Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part IV

Posted by Patrick Engel on April 11th, 2016

In three parts over the last week, we’ve examined a key offseason question for 10 of the 14 Big Ten teams. Part I reviewed Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois; Part II featured Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern; Part III examined Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa. The fourth and final part today examines the Big Ten’s top four teams from this season: Purdue, Maryland, Michigan State and Indiana. (Note: used for all player and class ranks).

Purdue (26-9, 12-6 Big Ten)

Dakota Mathias (31) needs to be a productive three-point shooter again for Purdue. (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

Dakota Mathias (#31) needs to be a productive three-point shooter again for Purdue. (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

Can Purdue find consistent offensive production from its guards?

The Boilermakers this season possessed one of the most productive frontcourts but one of the least productive backcourts in college basketball. P.J. Thompson boasted a 4.8-to-1 assist-turnover ratio, but the group of Dakota Mathias, Ryan Cline and Kendall Stephens (if he returns) and himself are mainly three-point shooters, none of whom attempted more than 16 percent of his shots at the rim. This group of guards shouldn’t experience much turnover outside of senior Raphael Davis and possibly Stephens, if he transfers, meaning that freshman point guard Carsen Edwards should have every chance to become the starter from day one next year. He’s not very big (5’11”, 175 pounds), but he’s aggressive, mature and a good passer. If he can play well enough to earn major minutes, he’ll mitigate one of Purdue’s clear weaknesses. Matt Painter’s frontcourt should again be a strength, assuming Vince Edwards and Caleb Swanigan return to complement Isaac Haas, whose touches should increase substantially. This team’s Big Ten ceiling, though, might depend on the readiness of its lone freshman.

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Michigan State Grows Stronger Ahead of Selection Sunday

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2016

Tom Izzo’s disappointment in the first half against Ohio State on Friday might be the best indication yet of just how well his Spartans are playing. Less than a week after beating the Buckeyes in East Lansing, Michigan State controlled the opening 20 minutes from start to finish, taking a seven-point lead into the locker room and holding its bubble-bound opponent to just 26 points on 27 shots. “I thought we got off to a bit of a sluggish start,” Izzo said. “We didn’t feel like we were in sync the whole first half.” His team went on to dominate, of course, winning by 27 points and completing a three-game season sweep of the Buckeyes by an average margin of 20.3 PPG. The victory was more than just a necessary step toward a Big Ten Tournament title, though. On a night when the threes weren’t falling, Michigan State – in one of its best defensive performances of the year – took an important stride toward invulnerability heading into the NCAA Tournament.

Denzel Valentine and the Spartans continue improving. (

Denzel Valentine and the Spartans continue to get better. (

Guard Bryn Forbes entered Friday as the nation’s best individual three-point shooter on the nation’s best three-point shooting team, having knocked down more than 50 percent of his 200 attempts from behind the arc. On nights that he and Denzel Valentine (a top 50 three-point shooter in his own right) get hot, Michigan State is incredibly difficult to beat. Friday was not one of those nights; the Spartans shot just 8-of-23 on three-point field goals, and Forbes never got going. For Izzo, it could not have worked out any better. “The best thing that happened was Bryn struggled, best thing for our future, because we had to learn to play without,” he said. Instead of blowing out the Buckeyes with lights-out perimeter shooting, the #2 seeded Spartans blew them out by pounding the glass and finding easy looks inside. Already a top 20 offensive and defensive rebounding team, Michigan State ripped down 14 offensive boards (41.2% OReb) and prevented many Ohio State second-chances on the other end. To score, the Spartans used a combination of high-percentage transition looks, easy put-backs and well-run set plays to blow open the lead after halftime, opening the final 20 minutes on a 14-2 run and never looking back. Spartan big men Deyonta Davis, Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling complemented Valentine’s predictably excellent play by combining for 27 points on 12-of-19 shooting. Junior guard Eron Harris, playing in his hometown for the first time since high school, poured in 13 points of his own. College basketball’s most efficient offense was as efficient as ever (1.27 points per possession), even without its usual perimeter prowess.

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Big Ten M5: 01.11.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 11th, 2016


  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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Five X-Factors Who Will Influence the Big Ten Race

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 30th, 2015

We’re now fully past exams and the insane holiday season, and our reward for all that jolly is a pre-New Year’s feast of Big Ten basketball with which to roll into 2016. This means that it’s a good time to consider how a handful of players who were notable in the non-conference portion of the schedule will fare with the better competition to come. The performance of these five players in particular could make all the difference in determining how well their teams fare over the next two months, and ultimately which teams are still playing deep into March.

