Big Ten Season Grades: Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on April 16th, 2014

With the end of the season comes a chance to look back at what happened and look ahead to next year. Here we have broken the conference into three corresponding tiers based on this year’s finish and will give each a final grade and look at a key question for 2014-15. Today we’ll examine four teams that are hoping they don’t replicate this year’s bottom four finish: Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.

Indiana

Yogi Ferrell had a great 2013-14 campaign and will need to replicate that for Indiana to be successful next year. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Yogi Ferrell had a great 2013-14 campaign and will need to replicate that for Indiana to be successful next year. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Grade: D. The Hoosiers lost so much with the departures of two lottery picks that maybe we all expected too much. Still, with Noah Vonleh (another likely lottery pick), Yogi Ferrell, Will Sheehey and “The Movement,” quite a bit more was expected from this group. Failure to make the NCAA Tournament (or even the bubble) and falling to the bottom tier of the Big Ten represents a very bad year for the Hoosiers. The program’s one bright spot was the emergence of Ferrell as not only the team’s best player but also one of the best in the conference.

Key 2014-15 Question: Who plays inside? Indiana will have plenty of guards on its roster next season. It brings back Ferrell and Stanford Robinson and its recruiting class includes McDonalds All-America shooting guard James Blackmon Jr. and shooting guard in Robert Johnson. With Vonleh and Jeremy Hollowell now gone, though, this team will lack an inside presence. Hanner Mosquera-Perea hasn’t really panned out and Troy Williams is a wing who doesn’t dominate inside the paint. Tom Crean is still recruiting in the hopes of filling this hole with a late commitment, but as of now, the Hoosiers could be looking at a four-guard lineup next year.

Northwestern

Grade: B. A “B” may seem high for a team at the bottom of league but this group of Wildcats was expected to do absolutely nothing in the Big Ten this season. Recall that at one point the question was if they could win a single Big Ten game. Chris Collins did plenty to change that notion quickly, as he made the team’s identity about defense and pushed it to win six games in conference play (and at one point had pundits wondering if it could make its way onto the NCAA bubble). It was a big and unexpected turnaround that has the Wildcats looking to break the NCAA drought sooner than later.

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Big Ten Tournament X-Factors for Round One

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 13th, 2014

Without going into full-fledged preview mode for all four games set to tip off on Thursday in Indianapolis, here are some under-the-radar players to keep an eye on in round one. Some are more obscure than others, but all the players I’m highlighting were not named to any of the All-Conference teams on Monday. They all have a specific skill set, however, that can be used to exploit a weak spot on the team they are playing against in the first round.

Tracy Abrams' ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Tracy Abrams’ ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas/Lee News Service)

Illinois: Tracy Abrams — Indiana turns the ball over 21.7% of the time, and Abrams averages 1.2 pilfers a game. Abrams had 5 steals in the two teams previous games, and if he can be the defensive catalyst that leads to 23 Indiana turnovers — like what happened on December 31 when the Illini beat the Hoosiers in overtime — Illinois will move on to the second round.

Indiana: Devin Davis The Illini are only mediocre at getting their own misses (165th nationally), and Davis has been productive with increased minutes recently. He’s gotten 20 MPG in his last two games, and has a robust 21.6% defensive rebound rate in limited minutes for the season. That would be good for 6th in the conference had he played enough minutes to qualify, and if Crean gives him the playing time in this game, he’ll prevent Illinois from getting any second chance buckets. Read the rest of this entry »

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Weekend Preview in the Big Ten

Posted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on February 22nd, 2014

Typically, RTC Big Ten microwriters Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody preview the weekend’s most important or interesting conference game. This week the problem is — and it is a good problem we might add — that all the games on this weekend’s slate have some level of significance. So we decided instead of focusing on just one to quickly preview and analyze each of the five weekend match-ups in this single post. Enjoy.

