Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 7th, 2017

Chaos has been a commonality throughout this Big Ten season and it was on full display Saturday afternoon when all four road teams won games in opposing venues. Purdue earned possibly its biggest win of the season by coming back from a double-figure deficit in the second half to knock off Maryland. Rutgers won its first conference road game of the year by besting Penn State in Happy Valley. Fading Minnesota picked up a much needed road win at Illinois. Finally, Ohio State won a battle of two teams that have become increasingly difficult to figure out by beating Michigan in Ann Arbor. Things normalized a bit on Sunday with Wisconsin taking sole possession of first place in defeating Indiana at home, while Iowa likewise held serve in its own gym against Nebraska. There are now only four weekends left in the regular season, so look for more surprises as the pressure intensifies and the calendar flips to March. Here’s the best and worst of the Big Ten from the first weekend of February.

Corey Sanders led Rutgers to its second conference win in scoring 25 points as they knocked off Penn State (USA Today Images)

  • Player of the Weekend: Corey Sanders started off the 2016-17 campaign by figuring out how to adequately co-exist with Kansas State transfer Nigel Johnson in the Rutgers backcourt. Things have improved for the sophomore in recent weeks, however, as the dynamic point guard has scored in double figures in nine of his last 10 games. He’s taken over primary ball-handling duties, which has led to a more effective Rutgers offense. Sanders was dominant on Saturday, scoring 25 points and making 4-of-5 threes in leading Rutgers to its first ever Big Ten road victory. He also notched six rebounds, four assists and three steals. The Scarlet Knights are hoping that they can ride his enhanced scoring to a handful more wins to close out the regular season.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Iowa’s Nicholas Baer has drawn comparisons to Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ during a couple of Big Ten telecasts this season because he call fill up the stat sheet without providing the most beautiful of performances. The sophomore wing contributed seven points, six rebounds and three blocks against Nebraska on Sunday, cementing his status as Iowa’s second best player, regardless of whether he he starts or comes off the Hawkeyes’ bench.

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Big Ten Conference Preview: Rutgers, Nebraska, Minnesota, Penn State, Northwestern

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 10th, 2016

The ballots have been revealed and the results have been tabulated. Unlike another round of voting that took place this week, there isn’t as much shock value in seeing these results. We at the Big Ten microsite have voted and determined how the league will shake out this season. The first of three segments lists our bottom five teams.

14. Rutgers: There’s a new coach and correspondingly new enthusiasm at Rutgers. Eddie Jordan is gone and former Stony Brook head coach Steve Pickiell has taken over. There’s still some talent on this roster, with sophomore lead guard Corey Sanders returning along with Mike Williams on the wing. The Scarlet Knights’ biggest issue is that they need to shoot the ball much better all over the floor, ranking 282nd on three-point percentage and 311th on two-point field goals last season. Things weren’t much better defensively, but they added some size and versatility with graduate transfer CJ Gettys and the return of Deshawn Freeman. Pickiell has a great reputation for development, but this won’t be a quick rebuild in the Garden State.

Best Case Scenario: Double-figure wins

Corey Sanders is the leading returning scorer for Rutgers. (Getty).

Corey Sanders is the leading returning scorer for Rutgers. (Getty)

13. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers actually improved by three wins last season, but the program has still fallen sharply after making the NCAA Tournament in 2014. This team loses a second-team all-conference performer (Shavon Shields) as well as an honorable mention selection (Andrew White, transfer to Syracuse). They will replace some of that talent with Louisville transfer Anton Gill, but the majority of the roster aside from senior Tai Webster is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. Scoring is going to be a question mark for this team, but the defensive side doesn’t look much better (last year’s team dipped from 28th in defense efficiency in 2014-15 to 114th last season). It looks like another long season in Lincoln.

Best-Case Scenario: Winning Record Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Tournament Storylines: Quarterfinal Friday

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 11th, 2016

We’re now down to eight teams remaining in the Big Ten Tournament after a wild Thursday resulted in significant upsets to Iowa and Wisconsin. Today the top four seeds will take the floor at Bankers Life Fieldhouse hoping to avoid the same fate that befell the #5 and #6 seeds. As we head into the quarterfinals, here are four storylines to watch during the tournament’s third day in Indianapolis.