Eron Harris and his ability to score will be needed for Michigan State in the coming months. (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports)

Eron Harris and his ability to score will be needed for Michigan State in the coming months. (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports)

  • Eron Harris, Michigan State: Harris finally showed what he could do on the offensive end of the floor with 27 points in Michigan State’s overtime win against Oakland. Prior to that explosion, he had only showed flashes of the scoring ability that he showcased at West Virginia. With Denzel Valentine expected to remain out for another one or two weeks, Harris needs to seize the extra playing time to build greater confidence in his role in Tom Izzo’s system. Those extra minutes could pay dividends when Valentine returns, as the Spartans will need additional scoring options in order to make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
  • Jake Layman, Maryland: Layman’s role has changed this year now that Maryland has a deeper arsenal of scorers on its roster. That said, he’ll need to be a bit more aggressive once conference play begins. He’s only taken more than 10 field goal attempts in a game three times this year, but his offensive rating has improved from 109.8 to 122.7. He needs to find a happy medium where he takes better advantage of his high efficiency and effective shooting in the paint (63.2 percent on two-point shots) to provide more scoring.

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Drawing Battle Lines, Day Three: Making a Case for Wednesday’s Games

Posted by Brendan Brody and Matt Patton on December 2nd, 2015

After two days worth of games, the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge is deadlocked at four games apiece with six games left tonight. Michigan, Purdue, and Northwestern picked up wins for the Big Ten last night, while North Carolina, Virginia, and Miami notched wins for the ACC. To prepare for the final night of play, the ACC and Big Ten microsites are once again here to defend the leagues they cover. Brendan Brody (Big Ten) and Matt Patton (ACC) make the case for each team in their respective leagues for all six contests that will take place tonight on the ESPN family of networks.

acc big ten schedule

Penn State at Boston College (7:15 PM, ESPNU)

  • Matt: The Eagles are coming off a disastrous trip to California which they ended getting pummeled by Santa Clara. How the team responds is the x-factor. On paper this looks like a fairly even matchup, which should give the advantage to the home team. Additionally, Jim Christian’s team has the pieces to be a better offensive team than they’ve shown thus far.Expect Christian to throw a few different defensive looks at Brandon Taylor to try to keep him uncomfortable, but the Eagles will win or lose this on the offensive end. Boston College has to make shots, and will need a strong performance out of freshman Jerome Robinson and transfer Eli Carter.
  • Brendan: When they’ve won, Penn State has only given up 56.7 ppg. When they’ve lost, it’s because they’ve given up an obscene amount of three-pointers. Boston College has some shooters, but their two leaders in three-point attempts (Carter, and AJ Turner) are both shooting below 30 percent from deep. Look for the Nittany Lions to make sure they guard on the perimeter, and look for them to squeak out a close win in a low scoring game.

Wisconsin at Syracuse (7:15 PM, ESPN2)

Jim Boeheim (US Presswire)

Jim Boeheim Will Stay in New York For Another Game Tonight (US Presswire)

  • Brendan: Syracuse has been one of the biggest surprises nationally after starting the season 6-0. Wisconsin has struggled to a 4-3 mark, but have showed some flashes of getting things together despite playing a tough schedule. The key aspect that they can exploit in this game is in getting extra possessions on the glass. They rebound 41.0 percent of their misses, while the Orange struggle to close out possessions by snagging a defensive rebound (308th nationally in defensive rebounding rate). Look for the Badgers to take advantage of these extra possessions to get the road win here.
  • Matt: Raise your hand if through six games you thought Trevor Cooney would be the least efficient Orange player. Syracuse has totally reinvented itself, and it hasn’t needed Dajuan Coleman to do so. Michael Gbinije has been outstanding running the offense (with Cooney’s help). If the Orange can keep their starting five on the floor most of the game, they’ll be in good shape. Neither team will be interested in running the floor, so that’s an achievable goal. Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lydon can’t let Wisconsin’s ball movement hurt the Orange inside, though the Badgers have not had a banner year offensively to date.

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Big Ten M5: 11.30.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 30th, 2015


