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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Big Ten Preview Part IV: Key Questions for Iowa & Maryland

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 3rd, 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 Iowa and Maryland.

#8 Iowa – Will the loss of Peter Jok be addition by subtraction?

Isaiah Moss and co. have big shoes to fill, offensively. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Peter Jok largely defined Iowa’s offense last season, taking a whopping 31.2 percent of the Hawkeyes’ shots while on the floor, scoring a quarter of his team’s points (19.9 PPG), and occasionally willing the Hawkeyes to victory — like when he scored 35 points — including 15 in overtime — against Indiana in February. The 6’6″ wing was a scoring machine and will obviously be missed. But he could also be a defensive liability at times, struggling to keep players in front of him and preventing better defenders from seeing the floor. With virtually everyone else on the roster back, Iowa will be defined this season by the extent to which its promising young roster can fill Jok’s offensive void while also improving defensively. Thanks to a rotation that should run more than 10 deep, the former task will fall on a variety of players. While forward Tyler Cook (12.3 PPG) should lead the team in scoring, many of Jok’s 15 shots per game will be distributed among Isaiah Moss (6.5 PPG) and Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Nicholar Baer, both of whom will need to become more aggressive scorers from the wing. Point guard Jordan Bohannon (10.9 PPG), who shot 41.6 percent from three-point range on more than 200 attempts last season, is now the team’s primary perimeter threat; how he performs without Jok to divert defensive attention will also be key. Defensively, more minutes for Baer, Moss and forward Cordell Pemsl should help Iowa improve on last season’s middling defense, which ranked near the bottom of league play in efficiency. Pemsl is reportedly leaner, healthier and more athletic, while Baer — who led the team in both block and steal rate in 2016-17 — is versatile enough to defend multiple positions. With a strong recruiting class entering the program to boot, the Hawkeyes could well be a more well-rounded team without Jok.

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Five Key Storylines in This Week’s Big Ten Tournament

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 8th, 2017

The Big Ten Tournament begins this afternoon in Washington, D.C., when Penn State takes on Nebraska. It will end Sunday afternoon presumably with a postseason picture looking much closer to clarity. In anticipation of the proceedings, here are a handful of quick potential storylines to keep an eye on over the next five days.

Whether or not Malcolm Hill can lead Illinois to a couple of Big Ten victories is one of many questions heading into the B1G Tournament. (Getty)

Bubble Teams: Two of the more fascinating games in the early portion of the Big Ten Tournament will be Illinois vs. Michigan and Iowa vs. Indiana. With late-season surges, both the Illini and the Hawkeyes have moved into bubble consideration. Illinois has improved defensively over the past month but will be tested by Michigan’s sixth-most efficient offense in the country. Iowa has won four in a row (including a win over the Hoosiers) on the strength of 10.5 made three-pointers per game at a 46.7 percent clip. If both teams lose early this week, the number of Big Ten teams heading to the NCAA Tournament will essentially be set. Two wins, however, will keep the debate alive.

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Big Ten Tournament Mission Sheet: What Can Each Team Get From the Event?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 8th, 2017

There are 14 teams in the Big Ten and although each team is ultimately playing to win a conference championship on Sunday afternoon, there are smaller, somewhat more realistic goals for each school involved in the five-day hoops extravaganza. Here’s a closer look at what each Big Ten team should look to gain from the event.

  • Illinois: The goal for the Illini is fairly obvious. After losing its regular season finale to Rutgers, Illinois likely has to get to Saturday’s semifinals in order to feel truly confident about its chances.
  • Indiana: Indiana needs to find a way to bottle its offense during the first 10 minutes — wherein the Hoosiers scored 32 points — of last weekend’s win over Ohio State. If Tom Crean’s offense can play at that level in Washington, DC, this weekend, Indiana can legitimately win the Big Ten Tournament.
  • Iowa: The Hawkeyes have the same goal as Illinois but with less urgency because of the youth of their roster. The longer Iowa stays in this weekend’s tournament, the more quality experience their underclassmen will have heading into next season.
  • Maryland: Maryland has taken a whopping 24 three-pointers per contest over its last nine games, making only 33.8 percent of those attempts. The key for the Terrapins is to return to attacking the rim for easy looks and foul shots. Continued over-reliance on the three-ball from a team that requires greater balance could spell an early postseason exit in DC and beyond.

