the starter from day one next year. He’s not very big (5’11”, 175 pounds), but he’s aggressive, mature and a good passer. If he can play well enough to earn major minutes, he’ll mitigate one of Purdue’s clear weaknesses. Matt Painter’s frontcourt should again be a strength, assuming Vince Edwards and Caleb Swanigan return to complement Isaac Haas, whose touches should increase substantially. This team’s Big Ten ceiling, though, might depend on the readiness of its lone freshman.

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Rushed Reaction: #12 Little Rock 85 #5 Purdue 83 (2OT)

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 17th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Not So Little Rock Today (USA Today Images)

Not So Little Rock Today (USA Today Images)

  1. Grind It Out. At the under-four media timeout, Purdue led by 11 and everyone in the Pepsi Center (except for maybe the Little Rock bench) was ready to put a bow on the opening game. A.J. Hammons exited the timeout, knocked in a couple free throws and the Boilermakers were well on their way to the round of 32, up 65-52. Things turned a little bit when Little Rock was able to get a layup out of their halfcourt offense, then turned up their defense. Josh Hagins got a steal in the backcourt and assisted on a Jalen Jackson jumper, then got a jumper of his own after another Purdue miss. Suddenly Little Rock believed again. When Hagins hit another three to bring the Trojans back within one possession, things were on. A few possessions later, Hagins delivered a shot that will live on in March lore, and a game thought to be over minutes earlier was headed to overtime.
  2. Overtimes. The Hagins shot tied it, but Little Rock still had to find a way to win the game. They kept up the pressure on defense and Purdue struggled for possessions at a time to find coherent offense in a first overtime that was not a work of art. In the second overtime, it was against Hagins scoring six points to help establish the final distance between his team and the Boilermakers.
  3. Fight For Everything. Against a team with three talented players taller than 6’10”, all of whom have NBA aspirations, Little Rock appeared to be at a disadvantage (they rank 263rd in the nation in KenPom’s average height metric). But if there was a metric for toughness, the Trojans would have to be near the top. Despite the size disadvantage, they denied post touches, collapsed on Purdue post players when they did get the ball in there, and forced multiple turnovers on the double-teams. If there was a loose ball, there was a Trojan ready to get down on the floor to grab it. They fought the Boilermakers to a draw on the glass, grabbing 15 offensive boards. And in the second half, when Purdue extended their lead to as many as 14 and it seemed like there was no energy left in the building, Little Rock manufactured their own.

Star of the Game. Josh Hagins. The three-pointer at the end of regulation will be replayed both this March and many in the future. But his overall performance was insane, too. His final line: 31 points (a career high) on 20 field goal attempts, six assists, seven boards and five steals. His leadership shouldn’t be overlooked, either.

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Handing Out Big Ten Awards and Superlatives

Posted by Patrick Engel on March 8th, 2016

With the regular season complete, it’s time for our Big Ten postseason awards. Here are our three all-conference teams, all-rookie team and individual award winners as voted on by our microsite staff. Note that our ballots were submitted before the Big Ten released its official winners on Monday night.

Individual Awards

Tom Crean helped his Indiana team regroup and win the Big Ten after a poor nonconference showing. (Getty)

Tom Crean helped his Indiana team regroup and win the Big Ten after a poor nonconference showing. (Getty)

  • Player of the Year (unanimous): Denzel Valentine (G, Michigan State). The Wooden Award Candidate is the first player to lead the Big Ten in both scoring and assists per game since Iowa’s Andre Woolridge in 1996-97. He’s the Big Ten’s best passer (44.6 percent assist rate) and notched a sterling 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio this season. Valentine takes 30 percent of Michigan State’s shots (over half are three-pointers) and he still has a top-35 offensive rating (126.9) nationally.
  • Coach of the Year: Tom Crean (Indiana). The Hoosiers won the outright Big Ten title with a strong 15-3 record and significantly improved its defense during the Big Ten season. Despite losing one of its best offensive players with James Blackmon, Jr.’s injury in January, Indiana still boast the nation’s fourth-most efficient offense (119.6 points per 100 possessions).
  • Rookie of the Year: Ethan Happ (F, Wisconsin). Happ’s production and consistency on both ends of the floor gives him the edge here. He is tied for second in the conference with nine double-doubles and was an important part of Wisconsin’s resurgence after a 1-3 start to the Big Ten season.
  • Defensive Player of the Year: A.J. Hammons (C, Purdue). Hammons has tallied four more blocks (74) than fouls (70) this season, and he helps Purdue hold opponents to a difficult 42.7 two-point percentage. He also rebounds 23.4 percent of opponents’ misses.
  • Most Improved Player: Peter Jok (G, Iowa). Jok went from an inconsistent reserve as a sophomore to a consistently productive scorer as a junior. Iowa needed a complementary scorer to put alongside Jarrod Uthoff this season, and Jok became that guy.

