Big Ten Bracketology Breakdown: January 22 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 23rd, 2015

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi released his latest Bracketology update on Thursday, tabbing six Big Ten teams in his projected field of 68. Lunardi had projected the Big Ten to snag eight spots back in November – but it’s no secret that the conference has underperformed against fairly lofty preseason expectations. Lunardi is usually spot-on with his predictions, nailing 67 of the 68 teams last season and correctly naming all 68 in 2013. Let’s take a deeper look at each of his relevant projections.

Wisconsin – No. 2 (East)

The Badgers have been pegged as a No. 2 seed for Lunardi’s last three editions of Bracketology, but they occupied the No. 1 seed in the East as late as January 5. That drop can be 100 percent attributed to the Badgers’ ugly loss to Rutgers, even without star Frank Kaminsky. While Kaminsky is now back in the lineup, point guard Traevon Jackson will be out for much of the remainder of the regular season. But in their first two games without him, Bronson Koenig has admirably filled in and alleviated some of Wisconsin’s worries at the point guard position with solid performances in easy wins over Nebraska and Iowa. The Badgers will face only four more teams ranked in KenPom’s top 50 in their last 12 games, so it appears that they’re essentially a lock for a No. 2 seed or better.

The Badgers struggled in their one game without Frank Kaminsky, but they've been dominant so far in the Big Ten. (Getty)

The Badgers struggled in their one game without Frank Kaminsky, but they’ve been dominant so far in the Big Ten. (Getty)

Maryland – No. 2 (South)

The Terrapins have been excellent in their first year in the Big Ten despite a blowout loss at Indiana on Thursday night. Lunardi had Maryland pegged as the No. 3 seed in the Midwest just over a week ago, but a dominant win over Michigan State in College Park earned them a bump up the ladder. While Lunardi didn’t tab the Terps as an NCAA Tournament team back in November, multiple players have stepped up for Mark Turgeon’s squad – Dez Wells has established himself as one of the conference’s premier defenders; freshman Melo Trimble has exceeded all expectations; and Jake Layman has cut back on his three-point attempts and instead established a solid inside and mid-range game. The Terps’ Big Ten championship dreams took a substantial hit in last night’s road loss, but they’re still a good pick for a top-three seed in any regional.

Indiana – No. 8 (Midwest)

The Hoosiers first entered Lunardi’s projections back on January 15 as a No. 9 seed following home victories over Ohio State and Penn State. Since then, they have won a tough away game at Illinois and thoroughly dominated Maryland last night at home. They’re bound to move up in Lunardi’s bracket if they can complete the season sweep of Ohio State on Sunday in a game that KenPom gives them a 22 percent chance to win. The Hoosiers have clearly recovered from a heavily publicized and troubling offseason as well as an early-season loss to Eastern Washington. Freshman James Blackmon has been fantastic and they’re now thriving under Yogi Ferrell’s leadership.

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Even in Defeat, Northwestern Offers Hope for the Future

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 23rd, 2015

Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament drought will not be ending this season. It’s not as if inclusion in this March’s field of 68 was ever an expectation for this group of Wildcats (because it wasn’t), but Thursday night’s loss to Ohio State dropped Chicago’s Big Ten team to what will almost certainly be an insurmountable 1-5 in conference play (10-9 overall). D’Angelo Russell (33 points, seven rebounds, six assists) may have been superior to any player the ‘Cats have faced this season (head coach Chris Collins admitted as much afterwards), but the defeat was just another in a string of excruciatingly close Northwestern losses. In overtime at Michigan State. By five to intrastate rival Illinois. A two-point defeat at Michigan. And then Thursday night, where Ohio State needed every point of its best player’s career game to eke out a two-point victory. The Wildcats haven’t gotten over the hump yet, but they have been consistently close. Right now, that seems to be good enough for Collins.