Derrick Walton Jr. will look to lift Michigan to multiple wins in the Big Ten Tournament. (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

  • Michigan: The metrics suggest that Michigan is better than its 20-11 overall record. This means that the Wolverines have a golden opportunity to win the Big Ten tournament and jump a couple of seed lines prior to Sunday’s bracket release.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 26th, 2017

In a season where up has often meant down and down has meant up, it’s fitting that the second to last weekend in the Big Ten was chaotic. The league’s three Top 25 teams all lost while several teams with solid to middling chances at NCAA Tournament bids (Minnesota, Michigan and Michigan State) won somewhat convincingly. Illinois and Indiana also picked up crucial wins that kept both teams’ faint bubble hopes alive. The standings are still in a state of complete flux with only the #14 seed in the conference tournament currently set in stone. Here’s the rest of the superlatives from the second to last weekend of Big Ten play.

Nick Ward (center) led Michigan State in scoring and rebounding as Michigan State defeated Wisconsin. (Rey Del Rio, Getty Images).

Player of the Weekend: After a season low point in which Michigan State big man Nick Ward may have purposely tripped Michigan’s Moritz Wagner during a 29-point loss, the freshman has been on a tear. Against Wisconsin on Sunday, Ward bulled his way to 22 points and nine rebounds, bolstering his average of 15.4 PPG over the last five games. Those thinking that the Spartans are turning the corner just in time for the postseason can point to Ward and his fellow freshmen’s stellar play as a reason to believe. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 20th, 2017

In the third to last weekend of Big Ten conference play, the stars of the league took over. Wisconsin remained at the top of the standings after beating Maryland behind 20-point efforts from Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes. Purdue likewise kept pace at the top of the standings behind Caleb Swanigan‘s 23rd double-double of the season in a domination of Michigan State. What follows are the highs and lows from a six-game weekend Big Ten schedule.

Caleb Swanigan did nothing to damage his chances at picking up some postseason hardware, as he led Purdue to another Big Ten win. (Boiledsports.com).

  • Player of the Weekend: Caleb Swanigan did to Michigan State what he always does, scoring 24 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in leading his team to a dominant win. The big man’s passing ability really stood out this weekend, as he led Purdue with five assists against only one turnover. Much of the Boilermakers’ offensive damage came from Swanigan either scoring himself or running the high-low game with Isaac Haas on the interior. The sophomore also made 9-of-10 foul shots, elevating his mark on the season to a robust 78.4 percent. Complete efforts like these are the reason that the burly forward is garnering serious consideration for the National Player of the Year award.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: One of the biggest what-ifs this season is how Nebraska might look if Ed Morrow, Jr. had not missed seven games with an injury? The Cornhuskers went 1-6 with Morrow out of the lineup, clearly missing the sophomore forward’s energy and work on the boards (even though the injury also allowed freshman Jordy Tshimanga to take some important strides). Despite only playing 15 minutes with foul trouble on Saturday against Ohio State, Morrow scored 10 points, grabbed six rebounds and posted a 141.0 offensive rating for the game. This keyed Nebraska’s first road win since a New Year’s Day victory at Maryland.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 7th, 2017

Chaos has been a commonality throughout this Big Ten season and it was on full display Saturday afternoon when all four road teams won games in opposing venues. Purdue earned possibly its biggest win of the season by coming back from a double-figure deficit in the second half to knock off Maryland. Rutgers won its first conference road game of the year by besting Penn State in Happy Valley. Fading Minnesota picked up a much needed road win at Illinois. Finally, Ohio State won a battle of two teams that have become increasingly difficult to figure out by beating Michigan in Ann Arbor. Things normalized a bit on Sunday with Wisconsin taking sole possession of first place in defeating Indiana at home, while Iowa likewise held serve in its own gym against Nebraska. There are now only four weekends left in the regular season, so look for more surprises as the pressure intensifies and the calendar flips to March. Here’s the best and worst of the Big Ten from the first weekend of February.

