Michigan’s Defense is the Difference Between NCAA and NIT

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 23rd, 2017

It doesn’t take a hoops junkie to recognize that a good, balanced effort on both sides of the ball generally equates to success. And maybe it would be overly simplistic to offer an unbalanced team such advice as “be better on defense.” For this year’s Michigan squad, however, there may not be a more apt prescription. The Wolverines—the Big Ten’s most efficient offensive unit—simply haven’t had a defense to match this season, ranking dead-last in conference play on that end of the court. On nights when they have defended well, the offense has taken a step back. Put simply, the pieces have rarely come together. After an inspired wire-to-wire victory over Illinois on Saturday, however, John Beilein’s group appears to be taking some steps in the right direction. Michigan was stout defensively, received contributions up and down the lineup, and—for perhaps the first time since November—played a complete game against a quality opponent. With a crucial five-game stretch coming and an NCAA Tournament berth still far from guaranteed, the Wolverines’ newfound balance has arrived just in the nick of time.

On Saturday, Michigan looked like the team that pounded SMU and Marquette back in November. (mgoblue.com)

“Blue-collar” defense. Following Illinois’ 85-69 thrashing of Michigan on January 11, Illini center Maverick Morgan referred to the Wolverines as a “white-collar team,” a comment which—at least at the time—seemed completely on point. Due to a mixture of lax perimeter defense and some bad luck, Michigan entered the weekend surrendering an astounding 52.4 percent from three-point range (53-for-101) against Big Ten opponents, including a 9-of-14 effort against the Illini in that first meeting. On the whole, Beilein’s team after came into Saturday’s game surrendering more than 1.2 points per possession, and yet, on the heels of an encouraging effort at Wisconsin, the defensive tide shifted drastically. Michigan held Illinois to just 0-of-5 from three-point range in the first half, and 2-of-12 for the game. Illini ball-handlers were forced into a Big Ten-high 17 turnovers, and Morgan, who made all but one shot from the field in the first meeting, was held in check underneath the basket. “We were active, we were in gaps, swarming to the ball, flying around,” Beilein said after the game. “That was as hard as we’ve played on defense all year.” Before the weekend, Wolverines’ guard Zak Irvin lobbied his team to wear its road blue jerseys to represent the “blue-collar” attitude with which it intended to play. And Michigan didn’t disappoint, holding Illinois to 0.86 points per possession in its strongest defensive effort since the calendar turned to 2017.

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Evaluating Purdue’s Shooting Against Recent Big Ten Teams

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 19th, 2017

As recently as the 2012-13 season, Purdue ranked among the bottom 100 teams nationally (253rd) in three-point shooting. As the team’s perimeter marksmanship has steadily improved since hitting a low point of 32.7 percent the following season, the Boilermakers’ record has tracked correspondingly. Now, at the midpoint of the 2016-17 campaign, Matt Painter’s team is shooting a scorching 40.6 percent from behind the arc, already making 10 or more threes in seven games this season. If Purdue’s hot shooting continues, it has a chance to become one of the best deep shooting teams in the Big Ten over the last five years. How do the Boilermakers compare with the best in the league over this time span? And what does it mean as we slowly turn the corner toward March?

Ryan Cline is one of five Purdue players connecting on over 40 percent from the three-point line. (John Terhune, Journal &Courier).

For the sake of this exercise, three components were analyzed: team three-point percentage; team effective field goal percentage; and the number of players shooting over 40 percent who make at least one three-pointer per game. Ten Big Ten teams have made at least 37.9 percent of their three-point shots since the 2012-13 season. The best of the bunch was last season’s Michigan State squad at 43.4 percent, which led the nation. Purdue’s marksmanship so far this season ties for third. From an eFG perspective, last year’s Indiana team led the nation (58.7%), while Purdue’s 57.0 percent through 19 games comes in behind the Hoosiers. Finally, that same group from Indiana boasted five excellent shooters, as do this year’s Boilermakers. In the aggregate, Purdue finishes no worse than third in any of these metrics, which means that if it maintains the pace, it should definitely be mentioned as one of the best shooting teams in the Big Ten over the last five years. Here’s a look at the data.