Chris Collins Displeasure With The Officiating Thursday Night Did Not Stop Him From Appreciating His Wildcats' Efforts

Chris Collins Displeasure With The Officiating Thursday Night Did Not Stop Him From Appreciating His Team’s Effort (AP)

You wouldn’t expect the head coach of a team that has won just one of its first six conference games to be especially optimistic after a loss, but Collins exuded confidence. In the postgame presser he repeatedly talked about how hard his guys had played, even saying, “It was so tough that they are not getting the results they deserve.” It was the opposite of a woeful mentality; this was a coach who believes in his players and everything they put on the floor last night. In his mind, they wholeheartedly deserved to win, and maybe after another season of close calls, he feels that they will turn the corner. Even while complaining about a controversial (and incorrectly called) blocking foul in the final minutes, Collins aired his postgame grievances with a knowing, almost-cocky smile across his face. He wanted the win for his guys (if you need it, here’s proof, via his in-game reaction to that missed call), but that steady confidence from trusting the system he’s developing belied contentment with the final result. Close was okay on this night; his team had played well enough to win.

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Big Ten M5: 01.21.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 21st, 2015

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  1. Freshmen have made much more of an impact this season than last year. Because of this, it’s difficult to truly pick an All-Freshman Team. BTN’s Shon Morris took a stab at it anyway, as he named five guards to his list. Wooden Award Semi-Finalists Melo Trimble and D’Angelo Russell made the cut, along with Indiana guard James Blackmon Jr, Northwestern guard Bryant McIntosh, and Minnesota’s Nate Mason. If there was anything to quibble with here, it would potentially be the exclusion of Purdue first-year players Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas. Both have kind of tailed off as of late in terms of production however, as the quintet of guards have had more of an impact in conference play.
  2. Indiana coach Tom Crean doesn’t necessarily have many fans in the media, and articles written about him are usually slanted toward the negative. Things weren’t helped by the train wreck of a 2013-14 season, and the turmoil that surrounded the team before this season even started. The Hoosiers have exceeded expectations in starting 14-4, and Crean deserves a good deal of credit for the way his squad has performed. Indianan has a rough stretch of games coming up, but finishing in the top five in the league and making the NCAA Tournament should not only enable Crean to not have to worry about his job, but also could put him in contention for Big Ten Coach of the Year.
  3. Purdue can pick up another conference win tonight when they take on Illinois in West Lafayette. After a sluggish start against Penn State that took a miraculous shot to force overtime, the Boilermakers are trying to figure out how to get off to better starts. They’ve trailed in each Big Ten game so far, and the catalysts for the poor starts have been a lack of communication on defense and too many turnovers. With Illinois desperate to stay in the hunt until Rayvonte Rice returns, Purdue can’t afford to let Illinois shoot the lights out in the first stanza like they did against Indiana. Locking down on defense for 40 minutes like Purdue teams of old will determine how far this team can go.
  4. Michigan State has struggled at times this season, and whether or not they turn things around by March remains to be seen. That doesn’t mean that fans of the green and white should get too upset according to Graham Couch of the Lansing State-Journal. Being upset at this non-top 25 unit shows just how good the program has been under Tom Izzo. There’s been some recruiting misses of the highly-publicized variety (Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander, Tyus Jones), and lesser-hyped players that have become really good (Monte Morris, Tyler Ulis). But the fact that this year’s team could still turn things around, combined with a 2015-16 team that has a chance to be really solid should be enough for fans to tolerate the struggles of this team.
  5. College Basketball Talk listed some of the surprises and disappointments so far this season, and B1G teams made the cut on both lists. Maryland made an appearance as one of bigger surprises, with Coach Mark Turgeon being mentioned as a possible National Coach of the Year candidate. As far as disappointments, both Michigan and Nebraska were considered. Both teams won last night, and have a combined 8-5 mark in conference play right now. But they both started the season in the top 25, losing that distinction by playing poorly in the early going. The B1G as a whole has been disappointing, and the dip from both of these squads has played a large role in its demise.
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State of the Conference: Big Ten Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 20th, 2015

Tonight, the leader of the free world will address Congress in his annual State of the Union. The President will describe the condition of the United States and his agenda for the year to the bicameral legislative body and millions of Americans watching at home. This got me thinking. What would the equivalent from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany sound like? Would he be happy with this season’s performance from the Big Ten? Is there any more conference expansion on the horizon? I decided to put on my speechwriter hat and give it a whirl. For the first time ever, a fictional Delany is ready to address millions of Big Ten fans across the country in his inaugural State of the Conference. Enjoy.