Wisconsin at Iowa (Saturday, 12:oo PM ET, ESPN2)

Fran McCaffery Was Not Happy About His Previous Ejection (AP)

Fran McCaffery Was Not Happy About His Previous Ejection (AP)

AM: This is one of the most consequential games this weekend as it pits the current third and fourth place teams against one another. If Wisconsin loses, the Badgers will likely be out of contention for a regular season championship as they’ll find themselves three games back of the Michigan-Michigan State winner with only five games remaining. In their previous meeting, Iowa came firing out of the gates and built an 11-point lead at half before blowing it as Fran McCaffery was ejected for an incensed outburst towards the officials. Look for Iowa to try to set the pace once again, but this time get players other than Roy Devyn Marble involved. It would also help to defend the three-point line better than they did at the Kohl Center, where Wisconsin shot a tidy 45.5 percent.

Minnesota at Ohio State (Saturday, 6:oo PM ET, BTN)

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It’s Time to Give Northwestern Some Love

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 21st, 2014

After the non-conference season is over, most power conference teams usually come away with a record significantly over .500. So when you start off 7-6 before you even get into your conference, you’re usually going to be doomed to a season where you might win 11-12 games overall. This still might be the case for the 2013-14 Northwestern squad, but the Wildcats have turned things around quite significantly in their last three games. The team has become elite defensively, allowing opponents to score an average only 48 points in their last three games. So what are the catalysts for this impressive turn around where they’ve gone from the team that struggled to beat Brown at home, to beating Illinois and Indiana in consecutive weeks?

Alex Olah has turned into a defensive force for the improving Wildcats( Nam Y. Huh, AP).

Alex Olah has turned into a defensive force for the improving Wildcats. (Nam Y. Huh, AP)

  • Alex Olah: At the beginning of the season, Olah looked like an abnormally tall human being who was told to play basketball simply because of his size. There was no energy, no passion, and no coordination. If you fast forward and take a look at how he’s played from November 9 to the present, you can see a tremendous difference. This can seen without even using one statistic. He aggressively posts now and tries to seal his man, almost like he just woke up one day and realized that he’s 7-feet tall and weighs 265 pounds. He’ll occasionally take a three here and there that the team could do without, but he’s done a much better job being active both offensively and defensively. Part of the reason teams don’t get many points in the paint against Northwestern is because of the presence of Olah in the middle. He’s pushed his averages up to 10.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 2.0 BPG in conference games, compared to 8.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 1.8 BPG in non-conference games. More importantly, he’s gone up from 25.1 MPG to 32.0 in league play. His ability to stay on the floor and not pick up cheap fouls that seemingly plague almost every big man in college basketball has lead to the team defense staying strong throughout the game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Next Year Looking More and More Like “The Year” For Northwestern

Posted by KTrahan on December 18th, 2012

Every year, the question remains the same for a Northwestern team perpetually on the bubble: Can the Wildcats sneak into the NCAA Tournament? Last summer, it certainly seemed like this could be the year that NU would make the Big Dance for the first time in school history. Bill Carmody finally had two big men, an impressive recruiting class, a graduate transfer, and a solid group of returning stars including Drew Crawford, Dave Sobolewski, Reggie Hearn and JerShon Cobb.

The Loss of Drew Crawford Leaves Northwestern Searching For Answers

The Loss of Drew Crawford Leaves Northwestern Searching For Answers

However, things don’t always go as planned in college basketball, and NU certainly learned that quickly this year. Cobb was suspended for the season due to academic problems, the new players haven’t adjusted as quickly as fans had hoped, and Crawford wasn’t playing at all like himself. Now, we at least have an answer for the latter issue, as NU announced over the weekend that Crawford will miss the remainder of the season to have surgery on a torn labrum. Adding Crawford’s injury to the doubts following an inconsistent start to the season, it’s looking more and more like this won’t be “the year” for the Wildcats. But could that be a good thing for NU?

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Two Key Observations From Northwestern’s Huge Win Over Baylor

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 5th, 2012

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

Northwestern visited Baylor Tuesday night after losing a game to Illinois-Chicago over the weekend, a bad loss on the Wildcats’ resume in their quest to finally receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament. While a 20-point loss to Maryland at home in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge looks bad on paper, a defeat to an opponent who will likely be competing for a bid in March can be written off as an anomaly. Baylor, on the other hand, was coming off a surprising road win at Kentucky over the weekend. The Bears controlled the tempo against the Wildcats and convincingly beat them by forcing numerous tough shots, 64-55. Tuesday night’s match-up between these teams meant more to Northwestern than the Bears and they played like it, utilizing a heightened sense of urgency right from the tip. Their defense was excellent for a majority of the game and even though they struggled to hold on during the last five minutes, a 74-70 road win against a potential top five seed in March potentially neutralizes the bad loss to the Flames when evaluating their non-conference performance. Here are two key observations from the Wildcats’ big road win:

Drew Crawford played with a sense of urgency against Baylor on Tuesday night.