Corey Sanders led Rutgers to its second conference win in scoring 25 points as they knocked off Penn State (USA Today Images)

  • Player of the Weekend: Corey Sanders started off the 2016-17 campaign by figuring out how to adequately co-exist with Kansas State transfer Nigel Johnson in the Rutgers backcourt. Things have improved for the sophomore in recent weeks, however, as the dynamic point guard has scored in double figures in nine of his last 10 games. He’s taken over primary ball-handling duties, which has led to a more effective Rutgers offense. Sanders was dominant on Saturday, scoring 25 points and making 4-of-5 threes in leading Rutgers to its first ever Big Ten road victory. He also notched six rebounds, four assists and three steals. The Scarlet Knights are hoping that they can ride his enhanced scoring to a handful more wins to close out the regular season.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Iowa’s Nicholas Baer has drawn comparisons to Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ during a couple of Big Ten telecasts this season because he call fill up the stat sheet without providing the most beautiful of performances. The sophomore wing contributed seven points, six rebounds and three blocks against Nebraska on Sunday, cementing his status as Iowa’s second best player, regardless of whether he he starts or comes off the Hawkeyes’ bench.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 31st, 2017

We’re now halfway through the conference slate and things still haven’t gotten much clearer in the Big Ten standings. There is a notable top four in Wisconsin, Maryland, Northwestern and Purdue, but nine of the remaining 10 teams reside in the middle of the pack with between three and five conference wins. This has led to quite a few unexpected results, including the weekend haul of Nebraska beating Purdue, Maryland staying undefeated on the road by outlasting a slipping Minnesota squad, and Rutgers very nearly pulling off the biggest upset of the Big Ten season against Wisconsin. Here’s the rest of the weekend’s highlights.

Ethan Happ (right) scored more than half of Wisconsin’s points as it defeated Rutgers on Saturday. (Getty Images).

  • Player of the Weekend: There’s no easier way to show it than to let the numbers tell the story. Ethan Happ scored 32 of Wisconsin’s 61 points in an overtime victory at Madison Square Garden. While most of the Badgers were busily clanking away from the outside (Wisconsin shot an ice-cold 12 percent from three-point range), Happ utilized his quickness advantage over CJ Gettys to cause all kinds of damage around the rim. His defensive efforts also led to four steals (the sixth time the sophomore has had more than three steals in one game this season), as the center appears well on his way to a spot on the Big Ten All-Defensive team for the second year in a row.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: With apologies to Jack McVeigh and the 21 points he notched in leading Nebraska to an important win over Purdue, Iowa’s Brady Ellingson picked up the scoring load for the Hawkeyes in the absence of leading scorer Peter Jok. The injured senior has been a do-everything wing for a struggling team, so expectations were low heading into Saturday’s match-up with Ohio State. Instead, Ellingson scored 17 points on 5-for-7 shooting from three-point range, part of a big surge in Iowa’s bench production (44 points). In easily his most productive game in conference play, the sophomore also added four rebounds and three assists with zero turnovers. Ellingson could become a viable threat off the bench for the Hawkeyes the rest of the season.

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Big Ten Middle Tier Stock Watch

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 27th, 2017

Nine of the 14 Big Tens currently have conference records of either 4-4 or 3-5. It was expected to be a wide open year in the middle of the standings and we have gotten exactly that this season. With 10 regular season games remaining for each of these nine squads, let’s review which teams are trending toward a finish in the upper half of the league standings and a corresponding NCAA Tournament bid (Buy), which teams are still difficult to figure (Hold), and which teams are going to falter down the home stretch of the regular season (Sell).

Buy: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State

Michigan State has been inconsistent, but it would be foolish to bet against a Tom Izzo coached team making the NCAA Tournament. (Getty Images).

  • Michigan leads the list in the Buy category for a number of different reasons. Not only do the Wolverines already have three top-100 KenPom wins — two of which are looking better by the day (SMU and Marquette) — but they also have the best record (4-2) against the other middle-tier teams. John Beilien has coached in a National Championship game and two of his starters have played as far as the Elite Eight. Clear buy.
  • Michigan State is only 12-9 to this point in the season but it would be unwise the count this team out. How many times have we seen Michigan State struggle during the regular season only for Tom Izzo to have Sparty firing on all cylinders by mid-March?  Keep a close eye on the progression of Miles Bridges, who is starting to play like a legitimate superstar and can carry the Spartans through rough patches. Sell at your peril.
  • Ohio State started conference play 0-4 but the Buckeyes have won three of their last four to creep back into bubble consideration. Thad Matta does not have a long history of his teams tanking in Big Ten play, while Trevor Thompson has possibly become the best post player in the league not outside of Caleb Swanigan and Ethan Happ. Buy the Bucks.

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