What Does Jim Delany's Latest Move Mean For The Big 12? (US Presswire)

Jim Delany has turned the Big Ten into a dominant conference in basketball for the long term. (US Presswire)

The transcript of Jim Delany’s fictional State of the Conference is below:

My fellow Big Ten fans, the state of the Big Ten is good. While good may be satisfactory for some, it falls short of the level of excellence this conference has come to expect. But I remain confident that, come Selection Sunday and the NCAA Tournament, the Big Ten will surprise many, and I would remind everyone that we have a team in Wisconsin that is still considered a top tier team capable of bringing home the Big Ten’s first national championship since 2000. Likewise, we also have a player who is on the short list for National Player of the Year in Frank Kaminsky. On the matter of Wisconsin, there’s been much talk about inequality in our conference. That there is one team above all, and the rest of the league is mediocre. But a little over a week ago, I saw this same squad lose to a team most expected to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten. Rutgers’ defeat of Wisconsin shows us that no game is a gimme. And as a result, we are getting high drama each and every week, which is generating some of the most exciting basketball in the country.

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Big Ten M5: 01.19.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 19th, 2015

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  1. Michigan’s NCAA tournament chances took a major hit on Sunday when it learned that junior Caris LeVert would miss the remainder of the season with a left foot injury. With non-conference losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan, the Wolverines needed a stellar conference record to impress the selection committee. With their leading scorer and rebounder sidelined, Michigan’s youth-laden roster will be further tested by the heart of the Big Ten schedule. The next week-plus could be particularly rough for them, as a chunk of their squad is suffering from some sort of illness or injury.
  2. Indiana got the best of Illinois on Sunday despite squandering double-digit leads in both halves. Zach Osterman of the Indy Star said the Hoosiers’ resiliency shown today is a sign that they’re headed in a direction that many thought impossible after their tumultuous offseason and non-conference slate. Osterman said that while Indiana has been impressive thus far, they aren’t a contender for the Big Ten title – but given the circumstances they faced in October and November, their recent play is worthy of praise.
  3. Northwestern’s stellar freshman Bryant McIntosh was inconsolable after suffering a two-point loss to Michigan – but according to Henry Bushnell of Inside NU, McIntosh’s miss didn’t matter. What is important, Bushnell said, is that Northwestern is playing well against decent teams. The losses the Wildcats have suffered aren’t in vain, because their improvements are evident. Head coach Chris Collins understands the frustrations surrounding the team’s last three losses, but he stressed that the team’s improvement is an ongoing process.
  4. D’Angelo Russell wowed a national audience on Saturday, dropping 27 points and gathering 14 rebounds in the Buckeyes’ 76-67 loss to Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Despite Russell’s performance, Ohio State was familiarly inconsistent and Thad Matta found few positives to take after the Hawkeyes completed their sweep of his squad. According to Shannon Scott, the Buckeyes’ recent losses are more indicative of their play and not of the strength of their opponents. With a starting lineup that features three seniors, it’s a bad sign that a freshman (albeit a future NBA lottery pick) is proving to be the most consistent player on the team. If the Buckeyes want to maintain a position at the top of the conference standings, they’ll need more out of their experienced players to complement him.
  5. Minnesota defeated Rutgers on Saturday, picking up their first conference win of the season. Their 0-5 start in conference play was the worst since 2005-2006. A loss to Rutgers would have killed the Gophers’ NCAA Tournament hopes, but Andre Hollins dropped in 31 points to save the season for the time being. Amelia Rayno of the Star Tribune said the win brought a jovial feeling back to the locker room, a good sign for a team that was very apparently feeling the pressure in its last few games. The Gophers next five games are all very winnable as they face Nebraska twice in addition to matchups with Penn State, Illinois and Purdue.
