Rushed Reactions: Michigan State 66, Purdue 62

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2016

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Three Key Takeaways.

Michigan State edged Purdue for the B1G crown. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Michigan State edged Purdue for the B1G crown. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  1. Michigan State’s front line was up the challenge. In Purdue’s blowout victories over Illinois and Michigan this weekend its massive trio of AJ Hammons, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas combined for 67 points (on 36-of-55 FG) and 44 rebounds. Hammons was especially dominant, pouring in 27 points against the Wolverines and looking altogether unstoppable within 10 feet. On Sunday, it was a different story. The Spartans threw every big body they could at the Boilermakers – including seldom-used senior Colby Wollenman – and never allowed Purdue’s lethal frontcourt to take over. All told, Matt Costello, Deyonta Davis, Gavin Schilling and Wollenman held the three-headed monster to just 26 points on 10-of-25 shooting, which – combined with the Boilermakers’ ugly performance from behind the arc (3-of-15 3FG) – proved to be the difference. Costello was especially great, bodying up Hammons each time down the floor and coming up with several huge blocks to seal the victory.
  2. Denzel Valentine is special in late-game situations. Between his ability to handle the ball, make quick decisions and knock down big shots, Denzel Valentine gives Michigan State something few other teams have: a steady hand in late-game situations. That asset was on full display Sunday, with Valentine knocking down an impossible double-clutch jumper with just under two minutes to play, then securing a pair of big rebounds to ice the victory. Even his ability to take the ball up the floor without making careless mistakes – to force the opposition to foul – cannot be overlooked. On its quest for another Final Four, Michigan State will surely face a few more close, taut games likes the ones it played against Maryland and Purdue this weekend. Having a late-game conductor like Valentine could wind up being the difference between a very good season and a banner-worthy, great one.
  3. Despite the loss, Purdue is playing its best basketball. Make no mistake – Purdue is still in excellent shape heading into the NCAA Tournament. If not for some very poor outside shooting (3-of-15 3FG), the Boilermakers – backed by an enormous home crowd in Bankers Life Fieldhouse – would probably be the Big Ten Tournament champions. Not only is AJ Hammons playing his best basketball of the season, but Matt Painter’s club is consistently earning trips to the free throw line (39 attempts against Michigan and Michigan State combined). Purdue was also superb on the defensive end this weekend, holding both Illinois and the Wolverines to well below one point per possession, and nearly doing the same against the explosive Spartans. With a top 25 national ranking in both offensive and defensive efficiency, along with one of the best frontcourts in the country, the Boilermakers should be a real threat to reach Houston.

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Rushed Reactions: Purdue 76, Michigan 59

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2016

Three Key Takeaways

The Boilermakers will play for a B1G title on Sunday. (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

The Boilermakers will play for a B1G title on Sunday. (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

  1. Purdue’s game plan was simple – and it worked. The Boilermakers boast one of the tallest and deepest frontlines in the country, with two players – AJ Hammons and Isaac Haas – standing more than seven-feet tall, and another, Caleb Swanigan, checking in at 6’9”, 250 pounds. Against the much smaller Wolverines, Purdue pounded the ball inside early, often, and to great effect. All told, Hammons, Haas and Swanigan combined for 45 points and 21 rebounds, including a dominant 27-point, 11-rebound effort from Hammons. No matter which team(s) Purdue draws in next week’s NCAA Tournament, they will be hard-pressed to stop the Boilmakers’ dominant big men – especially when Hammons plays like he did on Saturday.
  2. The three-ball betrayed Michigan. The Wolverines found their fair share of good looks, too, but for a team that relies so heavily on three-pointers – Michigan generates nearly 40 percent of its points from behind the arc – not nearly enough of them fell through the cylinder on Saturday. John Beilein’s team shot just 6-for-25 from long distance, including 1-5 from the usually-automatic Duncan Robinson. Had they been able to slow down Purdue in the paint like they did in their 5-point victory over the Boilermakers in February, the Wolverines may have been able to overcome the poor shooting performance. But their lack of answers on the other end culminated in a 17-point defeat.
  3. It’s tough to win three games in three days. Robinson and top scorer Zak Irvin came up short on numerous shots against Purdue, something we might normally chalk up to a “bad game”. But considering the circumstances on Saturday, the pattern was hard to ignore. After expending a great deal of physical and emotional energy in its dramatic victories over Northwestern and Indiana on Thursday and Friday, Michigan could not replicate its same desperate, high-level of play against the Boilermakers. Fatigue truly matters in these tournaments, especially for teams that must win four or five straight games in order to claim the title.