  1. Alex Olah played a perfect role in the half court: Olah was heavily involved in the offense during the second half. He was active around the high post and helped move the ball from one side of the court to the other as the Wildcats set up the backdoor cuts which are an integral part of their Princeton offense. Olah racked up six assists during the game and he was involved in most of the plays that resulted in scores on those cuts. There were a handful of plays where Olah received the ball from Dave Sobolewski at the top of the key, took a couple of dribbles towards the other side of the court, and handed it to Drew Crawford or Reggie Hearn on the perimeter. The play usually then resulted in either Crawford or Hearn receiving the pass while the other slid towards the basket during the handoff. Hearn had a couple of easy layups using this backdoor as Baylor’s Brady Heslip was thoroughly confused with the cutting movement among the three Wildcats. When Heslip or A.J. Walton tried to play the backdoor cuts conservatively by staying back, the play resulted in Crawford nailing two key three-pointers from the perimeter because his defender gave him space. Olah also held his ground in the low post while defending Isaiah Austin who is taller but lacks the weight to back down for easy baskets in the paint. Because Austin was forced away from the paint, he had to settle for mid-range jumpers and only scored eight points. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Power Rankings: Week Three

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 23rd, 2012

This is the third installment of our weekly Big Ten Power Rankings which we will publish each Friday. This week’s voters were Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan of the Big Ten microsite.

John Groce’s Illini look like a revamped group that will compete in the Big Ten.

  1. Indiana (5-0): Indiana solidified its No. 1 ranking by winning the Legends Classic in New York. The Hoosiers were pushed to overtime against Georgetown, but they came out on top thanks to the stellar play of Jordan Hulls. IU certainly didn’t look polished against the Hoyas and there could be some bumps in the road, but the Hoosiers took care of business as expected, therefore they still deserve the top billing in the Big Ten and the country.
  2. Michigan (4-0): Like the Hoosiers, the Wolverines were pushed to the limit by an unranked but very tough Big East team. Jamie Dixon’s Panthers are a hardy group that are trying to make their way back into the NCAA Tournament this season. The Wolverines held off Pitt in their first true test of the season by grinding it out and playing great defense. But we still don’t know a lot about this team, and likely won’t learn a lot more when they face Kansas State Friday night. We may have to wait for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge game against NC State to properly evaluate this team. Until then, we still think that the talented Wolverines are the second best team in the conference.
  3. Ohio State (3-0): The Buckeyes have been good but not great in the early going, disposing of some lesser foes in just three games so far. They’ll get a great chance to show what they’re made of against Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but until then, this team needs to show more that it can separate itself from lesser opponents. Because we have a small sample to evaluate them against the rest of the Big Ten, they are slotted as the third best team in the conference at this point. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 10.24.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on October 24th, 2012

