Big Ten Tournament Storylines: First and Second Rounds

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 9th, 2016

This year’s Big Ten Tournament could very well have something for everyone. There are two teams that seem to be peaking at just the right time (Indiana and Michigan State), two others that have won 20 of their last 26 games (Purdue and Wisconsin), and two more that hope to find their way after recent struggles (Iowa and Maryland). Old rivals Michigan and Ohio State are both stuck squarely on the bubble, while Northwestern and Penn State can secure bids in some of the lower-level tournaments with a win or two. Here are three quick storylines to focus on during the first two days of games in Indianapolis.

Michigan needs quality play from Zak Irvin to get the wins they need in the Big Ten Tournament. (Getty).

Michigan needs quality play from Zak Irvin to get the wins it needs this postseason. (Getty)

  1. Bubble Boys: Michigan has a decent chance to make the field of 68 but it would be strongly advisable that the Wolverines avoid losing to Northwestern on Thursday afternoon. When the two teams played a couple weeks ago, the Wildcats were competitive throughout until Michigan pulled away at the very end. A Michigan loss here probably means John Beilein will punch his ticket to the NIT. Ohio State has a much more arduous task ahead with its first test against a Penn State team that has won five out of its final eight games, including victories over Indiana and Iowa. The Buckeyes are full of mercurial talents who don’t always play consistently, but if Thad Matta can get JaQuan Lyle, Marc Loving and Keita Bates-Diop clicking at the same time, Ohio State could make a run. Read the rest of this entry »
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Handing Out Big Ten Awards and Superlatives

Posted by Patrick Engel on March 8th, 2016

With the regular season complete, it’s time for our Big Ten postseason awards. Here are our three all-conference teams, all-rookie team and individual award winners as voted on by our microsite staff. Note that our ballots were submitted before the Big Ten released its official winners on Monday night.

Individual Awards

Tom Crean helped his Indiana team regroup and win the Big Ten after a poor nonconference showing. (Getty)

Tom Crean helped his Indiana team regroup and win the Big Ten after a poor nonconference showing. (Getty)

  • Player of the Year (unanimous): Denzel Valentine (G, Michigan State). The Wooden Award Candidate is the first player to lead the Big Ten in both scoring and assists per game since Iowa’s Andre Woolridge in 1996-97. He’s the Big Ten’s best passer (44.6 percent assist rate) and notched a sterling 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio this season. Valentine takes 30 percent of Michigan State’s shots (over half are three-pointers) and he still has a top-35 offensive rating (126.9) nationally.
  • Coach of the Year: Tom Crean (Indiana). The Hoosiers won the outright Big Ten title with a strong 15-3 record and significantly improved its defense during the Big Ten season. Despite losing one of its best offensive players with James Blackmon, Jr.’s injury in January, Indiana still boast the nation’s fourth-most efficient offense (119.6 points per 100 possessions).
  • Rookie of the Year: Ethan Happ (F, Wisconsin). Happ’s production and consistency on both ends of the floor gives him the edge here. He is tied for second in the conference with nine double-doubles and was an important part of Wisconsin’s resurgence after a 1-3 start to the Big Ten season.
  • Defensive Player of the Year: A.J. Hammons (C, Purdue). Hammons has tallied four more blocks (74) than fouls (70) this season, and he helps Purdue hold opponents to a difficult 42.7 two-point percentage. He also rebounds 23.4 percent of opponents’ misses.
  • Most Improved Player: Peter Jok (G, Iowa). Jok went from an inconsistent reserve as a sophomore to a consistently productive scorer as a junior. Iowa needed a complementary scorer to put alongside Jarrod Uthoff this season, and Jok became that guy.

All-Big Ten First Team

Denzel Valentine has become one of the nation's best players, if not the best, in his senior season. (AP)

Denzel Valentine has become one of the nation’s best players, if not the best, in his senior season. (AP)

  • Denzel Valentine (G, Michigan State): Valentine is the only player in the modern history of college basketball to average at least 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game (assists became an official statistic in 1983-84). He also logged two triple-doubles and shot 49.6 percent from beyond the arc in conference play.
  • Yogi Ferrell (G, Indiana): The Hoosiers’ senior point guard is the Big Ten’s fourth-leading scorer (17.1 PPG), fourth-leading distributor (5.5 APG), 10th-leading three-point shooter (42.1 %) and the conference champion’s best player.