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Big Ten M5: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 16th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Given the Big Ten’s balance this season, it’s widely accepted that if a team can hold home court and win just a few road games, it will likely finish in the top third of the league. On Wednesday night, Illinois got its needed road win at Northwestern with a 72-67 victory. They were led by Kendrick Nunn (25 points) and Aaron Cobsy (19), each of whom gave their most impressive performances of the season. This is an especially encouraging sign for Cosby, who before this game had been nothing short of awful in the shooting department (18-of-74 in the last 10 games). With leading scorer Rayvonte Rice out with an injury until at least February, the Illini need one or more of their guards to produce in each and every game. If Nunn, Cosby and Malcolm Hill can become more consistent, this team can still be on the bubble when Rice gets back.
  2. In case there was any doubt about Frank Kaminsky’s impact after Wisconsin’s loss to Rutgers without him in the lineup, we were reminded of his greatness once again when he returned from concussion symptoms to lead the Badgers to a 70-55 win over Nebraska Thursday night. The senior center scored 22 points and grabbed five rebounds while providing an effective presence on defense. The Badgers will still be shorthanded for several more weeks while point guard Traevon Jackson heals from a foot injury, but Bronson Koenig was able to slide into Jackson’s spot effectively with 11 points against the Cornhuskers. As long as Wisconsin has Kaminsky in the lineup, the Badgers should have no serious challenger for the Big Ten championship.
  3. The Wooden Award Midseason list was released on Wednesday, and four players from the Big Ten made the cut: Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell and Maryland’s Melo Trimble. Three of the four players were expected to be national names in the preseason, but the freshman Trimble’s inclusion highlights just how integral the dynamic point guard has been to the Terrapins’ success. The snubs include the Big Ten’s two leading scorers: Penn State’s D.J. Newbill and Nebraska’s Terran Pettaway. Both players were likely hurt because of their teams’ disappointing play this season, underscoring how team success ultimately factors into decisions about individual awards. It’s also why the Big Ten’s best chance to win the Wooden Award lies with Kaminsky as he leads the Badgers to a possible conference and National Championship.
  4. One of the biggest surprises of the season has been Maryland’s impressive play leading to a 16-2 record and the an early lead with Wisconsin at 4-1 in the conference standings. Like all Mark Turgeon-coached teams, the Terps’ strength lies in their defense (19th in the nation). Not nearly talked about enough, though, has been Maryland’s rebounding performance during conference play. It made a big statement by outrebounding Michigan State two weeks ago, a program that prides itself in how hard it gets after the boards. The secret has been getting players like Jake Layman to commit to rebounding, regardless of position. Thus far, the Terps have won the rebounding battle in three of their first five conference games and all three ended in wins. They’ll have to keep it up this weekend as they once again face a Spartans team that will be looking to redeem themselves.
  5. Finally, Joe Lunardi updated his brackets on ESPN.com yesterday. According to his projections, the Big Ten has six teams currently in the field: Wisconsin (#2 seed), Maryland (#3), Iowa (#8), Michigan State (#8), Ohio State (#8), and Indiana (#9). This would land the conference fourth in bids, with the ACC, Big 12, and Big East each getting more. Given the Big Ten’s lackluster performance in the non-conference schedule and the likelihood that they will continue to beat up on one another, things are unlikely to change much in this regard by Selection Sunday. Bummer.
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Indiana Grinds Things Out in Battle of Leading Freshmen

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 10th, 2015

Coming into Saturday’s game between Ohio State and Indiana, both teams were the top two in terms of points per game in the B1G. So in a season that arguably makes less sense as time goes forward, of course these two perimeter juggernauts combined to shoot 7-for-39 from deep. Matchups between two top point guards, and between two of the best freshmen perimeter players in the land did not really materialize. Instead Indiana was able to forget the fact that their shots weren’t falling, by simply being the tougher team. Despite their small size, they enjoyed a 48-39 advantage on the boards. Unheralded bench contributors  like Emmitt Holt and Collin Hartman seemingly made all of the hustle plays that in the end added up to a great win for the Hoosiers. While some of the head-to-head battles never really came into play, here’s a couple of areas that Indiana was able to win on their way to a 69-66 victory.