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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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Levy’s Layup Line: Week 10

Posted by Adam Levy on February 5th, 2016

How times have changed. As recently as 2014, the Big Ten was the best basketball conference in the nation for four years running, and it wasn’t particularly close. This season? It’s hard to rank it any higher than fourth due to too many terrible teams wasting away and not enough really good ones to can hang our hats on. Of the 32 Division I conferences, the Big Ten as a whole ranks 28th or worse in four statistical categories (tempo, turnover percentage, free throw rate and steal percentage) and 21st or worse in two other big ones (three point percentage and offensive rebounding percentage). Fortunately, there are still about six to seven teams that are likely tourney-bound, but the bottom half of the conference is simply unwatchable. I’d rather pick my eye lashes off, one lash at a time, than waste two hours of life watching any of those horror shows. Here’s to hoping the top half of the conference provides as much entertainment down the stretch that the bottom half will not.

A.J. Hammons and Purdue have the toughest matchup this weekend against New Mexico. (Brian Spurlock/USA Today)

A.J. Hammons Had a Very Good Week. (Brian Spurlock/USA Today)

It’s week 10 of the Layup Line.

REPORT CARD

A: A.J. Hammons

Decent week for Purdue’s senior center, who snatched up his fourth career Big Ten Player of the Week honor and third plaudit this season. Hammons had the best game of his career against Nebraska, putting up 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting with 11 rebounds, five assists and four blocks. The inconsistent manchild is in the midst of some of the best basketball of his career right now, evidenced by his per game averages of 15.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks on 59.0 percent shooting in conference play. With the Robert Carter/Diamond Stone and Matt Costello/Deyonta Davis frontcourt duos on the docket for Purdue in the next four days, it’ll be interesting to see which version of Hammons shows up to play.

B: O.G. Anunoby

Say “hello” to my lil’ friend – Tom Crean’s next unheralded star-in-the-making – the “Original Gangsta,” O.G. Anunoby. The 6’8” forward from Jefferson City, MO has seen his minutes increase from 7.7 to 15.4 minutes per game since James Blackmon’s injury (also the start of conference play), and he has taken advantage in a huge way. Anunoby is one of, if not the, most skilled defenders on Indiana’s roster, having pickpocketed Big Ten foes multiple times in five of 10 conference games and using his incredible length to slow down star players (see Zak Irvin’s 1-for-8 performance). He is crashing the glass with authority and continuously finds ways to shift the game’s momentum in Indiana’s favor when it needs it most. O.G. has solidified his spot as the fan favorite in Bloomington and for good reason (chill out, Tim Priller fans). Pay attention, Big Ten fans. This kid is for real. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Player of the Year Ladder: Volume Two Part Two

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 21st, 2016

After finishing roughly two months of the college basketball season, it’s time to revisit the leaderboard for the Big Ten Player of the Year race. Injuries have played a role in shaking things up a bit since the last listing, but eight of the ten listed last time are still in the top ten. Isaac Haas has seen his productivity and minutes go down since conference play started and Robert Carter Jr also is off the list for now. Players 6-10 can be seen here, so now here’s the top five.
  • 5. AJ Hammons, Purdue: (13.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.5 BPG, 60.8% FG)- In the beginning of the season, Hammons took a back seat to Haas as the sophomore was playing really well. The burly seven-footer has know since reclaimed his starting spot, averaging 14.3 PPG and 2.9 BPG in his last eight games. The blocks only tell half the story, as he alters many more as a presence in the lane. Purdue still has a top ten defense nationally, and Hammons remains one of main reasons why.
  • 4. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: (17.1 PPG, 6.1 APG, 1.3 SPG, 44.3% 3’s, 126.1 Offensive Rating)- The Hoosiers were supposed to take a dip once James Blackmon Jr was lost for the season. Instead, they’ve started off league play 6-0 and Ferrell has been the main reason why. He’s averaging 19.2 PPG and 6.3 APG since his backcourt mate went down, and he has now had six games where he has made more than four three-pointers. In a league filled with quality point guards, Ferrell is one of the best.
Yogi Ferrell has Indiana off to an undefeated start in conference play. (Getty).