  • Indiana 2012-13: (40.3% 3FG, 54.8% eFG, Watford 48.4%, Hulls 44.4%, Oladipo 44.1%)
  • Michigan 2012-13: (37.9% 3FG, 54.6% eFG, Stauskas 44.0%)
  • Michigan 2013-14: (40.2 3FG, 55.7% eFG, Stauskas 44.2%, Irvin 42.5%, Walton 41.0%, LeVert 40.8%)
  • Michigan State 2013-14: (39.2% 3FG, 54.5% eFG, Kaminski 49.4%, Trice 43.4%, Payne 42.3%)
  • Indiana 2014-15: (40.6% 3FG, 54.4% eFG, Hartman 47.5%, Zeisloft 45.0%, Ferrell 41.6%)

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 10th, 2017

The second weekend of conference action did nothing to solve the Big Ten puzzle. Wisconsin could have gotten a massive head start in the league race by winning at Purdue, but instead the Badgers were stymied by Matt Painter’s team. Maryland had looked vulnerable in losing a home game to Nebraska, but the Terrapins bounced back by winning at Michigan. Indiana, coming off a three-game losing streak, thoroughly outplayed Illinois in Bloomington and reminded everyone how well the Hoosiers were playing earlier this season. You get the idea. If you like chaos and unpredictability, the Big Ten is your conference this season. Here’s the best and worst of the weekend.

Thomas Bryant did not miss a shot from the field as Indiana beat Illinois on Saturday. (Kelsey Kremer, Des Moines Register).

  • Player of the Weekend: Unlike his sophomore counterpart in West Lafayette who is generating buzz for Player of the Year recognition, Thomas Bryant has not yet broken out this season. His statistics are down across the board, and much of this is attributable to no longer having one of the best point guards in the nation (Yogi Ferrell) to find him in premium scoring situations. It was therefore encouraging that Bryant went for a season-high 20 points and added a team-high six rebounds in Saturday’s 96-80 victory over the Illini. The Hoosiers made a point of finding their big man when Illinois started to make things interesting, and he responded by showcasing some nifty post moves to seal the win. For Indiana to make its way back to the top of the Big Ten, it will need to get Bryant going down low more frequently.

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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week Eight

Posted by Walker Carey on January 9th, 2017

The second week of conference play has wrapped up and with it has come a new team in the #1 spot. Baylor has taken the reins as the top team in the RTC25 after wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma State moved the Bears to an unblemished 15-0 on the season. Scott Drew’s squad moved up with some help from #15 Butler, which ended #2 Villanova‘s reign with a 66-58 upset victory over the Wildcats on Wednesday night. Things will not get any easier for Baylor this week, however, as the Bears will arguably face their toughest test of the season in traveling to Morgantown to take on #8 West Virginia. There is consistently quite a bit of turnover in the RTC25 during conference play, so be sure to keep an eye on the poll each week as the college basketball season remains fluid. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week Seven

Posted by Walker Carey on January 3rd, 2017

The first full weekend of conference play was quite a doozy. From several head-scratching results (e.g., #22 Indiana falling in Bloomington to what was supposed to be an overmatched Nebraska team) to last second heroics (e.g., #11 Oregon beating #4 UCLA on a Dillon Brooks three-pointer), the start of conference play reminded us why college basketball is great theater. No conference that had a more dramatic opening weekend than the ACC, a fact that was driven home on New Year’s Eve when league stalwarts #6 Duke, #13 Virginia and #14 North Carolina were stunned by #21 Virginia Tech, #15 Florida State and Georgia Tech, respectively. While it is probably unreasonable to expect each subsequent week to provide as much drama, it is fair to assume that we will see flashes of this unexpectedness throughout the remainder of the season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Six Big Ten X-Factors Heading Into Conference Play

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 26th, 2016

Conference play is almost here, and after a 138-42 (.767) combined non-conference start, Big Ten teams will begin squaring off against each other tomorrow afternoon. As of right now, it looks like three front-runners (Wisconsin, Purdue and Indiana) have emerged, followed by a group of good-not-great teams competing for the top of the next tier — a glance at the most recent KenPom ratings reveals eight teams ranked within the NCAA Tournament at-large sweet spot of #29-#68. With things so relatively even, a number of x-factors around the league could very well swing the race with improved performances. Here are six players who could heavily influence how the Big Ten standings ultimately end up.

