Big Ten Tournament Storylines: First and Second Rounds

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 9th, 2016

This year’s Big Ten Tournament could very well have something for everyone. There are two teams that seem to be peaking at just the right time (Indiana and Michigan State), two others that have won 20 of their last 26 games (Purdue and Wisconsin), and two more that hope to find their way after recent struggles (Iowa and Maryland). Old rivals Michigan and Ohio State are both stuck squarely on the bubble, while Northwestern and Penn State can secure bids in some of the lower-level tournaments with a win or two. Here are three quick storylines to focus on during the first two days of games in Indianapolis.

Michigan needs quality play from Zak Irvin to get the wins they need in the Big Ten Tournament. (Getty).

Michigan needs quality play from Zak Irvin to get the wins it needs this postseason. (Getty)

  1. Bubble Boys: Michigan has a decent chance to make the field of 68 but it would be strongly advisable that the Wolverines avoid losing to Northwestern on Thursday afternoon. When the two teams played a couple weeks ago, the Wildcats were competitive throughout until Michigan pulled away at the very end. A Michigan loss here probably means John Beilein will punch his ticket to the NIT. Ohio State has a much more arduous task ahead with its first test against a Penn State team that has won five out of its final eight games, including victories over Indiana and Iowa. The Buckeyes are full of mercurial talents who don’t always play consistently, but if Thad Matta can get JaQuan Lyle, Marc Loving and Keita Bates-Diop clicking at the same time, Ohio State could make a run. Read the rest of this entry »
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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 Player of the Year Ladder: Volume Two, Part I

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 20th, 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. Here’s a quick look at players 10-6, with players 5-1 to come shortly:

  • 10. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: (16.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.6 APG, 59.5 Free Throw Rate)- Hayes has struggled at times much like his team has. The easy looks that he was able to capitalize on with Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker on the roster last season have gone away, but Hayes has still managed to score more than 20 points five times. He also has increased his assist rate from 11.9 to 21.9 percent as he has done a nice job facilitating for the Badgers.
  • 9. Caris LeVert, Michigan: (17.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.2 APG, 129.9 O-Rating)- Through no fault of his own, LeVert took a decent sized drop here because he has missed the last five games for Michigan due to a lower leg injury. The numbers he has put up to date still hold up however, as he leads the Wolverines in points, rebounds, assists, and steals.
Caris LeVert is still one of the top ten players in the B1G despite missing his teams' last five games. (Getty)

Caris LeVert is still one of the top ten players in the B1G despite missing his teams’ last five games. (Getty)

  • 8. Malcolm Hill, Illinois: (18.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.6 APG, 80.0% FT)- Even though Illinois is off to a 1-4 start in conference play, Hill has still been one of the most consistent and versatile performers in all the league. The junior has scored in double-figures in each game this season, and has also lead the Illini in rebounds five times, and lead them in assists seven times.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 20th, 2016

Because of the Martin Luther King holiday, this week’s weekend wrap-up post includes the rare Monday Big Ten game. In what was the third weekend of Big Ten play, it’s fitting that three-pointers played a large role in many of the outcomes. Northwestern and Illinois suffered losses where they shot too many while Maryland and Iowa made double-digit shots from deep as they cruised to home wins. The rest of the best and worst from the weekend follows below:

Andrew White notched a double-double with 21 points and 13 rebounds Saturday for Nebraska. (Getty)

Andrew White notched a double-double with 21 points and 13 rebounds Saturday for Nebraska. (Getty)

Player of the Weekend: Andrew White III has had better shooting efforts than what he put forth Saturday for Nebraska in their win at Illinois, but this game may have been his best all-around effort. The junior continued to show that he’s more than just a shooter in going for a season-high 13 rebounds, and also dishing out a season-high three assists. White and Shavon Shields outscored Illinois’ potent duo of Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn 35-32, but more importantly White III keyed the 42-24 advantage for the Cornhuskers on the boards as they evened their conference record at 3-3 in winning their third game in a row.

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Big Ten M5: 01.18.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 18th, 2016