Malcolm Hill and the Illini will have to hope that the slipper still fits against Purdue Purdue on Friday. (USA Today Images)

Malcolm Hill and his Illini will have to hope that the slipper still fits against Purdue Purdue on Friday. (USA Today Images)

  1. Can Illinois Keep It Going?: Even with Iowa finishing the season with a whimper, #12 Illinois’ win over the Hawkeyes on Thursday might be the biggest Big Ten upset since Rutgers beat Wisconsin last season. An impressive game from Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn along with continued strong play from freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands could get the Illini into the tournament semifinals. Remember that John Groce’s unit — thanks to 52 points from Hill and Dunn — has already beaten Purdue once this year.  Read the rest of this entry »
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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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The RTC Big Ten Podcast: And Your Big Ten Champion Is…

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 1st, 2016

The Big Ten microsite crew is back to chat the league as the regular season winds down. In the second RTC Big Ten PodcastAlex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso), Brendan Brody (@berndon4) and Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) discuss a slew of topics that include Iowa’s now-familiar late-season meltdown, Indiana clinching a share of the regular season title, Denzel Valentine’s dominance, John Groce’s grip on his team, Wisconsin’s resurgence back to relevance, the amazing group of rookies in the Big Ten, and whether adding Rutgers was worth it. The full rundown is below. Push play and enjoy the lively banter between three Big Ten basketball heads, and let us know if you want us to cover any new topics for the next episode at @rushtheB1G.

  • 0:45 – 6:30 — Iowa’s late season meltdown
  • 6:31 – 12:59 — Indiana as Big Ten champs
  • 13:00 – 28:53 — Denzel Valentine’s historic season (with some ranting about Illinois and John Groce in between)
  • 28:54 – 37:59 — Wisconsin’s resurgence
  • 38:00 – 53:15 — The league’s best rookies
  • 53:16 – 59:40 — Quick hits: Ohio State’s postseason and Rutger’s ineptitude
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Levy’s Layup Line: Week 12

Posted by Adam Levy on February 26th, 2016

Need proof that the Big Ten is as watered down as it’s ever been? Only 15 – yes, 15 – of the 107 conference games played this year have been won by four points or less, or ended in overtime. That means just 14.0% percent of Big Ten games have been considered “close” – the third lowest percentage of all 32 Division I conferences. As sad as it is that the regular season is nearing its end, it’s nice to know that we soon won’t have to hear, see or think about Rutgers, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Nebraska and Penn State basketball until next fall. It’s Week 12 of the Layup Line.

Tom Izzo

Another year, another ho-hum top of the line finish for Tom Izzo and Michigan State. (Getty)

REPORT CARD

A: Michigan State Spartans

Deja vu for Tom Izzo’s boys. They hit a rough patch in mid-January, then destroyed seven of their next eight opponents. The Spartans completely worked Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio State over the past couple of weeks and should have no issue running the table from here on out. Denzel Valentine has quietly put himself right back into the NPOY conversation, Matt Costello has solidified himself as the best rebounder in the conference (also 10th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage), and the Spartans, as a whole, are shooting a nation-best 43.2 percent from three. This team is going to the Final Four. You heard it here first. Or probably 101st, but whatever. In Izzo we trust.

A: Indiana Hoosiers

Back in December, if you thought Indiana was going to win a Big Ten title after its performances in Maui and at Duke, you were just lying. Nobody had that pick – not with Maryland and Michigan State coming in with those preseason expectations of theirs. But here we are on February 26, and Indiana is coming off a huge week after a home win over rival Purdue (only committed four turnovers for a 6.5 percent turnover rate – the lowest ever rate in a Big Ten game in the entire Tom Crean era in Bloomington, per Luke Winn) and a 27-point shellacking of Illinois in Champaign. Indiana is now 13-3 with a two game lead and two games left against Iowa and Maryland – both of whom are tied for second. Win one and the Hoosiers win at least a share of the title; win both and the title is theirs outright. Indiana control its own destiny.

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Levy’s Layup Line: Week 11

Posted by Adam Levy on February 12th, 2016

Since 2002, there have only been two seasons when Big Ten home teams won fewer than 60 percent of their conference games (there have in fact been three years when home teams won over 70 percent of their Big Ten games). But that winning percentage has reached a new low this year, as home teams have thus far won only 57.3 percent of the time. With five of the league’s 14 teams as close to guaranteed wins as you can find in a major conference, that number makes sense. Nevertheless, it really highlights the level of disparity and weakness of the Big Ten this season.

It’s Week 11 of the Layup Line.