Carsen Edwards (USA Today Images)

Carsen Edwards is a Possible X-Factor For Purdue (USA Today Images)

  • Carsen Edwards, Purdue: One of the reasons why Purdue is a perceived title threat is because the majority of their players are reasonably consistent. Edwards, however, is the biggest wild card in the rotation, and his continuing development could be the key for the Boilermakers in March. Since the freshman moved into the starting lineup on December 3, he has averaged 9.3 PPG and a couple assists per outing. His shooting can stand to improve, but he’s a blur in the open court and causes havoc defensively on the perimeter. If Edwards can become a more efficient scorer during Big Ten play (95.0 Offensive Rating on 24.9 percent usage), Purdue’s offense (as well as the team) could move into the top 10 nationally.
  • D’Mitrik Trice, Wisconsin: With five returning starters this season, little was expected from Wisconsin’s lone true freshman. And yet Trice has been an efficient and capable third guard off the bench, including some outstanding shooting from deep so far (18-of-30 3FG). He has basically stolen the minutes that were going to Jordan Hill last season, and if he continues to give the Badgers another backcourt option beyond Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter, Wisconsin could make another run at the Final Four.

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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 12.16.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 16th, 2016

We might as well call tomorrow Super Saturday because five of the games involving Big Ten teams are as intriguing of a slate as in recent memory. In addition to the always-enjoyable Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis involving Purdue and Indiana, three other league schools will face off against potential NCAA Tournament teams. This provides each team with a golden non-conference opportunity to a land a resume-enhancing win and build some momentum heading into league play the week after Christmas. Here’s the Weekend Look Ahead:

Caleb Swanigan has a chance to wreak havoc in the paint in the Crosstown Classic against a smaller Notre Dame team. (AP).

Caleb Swanigan has a chance to wreak havoc in the Crossroads Classic against a smaller Notre Dame team. (AP)

  • #21 Notre Dame vs. #15 Purdue (Saturday 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2). With all four teams ranked, the Crossroads Classic couldn’t ask for a better slate. The annual event tips off with Notre Dame’s high-powered offense facing off against Purdue. While the Boilermakers have been impressive all season, they’ve fallen just short in their two chances against elite competition – losing close games to #1 Villanova and #11 Louisville. If Matt Painter‘s group can establish its inside-out game between Caleb Swanigan and outside threats Dakota Mathias and Ryan Cline, in addition to submitting a respectable defensive performance, the Boilermakers will walk out of Bankers Life Fieldhouse with their best win of the season.

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In Hoops We Trust: Blue-Blooded Season

Posted by Joshua Lars Weill on December 15th, 2016

One of the biggest changes in college hoops over the last 10 years has been the rise of several consistently strong mid-major programs to the status of legitimate national title contenders. George Mason first crashed the Final Four party in 2006 with a gutsy, emotional Elite Eight win over #1 seed Connecticut. That paved the way for the rise of Butler (2010, 2011), VCU (2011), and Wichita State (2013), each of which were led by dynamic young coaches building winning programs. Throw in the likes of Gonzaga, San Diego State and Xavier, and the growing parity brought with it added competitiveness and a widening of the NCAA hoops pie. But this year is all about the blue-bloods. Kentucky, Duke, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina and UCLA are all in the AP top 10 for the first time since 1994. While some of those schools have maintained relevance over the intervening seasons, the simultaneous rise of the Hoosiers and Bruins augurs a shift back to the traditional power programs.

College Basketball Benefits When the Elite Programs Are Elite (USA Today Images)

College Basketball Benefits When the Elite Programs Are Elite (USA Today Images)

The “why” for this trend could very well be recruiting. Kentucky’s John Calipari was the first coach to truly embrace the one-and-done model of recruiting. The theory is basically that if you can gather the most talented players in the country — regardless whether all of them will be headed to the NBA after just one season — you should. Yes, there are challenges with youth, inexperience and with program continuity, but he proved with the 2012 National Championship and four Final Fours in five years that if you recruit the best players, challenge them in practice, and preach selflessness and defense, you can win. Mike Krzyzewski noticed and Duke jumped on board. Roy Williams also has a slew of McDonald’s All-Americans, and Bill Self has never shied away from recruiting one-year talents regardless of whether he plays them. UCLA this season joined the party with a pair of freshman All-Americans in Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf. So far, Steve Alford‘s accumulation of talent has helped transform a formerly teetering program into the current #2 team in the country.

