RTC Top 25: Final Regular Season Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on March 8th, 2016

Another regular season has come and gone. In a season that was defined by utter craziness throughout, the final week was laced with mostly expected results. Previously #22 Wichita State, however, suffered an unexpected defeat to Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Tournament semifinals. That loss is part of a less than spectacular NCAA Tournament résumé that will have Gregg Marshall’s Shockers sweating all the way up to Selection Sunday. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty is after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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The Cases For Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine For NPOY

Posted by Chris Stone & Alex Moscoso on March 7th, 2016

The National Player of the Year race wasn’t always a two-man affair (we miss you Ben Simmons, Jarrod Uthoff and Kris Dunn), but as we enter postseason play this week, there’s little denying the simplicity of the choice facing voters: Valentine or Hield. We asked Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) and Alex Moscoso (@alexmoscoso) — writers for the Big 12 and Big Ten microsites, respectively — to make a case for their league’s best players as the most deserving NPOY this season.

The Case For Hield

This season’s battle for National Player of the Year has become a two-man race between Michigan State‘s Denzel Valentine and Oklahoma‘s Buddy Hield, as the other primary candidates have faded into the background with lackluster late season performances from their teams. Thus, Valentine and Hield appear to stand alone as the two players with first-class season-long resumes on Final Four contenders. The case for Sparty’s Valentine is understandable. He’s one of the sport’s most versatile players — a quintessential jack-of-all-trades. But despite all of Valentine’s individual achievements and his oversized role on a national title favorite, the Sooners’ Hield is the player who should be this season’s National Player of the Year.

Buddy Hield is a deserving National Player of the Year. (Mandatory Credit: USATSI)

Buddy Hield is a deserving National Player of the Year. (Mandatory Credit: USATSI)

Hield is not a jack-of-all-trades like Valentine; rather, he’s a master of one. The senior guard is a transcendent scorer, so good that he’s drawn comparisons to Stephen Curry from multiple national analysts. Hield is the nation’s second-leading scorer at 25.3 points per game, and he’s done it while playing in the country’s most challenging conference (according to KenPom‘s adjusted metrics). What’s more impressive, though, is the efficiency with which the Oklahoma guard scores. Hield’s true shooting percentage — a statistic that measures all aspects of shooting, including three-pointers and free throws — is an astonishing 66.3 percent this season. Scoring that many points in such an efficient manner makes Hield’s NPOY case. Only two other players since the 2009-10 season have averaged 25 points per game on a true shooting percentage higher than 60 percent (min. 400 minutes) — one of those, Creighton’s Doug McDermott, won the Naismith Award himself in 2013-14. Hield, who spent much of this season flirting with a 50/50/90 shooting line, is the most efficient of the bunch.

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Reflecting on Denzel Valentine’s Versatile Career

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 3rd, 2016

In Fall 2012 Denzel Valentine was an overlooked freshman guard in a class defined by top-25 recruit Gary Harris. Four years of growth later, Valentine leaves East Lansing with an impressive skill set and leadership skills that represents an excellent case study in player development. Since his freshman year, his scoring has nearly quadrupled (from 5.0 PPG to 19.6 PPG); his long-range shooting has significantly improved (from 28 percent to 45 percent); and his assists have tripled (from 2.4 APG to 7.2 APG). While his improvement in several major statistical categories over his career is impressive, his ability to do so without forcing his way into Tom Izzo’s system is worthy of discussion.

Denzel Valentine (right) had to carve his own identity after Keith Appling (left) graduated (AP Photo/D. Martin)

Denzel Valentine (right) had to carve his own identity after Keith Appling (left) graduated (AP Photo/D. Martin)

Being the third option in an offense that traditionally highlights only two guards in the backcourt isn’t easy, yet Valentine was that guy for two seasons behind Harris and Keith Appling. When he was on the floor, he had to learn how to both play off the ball and without screens because Appling controlled the offense and Harris was the designated three-point gunner. Despite the lack of offense run for him, he found other ways to actively contribute, such as grabbing six rebounds per game as a sophomore. Valentine’s first two seasons highlight his perseverance and efforts to impact the game despite not having an integral role within Michigan State’s offense.

