The Big Ten’s Biggest Early Surprises

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 19th, 2018

Now that we’re roughly one-third of the way through the Big Ten slate, let’s take a look at the biggest surprises and storylines taking shape in the Midwest.

Who had Ohio State pegged as a Big Ten title contender? (Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Chris Holtmann, Keita Bates-Diop, and the Buckeyes. Forget the Big Ten for a moment — Ohio State might be the biggest surprise in the entire country. The Buckeyes began the season ranked 74th overall by KenPom and picked to finish 11th — yes, 11th — in the conference. And after getting blasted by Gonzaga in the PK80 on Thanksgiving Day, those projections appeared to make sense. That is, until Big Ten play rolled around. Since losing to Clemson on November 29, Ohio State has gone 11-1 overall and 5-0 in league play, including a 25-point road drubbing of Wisconsin and dominant win against top-ranked Michigan State. Its KenPom ranking has skyrocketed as a result to 12th overall nationally. Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop (19.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG) has emerged as the frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year — highlighted by a 32-point effort against the Spartans — while his coach, Chris Holtmann, may be on track for conference (if not national) honors in his own right. Perhaps Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith put it best: “None of us, including me, expected to be here.”
  • Purdue is the clear Big Ten favorite. Who would have expected to be saying that in mid-January? It’s not that Purdue wasn’t expected to be good — the Boilers were picked to finish second, after all — it’s just that Michigan State was supposed to be that much better. Roughly one-third of the way through Big Ten play, however, that’s clearly not the case. Whereas Michigan State has lost two of its last three games, both by double-figures, Matt Painter’s club has been on an absolute tear. Since November 24, Purdue is 14-0 (7-0 in Big Ten play) with eight wins by 25 or more points — including wins against Arizona, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Boilermakers rank among the top six nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency while boasting the third-highest three-point shooting mark (42.6%) in America. 7’2″ center Isaac Haas has been more efficient than ever (122.7 ORtg); sophomore guard Carsen Edwards (17 PPG) has been the breakout player some thought he could be; put simply, Purdue has looked infallible. With home games against Ohio State and Michigan left, Painter’s group is in great position to win the conference outright — even if it were to stumble in East Lansing on February 10.

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Big Ten Christmas Wish List: Buckets, Defense & a Little Good Fortune

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 21st, 2017

As Santa’s elves wrap presents and non-conference play comes to an end, let’s examine which Big Ten hopefuls could use a little magic from the jolly man in the big red suit.

The defensively-stout Scarlet Knights need guys like Geo Baker to make more shots. (Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Rutgers (10-3): All I want for Christmas is… a shooter (or two). The Scarlet Knights picked up their biggest win in years on Saturday, upsetting intrastate rival Seton Hall, 71-65, at the RAC. Steve Pikiell called it “a very good day for Rutgers Nation” as his team held the Pirates to just 0.89 points per possession, their worst offensive performance of the year. Now if only Pikeill’s group could put the ball in the basket. While the Scarlet Knights rank 27th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, their offense is by far the Big Ten’s worst, ranking 219th in efficiency despite a low turnover rate. The problem? Shooting, plain and simple. Rutgers ranks 334th in effective field goal percentage (44% eFG), including paltry numbers from outside the arc (29.4% 3FG), inside the arc (44% 2FG), and at the free throw line (65% FT). More than anything else this holiday season, Pikiell could use some consistent shooting, whether it be from top-scorer Corey Sanders — who shot a very good 9-of-16 FG against Seton Hall — or fellow guard Geo Baker, who’s quietly been one of the league’s best freshmen. If the Scarlet Knights can improve those shooting numbers, their days in the Big Ten cellar might soon be over. Especially considering their stout defense. 

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What’s Trending: Week of Wild Endings

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 18th, 2017

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

This week’s Whats Trending starts with a look back to last Sunday. After Arizona State beat Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse, Arizona State assistant athletic director (and friend of RTC) Doug Tammaro realizes that his wallet is about to be $500 lighter…

Is it a block? Is it a charge? With two seconds left on the clock, a whistle helps save the day for Wisconsin against Western Kentucky.

Bill Raftery was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame this week. Few people add as much to the color commentary of a game as Raf.