All-Big Ten First Team

Denzel Valentine has become one of the nation's best players, if not the best, in his senior season. (AP)

Denzel Valentine has become one of the nation’s best players, if not the best, in his senior season. (AP)

  • Denzel Valentine (G, Michigan State): Valentine is the only player in the modern history of college basketball to average at least 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game (assists became an official statistic in 1983-84). He also logged two triple-doubles and shot 49.6 percent from beyond the arc in conference play.
  • Yogi Ferrell (G, Indiana): The Hoosiers’ senior point guard is the Big Ten’s fourth-leading scorer (17.1 PPG), fourth-leading distributor (5.5 APG), 10th-leading three-point shooter (42.1 %) and the conference champion’s best player.

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Big Ten M5: 02.12.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 12th, 2016

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  1. Purdue announced on Thursday that athletic director Morgan Burke will retire when his contract expires on June 30, 2017. Burke, who has held the job in West Lafayette since 1993, is the longest-tenured athletic director in the Big Ten by 12 years. Michael Berghoff, former football player and current chairman of the Purdue Board of Trustees, will lead the search and gave no timetable for making a hire. The Lafayette (IN) Journal & Courier‘s Nathan Baird put together a list of possible candidates for the job.
  2. In more Purdue news, starting point guard P.J. Thompson has sprained ligaments in his left ankle, causing him to miss practice and wear a walking boot. His status for Saturday’s game at Michigan is unclear, although X-rays came back negative. Thompson said he suffered the injury in the second half of the Boilermakers’ overtime win versus Michigan State on Tuesday. The Indianapolis native is on pace to shatter Purdue’s record for assist-to-turnover ratio: The sophomore has 71 assists against 11 turnovers this season.
  3. The James Naismith Trophy released its midseason list for its men’s college basketball Player of the Year award. The list of 35 names includes five Big Ten players: Purdue center A.J. Hammons, Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine, Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff, Maryland point guard Melo Trimble and Indiana point guard Yogi Ferrell. Trimble, a sophomore, is the only non-senior of the five Big Ten candidates.
  4. Rutgers is in the middle of a 23-game Big Ten losing streak and head coach Eddie Jordan is displeased with the fan base’s impatience. Responding to a question about their disappointment, Jordan’s frustration showed as he defended Rutgers’ direction, saying, “They just have to be more educated in what the real deal is. If they understand what this conference is about, what type of players and teams we’re going up against with injuries and being a young team. If they don’t understand that, I don’t need to read what the reaction is.” Rutgers’ average home game attendance of 4,483 is easily the worst in the Big Ten.
  5. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Wisconsin has won six straight games since a 1-4 start to Big Ten play. Forward Nigel Hayes is tied for fourth in the conference in scoring with 17.3 PPG and has scored at least 20 points in four of the six wins. But Hayes isn’t doing all the work. Junior forward/center Vitto Brown’s newfound consistency has given the Badgers a big lift too. He scored a career-high 18 points in Wednesday’s win over Nebraska and made all three of his three-point attempts. Brown is averaging 14.0 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in Wisconsin’s last four contests. He has made six three-pointers in that stretch after making only eight in the first 20 games of the season.
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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: Super Bowl Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 6th, 2016

It’s Super Bowl weekend and that means college basketball is pushed aside for nonstop professional football talk, party planning, and most importantly, the Puppy Bowl. Given the busy weekend, there’s a dearth of quality matchups around the conference this weekend. However, there are a couple of games worth carving out time for while you’re planning the big party. One is an intrastate rivalry that has grown in relevance now that both teams are consistent contenders for the Big Ten title. The other contest is the only Big Ten game this weekend that pits two ranked teams against each other. Here are your Big Ten games to watch.