  1. Before the season started, Wisconsin was given the benefit of the doubt despite all of its personnel loses from the team a year ago. Things have not started out great for the Badgers, however, and they may have hit a new low on Sunday when they lost at Oklahoma by 17 after shooting a pedestrian 23.5 percent from the floor for the game. This has brought on some speculation as to whether Bo Ryan can get this year’s team rolling despite early struggles. If not, his string of top four finishes in Big Ten play, and a bid in the NCAA Tournament might be in jeopardy.
  2. Denzel Valentine has gotten the majority of the Michigan State publicity as the Spartans have rolled to a 7-0 start. But it can’t be ignored that Tom Izzo has one of the deepest rosters in the country. In their win in the Wooden Legacy Championship game Sunday night over Providence, the bench made a number of contributions to the win. Eron Harris was especially important, as the junior transfer from West Virginia made a number of key plays down the stretch. The potential for this team to get even better can be seen by the fact that Harris hasn’t been consistently good on offense yet. If he can get into a groove, this team could do some serious damage later on in the season.
  3. Having four seniors in your lineup makes the combination of playing a game at 9:00 AM local time and putting back-to-back losses in the rearview mirror a bit easier. Just ask Iowa, as the Hawkeyes shook off a disappointing start to the Advocare Invitational by beating Wichita State. The win was Fran McCaffery’s 100th career victory at the school. Iowa has more work to do in non-conference play, especially with a win over a depleted Wichita State team not looking particularly strong right now. Credit McCaffery and the senior leaders for being ready to play and gaining something from the event.
  4. Indiana is off to a staggering start this year in the turnover department. With some blown opportunities to pick up key non-conference wins in Maui, the Hoosiers need a quality win against Duke desperately. Tom Crean saw a silver lining in diagnosing what went wrong in islands, in that the problems with the offensive miscues came from “trying to make plays that weren’t there for others.” It did seem like the Hoosiers were trying too hard to play fast in their 1-2 trip to Hawaii. They were almost trying to make too many passes at times. This is an elite offense when they don’t turn the ball over, so it will be interesting to see what they can do on Wednesday night against the Blue Devils.
  5. Michigan started their trip to the Battle 4 Atlantis with a loss, but they ended the trip 2-1 after destroying Charlotte, and then hanging on against Shaka Smart and Texas Friday evening. The Maize and Blue are working in newcomers like Duncan Robinson and Moritz Wagner into the rotation, but holdovers like Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. made the key plays at the end of the Texas game when the Longhorns started to make a run. Michigan has to be given a pass with their three top players all coming off of either missing games last season, or having an injury in the off season. They could be a much better team once everyone regains full health, so starting 4-2 isn’t too shabby.
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Big Ten M5: 11.24.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 24th, 2015


  1. Michigan State celebrated jumping to No. 3 in the newest AP poll by thrashing Eastern Michigan on Monday night. The common motifs of offensive balance and sharing the ball were once again on display, as the Spartans put five players in double figures and assisted on 26 of their 31 made field goals. One of the five was transfer Eron Harris, who had been struggling so far this season. The junior made both of his three-point attempts, and his improved offensive play should bode well as Sparty heads to Anaheim this week to play in the Wooden Legacy.
  2. After being named the Big Ten Player of the Week, Denzel Valentine was also named the national player of the week by NBC’s CollegeBasketballTalk. The Michigan State senior put on a clinic in recording a triple-double as the Spartans came back to beat Kansas in last Tuesday’s Champions Classic. Purdue also got some recognition from the site, as the Boilermakers were named the team of the week along with Miami (FL). Purdue is off to a very nice 5-0 start this season and clearly looks like a team that should easily finish in the top four of the Big Ten.
  3. You may have thought that things couldn’t get much worse for Illinois this season. After a 1-3 start that included losses at home to North Florida and Chattanooga, the Illini needed a Jalen Coleman-Lands buzzer-beater to beat lowly Chicago State on Monday night. Illinois was down by a score of 58-45 at one point, and needed two costly turnovers from Chicago State in the last minute to get the win. With much of the Illinois athletic department in a state of flux after scandals in the football and women’s basketball programs, the men’s team getting off to such a slow start hasn’t done anything to help in Champaign.
  4. The other B1G school from the Land of Lincoln has gotten off to a better start than its counterpart, but Northwestern lost its first game of the season on Monday night in the CBE Classic in Kansas City. At one point the Wildcats led formerly top-rated North Carolina by two points in the second half before ultimately losing, 80-69. Northwestern shot the ball well but it ended up losing the battle inside the paint. This game was probably the best non-conference chance for Chris Collins’ unit to dial up a resume-enhancer, so if the Wildcats want to break their infamous NCAA Tournament drought, they will have quite a bit of work to do during conference play.
  5. The Big Ten at large hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts this season as league teams have lost too many games to teams that have no business beating them. Indiana was one of the exceptions to that trend in getting off to a nice 3-0 start, but that ended on Monday in the Maui Invitational when the Hoosiers lost to Wake Forest in the first round. Some familiar concerns were raised in the loss, as Indiana allowed Wake to score a whopping 52 points in the paint. Turnovers and a lack of execution late in the game were also key issues in the loss, raising some of the same questions in Bloomington that have been around for a couple of years now.
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Michigan State vs. Kansas: Four Things to Know

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 17th, 2015

Tonight the fifth annual Champions Classic will tip off at the United Center in Chicago where Michigan State will face Kansas in the late game. The Spartans and Jayhawks — both ranked in the top 15 — bring the usual lofty season expectations each program is accustomed to. Bill Self and Tom Izzo have built the type of rosters that seem to be the recipe for success in today’s college game: a healthy mix of experienced upperclassmen along with some talented freshmen. In order to prepare you for tonight’s game and get you familiar with some of the new faces, here are four things you need to know before you tune in to watch.