  1. Last year’s Northwestern team had so little depth that at times it was forced to use just six players all game and play John Shurna at the center spot. This year, the Wildcats will be fine depth-wise as they bring in nine new players. Yes, nine. Three of them are redshirts — freshmen Tre Demps and Mike Turner both sat out last year, as did junior Nikola Cerina, who transferred in from TCU. The Wildcats also added two seven-footers — freshmen Alex Olah and Chier Ajou — at center and graduate transfer forward Jared Swopshire, who came to Evanston from Louisville and is expected to make a major impact on the court. Chris Johnson, a Rush the Court contributor who also runs InsideNU.com with me, sat down with coach Bill Carmody to preview all nine freshmen. Carmody seems very excited about Swopshire and added some insight into the center situation, saying Olah has the upper hand on Ajou right now. He was also high on Sanjay Lumpkin, a freshman guard/forward combo who fits nicely in NU’s system and should see significant playing time.
  2. Wisconsin forward Mike Bruesewitz was injured in a workout on October 9, running into the bottom of the hoop and gashing his leg. He could see his bone through the gash and needed over 40 stitches to close it up, but luckily, it was just a flesh wound. Bruesewitz is still recovering, but he finally opened up about the injury that he initially feared could be much worse. He said he first thoughts were if he could ever play — or even ever walk — again. Bruesewitz will play again this year, though the timeline for his return is unclear. ESPN.com’s Andy Katz reported that Bruesewitz likely won’t be available for the Badgers’ November 14 game at Florida, but could be back for a November 23 contest against Creighton in Las Vegas.
  3. The Big Ten basketball media poll was released yesterday, and not surprisingly, Indiana ended up in first place. The poll included 24 writers — two from each team — and the Hoosiers received 21 first place votes, with Michigan, the second-place team, taking the remaining first-place votes. Interestingly, Ohio State was picked behind the Wolverines in the Big Ten, despite being ranked No. 4 in the USA Today Coaches Preseason Top 25. You can see the whole poll at the link above. Look out for No. 6 Minnesota and No. 10 Northwestern as sleepers, while No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 9 Illinois might be susceptible to a fall. Obviously, preseason rankings aren’t that important, but it’s an interesting look at how deep the league is and how far down some good teams are buried.
  4. Michigan State is the first school to land a visit from top recruit Jabari Parker, who will make the trip to East Lansing this weekend. The Spartans are in the top five finalists for Parker, who also lists Duke, Florida, BYU and Stanford as possibilities. MSU has yet to secure a commitment in the Class of 2013, losing out on James Young to Kentucky and Jonathan Williams III to Missouri. However, ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep tells the Lansing State Journal that Parker is the Spartans’ top priority, and now they’re shifting their focus to underclassmen since most other top 2013 recruits have already committed.
  5. The common refrain for coaches whose teams receive high rankings typically goes something like this: “We aren’t worried about preseason rankings. We have to take care of business on the court or else that doesn’t matter.” But not Tom Crean. The Indiana coach had a very different response to his team being preseason No. 1, writes Bob Kravitz in the Indianapolis Star. “How cool is that?” Crean said. Some people will see that comment as cocky or misguided, but it’s refreshing to see a coach who doesn’t pretend to ignore the media and preseason rankings. As Kravitz wrote, Crean knows the ranking is meaningless in terms of how IU will fare this season, but it’s an important stepping stone for a coach whose team went 6-25 in his first year in Bloomington.
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Big Ten Team Previews: Northwestern Wildcats

Posted by KTrahan on October 18th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Northwestern Wildcats.

Where we left off: The NIT. Again. For yet another year, Northwestern inched closer to the NCAA Tournament — this year closer than ever — and the Wildcats fell short again. NU’s season was defined by close losses to Michigan (twice), Ohio State, Indiana and Illinois. Had the Cats won just one more of those games, they could have potentially made the Tournament. Heck, if they had just beaten Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament — another close loss — maybe they could have gotten there. Now, with a number of new faces, they begin this season firmly on the bubble once again.

Positives: I did an interview with coach Bill Carmody earlier in the offseason and he remarked that, with its new lineup, NU will “have some scoring inside.” That will be a much-needed addition after last year’s centers — Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti — struggled mightily. This year, 7’0″ freshman Alex Olah is expected to start at center and the Wildcats will also have 7’2″ freshman center Chier Ajou, who provides depth, even if he doesn’t play much initially. Additionally, senior Drew Crawford returns and Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire is expected to make a big impact right away. It will be a very big frontcourt for NU, something that has seemingly happened overnight and hasn’t occurred in Evanston for a long time.

Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire (ball) will be a key player to watch for Northwestern fans this season (Chicago Tribune)

Negatives: Can this team play defense? The Wildcats have added a lot of potential inside scoring with Swopshire and Olah, but the jury is out on whether the team can defend and grab rebounds, unlike last year’s squad. The perimeter defense is questionable, as well, as the team’s best perimeter defender — JerShon Cobb — was suspended for the year. And can this team find someone to take the last shot? Last year it was Crawford, and even though that didn’t work very well, this year it seems likely to be either Crawford or Swopshire. The Big Ten will be very strong again this year, meaning NU will be involved in a lot of close games. It must find a way to make big shots and play good defense in crunch time.

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