Big Ten Storylines Heading Into Next Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 17th, 2015

There are still some dominoes to fall in terms of Big Ten roster turnover in coming weeks but we already have a pretty good idea of how the league will look next year. Here are a few things to ponder as Big Ten fans brace themselves for seven months without any games with which to occupy their time.

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

  • Return to Multiple Conference Championship Contenders: Wisconsin essentially went wire-to-wire this season, going from the unanimous preseason favorite to winning both the conference regular season and postseason titles. Next season should be a bit more like the 2013-14 campaign with several teams with a realistic shot to win the league. Maryland is rightfully getting a good deal of love in the preseason “way-to-early” top 25 lists. The Terps will return two of their top three players in Melo Trimble and Jake Layman and will add a bruiser down low in freshman Diamond Stone. Indiana (assuming both Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. return to Bloomington), and Michigan State could also very well start the season in the top 15 nationally. Thomas Bryant will give the Hoosiers someone to keep defenses honest inside, while Sparty adds Eron Harris, Devonta Davis, and Caleb Swanigan to a nucleus of eight players who were contributors on a Final Four squad. These three should all challenge for the top spot in Big Ten play next season.
  • Wisconsin Rebuild: It will be fun to observe how Bo Ryan replaces the multiple talented pieces that he is losing from a group that went to back-to-back Final Fours. He has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt so as to figure that players like Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter will break out with more playing time next season. Getting key starters Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig back is also a pretty decent starting point. How far will the Badgers actually fall, and how long will it take for the newcomers to make an impact?

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Even With Two F4 Teams, Was the Big Ten a Disappointment?

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 14th, 2015

Coming off of the high of putting three teams into the Elite Eight and one of those into the Final Four a year ago, the Big Ten slipped back to the pack in terms of conference superiority this season. Despite winning the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and advancing two more teams to the sport’s final weekend, the Big 12 and the Big East put together better regular seasons by most reasonable metrics. The question coming out of this season is whether the 2014-15 campaign actually was a disappointment or did Wisconsin and Michigan State’s runs to the Final Four erase the league’s previous sins?

Did the tournament runs by Wisconsin and Michigan State help make up for the non-conference losses in the B1G?

Did the NCAA Tournament runs by Wisconsin and Michigan State make up for the Big Ten’s non-conference performance?

  • Reasons for Disappointment: The league took a hit in terms of its early credibility with some really bad non-conference losses. Some of those opponents — like Eastern Washington and Texas Southern — eventually went on to make the NCAA Tournament, but a 136-44 record with 16 losses to non-power conference foes led to the writing of the league’s epitaph before conference play had even started. Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska weren’t Top 25 teams for very long after rough starts. Ohio State, Iowa and Indiana blew multiple chances for marquee wins. And while the addition of Maryland made the league stronger at the top, Rutgers’ 8-5 non-conference record was fool’s gold on its way to a 2-16 Big Ten campaign. It’s an open question whether Illinois and Minnesota underachieved with experienced lineups that were unable to notch NCAA Tournament berths this season.

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Big Ten 2015-16 Way-Too-Early Power Rankings

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 8th, 2015

The “way-too-early” portion of this exercise holds even more weight this year because so many elite prospects are still uncommitted. Both Caleb Swanigan and Jaylen Brown —  elite McDonald’s All-Americans with program-changing potential — as well as Thon Maker, another possible immediate impact player, could still pick Big Ten teams. There are also a half-dozen or so NBA decisions pending from underclassmen that could significantly alter next season’s Big Ten landscape. What follows here is a look at where things stand right now, assuming that Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker and Nebraska’s Terran Petteway all leave early.