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  1. Nebraska was operating at peak efficiency in its 78-67 win over Illinois in Champaign Saturday. The keys to victory – the Cornhuskers’ third in a row after they dropped its first three Big Ten games – were a productive offense combined with an outstanding effort on the glass. Leading the way in both these categories was Andrew White III. The junior went for 21 points (on just 12 shots) and 13 rebounds in boosting Nebraska to a 42-24 advantage on the backboards. He did so in his usual quiet and understated way, but White is certainly heading towards earning postseason Big Ten honors.
  2. Michigan State went with a different starting lineup on Sunday, giving freshmen Matt McQuaid and Deyonta Davis their first starts of their young careers. Davis had a large impact when he was in the game Sunday, as the Spartans were a plus 21 when he was on the floor. The freshman is only averaging 17.6 MPG, and one writer thinks it’s time for the gifted post player to see more court time. It’s hard to complain about what Davis brings to the table, as he’s been the team’s best low post scorer and rim protector. It will be interesting to see whether Davis sees more time as Tom Izzo tinkers with his rotation.
  3. The seniors for Iowa get most of the headlines, but lost in the hype surrounding its 5-0 start in Big Ten play have been the contributions the Hawkeyes are getting from their younger players coming off the bench. Dom Uhl, Nicholas Baer, and Ahmad Wagner have all been supplying very positive minutes in their time on the court. Wagner was especially valuable in Sunday’s win against Michigan. He has the flexibility to guard on both the perimeter and interior, which he did well in playing different spots defensively in his 11 minutes of action against the Wolverines. If Iowa continues to play well, its bench will be a big part of the reason why.
  4. Caris LeVert missed another game for Michigan on Sunday, but the senior guard is now walking pain-free, according to coach John Beilein. The next step for LeVert is to receive a few more medical tests to make sure he is ready to go. Michigan is being extra careful with the situation because of Levert’s injury history and his likely future in the NBA. If he can get back and play at the level he was at pre-injury, Michigan has a chance to make a run toward a top-four finish in the league.
  5. Purdue senior Raphael Davis is known for what he brings on the defensive end of the floor, but the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten has struggled quite a bit on offense in Purdue’s three losses. An earlier injury is partly to blame, but Purdue is noticeably better when he is scoring the ball. In those three losses this year, Davis has only scored a total ofsix total points. He’ll never need to be the focal point or go-to-scorer, but Davis and the rest of the Purdue perimeter attack needs to be more consistent to balance the effective Boilermaker interior offense.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 12th, 2016

Much like the NFL Wildcard games, the road was friendly to visiting Big Ten teams over the weekend. Impressive home wins from Indiana and Illinois on Sunday halted a four-game visitor’s winning streak, but blowouts were also a common theme, as only one of the weekend’s six contests featured a single-figure final scoring margin. As always, there were several impressive performances individually and from certain teams. Here are the weekend’s superlatives.

Malcolm Hill proved he's one of the best scorers in the Big Ten Sunday by scoring 30 points against Purdue. (Stephen Haas, Herald and Review)

Malcolm Hill proved he’s one of the best scorers in the Big Ten Sunday by scoring 30 points against Purdue. (Stephen Haas, Herald and Review)

Player of the Weekend: Illinois’ Malcolm Hill figured he would need to be a scorer when Purdue’s Raphael Davis started the game guarding his high-scoring teammate Kendrick Nunn. Hill did so to the tune of 13 points from a variety of different spots on the floor. When Davis moved over to Hill in the second half, Nunn went off for 18 points of his own. Hill, who had already by then found his groove, contributed 17 more as the juniors combined for 35 of the Illini’s 47 points coming after the break. Hill also led the team in rebounds (nine), tied for the team lead in assists (three), and added a pair of blocks. In a lost season in Champaign, Hill has been a bright spot in hitting for double figures in all 17 games. The total package that he brings beyond just scoring was on full display in Illinois’ impressive win, its first of the Big Ten season.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Maryland barely squeaked by Wisconsin in Madison on Saturday, and although it wasn’t to the level of his 39-point, 12-rebound performance against Penn State last week, Diamond Stone was quietly efficient in the victory. On a day when the Terps didn’t get much from Jake Layman or Rasheed Sulaimon, Stone went 4-of-5 from the field en route to an 11-point outing. In what was no doubt an emotional homecoming for the freshman from Milwaukee who spurned his home state school, Stone didn’t overdo it and was a key reason that the Terrapins remained perfect in league play at 4-0.

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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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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 12 M5: 11.01.13 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on November 1st, 2013