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The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Big Ten Running Out of Non-Conference Chances

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 15th, 2017

Michigan’s 59-52 win at Texas on Tuesday was important for the Big Ten, and not just because it could use some respect after taking a beating in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Rather, the road victory was big because it helps provide some much-needed heft to the league’s overall non-conference resume. With several bad losses under its belt and an underachieving middle tier, the Big Ten needs every quality win it can get before for turning on itself in conference play.

Iowa, like several Big Ten teams, has struggled during non-conference play. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

The Good. As of Thursday, the Big Ten has eight teams ranked in both the KenPom and Sagarin top 50, which suggests there is some depth of quality in the league. In fact, Michigan State and Purdue rank second and third overall in the latter ranking system. Although the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) remains the most widely-referenced metric, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee has been increasingly influenced by advanced metrics in recent years. The more teams viewed favorably by advanced analytical tools, the more opportunities for quality intra-conference wins in the committee’s view. What’s more, the league does have a few quality non-conference true road wins to its name. Minnesota beat Providence (KenPom #52) by double-figures in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Purdue pounded Marquette (KenPom #52). Michigan topped them both by upending Texas this week (KenPom #31). According to reports last summer, the committee will be “placing greater emphasis on winning road games.” Victories like these — on the road against NCAA Tournament-caliber opponents — will go a long way towards boosting the the Big Ten’s overall profile.

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Five Key Big Ten Takeaways From a Dreadful ACC Challenge Week

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 1st, 2017

This year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge was a wake-up call for the Big Ten, as the conference dropped 11 of the 14 contests, including five losses by more than 10 points. Its 3-11 mark represents the league’s worst record, by far, in the event’s 19-year year history. And while it’s only fair to judge a conference so much based on a single set of match-ups in November, there’s still reason to worry. Let’s examine a few of the most glaring takeaways, both good and bad, from the four-day drubbing.

Maryland’s loss at Syracuse was one of many for the Big Ten. (Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)

  • The “best of the rest” might not be so great. Michigan State and Purdue were pegged #1 and #2 in the Big Ten preseason media poll, and both took care of business this week. The Spartans knocked off their second-straight top-10 ACC opponent, while the Boilermakers used a crowd-fueled second-half surge to defeat #17 Louisville. As for the remaining “upper echelon” squads? The ACC/Big Ten Challenge did not go very well. Preseason #3 Minnesotashorthanded, to be sure — lost at home to Miami (FL), unable to keep big man Dewan Huell (23 points) and the Hurricane guards from carving them up on the pick-and-roll. Northwestern, picked fourth, mustered just 0.88 points per possession in a buzzer-beating loss at Georgia Tech. Michigan and Wisconsin were soundly defeated on the road against North Carolina and Virginia, respectively, while Maryland — just three days after losing to St. Bonaventure — fell at Syracuse. While one could simply blame the bulk of these losses on bad match-ups, that would be ignoring the fact that several of these programs were unknown quantities heading into the season. The Terps lost Melo Trimble to the pros; Wisconsin and Michigan each lost three of their top four scorers to graduation; Northwestern hasn’t finished among the top four of the Big Ten since 1968. This week’s results may be nothing more than a few bad match-ups playing out in the ACC’s favor; then again, they may also be indicative of Big Ten that is not quite as deep — or simply as good — as some expected. At the very least, the one-sided outcome could do lasting damage to the conference’s seeding profile come Selection Sunday.

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Tim Duncan and Jay Williams Lead 2017 College Basketball HOF Class

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2017

One of the most fun things about following college basketball is observing its constant evolution, but it’s also fascinating to look back on the legends who impacted the game regardless of their era. On Sunday night in Kansas City, the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame enshrined its 2017 class, whose membership ranges from a former player-turned analyst who has yet to turn 40 to a pioneer who faced impossible challenges during integration. Let’s take a look at each.