Conventional wisdom once held that experience trumps talent in the NCAA Tournament. This was the rationale for the VCUs, Butlers and Wichita States of the game. But as major programs blend experienced returnees with those talented NBA prospects, they often overwhelm their less athletic, overachieving rivals. So, does this early trend hold? That remains to be seen. Perhaps those talented freshmen will revert to traditional norms or hit the rookie wall as the long season works its way into spring. Or perhaps injuries will take a toll. Or maybe some of those power programs in smaller conferences will again crash the party. It wouldn’t be a shock. But so far this season, it’s been a feast for the rich. How fat they get we shall know in good time.

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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week Three

Posted by Walker Carey on December 5th, 2016

Another week of college hoops is in the books, and a few teams last week demonstrated they will be reckoned with during the rest of the season. #4 UCLA, behind a terrific offensive attack, earned the most impressive victory of the young season when it left Rupp Arena on Saturday with a 97-92 victory over #8 Kentucky. That defeat at the hands of the Bruins marked the first time the Wildcats have lost in Lexington since the 2013-14 season. #5 Baylor likewise continued its dream start to the season with a dominant 76-61 win over #12 Xavier. In only the first week of December, the Bears already have an excellent profile with victories over #10 Louisville, #20 Oregon and the formerly top-10 Musketeers. #7 Gonzaga also bolstered its flawless record last week, earning a 69-62 neutral site win over #23 Arizona. The Bulldogs are benefiting from the return of big man Przemek Karnowski, who missed all but five games last season with a back injury. The college basketball season is definitely a marathon where things can change on a nightly basis, but it sure seems like the Bruins, Bears and Bulldogs are in great position to succeed all season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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In Hoops We Trust: On Early Returns…

Posted by Joshua Lars Weill on November 30th, 2016

So, we’re three weeks in now, and while a majority of games have pitted teams expecting to win against teams expecting a paycheck, the holidays brought us some great major-on-major (and strong mid-major) action courtesy of a number of neutral site “tournaments.” North Carolina won Maui; Baylor won Atlantis; Gonzaga won the AdvoCare Invitational (okay); and Valparaiso won whatever the hell the “Men Who Speak Up Heavyweight Bracket” is. Geez, these things are getting worse than FBS Bowl Games (See also: the Poulan Weedeater Bowl). There have been a few surprises along the way. Butler, Baylor, and South Carolina are all undefeated with some good resume wins. Xavier and Creighton are lingering around and have the talent to stay there. Michigan State looks way down early after losing most of its experienced players to graduation. Indiana laid an absolute stinker on Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne (say that five times real fast)’s home court.

Another year, another season where Butler fans have a lot to cheer about. (Credit: Kyle LaFerriere)

Another year, another season where Butler fans have a lot to cheer about. (Credit: Kyle LaFerriere)

Meanwhile, some of the usual suspects sit atop the rankings. Kentucky is demoralizing lesser opponents, relying on arguably the best three-guard backcourt in the country. Defending champ Villanova is rolling thanks to an All-American start from Josh Hart. North Carolina has a lot of offensive weapons with five players averaging double figures. Duke is banged up but clearly has the goods. Kansas is relying heavily on its experienced backcourt and will need its other players to step up as the season moves along. No one can score against Virginia. And Gonzaga and St. Mary’s—both undefeated to date—look to be on a collision course (again) in the WCC. All in all, it’s been a great start to the 2016-17 season. There are lots of questions as yet unanswered — Who will slow down Kentucky and North Carolina? When will Duke get its hot shot freshmen into the lineup? Can Xavier or Creighton keep their undefeated runs into the Big East season and beyond? — that will keep us watching through the holiday season.

Some meaty made-for-TV games will help answer some of those questions. Get ready for North Carolina-Indiana (tonight), Kentucky-UCLA (Saturday), Gonzaga-Arizona (Saturday), and Kentucky-North Carolina (December 17), to name but a few. These and other well-matched tilts should give us a clearer picture of who the contenders really are as the new year turns. Read the rest of this entry »

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