Melo Trimble returning for his sophomore year has Maryland looking like an early B1G title favorite for next season. (David J. Philip/AP)

Melo Trimble returning for his sophomore year has Maryland looking like an early Big Ten title favorite next season. (David J. Philip/AP)

  1. Maryland: The Terps should return three starters unless Jake Layman decides to leave early. Melo Trimble could be a national Player of the Year candidate and star freshman Diamond Stone will be an upgrade down low. The return and probable improvement of this year’s freshmen combined with newcomers like Stone and transfer Robert Carter Jr. should make this team deeper and better than this year’s unit that exceeded expectations.
  2. Michigan State: Losing Travis Trice and Branden Dawson to graduation will sting, but newcomers Eron Harris and Devonta Davis will do more than balance out those losses. Everyone else who played more than 10 minutes per game this season is expected to be back, and Denzel Valentine should develop into a star in his senior season. This year’s March run will be a catalyst for much bigger things in 2015-16.
  3. Indiana: This spot among the Big Ten’s top three could change if any of Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams or James Blackmon Jr. decides to leave, but all are expected to return. The primary addition that makes next season look so promising is that 6’10” freshman Thomas Bryant will enter the program. The center who can run the floor and defend will give the Hoosiers what they were missing on the inside during an up-and-down 9-9 Big Ten season. If Tom Crean can get Thon Maker to commit to Indiana as well, he has enough talent on hand to become a top 10 team nationally next season. Read the rest of this entry »
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News & Notes: Day Two at the Big Ten Tourney

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 13th, 2015

An afternoon of upsets (Michigan and Penn State both toppled higher-seeded foes) gave way to a more predictable evening at day two of the Big Ten Tournament. Meanwhile, the two bubble teams in action may have each punched tournament tickets… to different, less-prestigious tournaments. Indiana may be good to dance after defeating Northwestern, but Illinois is surely NIT-bound after its decisive loss to Michigan. A few other news and notes on Thursday’s action from the United Center:

John Groce’s Seat Warming Up: Thursday’s loss to Michigan means Illinois is almost certainly headed to the NIT, where the Illini will seek to salvage some shred of meaning from a disappointing season. John Groce has recruited well since arriving in Champaign, but the former Ohio University head man has yet to finish a season with a winning Big Ten record. His only NCAA Tournament appearance at Illinois came in 2012-13, and that happened with a team largely constructed by his predecessor, Bruce Weber. Groce is going nowhere this offseason, but if the Illini find themselves in a similar spot next postseason, his job status will be far less certain. The good news for Illinois is that the return of Tracy Abrams and another talented incoming freshman class could, and maybe even should, lead to a happier result in Champaign a year from now. It will be interesting to see how much the Illini miss Rayvonte Rice next year. On the one hand, he was a legitimately efficient volume scorer – a player prototype that doesn’t exactly grow on trees. But Illinois’ 6-3 record without Rice this season raise the question of whether his ball-dominating nature might have often been counterproductive. We’ll find out in a critical 2015-16 campaign for Groce and the Illini.

John Groce, Rayvonte Rice And The Illini Saw Their Tournament Hopes All But Die Thursday Afternoon

John Groce, Rayvonte Rice And The Illini Saw Their Tournament Hopes All But Die Thursday Afternoon (Getty Images)

Nittany Lions Drop Hawkeyes: Iowa was a trendy sleeper pick heading into the action yesterday, but Penn State quickly and effectively ended the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten Tournament. The loss changes little for the Hawkeyes except for the fact that Fran McCaffery’s team is now squarely staring down the barrel of a dreaded #8/#9 game. Things could be worse, though – they seem to be safely in the field, and unlike last year, shouldn’t be headed to Dayton. On the other side, Penn State won its third straight Big Ten game — no small feat considering the Nittany Lions had won just three of 17 league games before embarking on their recent surge. More good news for Penn State fans: Purdue awaits the Lions in the next round. No disrespect to the Boilers and their impressive 12-6 Big Ten season, but they are clearly the easiest option among the four teams that received double-byes. Penn State pushed Purdue to overtime in State College in their only meeting of the season; can the tournament’s most unexpected quarterfinalist find a way to extend its stay in Chicago for at least another day?