Michigan State has been a different team with their star back. (AP)

Michigan State has been a different team with their star back. (AP)

REPORT CARD

A: Denzel Valentine

Long time no-see, Mr. Valentine. How fitting for you to earn yourself some report card love on the eve of Valentine’s Day weekend. For those who haven’t been paying attention, Valentine earned his third Player of the Week honor of the season on Monday after dominating Michigan with a near triple-double (21 points, nine rebounds, eight assists). He followed that up on Tuesday by single-handedly bringing his Spartans back from an 18-point deficit against Purdue on the road, only for Sparty to lose by one in overtime (27 points, eight rebounds, 10 assists). Since that horrific loss to Nebraska on January 20, Michigan State is 4-1 and Valentine is averaging 21.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 7.8 assists and 4.2 threes per game in that span. The chances of him surpassing Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff as the front-runner for the Big Ten Player of the Year are remote, but Michigan State couldn’t care less. All that matters is that it has its star back and as healthy as ever, ready for the stretch run.

A: Corey Sanders

There are some really good freshmen in the Big Ten this season: Thomas Bryant, Caleb Swanigan, Ethan Happ and Diamond Stone, to name a few. Excluding overall team success, a reasonable argument can be made that none are having a better season than Rutgers’ Corey Sanders. The lone bright spot on a truly awful team, Sanders earned his second Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor after averaging 33.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game versus Illinois and Nebraska. He ranks eighth in the Big Ten in points (15.9 PPG), eighth in assists (4.2 APG), first in steals (1.7 SPG) and ninth in minutes (33.4 MPG); among freshmen, he ranks first in points and minutes and is second in assists. If Rutgers wasn’t in jeopardy of going 0-18 in conference play and provided Sanders with a couple of half-decent sidekicks to make them somewhat competent, Sanders would be a shoe-in for Freshman of the Year. Brutal.

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Grading Rutgers’ Corey Sanders: An Incomplete Thus Far

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 13th, 2016

Corey Sanders came to Rutgers with a relatively solid pedigree. As a prep star at the point guard position, he was ranked #62 in ESPN.com‘s top 100 and checked in at #93 on 247sports. Not that anyone thought he was going to completely turn around Rutgers basketball in his freshman season, but the guard has had a bit of an uneven start to careeer. Some of this can be attributed to struggles in adapting to coach Eddie Jordan’s system of Princeton-like movements and cuts. An even bigger reason is that Rutgers has been decimated by injuries, as Deshawn Freeman, Shaquille Doorson and Ibrahima Diallo are all out for the season with various maladies. What that mean is that Rutgers, with only two players 6’8″ or taller, are playing small ball out of necessity. Correspondingly, that means it’s difficult to get a true read on how well Sanders is doing this season.

Corey Sanders is leading Rutgers in scoring despite an uneven first season for Eddie Jordan's team. (Getty)

Corey Sanders is leading Rutgers in scoring despite an uneven first season for Eddie Jordan’s team. (Getty)

The freshman guard is averaging 13.3 PPG, 3.4 APG and 1.6 SPG while shooting 35.2 percent from behind the arc. His assist-to-turnover ratio is a solid if not spectacular 1.12. And when compared with some of the other notable Big Ten point guards’ freshman seasons, his efficiency numbers are generally comparable.

  • Yogi Ferrell (105.3 O-Rating, 18.0 Usage, 45.4% eFG, 25.7% Asst Rate, 24.5 TO%, 1.6% Stls Rate, 30.3% 3pt)
  • Mike Gesell (99.4 O-Rating, 20.2 Usage, 46.6% eFG, 22.5% Asst Rate, 20.5 TO%, 2.8% Stls Rate, 31.7% 3pt)
  • Melo Trimble (116.5 O-Rating, 24.8 Usage, 53.4% eFG, 21.2% Asst Rate, 18.3 TO%, 2.3% Stls Rate, 41.2% 3pt)
  • Derrick Walton (112.2 O-Rating, 18.2 Usage, 53.1% eFG, 19.8% Asst Rate, 19.9 TO%, 1.4% Stls Rate, 41.0% 3pt)
  • Bryant McIntosh (101.4 O-Rating, 23.9 Usage, 48.4% eFG, 32.6% Asst Rate, 20.5 TO%, 0.5% Stls Rate, 36.4% 3pt)
  • Corey Sanders (94.8 O-Rating, 25.0 Usage, 47.1% eFG, 23.6% Asst Rate, 21.9 TO%, 2.8% Stls Rate, 35.2% 3pt)

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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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