The Michigan-Michigan State rivalry has been must watch TV since John Beilein has arrived in Ann Arbor . (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

The Michigan-Michigan State rivalry has been must watch TV since John Beilein arrived in Ann Arbor. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

  • #10 Michigan State at Michigan (Saturday 2:00 PM ET, CBS). After getting run off the court at home by Indiana on Tuesday, this game is close to a must-win for the Wolverines in terms of Big Ten title contention. Michigan is not the most talented team in the conference – this was evident last Tuesday when the Hoosiers did whatever they wanted against the Wolverines’ defense – but their soft schedule in the final half of the conference play gave them a relatively easy trail to the title. This path is narrowing thanks to the debacle on Tuesday. On the other side of things, Michigan State is on a three-game winning streak that started with a momentum-launching victory over Maryland two weeks ago. Michigan presents the Spartans with their first test against formidable competition since that win over the Terrapins, and will serve as a barometer as to whether Michigan State has returned to its elite non-conference form, or if they are just riding an emotional win to two wins over bottom-tier opponents.

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The RTC Big Ten Podcast: Debut Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 2nd, 2016

Welcome to the first-ever Big Ten microsite podcast! Big Ten microsite writers Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) and Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) are here to give you a quickish overview of the league at the turn. In this episode, we analyze the two first-place teams in detail, select a few others that are poised to challenge for a regular season title, discuss whether any of the teams currently outside the bubble can get back on to it, consider a few Big Ten POY candidates, and finally talk about the few coaches on the hot seat. Let us know if you enjoyed the podcast and, if so, what topics we should cover next time, at @rushtheB1G. The complete rundown is below.