morning5_big12

  1. Iowa State was dealt an unfortunate blow on Thursday when preseason all-Big 12 selection Melvin Ejim suffered a knee injury that will sideline the 6’6″ senior for the next four to six weeks.  Ejim will miss a handful of games, most notably the Cyclone’s showdown with Michigan on November 17 at Hilton Coliseum.  Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg told the Des Moines Register that Ejim’s injury occurred while going up for a rebound, and could have been much worse than it actually was.  As discussed by Brian Goodman on Thursday, Ejim’s injury could shift sophomore guard Georges Niang to the center position while JuCo Dustin Hogue would slide to the power forward position.
  2. On the other end of the spectrum, Baylor received good news on Thursday when Denver transfer Royce O’Neale was granted a waiver to play immediately for the Bears this season.  O’Neale is from Killeen, Texas, and wanted to transfer to be close to his ailing grandfather.  The 6’6″ O’Neale will provide an important piece for Scott Drew’s squad which lost Deuce Bello and L.J. Rose to transfer in the off-season.  Baylor will once again have some of the best talent in the Big 12 this season, but whether or not they can contend for a league title remains to be seen.
  3. After Kansas closed out the spring recruiting season by landing the ultra talented Andrew Wiggins, many believed head coach Bill Self would certainly look to use the redshirt this season.  Andrew White III was the name most often discussed as a potential redshirt candidate, but it appears the sophomore guard had other ideas.  White spent the off-season getting in serious work with Kansas strength and conditioning coach Andrea Hudy, often times putting in an additional workout at midnight throughout the summer.  When White took the floor for the Jayhawks on Tuesday evening, it was evident his body has undergone a serious transformation since last season and now he figures to be a staple in Self’s rotation this year.
  4. The narrative around Oklahoma State this season beings with Marcus Smart, who is expected to be one of the top players in college basketball.  But Smart is not alone in the Cowboy backcourt, as he is joined by talented guard Markel Brown, who was tabbed by Big 12 coaches as a member of the all-Big 12 preseason team.  The cause for concern in Stillwater is the talent in the frontcourt, and as Rob Dauster pointed out, the Cowboys managed a whopping 6 offensive rebounds in their exhibition game on Sunday against Campbellsville.  As good as Oklahoma State is at the guard position, the front line will be an important factor when going up against teams like Kansas and Baylor this season.
  5. We have all probably had our fill of preseason polls so far this year, but the Associated Press released their preseason top 25 on Thursday, and featured Big 12 teams Kansas (5), Oklahoma State (8), and Baylor (25).  These three teams figure to be the class of the conference this season, with Kansas and Oklahoma State considered to be among those teams capable of winning the national title.  Whether or not the middle-tier teams in the Big 12 like Iowa State and Kansas State can make a push into the top 25 by the time conference play rolls around will be interesting to watch.
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Big 12 M5: 10.31.13 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on October 31st, 2013

morning5_big12

  1. As good as Tyus McGee was last year for Iowa State, early news out of Ames this season suggests freshman guard Matt Thomas might fill the void left by McGee without a hiccup.  Cyclone head coach Fred Hoiberg was a great shooter in his own right, and told the Des Moines Register on Wednesday “I ain’t tweaking that shot, I’ll tell you that.”  Fellow Iowa State teammates also couldn’t help but gush about Thomas’ ability to knock down shots from behind the arc.  As if you needed another scare on Halloween, just imagine one of the nation’s best shooters as a weapon in Hoiberg’s arsenal.  Yikes.
  2. As difficult as the rebuilding job at TCU was for head coach Trent Johnson, it appears the Horned Frogs seem to be heading in the right direction with the proper man at the helm.  On Tuesday, Johnson indicated that he believes his team in year two in Fort Worth is more skilled than that a season ago.  Among those looking to contribute for TCU this season, senior guard Jarvis Ray feels as if he’s playing with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder this season after missing the Big 12 campaign last year with a broken foot.  In what should be a weak bottom half of the Big 12, Ray and company will have a legitimate shot to significantly surpass last season’s conference win total of two games.
  3. To say that West Virginia‘s inaugural season in the Big 12 was a bit of a disappointment would be an understatement to say the least.  Bob Huggins’ squad struggled to a 6-12 record in the Big 12, and a 13-19 mark overall.  At the top of the list of disappointing players for the Mountaineers was point guard Juwan Staten, who figures to be an important piece for Huggins this season.  Staten seems to be using last year’s frustrations as motivation to improve his leadership for this go around in an effort to become the floor general West Virginia needs to really make their team go.  Don’t sleep on Huggins and West Virginia this season as Morgantown might just be a difficult place for many Big 12 teams to go get a win.
  4. While it appears that Kansas State may struggle at times this season scoring the ball, help in that department may be merely but a year away.  Maine transfer Justin Edwards will be forced to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules, but it seems he’s found exactly what he was looking for in Manhattan.  Edwards wanted more exposure against better competition, and there’s no doubt the Big 12 conference will provide him that.  Last year Edwards lead the America East Conference in scoring at 16.7 points a game, and while he won’t be able to suit up for the Wildcats this season, his focus during the down year will be on pushing teammates in practice and using his athleticism to bring competition to Bruce Weber’s squad.
  5. One of the more intriguing questions surrounding the Kansas Jayhawks this preseason is who, if anyone, will Bill Self choose to use the redshirt tag on for the 2013-2014 year?  As Tom Keegan of KUSports.com points out, it might be in Self’s best interest to avoid redshirting anyone this year.  Coming into the season, many believed sophomore guard Andrew White III might be a prime candidate, but it’s clear that White will hold a solid spot in Kansas’ rotation this season.  This likely leaves one of Self’s incoming freshmen, Brennan Greene or Conner Frankamp, as a more likely fit.  Although Kansas has only had one exhibition game in the books, it appeared that Frankamp might be the odd one out.  If history is any indicator, former Kansas high school standout Brady Morningstar has laid out a blueprint for Frankamp (a Wichita native) as to how patience could certainly pay dividends down the road in a Jayhawk uniform.
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