Tim Duncan was an unstoppable force for Wake Forest, showing the dazzling post moves, defensive dominance and tremendous intelligence that made him an all-time great. (Getty)

  • Tim Duncan, Wake Forest: Before he was the linchpin for one of American sports’ top dynasties with the San Antonio Spurs, The Big Fundamental put together one of the most illustrious college careers of any big man to ever play the game. In a four-year career from 1993-97, Duncan was the 1997 National Player of the Year, a two-time consensus First Team All-American, two-time ACC Player of the Year and three-time NABC Defensive Player of the Year. The reserved big man made the game look effortless by combining his raw athletic ability with a high basketball IQ in soaking up the game’s nuances faster than anyone could have imagined. He famously rejected several opportunities to go pro despite favorable projections after each year and became the first player in college basketball history to notch 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 400 blocked shots and 200 assists.
  • Jay Williams, Duke: With a devastating motorcycle injury that effectively limited his playing days to 75 NBA games, Williams’ professional career ended almost as soon as it began. We’ll always wonder what could have been, though, because the 2002 Duke graduate was one of the most talented, explosive and accomplished players the college level has ever seen. Williams was an all-time great college point guard and played a key role on one of the best Duke teams ever, pacing the 2001 National Championship Blue Devils in scoring (21.6 PPG), three-point shooting (42.7% 3FG) and winning the NABC’s Player of the Year award. Even though he had every reason to turn professional that summer, he returned to Durham to get his degree and put up another amazing season by sweeping every NPOY honor in 2002.

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Big Ten First Impressions: Purdue Very Much a Title Contender; Indiana, Not So Much…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 17th, 2017

With a full week of Big Ten basketball already under our belts, let’s assess some of the strongest first impressions from around the league — for better or worse.

Issac Haas and the Boilermakers have looked excellent in the earlygoing. (AP)

  • It’s not a “hot take” to suggest Purdue can win the league. Michigan State was the unanimous pick to win the Big Ten this season, and for good reason — the Spartans are loaded, and Miles Bridges might be the best player in college hoops. But Purdue is also very good, and early returns suggest it may have been seriously undervalued in the preseason polls. After scoring 1.38 and 1.42 points per possessions against SIU-Edwardsville and Chicago State, respectively, last week, the Boilermakers handled Marquette in Milwaukee on Wednesday night, 86-71, as part of the Gavitt Tip-Off Games. The most impressive aspect of the win wasn’t so much the 15-point margin as it was Purdue’s ability to shrug off the Golden Eagles’ patented three-point surges, time and again answering the home team’s offensive spurts with flawless execution of its own. Matt Painter’s group was especially great in the half-court, working much of its offense through center Isaac Haas; the senior finished with 22 points in 20 minutes, using a whopping 44 percent of the possessions while he was on the floor. What’s more, the emergence of 7’3″ Dutch freshman Matt Haarms — who is averaging 19 minutes, nine points, and nearly three blocks per game — suggest that Painter has someone who can consistently (and productively) spell Haas when he sits. The scariest part? Purdue’s usually-excellent three-point shooting was lackluster against Marquette (4-of-12 3FG). Instead, the Boilers thrived on key defensive stops (like this Carsen Edwards’ chase-down block) and outstanding interior ball movement. On nights when Vincent Edwards, Carsen Edwards, Dakota Mathias and PJ Thompson make it rain from the perimeter — like they did in the team’s first two games (combined 19-of-36 3FG) — Purdue will be nearly impossible to beat. Experienced, balanced, and offensively dominant when Haas plays like he did on Wednesday, Purdue has all the pieces to compete neck and neck with Michigan State in the Big Ten this season.

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Big Ten Opening Week: A Primer

Posted by Chris Hatfield on November 13th, 2017

Honestly, there’s not much good about winter as a season. If you live in a city like Chicago, for example, the only good thing about the cold is that college basketball has returned. That’s it. There is nothing else. Your face may freeze off outside but it’s a trade-off we have to make. What do you have to look forward to in the world of the Big Ten? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are three things this week.

