Big Ten Week in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 18th, 2017

The standings in the Big Ten continue to be a jumbled mess, with 10 teams within two games of the top spot. All but Rutgers has won a conference game, and aside from Wisconsin, is there another Final Four contender among the bunch? Here’s the best and worst of the last week of Big Ten action.

Jaquan Lyle led Ohio State in both points and assists as the Buckeyes won their first conference game over Michigan State. (Jim Davidson)

  • Player of the Week: Ohio State’sJaquan Lyle had one of the most efficient outings of his career as the Buckeyes picked up their most significant win off the season over Michigan State. Lyle used his size to bully Sparty’s point guard tandem of Cassius Winston and Tum Tum Nairn, but his primary contributions to the victory were twofold: 5-of-7 shooting from three-point range and six assists along with only one turnover. Lyle, who was shooting a poor 28.2 percent on the season from deep just three games ago, has improved to 36.4 percent after making nine of his last 14 attempts. The sophomore has had a maddening tendency to make a couple head-scratching mistakes per game, but if he is finally becoming one of the best point guards in the league, Ohio State should be in good position to turn things around after a slow Big Ten start.

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Breaking into the Rotation: Surprise Big Ten Contributors

Posted by Jim Root on January 16th, 2017

My colleague Brendan Brody recently wrote about three of the biggest surprises and disappointments in the Big Ten this season, and I wanted to piggyback his idea by analyzing Big Ten rotations. As much as we think we know about a team’s lineup in the preseason, unsung players will inevitably force their way into playing time. While the four players below may not yet be household names in Big Ten circles, they’ve significantly exceeded expectations this year and their futures seem very bright.

DJ Wilson Has Caused a Stir With His Game and Fashion Sense (credit: MLive)

  • DJ Wilson, Sophomore, F, Michigan – The best and most exhaustive college basketball preseason preview comes from Blue Ribbon, and because of how deeply they dive into each team, it’s a great way to identify “out of nowhere” players. To that point, Michigan’s Wilson was the very last player discussed in the Wolverines’ section, barely registering a courtesy mention. Instead, he’s used a combination of long arms and short shorts to become one of John Beileins’s most important players this season – he leads the Wolverines in offensive rating (19th nationally); he’s easily their best rebounder; and he’s even hitting 44 percent from the land of plenty. He’s the captain of (and the inspiration for) this year’s team.
  • Cordell Pemsl, Freshman, F/C, Iowa – Continuing to use Blue Ribbon as a tool for this exercise, we come upon another disregarded forward in Iowa City. Like Wilson, Pemsl was also the 11th player mentioned in the Iowa preview, and although the Hawkeyes’ roster was more uncertain in the preseason, it’s still impressive how important the freshman has been thus far. After bouncing back from a twice-torn meniscus (and an intentionally broken leg) in high school, he’s now averaging over 10 points and nearly five rebounds per game while shooting an absurd 65 percent from two-point range. He’s also shown a nice penchant for getting to the free throw line and blocking shots early in his career. He, along with fellow freshman Tyler Cook, will make Iowa’s frontcourt a force to be reckoned with for the next three-plus years.

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Three Biggest Surprises & Disappointments in the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 3rd, 2017

Each and every season people like myself who cover college basketball make predictions as to how the season will go. Each and every season people like myself are wrong. What follows are three of the biggest surprises and disappointments in the Big Ten so far this season. Whether they will hold true over the next two months is anybody’s guess.

Three Surprises

  1. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: That the Purdue sophomore is having a massive impact this season isn’t the surprise — the surprise, rather, is in the level of dominance he has displayed 14 games into the season. Swanigan is averaging 18.5 PPG, 13.0 RPG and 2.9 APG in high-possession usage, while shooting 41 percent from the three-point line, 59 percent inside the arc and converting 77 percent of his free throws. He has already notched four 20/20 games in points and rebounds, including a few flirtations with a triple-double. Swanigan made the preseason All-Big Ten team with good reason after a freshman campaign where he led the conference in rebounds, but his play to this point makes him the early frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year.