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Team Goals in the Big Ten Tournament

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 11th, 2015

Tournament week officially begins for the Big Ten on Wednesday afternoon, and with it, a new opportunity for each team to write their own ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Some teams are already guaranteed an at-large bid and are playing for seeding; some sit squarely on the bubble and are playing for entry into the field; and some are trying to make history as the first team lower than a #6 seed to win this tournament. In this analysis we will describe what certain teams aim to accomplish this week in Chicago — and to save both time and sanity, this will only address the eight teams that have a realistic chance at an at-large bid. Enjoy!

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  • Illinois: The Illini really put themselves in a deep hole when they blew a big lead and lost at Purdue on Saturday. That defeat dropped them to an #8 seed in the Big Ten Tournament  (BTT) and guaranteed Illinois a quarterfinal matchup against Wisconsin. That loss and the resultant placement in this week’s bracket effectively ended the Illini’s potential for a deep conference tournament run. The realistic team goal for Illinois is to beat Michigan on Thursday and hope for early exits from several other bubble teams — Indiana among them. Then pray they can sneak into the field’s First Four.
  • Indiana: The Hoosiers have a singular goal to get themselves off the bubble and into the at-large field. To do that, they’ll need to start with a win over Northwestern. That alone may not be enough, though, which means they probably also need a win against Maryland in the quarterfinals on Friday. Adding a top 10 RPI win to Indiana’s resume will all but assure that the Hoosiers will hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
  • Iowa: The Hawkeyes appear to be safely in the field and are now playing to improve their NCAA Tournament seed line. Most pundits list Iowa as a #7 seed so the Hawkeyes’ main goal should be to avoid losing its opening Big Ten Tournament game against either Penn State or Nebraska. A bad loss to their resume at this point could result in a dreaded #8 seed.

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Big Ten Tournament Preview

Posted by Henry Bushnell & Bennet Hayes on March 11th, 2015

Henry Bushnell and Bennet Hayes will be in Chicago all week delivering coverage of the Big Ten tournament. In advance of the action tipping off Wednesday night, they sat down to tackle a few questions on the week that lies ahead.

Wisconsin is the clear favorite, but could an upset be in the works for the Badgers?

Wisconsin is the clear favorite, but could an upset be in the works for the Badgers?

Wisconsin enters the Big Ten Tournament as a heavy favorite. Which team besides the Badgers has the best shot at winning it all this week

  • Bennet: Michigan State‘s regular season was no exemplar of consistency, but with Branden Dawson expected to return to the lineup for Friday’s quarterfinal game, they’ve officially made it to March in one piece. Betting against Tom Izzo this month is always a dicey operation — particularly with the experienced Valentine/Trice/Dawson core once again intact. Furthermore, snagging the #3 seed and delaying a potential rematch with Wisconsin until the championship game is another nice coup. The double-bye should also minimize the impact of depth issues that have at times proved troublesome. Michigan State never got the Badgers on its home floor this season; here’s guessing Sparty wouldn’t mind a crack at them in neutral territory. Izzo’s bunch has the chops to win three games in Chicago this week.
  • Henry: I like the Sparty pick, but I’ll take Ohio State. I know a lot of people will be scared off by the beatdown Wisconsin put on the Buckeyes in Columbus in the regular season finale, but that result was a lot more about the Badgers than Ohio State. Thad Matta still has a very talented team, and one that on a per-possession basis has far outperformed its record. And if there’s one player in this tournament who can take over a game and engineer an upset of Wisconsin in the final, it’s D’Angelo Russell.
D'Angelo Russell And Ohio State Could Make A Run In Chicago This Week

D’Angelo Russell And Ohio State Could Make A Run This Week In Chicago. (USA TODAY Sports)

Which player are you most looking forward to watching?

  • Henry: I can’t wait to see Branden Dawson. I know he’s had an up-and-down year with some recent injury issues, but he should be ready to go on Friday. He’s one of those players where a television screen simply doesn’t do his game justice. I’ve seen him play live twice this year from the upper levels and he wowed me both times with his athleticism and sheer power. At the United Center, we should have a front row seat, and I expect his game up close to be even more eye-popping.