1. Duke vs. Michigan State, a Final Four Preview?

Two titans of the game set to go at it again this week. (Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the first thing that has to be addressed. I don’t make the rules. It just has to happen this way. It’s the biggest game of the opening week in college basketball and, in all likelihood, the biggest of the opening month. We know nothing about these teams. We think we know things. We know some things, but others are educated guesses. Things go awry, outliers exist — that’s why we love the sport. I’ll be 100 percent there for Rush the Court preseason All-Americans like Miles Bridges and Nick Ward on the Michigan State side and Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley on Duke’s. Beyond that, it seems a little different than just an early season game. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where either team falls off the top two seed lines. You’re looking at the two teams with arguably the most talent in the country, and we could easily see them match up again in San Antonio next April. Will Michigan State, the less proven of the two teams, be ready for the moment? If so, I’ll certainly feel better about picking Sparty to cut down the nets. Read the rest of this entry »

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How Will Archie Miller Fix Indiana’s Defense?

Posted by Chris Hatfield on November 8th, 2017

It’s no surprise that the Indiana faithful have been less than satisfied with the Hoosiers’ defense over the past few seasons. It’s well-documented. Indiana finished last year’s regular season giving up 75 points or more in four of its final five games, gave up more than 90 points over the course of the season a conference-worst five times, and gave up 79.6 points per game — second-worst in the Big Ten, behind only Iowa. However, there is some good news coming for folks in Bloomington. Give him some time and Archie Miller can fix that.

Archie Miller has his work cut out for him on the defensive end, but he has a track record that says he will. (Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports)

Tom Crean experienced a number of extremes during his tenure at Indiana, and KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings illustrate this perfectly. More often than not, his Hoosier defenses were below average. In the KenPom era (since 2002) Crean coached three top-30 defenses and eight sub-100 defenses. Archie Miller’s Dayton teams, on the other hand, have been both better defensive units as well as more consistent. In the last three seasons, the Flyers finished among the top 50 , as the table below shows. This is a significant metric because no National Championship team nor runner-up has finished outside that top 50. In most cases, the Final Four has also met that threshold. To put it a little simpler: Teams that make deep NCAA Tournament runs generally have strong defensive efficiency numbers to justify those runs. Miller has shown he can coach such units, while Crean rarely did.

Ken Pom’s Final Adjusted Defensive Efficiency Rankings

                        Archie Miller        Tom Crean

2014                72nd                      38th

   2015                30th                       200th

2016                15th                        59th

  2017                43rd                       104th

Average            40th                   100th
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Big Ten Preview Part III: Key Questions for Indiana and Penn State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 1st, 2017

With the season just a little over a week away, Rush the Court’s Big Ten preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we address Indiana and Penn State.

#10 Indiana – Will the Hoosiers buy in defensively?

Archie Miller is preaching defense in Bloomington. (Joe Ullrich, CNHI Sports Indiana)

Over Tom Crean’s last four seasons at Indiana, the Hoosiers ranked outside of the top 50 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency three times, including a 2014-15 campaign that set the program’s worst mark in the KenPom era (106.0). During that same span, Archie Miller-coached Dayton finished in the top 50 three times, reaching the NCAA Tournament all four years and twice advancing to the second weekend. The Flyers hung their hats on disciplined man-to-man defense and opportunistic aggression, principles Miller hopes to instill right away in Bloomington. If his new team fully commits, the ceiling on Indiana — projected by KenPom to go 8-10 in the Big Ten this season — should be higher than anticipated, even if it takes a step back offensively. The Hoosiers lose their three most dynamic weapons on that end of the court, with James Blackmon (17.0 PPG), Thomas Bryant (12.6 PPG), and OG Anunoby (11.1 PPG in 16 games) all leaving early. While Robert Johnson (12.8 PPG), forward Juwan Morgan, and point guard Josh Newkirk should keep the offense afloat, it’s hard to see Indiana scoring at the eye-popping rate it has in each of the past three seasons. Greater intrigue — and room for improvement — lies on defense, where frontcourt size will be an issue, but versatility will not. On the one hand, rim protection may be a concern: with the 6’10” Bryant no longer lurking the paint, only one returning player stands taller than 6’7″. On the other hand, Miller’s Dayton squads were often defined by their lack of size, great versatility and penchant for swarming the paint. With players who can defend multiple positions like Morgan, Colin Hartman, and a slimmed-down DeRon Davis, Indiana has the potential to make a vast, immediate improvement on the defensive end. That is, of course, if Miller can get can get his offensive-minded roster to fully buy in.

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