Race for a Top NCAA Seed Begins Early in the Big Ten

Posted by Shane McNichol on November 29th, 2016

At least one team has represented the Big Ten at the Final Four in six of the last nine NCAA Tournaments and seeding is a big part of that. Big Ten teams have been awarded a #1 seed in four of those nine tourneys with seven more conference teams receiving #2 seeds over that period. Being projected among the mix to win the conference title usually means that the jockeying for March begins right away. In the season’s first two weeks, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Indiana all had great chances to put themselves in the Big Ten pole position before conference play even begins. Yes, the NCAA Tournament is still three and a half months away, but the Selection Committee weights all games the same regardless of when they are played. Parsing through the first handful of games among this trio allows us a chance to see which, if any, teams took an early head start in the race for a top-two NCAA Tournament seed.

Michigan State

Tom Izzo needs to make sure his team gains confidence before the NCAA tournament.

Tom Izzo needs to make sure his team gains confidence before the NCAA tournament. (AP)

The Spartans’ early struggles have been well-documented so there’s no reason to re-hash them here. With three losses already on the books and a very difficult game at Cameron Indoor Stadium tonight, dreams of a #1 seed have been all but dashed in East Lansing. In the past 10 NCAA Tournaments, only one school has been awarded a top seed with seven or more regular season losses — Michigan State in 2012. With games at Minnesota, Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan, Purdue and Maryland still to come (not to mention several other potentially tricky road tilts as well as home games against Purdue, Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin), the Spartans are very likely to surpass that loss figure. The loss of Denzel Valentine and his 28.9 percent usage rate has proven difficult to replace, as the capable role players around him last season have so far failed to step up. Instead, it has been freshmen like Miles Bridges, Joshua Langford, and Cassius Winston who have sparked the Spartans during their better moments. Tom Izzo hasn’t yet found the right combinations but history suggests that he will do so. Whether he can manage to turn things around quickly enough to push Michigan State into the discussion for a #2 seed is an open question.

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Big Ten Feast Week Primer: Part Two

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 21st, 2016

Eight of the 14 Big Ten teams will play in early-season tournaments over the next seven days. The festivities begin this afternoon with Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational, but continue for much of the next week as turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce commingles with basketball in far-flung locales. Here’s the first of a two part-breakdown that discusses what each participating Big Ten team faces this week.

Nigel Hayes needs to have a productive stretch of games in Maui for Wisconsin to win it. (Getty).

Nigel Hayes needs to have a productive stretch of games in Maui for Wisconsin to win the event. (Getty).

Maui Jim Maui Invitational

  • Teams: Wisconsin, Tennessee, Georgetown, Oregon, Oklahoma State, UConn, North Carolina, Chaminade
  • Capsule: Wisconsin is 2-1 and looking to gain some momentum after losing a road game to Creighton and not playing well in a win over Chicago State. The Badgers’ offense is attempting a robust 29 three-pointers per game, so establishing Ethan Happ in the paint should help. Top 10 teams like Oregon and North Carolina potentially await later in the week if Wisconsin can get past Tennessee.
  • Key Player: Nigel Hayes hasn’t shot the ball well this season (38.7% FG), only scoring three points in 16 minutes of action against Chicago State. The preseason Big Ten Player of the Year needs to start producing for Wisconsin to earn some big wins on the islands.
  • Prediction: Wisconsin will go 2-1 in Maui. They will win their first game against Tennessee; lose to an Oregon squad that expects to have Dillon Brooks back; and then beat either UConn or Oklahoma State on Wednesday.

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Big Ten Conference Preview: Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 11th, 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 last of three segments lists our top four teams (the bottom tier can be found here and the middle tier can be found here).

4. Purdue: The Boilermakers enjoyed their best season since 2010-11 by winning 26 games and finishing 12-6 in conference play. They lost two All-Defensive Team members, including the Defensive Player of the Year AJ Hammons, but expectations are still high in West Lafayette. This is mainly because there just aren’t many teams nationally that can unleash a frontcourt with a trio of players as talented as Vince Edwards, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. With this trio in place, Purdue can expect the defense and interior scoring to comparable to last season. If PJ Thompson and Dakota Mathias can also consistently knock down shots from the perimeter, Purdue should equal, or surpass last season’s success.

Caleb Swanigan leads a deadly Purude frontcourt that is one of the best in the nation. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Caleb Swanigan leads a deadly Purude frontcourt that is one of the best in the nation. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Best-Case Scenario: Elite Eight

3. Michigan State: A brutal early schedule and some nagging injuries on the interior makes Sparty’s preseason ranking a little fluid, but it’s difficult to not give Tom Izzo a well-earned benefit of the doubt. A star freshman crew of Miles Bridges, Josh Langford, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward will all have to contribute early, but they have the skill sets to do so. Bridges (26.5 PPG, 4.0 BPG) in particular dominated in Michigan State’s two exhibition wins and could be a First-Team Big Ten talent. Also keep an eye on Eron Harris and Matt McQuaid. They will have to make many of the shots that Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes took last season. If Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter can return well at some point from their injuries, this will be one of the best and deepest teams in college basketball.

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Five Tweaks to the CBS 100 From a B1G Perspective

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 28th, 2016

CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander published their preseason top 100 (and one) list of the best players in college basketball on Wednesday. Fifteen Big Ten players made the list, with many of the usual suspects appearing at some point in the countdown. The full list is available here, with the stated premise being “it’s a huge game of pickup hoops, you keep picking guys in order of who you think is best.” Here are the five small revisions that one humble Big Ten basketball scribe would offer to Parrish and Norlander.