  • 1:06 – 8:35 — Indiana and Iowa
  • 8:36-17:39 — Maryland and Michigan’s regular season title hopes
  • 17:40-25:59 — Ohio State and Nebraska’s chances at an at-large bid
  • 26:00-31:41 — Jarrod Uthoff and A.J. Hammons as possible Big Ten POYs
  • 31:42-47:00 — Coaches on the hot seat
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Big Ten M5: 01.29.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on January 29th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. Iowa lost its first conference game of the year on Thursday at Maryland, 74-68, and perhaps the most surprising part of the loss was Jarrod Uthoff’s poor play. Uthoff had scored double-digit points in every game this year entering Thursday and was shooting 48 percent on both two-pointers and three-pointers. The Terps held him to nine points on 2-13 shooting; Uthoff did not make a field goal in the first half. Eleven of his 13 field goal attempts were jumpers, and he missed them all. Iowa’s loss means no more Big Ten teams are unbeaten in conference play, although the Hawkeyes retain pole position in the conference standings.
  2. Michigan and Penn State will play each other in basketball and hockey on Saturday in the inaugural “Super Saturday – College Hoops and Hockey” doubleheader at Madison Square Garden. The Big Ten announced the teams for the doubleheaders in 2017, 2018 and 2019 on Wednesday. Rutgers and Wisconsin will play in basketball in 2017, while Ohio State and Wisconsin will play hockey. In 2018, Minnesota and Ohio State will take the court and Minnesota and Michigan State will take the ice. Maryland and Illinois square off in basketball in 2019.
  3. Purdue beat Minnesota on Wednesday night, but by a much smaller margin that expected, 68-64. Boilermakers wing Vince Edwards played the game with a bruised patellar tendon suffered in a Jan. 24 loss at Iowa, but logged 39 minutes and scored 24 points to go with eight rebounds. He did not sustain any ligament damage, but admitted his knee was not close to fully healthy. It hasn’t impacted Edwards’ play of late: He is averaging 17.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists in his last five games.
  4. Wednesday’s games produced two of the stranger plays of the season. Rutgers, trailing Michigan by eight with 45 seconds to go, tossed a free throw rebound out of bounds because its players thought Michigan’s Zak Irvin was shooting two free throws. Irvin was actually shooting a 1-and-1 and had missed the front end, but no Rutgers player realized that. In Purdue’s win over Minnesota, A.J. Hammons grabbed a rebound with one hand over two Minnesota players. He used one hand because his other hand held his shoe, which fell off earlier in the play. He put his hand inside it and kept playing. That board has to be the most impressive rebound of his college career.
  5. Illinois center Mike Thorne Jr.’s season was considered over when he had meniscus surgery in late November. But he returned to the court for the Illini’s Jan. 19 loss at Indiana. However, he hasn’t played since. He did not play in Thursday’s overtime loss vs. Ohio State, but did pregame work and was a game-day decision. As Scout.com’s Jeremy Werner said Monday, Thorne is no longer eligible for a medical redshirt after playing against Indiana.
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Big Ten M5: 12.30.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 30th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Conference play tipped off Tuesday night when Purdue earned a 61-55 road victory at Wisconsin. It was your stereotypical Big Ten affair — a defensively dominated grinder — where the game was sealed after two consecutive Dakota Mathias three-pointers in the final 90 seconds. But the star of the night was A.J. Hammons, who contributed 24 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks on the evening. The senior center was able to carry his team to a win despite his teammates shooting only 36 percent from the field and committing 11 turnovers. Next for the Boilermakers will be two home games against projected NCAA Tournament teams Iowa and Michigan.
  2. Speaking of A.J. Hammons, he was selected as the Big Ten POTW for the second time this season on Monday. Hammons has been completely locked in since returning from his early-season suspension where he missed the first two games, but is now averaging 14.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, and 2.8 BPG on the season. What may be most impressive is the fact that he’s been this effective coming off the bench and barely averaging over 20 MPG. The big man from Gary, Indiana has been one of those rare cases in modern college basketball where a 7-footer stays the full four years and actually improves enough through his tenure to be considered a first round pick. All Big Ten fans should be enjoying his final year in the league while he challenges for Big Ten POTY honors.
  3. Also on Tuesday night, Iowa got its biggest win of the season when the Hawkeyes beat No. 1 Michigan State, 83-70, at home — the Hawkeyes’ first win over a #1 ranked team since 1999 (against UConn). While it was an off-night for Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gessell stepped up and scored 23 points which included going 10 for 12 at the free throw line. Even though the win came against the Spartans without Denzel Valentine, their leader and All American, the win no doubt solidifies Iowa as one of the top four teams in the conference and a contender for the Big Ten title.
  4. It’s been a hard week for Tom Izzo, the loss to Iowa aside. On Monday, the Michigan State coach’s 90-year old father, Carl Izzo, passed away. The elder Izzo had worked Tony Izzo & Sons in Iron Mountain, Michigan, where he had spent most of his adult life. The job of a college coach is inherently difficult and stressful, but coaching days after the loss of a parent must make the task that more cumbersome. The RTC Big Ten microsite sends it thoughts and prayers to the Izzo family.
  5. The opportunities to write about Rutgers in a positive light are few and far between, but in case you haven’t been watching the Scarlet Knights (and why would you), you’ll miss the fact that they have been lead by talented freshman Corey Sanders. The Lakeland, Florida, native is first in the team in scoring (14.0 PPG) and assists (3.5 APG) while also providing respectable defense (98.0 rating). On Monday, he was awarded Big Ten FOTW behind his 21-point, five rebound performance against Farleigh Dickinson. Sander’s potential gives this Rutgers at least a glimmer of hope down the road to build this program upon.
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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 12.19.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 19th, 2015

After a quiet week for the league, this weekend storms in with some great games. The centerpiece of the next two days will be the Crossroads Classic, an event that takes the four most prestigious programs from the country’s most basketball-rich state and pairs them together in Indianapolis. It’s turned into one of the premier events before conference plays begins. Here is your weekend preview:

The Crossroads Classic

The Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis is upon us once again this Saturday.