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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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Big Ten M5: 02.24.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 24th, 2016

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  1. The Big Ten on Monday awarded Indiana forward Troy Williams its conference Player of the Week honors for averaging 18.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assist and 2.5 steals per game in wins over Nebraska and Purdue last week. It was the second award of the year for a junior who has been instrumental in helping the Hoosiers move into contention for their second Big Ten title in four years. Williams may not have made the giant leap he had hoped — he averages fewer points and rebounds than last season — but he remains the team’s third-leading scorer and has improved on the defensive end. With his contributions leading the way, Tom Crean’s team hopes to win that regular season title as well as make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors went to Minnesota‘s Jordan Murphy for his 17 points and 11 rebounds against Maryland last Thursday. Although it wasn’t considered in the award, he forward followed up that performance with another terrific effort with 19 points and 14 rebounds in a win over Rutgers last night. His emergence is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season at Minnesota. He, along with classmate Nate Mason, gives Richard Pitino a glimmer of hope for Minnesota basketball going into the next season.
  3. Michigan State earned its sixth win in its last seven contests last night when Sparty handled Ohio State, 81-62. The Buckeyes prevented Denzel Valentine from scoring 20 points or dishing out 10 assists (he finished with “only” 17 points and eight assists), but they were unable to stop Bryn Forbes 27 points on 7-of-10 shooting from behind the three-point line. While a regular season title is still a long shot for a team two games back in the standings, Tom Izzo’s team is playing as well as any team in the country and is certainly in the mix for a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. As always, the Spartans appear to be peaking at just the right time.
  4. As Michigan makes a push to solidify its place in the NCAA Tournament with a game against Northwestern tonight, the Wolverines may again find themselves without the services of senior guard Caris Levert. In fact, the Wolverines’ two upperclassmen leaders, Levert and Spike Albrechthave been absent from John Beilein‘s lineup for a majority of the season. Despite those limitations, Michigan has managed to win enough games to remain competitive in the Big Ten race and appears poised to get back to the NCAA Tournament. It will come one step closer to that objective if it protects home court against the Wildcats this evening.
  5. The biggest conference game of the week will take place tonight when Wisconsin visits Iowa in a game that has major implications for both teams. The Hawkeyes need a victory to keep up with Indiana in the loss column in pursuit of a Big Ten title. The Badgers with a win could seal their place in the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin has steadily climbed back from a 2-5 Big Ten record to likely being a big win away from its 18th consecutive trip to March Madness. That would make quite the case for the administration to permanently hire Greg Gard and continue the Bo Ryan legacy in Madison for years to come.
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Big Ten Seeding Forecast: 02.16.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 16th, 2016

It’s been a little under a month since our previous seeding forecast and that means it’s time for an update. While a lot has happened over the last four weeks, the race for the Big Ten title and NCAA at-large bids have remained relatively even. There are still six Big Ten teams that appear comfortably within the field of 68 while a seventh remains firmly entrenched on the bubble. There’s also a three-way race for the #4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and its accompanying double-bye. The table below shows each school’s updated likelihoods for finishing the regular season at each seed.

big ten seeding 14 feb 2016

Here are three takeaways from the data.

1. Iowa is the strong favorite to capture a regular season title. There was a three-way tie for first place between Iowa, Indiana and Maryland heading into last weekend. In fact, the Terrapins — which owns the tiebreaker over the Hawkeyes — had at the time almost a 50 percent chance of finishing in first place. But after Maryland lost to Wisconsin and Indiana lost to Michigan State, Iowa once again finds itself alone at the top. Along with its one-game lead, Iowa has a comparative advantage with its remaining schedule. The toughest games for the Hawkeyes in the final three weeks will be versus Indiana and at Michigan; Maryland, on the other hand, still has games against Michigan, at Purdue and at Indiana; Indiana must face Purdue and Maryland as well as travel to Iowa. With this kind of advantage in place, Iowa has sole possession of the Big Ten Championship within grasp for the first time in 36 years.
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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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Big Ten M5: 02.12.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 12th, 2016