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Big Ten Weekend In Review: 03.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 1st, 2016

We’re now only 13 games away from complete resolution to the Big Ten regular season, as last weekend’s action, like much of the regular season, gave us some close games sprinkled among a few blowouts. Indiana clinched a share of the regular season crown without playing a game, and the four teams chasing the Hoosiers still have a double-bye in Indianapolis to play for. Here’s are the highlights from the second-to-last weekend of the regular season.

Keita Bates-Diop (right) influenced things offensively and defensively for Ohio State as they knocked off Iowa( Jay LaPrete, AP).

Keita Bates-Diop (right) influenced things offensively and defensively for Ohio State as they knocked off Iowa (Jay LaPrete, AP).

Player of the Weekend: With apologies to Illinois’ Malcolm Hill, who teamed with Kendrick Nunn to look like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen toying with Toni Kukoc in the 1992 Olympics because Minnesota was playing without guards, Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop gets the nod because he essentially out-Uthoffed Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff. He had a highly efficient scoring night with 19 points (8-of-11 shooting) and four blocks as Ohio State came back in the final few minutes to beat Iowa. The surging Buckeyes held an Iowa team that scores 31.4 percent of its points on the season from the three-point line to a quiet 3-of-12 from the perimeter, and Uthoff in particular continued to struggle (16 points on 5-of-14 shooting). Iowa is now in the midst of another late-season swoon.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Before Saturday’s game against Maryland, Purdue sophomore Dakota Mathias had only scored in double figures twice all season. Both of those instances occurred in games where Purdue scored over 100 points against weak competition. But Mathias saved his best game of the year for Saturday as Purdue held off Maryland for a big win in West Lafayette. Mathias has now shot 6-of-11 from distance over his last five games, hitting three treys against the Terrapins en route to a career-high 17 points for the game. One of Purdue’s strengths is its outstanding depth, and in order to make a postseason run, players like Mathias need to step up.

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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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Mapping Ohio State’s Path to the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) on February 23rd, 2016

After an uninspiring first half of the season, Ohio State has over the last few weeks slowly but surely crept back into the Big Ten race. The Buckeyes are unlikely to contend for the title but they are all alone in fourth place at 10-5. Teams among the top four of power conference standings in late February are usually considered safe bets for the NCAA Tournament, but Thad Matta‘s group is challenging that notion. After a miserable start to the season that included early losses to UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech, the Buckeyes are now in position to lock up a bid with another good win or two. There’s just one problem, though: Winning another regular season game won’t be easy. Ohio State plays Michigan State twice in its final three games with a home date against Iowa sandwiched in-between.

Marc Loving and Ohio State face an important three-game stretch that will determine their postseason fortune (Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch)

Marc Loving and Ohio State face an important three-game stretch that will determine their postseason fortune (Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch)

Double-figure conference wins is usually enough for an at-large bid from the Big Ten, and every 11-win team in the history of the league has made the field of 68. But as we’ve learned in the era of expanded conferences, not all records are created equal. Eight of Ohio State’s conference wins came against Rutgers, Minnesota, Penn State, Illinois and Northwestern. The other two were notched against Nebraska and fellow bubble team Michigan. Furthermore, Ohio State has just one RPI top 100 win from the non-conference season (Kentucky). This means that the two wins over the Wolverines and Wildcats are the Buckeyes’ lone RPI top 100 wins of the season, and that they have more losses to teams outside the RPI top 100 (three) than wins over teams within it. Losses to Texas-Arlington, Louisiana Tech and Memphis all stink about as much or more as they did at the time. The tally to this point is that 18-10 record and an RPI rating of #75.

One more win pushes Ohio State to the 11-victory mark, but that won’t do much to improve the Buckeyes’ overall resume. Two more wins would result in a 4-8 record against the RPI top 50, but even 12 conference wins combined with an early Big Ten Tournament loss would make for a tense Selection Sunday. Three wins, however unlikely, means that Ohio State can think about seeding options instead of worrying about a bid. Go winless and the Buckeyes would need a deep conference tournament run and some luck around the country among the other bubble teams.