Troy Williams notched a double-double as Indiana held off Ohio State Saturday in Bloomington.  (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

Troy Williams notched a double-double as Indiana held off Ohio State Saturday in Bloomington. (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

  • Troy Williams-Sam Thompson/Mark Loving: Williams was the best player on the floor, and it wasn’t just because he had 2-3 plays that could end up on Sportscenter’s top 10. The Hoosiers could have very well been lack-luster in the energy department with so many of their outside shots not falling. Instead, they kept up the intensity on the defensive end of the floor, and especially on the boards. Williams was the ringleader on both accounts, grabbing 12 rebounds on the day and not allowing Loving to really get going. Indiana switched in and out of zone all day, so he didn’t necessarily lock one specific person down. But the energy,hustle, rebounding, and timely passing (team-high three assists) swung the game.

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Minnesota Already in Rough Shape in the Big Ten Race

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 7th, 2015

Some might have considered the Ohio State vs. Minnesota game on Tuesday night an interesting match-up but not necessarily one with postseason implications. The new year has just begun. Teams have barely played 15 games, and the conference season is just picking up. So why would it matter? Well, for a Gophers’ team that hasn’t earned a quality win yet despite an 11-5 start to the season, an 0-3 beginning to Big Ten play doesn’t bode well for the future. A home win against Ohio State is exactly what the team needed, but the Gophers, despite a valiant second half comeback, just couldn’t finish it off. Here are three thoughts from the overtime thriller:

Richard Pitino's Gophers blew a golden opportunity at the Barn on Tuesday night.

Richard Pitino’s Gophers blew a golden opportunity at the Barn on Tuesday night.

  1. Credit Andre Hollins for his defense against D’Angelo Russell in the second half. Russell was on fire in the first half, scoring 25 points including 5-of-6 from beyond the arc and making Hollins look like a tired senior trying to keep up with a stud freshman. The second half, however, was a completely different story, as Hollins hit a big three-pointer in the first minute and showed that he was ready to lock down Russell by pressuring him full-court. His improved intensity allowed him to fight over the screens, bumping Russell off balance as he tried to turn the corner. This defensive tweak along with pushing him to the corners worked perfectly, as Russell was held scoreless during the rest of regulation (he finished with 27 points). If Hollins had played with half of his second half intensity from the start, the Gophers probably wouldn’t be left with with an 0-3 Big Ten record. Read the rest of this entry »
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Handing Out the Big Ten Non-Conference Awards

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 30th, 2014

Before passing out the imaginary hardware for the Big Ten’s best performers in the non-conference season, let’s make it clear that these awards come solely from my brain. All of our Big Ten preseason awards and the predicted order of finish were voted on by the entire group of writers here at the Big Ten microsite. These non-conference honors, however, are all on me, so please direct any kudos and/or criticism this way (@berndon4). So with the non-conference portion of the Big Ten schedule thankfully done, here are the honors from the first half of the season.

Frank Kaminsky has stepped his game up to even greater levels this season after a standout season in 2013-14.  (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Frank Kaminsky has stepped his game up to even greater levels this season after a standout season in 2013-14. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Player of the Year: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Kaminsky has been so good that advanced metrics guru Ken Pomeroy has him listed as his current National Player of the Year. He leads the Badgers in points, rebounds, steals, and blocks, and he’s also third on the team in assists. Where he’s made a major leap this season has been in his ability to put the ball on the floor and beat his man off of the dribble. Instead of morphing into full Pittsnogle mode of just launching threes as a 7-footer and falling in love with his perimeter game, he’s scoring from all over the court. Defensively, he’s leading the conference in defensive rebounding, grabbing 25.1 percent of all caroms when the other team puts up a shot. He’s also averaging 2.2 blocks per game, and has been a legitimate rim-protector for the Badgers’ outstanding defense. (Others Considered: Rayvonte Rice, DJ Newbill, D’Angelo Russell)
  • Freshman of the Year: D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: You honestly couldn’t go wrong with any of the three Big Ten freshmen who have been spectacular thus far. Russell gets the nod over Maryland’s Melo Trimble and Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr., but just barely. The gifted guard from Louisville has led the Buckeyes in scoring nine times, but he’s also led them in assists five times to boot. His 17.7 PPG and 5.3 APG are great, but his 46.7 percent shooting from deep is even better. If his numbers stay anywhere close to where they are now and Ohio State finishes near the top of the league standings, he’ll edge out Trimble and Blackmon for the season award like he has done here. (Others Considered: Melo Trimble, James Blackmon Jr, Vince Edwards)