Yogi Ferrell has Indiana off to an undefeated start in conference play. (Getty).

  • 3. Melo Trimble, Maryland: (13.9 PPG, 5.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 87.8% FT)- Trimble has continued to be at his best in big moments, as his game-winner against Wisconsin displayed. He is the best ball-handler in the conference, and he has continued to improve as a passer. Maryland has to be considered one of a handful of favorites to win the National Championship, and this is partially because they have so many weapons capable of beating people. Trimble has been a master at deferring to his gifted teammates, and he deserves a lot of the credit for the uptick in production from Diamond Stone of late.

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Big Ten M5: 01.11.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 11th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. Purdue dropped to 14-3 (2-2) on the year after losing to Illinois, 84-70, on Sunday night, and a familiar formula has emerged in each its three losses this season. Turnovers and shoddy offensive play have doomed this team, as AJ Hammons and Isaac Haas combined for only 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting. The defense that has been a constant positive all season failed miserably, as Illinois became the first team to shoot over 50 percent from the field against the Boilermakers in 37 games. Is there trouble in West Lafayette?
  2. The return of Michigan State‘s Denzel Valentine from a four-game injury hiatus did not bring a triple-double or a spectacular stat line. Rather, the senior looked a bit rusty early before scoring 10 second-half points as the Spartans blasted Penn State, 92-65, Sunday afternoon. One key takeaway from this game was that Tom Izzo’s squad might have become even better in its All-American’s absence. Eron Harris and Bryn Forbes have emerged as serious offensive threats, while post play has also improved significantly. If Valentine gets back to the productivity he displayed in the first 12 games of the season, Sparty is definitely on the short list of national championship contenders.
  3. If Indiana didn’t completely offset the stench of its early season play in the Hoosiers’ blowout win over Ohio State on Sunday afternoon, they have certainly come close. Tom Crean’s squad stayed undefeated in league play behind big efforts from big men Thomas Bryant and Troy Williams. Williams was especially productive in scoring a team-high 23 points, but what was more important was that he didn’t commit any momentum-killing turnovers. Indiana held the Buckeyes to a paltry 0.86 points per possession, and if the Hoosiers’ defense continues to improve, Indiana will be a dangerous team going forward.
  4. Crean also added a fourth commitment to his 2016 class on Saturday when Devonte Green pledged to his program. The younger brother of former North Carolina standout Danny Green, the Long Island native is a 6’3″ combo guard whom 247sports rates as the sixth best player from New York. Green is the third guard slated to join the Hoosiers next season, joining other commitments Curtis Jones and Grant Gelon in the backcourt.
  5. Nebraska rolled to its biggest road win in 96 years on Saturday, beating Rutgers by 34 points while shooting 56.9 percent from the floor and logging 52 points in the paint. Rutgers is missing some key interior pieces, of course, but the Cornhuskers played arguably one of their best games of the season in getting contributions from everyone. Andrew White III continues to prove that he is one of the best and most efficient scorers in the league, scoring over 20 points (28) for the fifth time this season.
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Purdue’s First Loss: To Panic or Not?

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 21st, 2015

After dropping a 74-68 game to Butler over the weekend, Purdue is no longer unbeaten. Even though the Boilermakers were thoroughly outplayed by the Bulldogs in the nightcap of the Champions Classic, they still sit with a record of 11-1 and aspirations for a Big Ten title and a protected seed on Selection Sunday. Are those dreams of glory well-founded? Is the loss to Butler a red flag or simply a one-game aberration for an efficiency darling still destined for a successful season? A legitimate case can be made for either option.