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Morning Five: 02.22.16 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 22nd, 2016

morning5

  1. We have been critical of how Johnny Jones has used Ben Simmons this season particularly in late-game situations, but the latest setback for Simmons was of his own doing as he did not start on Saturday due to “academic stuff”. Simmons sat out the first four and a half minutes before coming into the game and ended up with 21 points and 9 assists (along with a season-high 8 assists) in a ugly 81-65 to a Kevin Punter-less Tennessee team. Given the timing of this we suspect it is due to missing classes or a study hall and not something more significant.
  2. It seems like we are on the verge of having quite a few legendary coaches, but just don’t mention it to them. Before Saturday’s game against Miami, CBS analyst Doug Gottlieb mentioned than some people believed that ongoing health issues and the never-ending NCAA investigation would lead Roy Williams to retire at the end of the season. Roy, who probably was in a good mood after his team turned in one of its most dominating performances this season, was less than pleased with the commentary and took a shot at Gottlieb. To be fair to Gottlieb, his comments were taken out of context and aren’t that unreasonable if you don’t try to take it further to mean that Williams is retiring.
  3. Illinois has had enough issues with injuries recently that they don’t need any more issues (the only thing saving them from the cellar of the Big Ten is the fact that Minnesota and Rutgers can’t be relegated). The news that sophomore forward Leron Black was arrested early on Friday morning after allegedly threatening a bouncer at a campus bar with a knife only adds to what an awful season it has been. Black, who has not played since December 5 when he was averaging 3.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, was charged with a felony and has been suspended indefinitely. Since Black was already sitting out for the season the suspension doesn’t mean anything for the team, but we do wonder how long the Illinois administration will put up with a string of seasons without a NCAA Tournament appearance.
  4. At this point Wake Forest‘s season is lost so the news that they had suspended Devin Thomas (the team’s leading scorer and rebounder) for two games and kicked Cornelius Hudson off the team for an undisclosed violation of athletic department policy. Fortunately for Wake Forest the first of those two games was against Boston College, which let them break their 11-game losing streak even without Thomas. We aren’t sure if the two players were involved in the same incident(s), but it is interesting that they are letting Thomas (a senior star) return while kicking out a less productive sophomore.
  5. It has been a while since we did a Morning Five, but as our long-time readers know our favorite regular link is to Luke Winn’s Power Rankings. Now that the regular season is almost over Luke has a bigger data set to work with, which allows him to dive deeper into things than he could earlier in the season. As always with this column, there is (at least) one thing that jumps out at us and this week it is Purdue‘s splits with the two freshmen it uses in its rotation (you can probably already guess that the results are not what you would expect).
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Big Ten M5: 02.19.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 19th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. Illinois ended its long athletic director search when it formally introduced Josh Whitman as its next AD on Thursday morning (the news of his hire first broke on Wednesday). Whitman, 37, has been the athletic director at Division III Washington University in St. Louis since 2014. He also previously served as athletic director at Division III Wisconsin-La Crosse before that. His first full day on the job will be March 21, but that didn’t stop him from writing an immediate letter to Illinois donors.
  2. The “0-14 Game” won’t happen in the Big Ten after all. Many had been hyping up next Tuesday’s Rutgers at Minnesota matchup as a battle between the winless since both teams appeared headed into that game with zeros in the win column. Not anymore, as Minnesota stunned Maryland last night for its first Big Ten win of the season. The Terps were playing without freshman center Diamond Stone, who was suspended for the game after a technical foul on Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown last weekend. The win was the Gophers’ first of any kind since December 13 against Chicago State.
  3. Minnesota also played a man short on Thursday night, and it will do so for the rest of the season. Gophers head coach Richard Pitino announced on Wednesday that guard Carlos Morris had been dismissed from the program for conduct detrimental to the team. That conduct was later identified as a heated exchange between Morris and Pitino last Sunday. The senior was in his second season for Minnesota after transferring over from Chipola College (FL) and was averaging 9.8 PPG, the fourth-best mark on the team.
  4. Purdue point guard P.J. Thompson’s foot issues have persisted for more than a week, and while he has not yet missed any games, his practice routine is also not back to normal. He was in a walking boot for Thursday’s practice even though he still expects to play against Indiana this weekend. Thompson has committed just 11 turnovers in 585 minutes this season, and for a team that has had turnover issues in road games, he will need to be healthy and in the lineup on Saturday at Assembly Hall.
  5. Nebraska‘s Shavon Shields missed his third straight game after suffering a concussion against Rutgers two weeks ago, and the Huskers’ record dropped to 1-2 without their second-leading scorer in the lineup against Indiana. Nebraska misses his production as well as his leadership, as Robin Washunt of Rivals.com notes. Head coach Tim Miles had no update for Shields’ status for Saturday’s game vs. Ohio State, but suffice it to say that he’s needed back in the line up very soon.
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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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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 01.29.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 29th, 2016