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Big Ten Viewers’ Guide For Conference Play

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 30th, 2014

As you well know, the Big Ten starts off conference play with four games today. While some of the luster has been lost due to several teams’ non-conference struggles, that doesn’t mean that things won’t be entertaining with so many teams relatively close to each other in talent level. Can disappointing teams like Michigan and Purdue turn things around? Will Wisconsin dominate as much as everyone seems to think? Can Penn State keep winning? Some of these questions and more will be answered over the next two and a half months. With that in mind, here’s a look at five key dates during conference play that will be appointment viewing if you’re a true B1G fan.

Dez Wells and his Maryland squad taking on Michigan State in College Park highlights a slew of games on January 17 .(Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

Dez Wells and Maryland vs. Michigan State in College Park highlights a slew of good games on January 17 .(Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

January 17 (five games)

  • Rutgers-Minnesota 12:00 EST (BTN)
  • Purdue-Penn State 1:0o (ESPNU)
  • Ohio State-Iowa 2:00 (ESPN)
  • Michigan State-Maryland 4:00 (CBS)
  • Northwestern-Michigan 8:15 (BTN)

You may be able to skip the opener at Minnesota, but the meat of this five-game Saturday slate is right in the middle. Iowa and Ohio State split their games last season, which each team winning on the other’s home floor. Both teams once again have legitimate NCAA hopes, but this one will be important for setting the tone early in conference play. After today’s season opener in East Lansing, Maryland and Michigan State will run it back just 17 days later. The Terps are known for bringing a raucous atmosphere to the Xfinity Center — how will Michigan State handle the chaos in playing there for the first time as a league opponent? Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 12.29.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 29th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. On Saturday, Indiana lost its final non-conference match-up to Georgetown in Madison Square Garden. In the second half, the game became a duel between two former teammates and Indianapolis natives, the Hoosiers’ Yogi Ferrell and the Hoyas’ D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Ferrell scored a team-high 27 points, including two three-pointers that helped the Hoosiers tie the game and send it to overtime. As Zach Osterman explains, there is no shame in losing to Georgetown on a neutral site — the disappointment stems from what would have been gained with a win. A win over a good Big East team would not only have given Indiana a big boost going into its conference schedule, but also earned them their first resume win and mitigated some of the stain from their bad loss to Eastern Washington. Now, the Hoosiers will have to overperform in Big Ten play in order to earn an NCAA bid.
  2. This weekend we also saw the return of Dez Wells when Maryland defeated Oakland. After missing five games with a wrist injury, Wells did not get the start but played 22 minutes, chipping in 10 points and four assists. The senior’s return adds to the momentum the Terrapins have built after going 12-1 in non-conference play. In Wells’ absence, Jake Layman has stepped up his production, emerging as a legitimate scoring option for Maryland; combine that with the standout play of freshman stud Melo Trimble and a healthy Wells and Evan Smotrycz, and Mark Turgeon now has a wealth of talent with which to develop his new rotation, shaping up Maryland to be a force in its first season in the Big Ten.
  3. The slate of Saturday games also included Minnesota’s convincing win against UNC-Wilmington. This was the Golden Gophers’ eighth victory in a row, and it caps off a nice finish to their non-conference schedule after starting 3-2 — they’re now 11-2 with losses only to Louisville and St. John’s (both in KenPom’s top 20). Richard Pitino’s pressure defense has once again been a big part of their success (defensive turnover rate of 28.0 percent, third in the country), but it’s their ability to share the ball that has really boosted the offense and overall play, as evidenced by the 66.2 percent of field goals made that come off of assists (fifth nationally). Minnesota will see if its collegial philosophy on offense will translate to a step up in competition when it starts Big Ten play Wednesday at Purdue.
  4. Now that the non-conference schedule season has wrapped up, it’s worth reviewing what has happened in the season thus far. We will have some look-back posts coming up here on the microsite, but the MaizeNBrew blog from SB Nation has compiled a pretty comprehensive version of its non-conference awards. Wisconsin was honored as the Best Team, while Northwestern shamefully beat out Rutgers to be named the Worst Team. Additionally, the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky was awarded midseason MVP, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell was Best Freshman, Maryland’s Jake Layman was Most Improved, Wisconsin/Duke was the best game of the non-conference season, Iowa over North Carolina was deemed the Best Win, and Michigan’s infamous defeat to NJIT was identified as the Worst Loss. There are many, many more awards in the article, and it serves as a good recap of the early part of the season for the Big Ten.
  5. Finally, fans have been grasping at straws to make sense of the “mushy middle”of this year’s Big Ten. It seems as if there is not much daylight between teams unless your name is Wisconsin (for good reason) or Northwestern and Rutgers (for not-so-good reasons). If you’re looking for some clarity, Jeff from the BasketballPredictions blog has updated his bracketology predictions to include Saturday’s results. His predictions and seedings reflect what he expects to occur by the end of the season. In it, he has eight Big Ten teams making the Dance: Wisconsin (#1 seed), Ohio State (#4), Maryland (#7), Illinois (#7), Iowa (#8), Michigan State (#9), Michigan (#11), and Minnesota (#12). This leaves out bubble-hopefuls Penn State (and their 12-1 record), Indiana, Nebraska and Purdue. These predictions seem to highlight how much uncertainty there is with any team’s record and/or performance in the non-conference, and that we’ll likely have a slugfest in the conference all season long for those precious NCAA Tournament bids. There are two exciting months of Big Ten play coming our way that will sort all of this out. Get excited!
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Three Takeaways as North Carolina Bests Ohio State