Deyonta Davis will need to keep dominating inside against Kansas. (Rey De Rio/Getty Images)

Deyonta Davis faces his first major challenge in the paint against Kansas. (Rey De Rio/Getty Images)

  1. Deyonta Down Low. Michigan State lost a lot of its muscle in the post when Branden Dawson graduated but Izzo seems to have found a more-than-suitable replacement in four-star freshman Deyonta Davis. The Muskegon, Michigan, native didn’t let his youth and inexperience make him reticent in his inaugural outing on Friday, as evidenced by his stat line of 13 points on 14 shots (team-high), 11 rebounds, and five blocks against Florida Atlantic. But his head coach might have to calm his budding star down a bit tonight because Davis won’t be able to physically bully the Jayhawks in the paint like he did against the Owls. Read the rest of this entry »
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Kansas Seeking Redemption at the Champions Classic

Posted by Chris Stone on November 17th, 2015

Kansas hasn’t had much luck in the Champions Classic. Since the event began in 2011, the Jayhawks have won just once in four tries — a 94-83 victory against Duke at the United Center in 2013. This year, Bill Self‘s squad returns to Chicago looking for redemption after last season’s embarrassing 72-40 defeat to Kentucky. Kansas isn’t looking to fall so hard again. “We have no plans of having anything like that happen again,” junior Landen Lucas recently said. “That was not something that is OK with us. For the people that were here last year, that is not acceptable, no matter how early in the season it is.”

The last time Kansas won in the Champions Classic, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker were on the floor. (Getty Images)

The last time Kansas won in the Champions Classic, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker were on the floor. (Getty Images)

To avoid another loss, the Jayhawks will look to take advantage of a depleted Michigan State frontcourt. For the second straight game, the Spartans will be without 6’9″ forward Gavin Schillingwho will miss the contest with turf toe. Schilling is one of only three players that size on Tom Izzo‘s roster so Kansas should have plenty of opportunities to challenge the Spartans inside with senior forward Perry Ellis. Although Ellis made only 47 percent of his two-point field goals last season, his ability to draw fouls (5.1 per 40 minutes a year ago) makes him a dangerous matchup against an already thin frontline. Kansas, meanwhile, has one of the deepest groups of big men in the country. Ellis is flanked by a talented corps of bigs that includes Carlton BraggJamari Traylor, Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson. The burden will be on Michigan State’s Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis to defend the Jayhawks’ plethora of post options without fouling them. Limited minutes for either could expose that thin Spartans’ front line. Read the rest of this entry »

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Is Michigan State Being Overlooked?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 9th, 2015

It was supposed to happen with the group led by Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, and Keith Appling two seasons ago — that was the team that was supposed to end Tom Izzo‘s four-year Final Four ‘drought.’ Instead, that Michigan State squad lost to Connecticut in the Elite Eight and it was his follow-up group — led by leftovers like Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice — that recovered from a shocking early home loss to Texas Southern to play in the season’s final weekend. Most of that team returns this season, and some high-impact newcomers are also on board. Shouldn’t Izzo’s Spartans be ranked higher to start the season? Isn’t another March run a distinct possibility?

Denzel Valentine will look to lead Michigan State to bigger and better things in his senior season (Getty).

Denzel Valentine will look to lead Michigan State to bigger and better things in his senior season (Getty).

Sparty begins the season ranked #13 in both major polls. It returns eight of its top 10 scorers from last season and adds West Virginia transfer Eron Harris (17.2 PPG in 2013-14) to the mix. The freshman class includes McDonald’s All-American Devonta Davis along with a couple more knockdown shooters in Kyle Ahrens and Matt McQuaid. Perimeter shooting definitely appears to be a major positive for this team. Multiple shooters could hit close to 40 percent from deep, as Valentine, Bryn Forbes and Harris have all reached that benchmark in recent seasons. Sharing the ball is another positive aspect of what should be an elite offense. Michigan State logged the seventh best team assist rate in the nation last year, assisting on 63.7 percent of its field goals. Valentine in particular has shown an ability to find the open man as a point forward, ranking eighth in the Big Ten in assist rate (26.9 percent) last year and cutting down his turnover rate by two percent despite much higher usage. Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn also notched an assist rate above 20 percent, and that number should increase if he gets added minutes with the departure of Trice. This could be an elite Spartans’ offense once the season gets rolling. Read the rest of this entry »

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