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Big Ten M5: 03.11.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 11th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. After a junior season that saw him dip from a first-team all B1G performer to a third-team selection this season, Terran Petteway still has a decision to make about whether or not to declare for the NBA Draft after the season is over. Nebraska is on Spring Break March 22-30, and with him on pace to graduate in May, look for a decision after the break is over. An argument could be made that he probably should have left after last season when his stock was at its highest. But with what the Huskers were returning this season, one can’t blame the wing for wanting to come back and take Nebraska even further.
  2. Illinois has a great deal to accomplish in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, as they are essentially trying to play their way off of the bubble in trying to avoid a second consecutive season in the NIT. The Chicago Tribune’s Shannon Ryan took a look at five keys for the Illini in advance their opening game Thursday against Michigan, and to keep winning in the tournament at large. Some of the things listed included getting more out of sophomore guards Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate, and simply making shots. The Illini have a tough road ahead of them, and may need to upset Wisconsin. A win over Michigan in the second round simple might not be enough.
  3. Another looming NBA Draft decision could happen at Indiana, as junior first-team All Big Ten point guard Yogi Ferrell might have a decision to make as well. His father said that Yogi is leaning towards coming back, but some factors that could play a role in whether he does so include getting some size added to the roster in the offseason, and whether or not Tom Crean remains the coach. The Ferrell family remain some of Crean’s biggest supporters, so that’s an added variable to all the drama in Bloomington right now. Right now, the Hoosiers need to concentrate on taking care of Northwestern on Thursday, because losing that one will make their NCAA Tournament hopes faint.
  4. It’s been a game of musical chairs at the backup point guard position for Purdue this season. PJ Thompson and Bryson Scott have seemingly fallen in and out of favor with Coach Matt Painter. It was Thompson’s turn on Saturday against Illinois, and the freshman didn’t disappoint. He sparked a rally at the end of the first half with a steal and a basket, and ended things with a crucial three-pointer near the end of the proceedings. Octeus will get most of the minutes from here on out this season, but whether it’s Thompson or Scott that emerges as a starter next season is going to be one of the biggest stories that plays itself out before 2015-16.
  5. Minnesota has not had quite the season that it hoped for after finishing with a 6-12 record in conference play. Despite the fact that they’re 61st on KenPom- which is within striking distance of Big Ten bubble squads like Purdue (48), Illinois (53), and Indiana (55)- the Gophers would need a miracle finish to get into the NCAA Tournament. While bad luck played a role, the Gophers really didn’t get the production they needed from their senior class this season. Coming off of the momentum from winning the NIT last year, the senior class just simply didn’t perform many times as they lost multiple close games.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 10th, 2015

The regular season is finally complete, and the Big Ten looks to have a solid six NCAA Tournament teams with Indiana and Illinois still with work left to do. With a busy seven-game slate from the weekend to cover, there’s really not else in the form of an introductory paragraph needed. Here is the final Big Ten Weekend in Review of the season.

DJ Newbill scored 31 points and hit a buzzer-beating three to give Penn State a win at Minnesota. (GoPSUsports.com)

DJ Newbill scored 31 points and hit a buzzer-beating three to give Penn State a win at Minnesota. (GoPSUsports.com)

  • Player of the Weekend: DJ Newbill would get a bunch more recognition if Penn State hadn’t finished the season with just a 4-14 league record. He’s basically put the Nittany Lions on his back for much of the season, and he did so once again as Penn State nipped Minnesota by three. It was looking like it was going to be the Andre Hollins show early on as the Gophers were celebrating Senior Night for the Memphis native and his four fellow seniors. Newbill simply took over the game in the second half, as he scored 2o points in the final 15:01 of the game. He did so in his usual fashion, combining three-point shooting with a kind of old man game which consists of mid-range pull-ups, and drives to the rack. All told, the senior ended up with 31 points on 11-for-22 shooting from the floor. He made five threes, and made all four of his shots at the line. He also led Penn State with four assists and two steals. Another stellar effort from a player who should probably get more love than he does.