  • Too Low: Vince Edwards, Purdue (#84): Edwards is one of the most underappreciated players in the Big Ten and nationally. He made steady progress in numerous facets of the game during his sophomore season, specifically in increasing his three-point percentage by eight points to a legitimate 40.7 percent. He led the Boilermakers in assists from the forward spot and can guard both wings and post players. He should be 10 to 15 spots higher.
Vince Edwards is the 84th best player in the land according to CBS. (Jerry Schultheiss).

Vince Edwards is the 84th best player in the land according to CBS. (Jerry Schultheiss).

  • Too High: Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin (#32): It is certainly understandable that Koenig was selected this high because he has a pedigree of two Final Fours and a Sweet Sixteen to his credit. But with NPOY Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker gone from last year’s squad, he struggled shooting (39.2% FG) and distributing (15.1% assist rate) the ball. He belongs on the list as a top 100 player, but he should not have been listed as the sixth-best player in the Big Ten.

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Michigan State’s Freshmen Will be This Season’s Catalysts

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 25th, 2016

As another exciting Big Ten season approaches, Tom Izzo, the league’s most accomplished and celebrated figure, finds his program in the familiar position as the favorite. What’s different this year is that the longtime Michigan State head coach brings something he’s never had into this season – a top-five recruiting class (according to 247sports). While that fact may surprise some, it shouldn’t. Izzo has had his fair share of individual blue-chip prospects in the past, but he’s never snagged so many at once nor has he been considered a recruiting virtuoso like John Calipari or Mike Krzyzewski. Rather, he’s previously expressed his frustration with the seedier aspects of chasing commitments from 17-year olds but he’s since adjusted his recruiting approach which has culminated in an incoming group of four top 50 players – two of whom are McDonald’s All-Americans. This talented group joins enough returning veterans that the Spartans are once again poised to challenge for a Big Ten championship.

Tom Izzo has his highest-ranked recruiting class coming into a season with big expectations.

Tom Izzo has his highest-ranked recruiting class coming into a season with big expectations.

This year’s freshmen class includes four exceptional players: Miles Bridges (#12), Josh Langford (#20), Cassius Winston (#33), and Nick Ward (#41). Aside from that notable injection of talent, it is a balanced class with each player filling a specific position on the floor. As the crown jewel of the class, Bridges – a bouncy yet physical combo forward who can finish above the rim – is the freshman who will be ready to contribute from day one. Langford is a big-bodied combo guard who likes driving to the rim and proved he could play among elite players when he scored 12 points in 15 minutes of action at the McDonald’s All-American game. Winston is a prototypical point guard with a well-rounded offensive skill set, but what makes him most attractive are his intangibles — the Detroit product led his high school team to four state championships. Finally, Ward is the true big man of the class. The wide-bodied Gahanna, Ohio, native has exceptional hands, has dropped 20 pounds since his last high school season, and says “I’m in the best shape of my life.” Read the rest of this entry »

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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: Scout.com 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. (http://247sports.com/)

Denzel Valentine and the Spartans continue to get better. (http://247sports.com/)

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

morning5_bigten

  1. Purdue dropped to 14-3 (2-2) on the year after losing to Illinois, 84-70, on Sunday night, and a familiar formula has emerged in each its three losses this season. Turnovers and shoddy offensive play have doomed this team, as AJ Hammons and Isaac Haas combined for only 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting. The defense that has been a constant positive all season failed miserably, as Illinois became the first team to shoot over 50 percent from the field against the Boilermakers in 37 games. Is there trouble in West Lafayette?
  2. The return of Michigan State‘s Denzel Valentine from a four-game injury hiatus did not bring a triple-double or a spectacular stat line. Rather, the senior looked a bit rusty early before scoring 10 second-half points as the Spartans blasted Penn State, 92-65, Sunday afternoon. One key takeaway from this game was that Tom Izzo’s squad might have become even better in its All-American’s absence. Eron Harris and Bryn Forbes have emerged as serious offensive threats, while post play has also improved significantly. If Valentine gets back to the productivity he displayed in the first 12 games of the season, Sparty is definitely on the short list of national championship contenders.
  3. If Indiana didn’t completely offset the stench of its early season play in the Hoosiers’ blowout win over Ohio State on Sunday afternoon, they have certainly come close. Tom Crean’s squad stayed undefeated in league play behind big efforts from big men Thomas Bryant and Troy Williams. Williams was especially productive in scoring a team-high 23 points, but what was more important was that he didn’t commit any momentum-killing turnovers. Indiana held the Buckeyes to a paltry 0.86 points per possession, and if the Hoosiers’ defense continues to improve, Indiana will be a dangerous team going forward.
  4. Crean also added a fourth commitment to his 2016 class on Saturday when Devonte Green pledged to his program. The younger brother of former North Carolina standout Danny Green, the Long Island native is a 6’3″ combo guard whom 247sports rates as the sixth best player from New York. Green is the third guard slated to join the Hoosiers next season, joining other commitments Curtis Jones and Grant Gelon in the backcourt.
  5. Nebraska rolled to its biggest road win in 96 years on Saturday, beating Rutgers by 34 points while shooting 56.9 percent from the floor and logging 52 points in the paint. Rutgers is missing some key interior pieces, of course, but the Cornhuskers played arguably one of their best games of the season in getting contributions from everyone. Andrew White III continues to prove that he is one of the best and most efficient scorers in the league, scoring over 20 points (28) for the fifth time this season.
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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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