The Big Ten season is about halfway done and it looks like the top six schools–Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Purdue, and Michigan State – are putting some distance between themselves and the rest of the conference. While there are no head-to-head matchups between any of these teams this weekend, there are still a handful of consequential games. Here are the three most important of them:

Shavon Shields faces a huge frontline this weekend when they face Purdue. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Shavon Shields will take on a huge frontline this weekend when the Cornhuskers battle Purdue. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Nebraska at #21 Purdue (Saturday 4:30 pm ET, BTN). Time is running out for the Cornhuskers’ hopes for an at-large bid. While they have a nice win at Michigan State, they’ll need another win over a highly-ranked team to make up for some of the questionable losses of late 2015. They will get a great opportunity to do so this weekend when they travel to West Lafayette. The Boilermakers are still ranked in the Top 25 and sit 27th in RPI. But Purdue has also recently had some shaky performances, most notably a loss at Illinois and a near-defeat at Minnesota. If the Boilermakers look past Nebraska towards a matchup with Maryland next week, they could easily be upset. Look for Shavon Shields to try to find some open lanes against the massive Purdue frontcourt; if he’s successful, the Cornhuskers will have a shot at a critically important victory.

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Big Ten M5: 01.29.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on January 29th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. Iowa lost its first conference game of the year on Thursday at Maryland, 74-68, and perhaps the most surprising part of the loss was Jarrod Uthoff’s poor play. Uthoff had scored double-digit points in every game this year entering Thursday and was shooting 48 percent on both two-pointers and three-pointers. The Terps held him to nine points on 2-13 shooting; Uthoff did not make a field goal in the first half. Eleven of his 13 field goal attempts were jumpers, and he missed them all. Iowa’s loss means no more Big Ten teams are unbeaten in conference play, although the Hawkeyes retain pole position in the conference standings.
  2. Michigan and Penn State will play each other in basketball and hockey on Saturday in the inaugural “Super Saturday – College Hoops and Hockey” doubleheader at Madison Square Garden. The Big Ten announced the teams for the doubleheaders in 2017, 2018 and 2019 on Wednesday. Rutgers and Wisconsin will play in basketball in 2017, while Ohio State and Wisconsin will play hockey. In 2018, Minnesota and Ohio State will take the court and Minnesota and Michigan State will take the ice. Maryland and Illinois square off in basketball in 2019.
  3. Purdue beat Minnesota on Wednesday night, but by a much smaller margin that expected, 68-64. Boilermakers wing Vince Edwards played the game with a bruised patellar tendon suffered in a Jan. 24 loss at Iowa, but logged 39 minutes and scored 24 points to go with eight rebounds. He did not sustain any ligament damage, but admitted his knee was not close to fully healthy. It hasn’t impacted Edwards’ play of late: He is averaging 17.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists in his last five games.
  4. Wednesday’s games produced two of the stranger plays of the season. Rutgers, trailing Michigan by eight with 45 seconds to go, tossed a free throw rebound out of bounds because its players thought Michigan’s Zak Irvin was shooting two free throws. Irvin was actually shooting a 1-and-1 and had missed the front end, but no Rutgers player realized that. In Purdue’s win over Minnesota, A.J. Hammons grabbed a rebound with one hand over two Minnesota players. He used one hand because his other hand held his shoe, which fell off earlier in the play. He put his hand inside it and kept playing. That board has to be the most impressive rebound of his college career.
  5. Illinois center Mike Thorne Jr.’s season was considered over when he had meniscus surgery in late November. But he returned to the court for the Illini’s Jan. 19 loss at Indiana. However, he hasn’t played since. He did not play in Thursday’s overtime loss vs. Ohio State, but did pregame work and was a game-day decision. As Scout.com’s Jeremy Werner said Monday, Thorne is no longer eligible for a medical redshirt after playing against Indiana.
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