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  1. Purdue announced on Thursday that athletic director Morgan Burke will retire when his contract expires on June 30, 2017. Burke, who has held the job in West Lafayette since 1993, is the longest-tenured athletic director in the Big Ten by 12 years. Michael Berghoff, former football player and current chairman of the Purdue Board of Trustees, will lead the search and gave no timetable for making a hire. The Lafayette (IN) Journal & Courier‘s Nathan Baird put together a list of possible candidates for the job.
  2. In more Purdue news, starting point guard P.J. Thompson has sprained ligaments in his left ankle, causing him to miss practice and wear a walking boot. His status for Saturday’s game at Michigan is unclear, although X-rays came back negative. Thompson said he suffered the injury in the second half of the Boilermakers’ overtime win versus Michigan State on Tuesday. The Indianapolis native is on pace to shatter Purdue’s record for assist-to-turnover ratio: The sophomore has 71 assists against 11 turnovers this season.
  3. The James Naismith Trophy released its midseason list for its men’s college basketball Player of the Year award. The list of 35 names includes five Big Ten players: Purdue center A.J. Hammons, Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine, Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff, Maryland point guard Melo Trimble and Indiana point guard Yogi Ferrell. Trimble, a sophomore, is the only non-senior of the five Big Ten candidates.
  4. Rutgers is in the middle of a 23-game Big Ten losing streak and head coach Eddie Jordan is displeased with the fan base’s impatience. Responding to a question about their disappointment, Jordan’s frustration showed as he defended Rutgers’ direction, saying, “They just have to be more educated in what the real deal is. If they understand what this conference is about, what type of players and teams we’re going up against with injuries and being a young team. If they don’t understand that, I don’t need to read what the reaction is.” Rutgers’ average home game attendance of 4,483 is easily the worst in the Big Ten.
  5. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Wisconsin has won six straight games since a 1-4 start to Big Ten play. Forward Nigel Hayes is tied for fourth in the conference in scoring with 17.3 PPG and has scored at least 20 points in four of the six wins. But Hayes isn’t doing all the work. Junior forward/center Vitto Brown’s newfound consistency has given the Badgers a big lift too. He scored a career-high 18 points in Wednesday’s win over Nebraska and made all three of his three-point attempts. Brown is averaging 14.0 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in Wisconsin’s last four contests. He has made six three-pointers in that stretch after making only eight in the first 20 games of the season.
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Big Ten M5: 02.05.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 5th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. With Minnesota’s Thursday night loss at Northwestern and Rutgers’ Wednesday night triple-overtime loss vs. Illinois, the Big Ten has two teams that are each 0-10 in conference play, making up two of eight Division I teams that have yet to win a conference game this season. The other six are Boston College, St. John’s, Delaware, Western Illinois, Chicago State and Penn. Minnesota and Rutgers play each other twice this season, with the first matchup in Minneapolis on February 23.
  2. Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes has been invaluable during his team’s five-game winning streak and he was rewarded with a little personal glory on Wednesday. The junior forward earned a spot among the 10 finalists for the Julius Erving Award, which is given to the best small forward in college basketball. Hayes is averaging 17.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game this season. Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine is the other Big Ten small forward among the finalists — the senior is averaging 18.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game. The winner of this award will be announced on April 8.
  3. Illinois’ terrible luck with injuries continues. Center Michael Finke sat out Wednesday’s win against Rutgers with a hip contusion, joining Mike Thorne, Jr. and his persistent knee problems on the bench. Finke did not practice on Monday or Tuesday and is considered day-to-day for now. With Finke’s recent absence, that means that only four Illinois players have played in every game this season. His status for Sunday’s game at Iowa is uncertain.
  4. Both Michigan State and Michigan are dealing with some injury issues before their intrastate rivalry resumes in Ann Arbor on Saturday afternoon. For the Spartans, point guard Tum Tum Nairn is likely to miss his sixth straight game, while at Michigan, head coach John Beilein finally gave a clear update on guard Caris LeVert, saying there is a chance he could play this weekend. Both teams would certainly like to be at full strength heading into the home stretch.
  5. Jarrod Uthoffs impressive senior year at Iowa has put him in the conversation for Big Ten and National Player of the Year and, as a result, gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated. Brian Hamilton’s cover story on Uthoff details the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native’s simple, metronomic personality and consistency on a surprising and surging team.
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