  • Northwestern at Depaul (Saturday, 2:00 PM ET, FS1). People may not have noticed, but Northwestern is 9-1 with its sole loss against North Carolina–a game which was at least competitive in the first half. Not many have jumped on the Wildcats’ bandwagon because their schedule as of today has been laughable. Only two of their wins have come from teams ranked higher than #175 on KenPom and both those wins came in overtime. A win at DePaul (5-5) wouldn’t convert many to be believers, but it would represent Northwestern’s best win of the season (given their light schedule thus far).
  • Notre Dame vs Indiana (Saturday, 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2). This is the opener to the Crossroads Classic and Mike Brey decided to turn up the heat to it when he said yesterday that Notre Dame was the most consistent program in the state, “and it isn’t close”. It’s not certain whether his statement was a direct shot at their upcoming opponents, the only blueblood program in the state, or it was just innocuous praise for himself and assistant coaches. Either way, it should be a highly entertaining and frenetic game as both these teams have Top 5 offenses paired with pedestrian defenses. The game might come down to whoever makes the most threes or who has the most transition points. Grab the popcorn before you watch this one.

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Big Ten M5: 12.16.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 16th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. While most of the country was about to go to bed last night, Bo Ryan decided to shock the college basketball world and announce his retirement, effective immediately. If you remember, Ryan said in the offseason that this would be his last year at Wisconsin, but then backtracked on those comments before the season started. This is a transparent move on Ryan’s part to get his protege — Greg Gard, who will become interim coach the rest of the season — at least a shot to show he can coach this program well into the future. However well Gard does with the remainder of the season, however, look for athletic director Barry Alvarez to see if he can pry Tony Bennett from Virginia as soon as the season is over.
  2. After their disastrous showing at the Maui Invitational where they went 1-2 in the losers bracket, followed by an embarrassing shellacking at Duke on national TV, Indiana has been largely ignored by the media and written off as serious Final Four contenders. But don’t look now, the Hoosier have won three decisive victories in a row (all games won by 30+ points) and are ranked at #23 on KenPom. In the last couple contests, no one has stepped up more than Troy Williams who has averaged 14.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, 2.5 assists, and 2.0 steals–which was good enough to be named CBS Sports Player of the Week. The junior wing has seemed to resurrect his standing within the team after being benched in the St. John’s game. We’ll see if the team as a whole can resurrect itself this Saturday when they play Notre Dame in the Crosstown Classic.
  3. While Williams was named of POTW by CBS, Jarrod Uthoff was chosen for the same honor by the Big Ten thanks to his impressive 32-point performance in a disappointing loss to Iowa State. A few days before, the sharpshooting senior scored 27 points against Western Illinois. While Uthoff is virtually unstoppable when he has his shot going, he still hasn’t found the ability to force his will onto a game. Against the Cyclones, Uthoff scored 30 of his 32 points in the first half; in the second half, when Iowa State made their run to overcome a 21-point deficit, Uthoff was nowhere to be found (until the very end of the game). It’s clear this Iowa team can play with anyone when Uthoff is on fire, but it’s unclear if they’re able to compete when he is having an off-night.
  4. Uthoff wasn’t the only POTW selected by the Big Ten, he shared the award with Melo Trimble. The Maryland point guard has been absolutely stellar and has made a big jump in some important categories from his freshman season. The most important facet of his game that has seen improvement is his ability to distribute the rock. Trimble is averaging over two assists more a game than last season which is vital given that he now has more talented teammates looking to score. Now that Maryland’s point guard, and candidate for National Player of the Year, has developed a complete game–with the ability to score and distribute–the sky is the limit for the Terrapins.
  5. Another high-performing team in the Big Ten has been Purdue, which finds itself at 11-0 going into a much anticipated game against Butler in the Crosstown Classic. The anchors of both the defense and offense has been the Boilermakers three frontcourt players — A.J. Hammons, Isaac Haas, and Caleb Swanigan. How good are they? All three made BTN‘s Jess Settle’s Top 10 player list, by far the most for any one team. With talent like that up front, they are making good on their promise of a special season for Purdue fans.
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A Quick Analysis of Maryland and Purdue’s Frontcourts