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Evaluating Rayvonte Rice’s Career at Illinois

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 8th, 2015

Despite averaging 16.0 PPG over two seasons in Champaign, Rayvonte Rice’s Illinois career has had several bumps along the way. There is no argument about his offensive ability but his leadership could be called into question because the Illini — depending on the next seven days — have not made an NCAA Tournament on his watch. He struggled during Big Ten competition last season as the Illini lost eight straight at one point, and although the team has been better during his senior season, he hasn’t been able to close out some games because he was too predictable. If the Illini get back to the NCAAs next week, all may be forgiven; but assuming they do not after a tough loss to Purdue yesterday, let’s examine the three primary reasons why Rice’s game didn’t translate to more wins at Illinois.

Rayvonte Rice Has Had an Up and Down Illinois Career (USA Today Images)

Rayvonte Rice Has Had an Up and Down Illinois Career (USA Today Images)

  1. Over-reliance on the long-range shot and predictable moves. Rice’s athleticism is too much to handle during the non-conference season because most of those teams don’t have defenders with enough strength to prevent him from getting to the rim. Big Ten defenders, however, are just as strong as him, and the coaches are too smart to allow him to get to the basket off of screens. Double-teams are common when he comes off screens to his right as opposing defenders force him to shoot from beyond the arc. His junior season was plagued with horrible shot selection, attempting 156 threes and only making 30 percent of them. Frustrations mounted during his slumps as he continued to force shots instead of sharing the ball with his younger teammates. The insertions of Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn into the starting lineup last season helped to ease the burden somewhat, but it came a bit too late. Rice should have let the game come to him and relied more on his teammates. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 03.06.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 6th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Indiana’s Tuesday night loss to Iowa marks another defeat in the Hoosiers’ recent skid, where they’ve only won four times in their last eleven games. After the latest loss, fans could be heard heckling Tom Crean. This prompted Indiana athletic director, Fred Glass, to come out and give a statement of support, “He has my full support. I have a great deal of confidence in Tom’s body of work. This team overachieved early and then hit a tough patch”. Glass has a point. Crean is a victim of his early success this season, but the Hoosiers are still in a much better position than many thought they would be at the start of the season. This season — unlike other Crean campaigns in Bloomington — Indiana has overachieved.
  2. Illinois eeked out a win in its final home game of the season against Nebraska on Wednesday. It was also senior night where both Rayvonte Rice and Nnanna Egwu were honored. Egwu was recruited by Bruce Weber to play for Illinois, but the head coach he thought he would be playing for was fired after his freshman year. But the native-born Nigerian quickly won over the new coaching staff with his work ethic and model behavior off the court. Egwu may have not have fully developed on offense like Illini fans had hoped, but he’s proven himself to be a well-rounded student-athlete — something fans should be proud of.
  3. On Thursday, Wisconsin defeated Minnesota 76-63 in Minneapolis to claim its first Big Ten championship since 2008. Like seven years ago, it was an outright title and guarantees the Badgers the #1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. The win caps off what’s been an amazing season that’s met the lofty expectations placed upon the Badgers in the preseason. With Frank Kaminsky as the slight favorite for National Player of the Year, this season is one for the ages for both Wisconsin and Bo Ryan . And it should be recognized as such no matter what happens in the NCAA Tournament.
  4. The regular season is coming to an end, which means soon all the end-of-the-year accolades by different media sites will start being published. BTN kicked it off with a poll of Big Ten beat writers asking “Which teams were the most surprising and disappointing this season?” Purdue was the hands-down winner for most surprising team as they turned their season around after going 8-5 in the non-conference with two bad losses. Both Minnesota and Nebraska were chosen as the most disappointing teams. I described earlier this week what a disappointment the Cornhuskers have been, but the Gophers have also suffered a severe setback this season. After barely missing the NCAA Tournament and winning the NIT championship last season, Minnesota is now fighting just to stay out of the bottom four in the league.
  5. With Selection Sunday only nine days away, the bracketologists have been out in full force with their predictions. And the most popular one, Joe Lundari, just put out his most recent projections. Wisconsin (#2 seed), Maryland (#3), Iowa (#7), Michigan State (#7), and Ohio State (#8) all seem to be safely in the field. Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue, however, are squarely on the bubble. The Boilermakers and Hoosiers are currently in the field, while the Illini have some work to do.
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Breaking Down the Big Ten Bubble Games This Week