Posted by Walker Carey on December 20th, 2014

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between North Carolina and Ohio State at the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago.

North Carolina entered Saturday’s game against Ohio State looking to salvage what had so far been an uneven December. The Tar Heels kicked off the month by suffering a pretty surprising home defeat at the hands of Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. That defeat was especially alarming because it illustrated North Carolina’s offensive struggles, as the Tar Heels were an ice cold 27.9% from the field and an abysmal 17.4% from behind the three-point line. After a strong 44-point victory over East Carolina on December 7, North Carolina ran into the Kentucky buzzsaw in Lexington last Saturday. The Tar Heels struggled with Kentucky’s defensive pressure all afternoon, and turned the ball over 18 times in a 14-point loss. Against Ohio State on Saturday, Roy Williams‘s squad was finally able to put together a consistent 40 minutes of basketball against top competition, as North Carolina emerged with a 82-74 win. The following are three takeaways from Saturday’s action.

UNC (USA Today Images)

UNC Played a Strong Game in Chicago Today (USA Today Images)

  1. North Carolina came out strong. The Tar Heels were able to race out to a 12-point halftime lead due to a strong first half performance on both ends of the court. Led by Brice Johnson‘s eight points on 4-of-4 shooting, North Carolina scored 43 points in the opening stanza on 17-of-33 (51.5%) shooting from the field. The first half scoring was a very balanced effort as Johnson, Marcus Paige, Justin Jackson, J.P. Tokoto, Kennedy Meeks, and Joel Berry II all scored at least five points in the opening 20 minutes. On the defensive end of the court, North Carolina’s hard-nosed defense forced Ohio State into a very pedestrian 12-of-32 (37.5%) shooting in the first half. The backcourt of Shannon Scott and D’Angelo Russell was held to just seven first half points on 3-of-11 shooting. The Tar Heels also dominated the rebounding glass in the opening half, as they held a 23-15 advantage on the boards at the half. Ohio State was able to make this game a little closer than it probably should have been late in the second half, but the strong first half turned in by North Carolina created enough distance that the outcome was really never in question. Read the rest of this entry »
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