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 11th, 2015

Before the season began, both Maryland and Purdue were named in CBSSports.com’s preseason selection of the top 10 frontcourts in America. The Terrapins added two more bigs — Robert Carter and Diamond Stone — to their already strong trio of Jake Layman, Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky, while the Boilermakers added freshman Caleb Swanigan to their duo of A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas. As of today, the two teams have combined to go 18-1 with the sole loss by Maryland coming in Chapel Hill against the nation’s preseason #1 team. No matter how you slice it, the Terps and Boilermakers largely owe their excellent starts to their respective frontcourts. So how do their performances compare with the other eight selected by CBS? Let’s take a closer look. [Ed Note: All data was collected before Wednesday and Thursday’s games.]

Caleb Swanigan's addition to Purdue has taken this team to new heights in the early season. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Caleb Swanigan’s addition to Purdue has taken this team to new heights in the early season. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

The most basic function of any frontcourt is to grab rebounds and protect the rim. The four bar charts below compare these 10 teams’ total rebounding percentages, block percentages, offensive rebounding percentages and defensive rebounding percentages.

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Big Ten M5: 12.02.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 2nd, 2015

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  1. I’ve grown numb to feelings of empathy for John Groce and Illinois. No man or program who has undergone so much bad fortune in such a short period of time can be innocent of prior wrongdoing. The Basketball Gods have proven angry with the Illini and they’ve recently claimed yet another soul with the likely season-ending injury of Mike Thorne. The graduate senior tore his meniscus in the Iowa State game on Saturday and subsequent surgery has left him out of the lineup indefinitely. Look for Leron Black and maybe even Malcolm Hill to fill in for his time spent at the four, while Michael Finke and Maverick Morgan try to replace his big shoes at center.
  2. Scoring is up this season, which was the goal of this year’s rule changes designed to create a more free-flowing game. But not everyone is happy with these changes. After Michigan State’s Sunday night victory against Providence at the Wooden Classic — a game in which the two main stars, Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — ran into early foul trouble, Tom Izzo criticized both the officiating and the new rules. It’s not a total surprise that Izzo would react unfavorably to this shift since his style of play isn’t frenetic, but Sparty seems to be adjusting just fine with a 7-0 record and a #3 ranking in the latest AP Poll.
  3. Speaking of the Spartans, Denzel Valentine has erupted onto the national stage with his incredible early performances against Kansas and Providence. Through a couple weeks, he has jumped out in front as the early favorite for National Player of the Year by averaging 19.9 PPG, 8.6 APG, and 8.9 RPG. Yahoo Sports‘ Jeff Eisenberg writes about how the Lansing native has gone from begging Izzo for a scholarship to a legitimate NPOY candidate. The way it’s looking now, Valentine will join a couple of other famous Michigan natives in Mateen Cleaves and Draymond Green who also rose to national prominence under Izzo’s tutelage.
  4. We’re in the midst of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge this week and the leagues are deadlocked at 4-4 with six games remaining. One of the nicer Big Ten wins last night was Michigan notching a 66-59 victory at NC State. The road victory represents a potential resume-enhancing win, but an ankle injury suffered by guard Derrick Walton may be the most lasting outcome from the game. If the junior needs to miss any significant time, it could spell trouble for the Wolverines as Spike Albrecht, the backup point guard, is coming off a hip injury of his own and is not thought to be fully healthy (although he did play some minutes last night).
  5. Finally, Purdue had the most impressive win of the night when it went into the Pete and defeated Pittsburgh by 13 points. The star of the evening was senior center A.J. Hammons, who recorded a double-double (24 points and 12 rebounds) and came up with several key buckets in the second half to help the Boilermakers close out a tight game. The big man has been coming off the bench since he missed the first few games this year because of an off-court issue. It’s no guarantee that Matt Painter will give him a starting spot back — his replacement Isaac Haas has been outstanding — but it also doesn’t much matter because he will get the bulk of the available minutes. Hammons is so integral to the success of this team that whether he’s technically starting is irrelevant.
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