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 3rd, 2015

The eyes of not only Big Ten fans but much of the country will be watching this week as there is much still to be determined. As many as eight league teams have legitimate NCAA Tournament aspirations, and there is also a logjam with conference tournament seeding still to be sorted out. Luckily, much will be settled with head-to-head match-ups pitting impacted teams against one another this week. This means that you shouldn’t get too comfortable with the standings as they are right now, because things will change rapidly over the next six days. Here’s a look at the must-see games for the final week and why they’re important.

Iowa needs Jarrod Uthoff to have a big game in Bloomington Tuesday. (AP)

Iowa needs Jarrod Uthoff to have a big game in Bloomington Tuesday. (AP)

  • Iowa at Indiana, 7:00 EST, ESPN, Tuesday. These two teams haven’t played yet this season and the Hoosiers will once again face a team with more size than them. Iowa does a pretty solid job defensively against the three (52nd nationally), so this game should come down to whether the Hoosiers can handle Iowa’s pressure and shoot over the top. Troy Williams against either Aaron White or Jarrod Uthoff will be a quality match-up worth watching.
  • Ohio State at Penn State, 6:00 EST, BTN, Wednesday. It’s worth noting that Penn State beat Ohio State twice last season although they did lose by 20 in Columbus earlier this year. Ohio State really can’t afford to slip up here and lose to a Nittany Lions’ group that just can’t get out of their own way in crunch time. At a minimum, the Buckeyes need to stockpile more wins to move up a seed line or two from where they’re projected — another Big Ten road win won’t hurt their cause.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 24th, 2015

We would hope that the games would improve heading into the Big Ten Tournament in a couple of weeks, but last weekend proved that this isn’t always the case — there was only one Big Ten game where the outcome wasn’t decided until the final minute. Teams at the bottom of the standings like Nebraska, Penn State and Rutgers are basically raging dumpster fires right now, which reveals one of the biggest differences between last season and this one. The notion that “any Big Ten team can beat another on any given night” doesn’t seem to have much to it this year. It’ll therefore be interesting to see if the divisions hold suit as we head into early March and postseason play. There were some positive performances from the weekend, however, and the awards for those follow below.

Aaron White posted a double-double in Iowa's win in Lincoln over Nebraska. (USA Today Images)

Aaron White posted a double-double in Iowa’s win in Lincoln over Nebraska. (USA Today Images)

  • Player of the Weekend: A probable First-Team All-Big Ten selection unless Iowa takes a severe nosedive in the final two weeks, Aaron White did all the things he normally does against Nebraska with the exception of one vital thing — he went 2-of-2 from behind the arc. For a shooter who is still only 11-of-41 from distance on the season, this area of his game is the only thing that could prevent him from becoming a bona fide NBA player. He’s athletic; he can rebound; and he averages 6.7 free throw attempts per game without being a ball-stopper. On Sunday the senior went for 18 points and 11 rebounds as Iowa blitzed Nebraska on its home court. He contributed an offensive rating of 165.0 and now ranks fourth in the conference in that metric on the season. If this game represents the start of White gaining confidence in his outside shot, then he could be well on his way to leading a deep Iowa postseason run where his stock as a prospect skyrockets.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Northwestern’s Vic Law became the second Chicago Catholic League alumnus to win this honor in the last two weeks. Following his classmate Scottie Lindsey’s efforts against Iowa, Law did him one better with an even stronger performance on Saturday as his 3-of-5 shooting from the perimeter and 11 rebounds made him the best player on the floor. In an uneven season where Bryant McIntosh has been the best of the five Northwestern freshmen, Law flashed what Wildcats fans imagined when he entered the school as the first top-100 recruit of the Chris Collins era. He is an elite athlete who can rebound and run. Northwestern is starting to show that it is poised to turn the corner, and the progress of Law is one of the main reasons why.

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