Despite Problems With Turnovers, Caleb Swanigan is a Budding Superstar. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

A couple things should be worrisome for head coach Matt Painter as his team finishes non-conference play. Much like the Purdue teams of recent vintage, the Boilermakers struggled on the offensive end of the floor against Butler (0.94 points per possession). The opponent certainly deserves some credit for its poor first-half shooting (35.5%), but numerous easy shots were missed and overall shot selection was poor. Isaac Haas (four points) and AJ Hammons (12 points) got the ball more often down low in the second half, and this team needs to play inside-out in order to be successful.

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The Big Ten Player of the Year Ladder: Volume One, Part I

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 15th, 2015

Since we’re a month into the season, we’ve acquired a decent sample size to start ranking and rating how various players have performed. Unfortunately for the sake of this exercise, a certain player from a certain team that is currently ranked number one in the country has been playing out of his freaking mind. Now that the suspense as to who will end up number one and the end of this list has been sufficiently lifted, here’s a brief look at how things stand according to the humble opinion of yours truly. The list goes from #10 to #6, with numbers #5 to #1 to come later on.

  • 10. Robert Carter Jr, Maryland: (12.5 PPG, 6.7 RBS, 1.4 BPG, 61.3 FG%, 117.0 O-Rating) — Carter Jr. has been a huge reason why Maryland is ranked in the top ten. He had good numbers at Georgia Tech, but the transfer has fit in seamlessly in College Park. He can score inside and out, and leads the Terrapins in rebounding, blocked shots, and field goal percentage.
  • 9. Andrew White III, Nebraska: (16.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 83.7% FT, 42.2% 3PT) — Many may have thought that White III would be the second banana behind Shavon Shields. Instead he’s emerged as Nebraska’s best scorer, doing so while only averaging 11 field goal attempts per game. The Kansas transfer has been at his best shooting from deep, as he’s made over three triples in six of the team’s 11 games.
Despite missing two games, AJ Hammons has been a top player in the Big Ten this season. (AP Photo/Darrell Hoemann)

Despite missing two games, AJ Hammons has been a top player in the Big Ten this season. (AP Photo/Darrell Hoemann)

  • 8. AJ Hammons, Purdue: (12.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.2 BPG, 62.3% FG, 114.6 O-Rating) — Hammons hasn’t been as much of a topic of conversation for two reasons. First, the team has been so deep and dominant, the individual numbers don’t pop as much, as the Boilermakers don’t have anyone averaging more than 27.2 MPG. Secondly, Isaac Haas has gotten off to such a solid start as the pivot position has become more of a platoon-type situation. A deeper look at the numbers however show that the senior is attacking the glass at a higher clip, shooting for a higher percentage from the floor, and he has a higher offensive rating from a year ago (114.6-104.2) on similar usage.

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Big Ten M5: 12.14.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 14th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. It’s hard to say that the number one team in the country is a work in progress, but Michigan State struggled in their 58-52 win over Florida on Saturday. The Spartans scored a season-low 58 points and only managed 0.95 points per possession on 37 percent shooting from the floor. Outrebounding the Gators by 11 caroms helped, but it’s worth watching whether the Spartans can win the Big Ten without getting additional scoring from other sources.
  2. Nebraska notched a hard-fought comeback win on Sunday afternoon, coming back from double-digits against a solid Rhode Island squad. The main catalyst in the rally was freshman point guard Glynn Watson, who ended the game with 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting. The Cornhuskers have three point guards that play a good amount. This makes one wonder if this game makes the “point guard of the future” crack the starting five.
  3. Minnesota stumbled for the third game in a row after losing to Oklahoma State on Saturday night. Curiously, part-time starter Charles Buggs never saw the court in the game. Coach Richard Pitino didn’t particularly clear things up after the game, saying that he “just played the guys that would help us win the game.” Buggs had been averaging 27.3 MPG so far this season. The Gophers have been struggling on the defensive end of the floor, so it could be that Pitino thinks the younger players on the roster have a higher upside on that end of the floor. Buggs has had some solid games however, so that rationale has to be called into question.
  4. One lingering question for Michigan this season has been the health of Spike Albrecht. After having two hip surgeries in the summer months, the senior struggled in his brief spells on the court this season. The health concerns became answered last Friday, as Albrecht ended his Michigan career ten games into his senior season. The guard had some tremendous moments in his first three seasons, including his memorable performance in the 2013 National Championship game against Louisville. Now the return of Derrick Walton Jr. becomes that much more important.
  5. Purdue fans got their wish on Saturday afternoon, as centers Isaac Haas and AJ Hammons played together for the first time all season. It turned out to be much ado about nothing, as the “twin towers” lineup was only on the court for a brief time. Coach Matt Painter tried the combo out briefly last season against Michigan State, but who knows if the duo will see the floor at the same time if situations call for it later on in the season.
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Ten Takeaways From the Big Ten/ACC Challenge

Posted by Andy Gripshover on December 3rd, 2015

Another year down, another tally in the win column for the Big Ten in what is the top challenge series that college basketball has to offer. Per the norm, the teams that have traditionally dominated this series continued to do so, but there were some surprises along the way. Here are 10 key takeaways from this season’s event.

1. The Big Ten won again. Iowa’s thrilling 78-75 overtime victory over Florida State in Iowa City clinched back-to-back Challenge victories for the conference, with five of the last seven events going to the Big Ten. With the other two ties (2012 and 2013), it remains true that the ACC hasn’t won the challenge since George W. Bush was still President back in December 2008. That’s a really long time. It’s even longer when you consider that the ACC won every challenge during his presidency as well as the final two years of Bill Clinton.

Iowa guard Peter Jok, left, celebrates with teammates after an NCAA college basketball game against Florida State, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015, in Iowa City, Iowa. Jok scored 24 points as Iowa won 78-75 in overtime. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Peter Jok (left), who notched 24 points in Iowa’s 78-75 victory in overtime over Florida State, was one of the shining stars of the challenge. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

2. Duke won again. The Blue Devils are a staggering 15-2 lifetime in the challenge and are undefeated at Cameron Indoor Stadium (7-0) during that time. This is even more impressive when you consider that Duke almost always draws one of the Big Ten’s best teams. You have to go back to 2011 Michigan State (19-15) to find a Duke opponent that didn’t win at least 28 games that season, and before that, 2006 Indiana (19-12) is the other one that didn’t win at least 20. Granted, this year’s Indiana squad is looking like it will slot in nicely with those couple of outliers. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Five Stars Who Shined

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 3rd, 2015

The Big Ten ended up winning the ACC/Big Ten Challenge by a score of 8-6. Coming into Wednesday night tied at four wins each, the B1G notched four more victories to seal the deal. Along the way, there were several noteworthy performances from superstars and role players alike. Here are five stars who stood out over the course of the three-day event. If we think of the 14-game challenge as though it were a tournament, these five would have placed on the All-Tournament team.

Shep Garner was absolutely on fire in Penn State's win over Boston College Wednesday night. (Mark Selders)

Shep Garner was absolutely on fire in Penn State’s win over Boston College Wednesday night. (Mark Selders)

  1. Shep Garner, Penn State (30 points,two steals, 10-of-16 FG, 8-for-12 3FG): Garner came out against Boston College bombing away, as he drilled five three-pointers in the first nine minutes of the game. He ended up with the fourth-highest single-game point total in the Big Ten campaign, scoring a total of 30 of his team’s 67 points on the night. He also did a nice job at the top of the Penn State zone, finishing with two steals and a couple of deflections. All in all, this was definitely the best performance of the young season for the sophomore guard.
  2. Jordan Murphy, Minnesota (24 points, 10 rebounds, two steals, two blocks): Murphy notched a career-high in scoring with his 24 points, and he did so in a multitude of ways. He made his only three-point attempt, got to the basket repeatedly, and found some clean-up points on the offensive backboards. The freshman from San Antonio had been a solid player in the Gophers’ lineup up to this point, but this was definitely a breakout performance for the former VCU commitment. 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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