    Caleb Swanigan has played like a potential All-American so far this season. . (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

    Caleb Swanigan has played like a potential All-American so far this season. . (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

  2. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights were 44-84 over the last four seasons and that’s why little was expected of them despite adding a new coach (Steve Pikiell) and some impact newcomers this year. An 11-2 non-conference record has ceded to an 0-2 start in the Big Ten (losses at Wisconsin and vs. Penn State), but Rutgers should be commended on the defensive end for protecting the rim (ranking among the nation’s best 25 teams in two-point field goal percentage defense and block percentage). Someone on this microsite mentioned that the Scarlet Knights’ goal this season should be to win 10 games and a 15-win season seems reasonable on this trajectory. In a position that requires a certain kind of coach, Pikiell appears to be the right person to eventually turn this program around. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Feast Week Winners and Losers

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 28th, 2016

After 10 days of games in eight different tournaments, the picture as to how things will play out in this season’s Big Ten has become clearer. It is still somewhat murky and disjointed, but Feast Week gave us some insights as to the ceilings and floors for each squad. Here’s a brief look at which teams helped their cause last week and those that came away looking like they still have considerable work to do.

Winners

  • Maryland: While not playing in the most prestigious of events, Maryland was able to pick up wins over Richmond and Kansas State in the Barclays Center Classic. Neither were huge resume boosters, but they should help come March rather than hurt. The Terps pounded the offensive backboards all weekend, snatching an average of 40 percent of their own misses in the two victories. The most significant aspect of Maryland’s performances was that Mark Turgeon’s freshmen trio of Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson all played heavy crunch time minutes in a pair of tight games. Their continued improvement will largely determine the arc of the Terrapins’ season.
Justin Jackson helped lead Maryland to two wins in Brooklyn last weekend. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports).

Justin Jackson helped lead Maryland to two wins in Brooklyn last weekend. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports).

  • Michigan: The shine from the Wolverines’ two wins at the beginning of Feast Week lost some of its luster when they lost at South Carolina last Wednesday. Concentrating solely on their play in the 2k Classic, however, Michigan looked like it could be a serious threat to finish in the top three of the Big Ten. DJ Wilson’s defensive versatility was on full display, as he successfully guarded almost every position on the floor. The Wolverines held both Marquette and SMU under 1.00 point per possession and under 39 percent shooting from the field. They also hit 22 three-pointers and paired stellar outside shooting with their typical runs that led to easy buckets. Overall, Feast Week was a net plus for John Beilein’s team.

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Big Ten Feast Week Primer: Part Three

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 24th, 2016

Eight of the 14 Big Ten teams have already started, finished or will play in early-season tournaments this week. The festivities began Monday afternoon with Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational, but continue for much of the week as turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce commingles with basketball in far-flung locales. Here’s the third of a three-part breakdown that discusses what each participating Big Ten team faces this week.

NIT Season Tip-Off

Malcolm Hill will need to display the form that made him a Preseason All Big-Ten player in New York City this weekend. (USA Today Sports)

Malcolm Hill will need to display the form that made him a Preseason All-Big Ten player in New York City this weekend. (USA Today Sports)

  • Teams: Illinois, West Virginia, Florida State, Temple
  • Capsule: Things were looking relatively good for Illinois as it got off to a 4-0 start… and then the Illini lost to Winthrop at home. In what might be a make-or-break season for John Groce, a couple of wins against quality teams in the Big Apple would definitely ease some stress. Illinois squares off today against the national leader in creating turnovers and steals when it plays West Virginia. Those same 22 turnovers against Winthrop will end this game quickly.
  • Key Player: Tracy Abrams will be the key here. The sixth -year senior not only needs to break the Mountaineers’ press, but unlike the offensively-challenged Jaylon Tate, he can also be a threat to score. Abrams needs to max out his experience and ability for Illinois to come away with two wins in New York this week.
  • Prediction: The West Virginia game will be an ugly loss, but expect the Illini to respond and beat Temple in the consolation game on Friday.

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Big Ten Conference Preview: Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 11th, 2016

The ballots have been revealed and the results have been tabulated. Unlike another round of voting that took place this week, there isn’t as much shock value in seeing these results. We at the Big Ten microsite have voted and determined how the league will shake out this season. The second of three segments lists our middle five teams (the bottom tier can be found here).

9. Iowa: The Hawkeyes arguably lost more than any other squad in the Big Ten, with four senior starters moving on from Iowa City. The good news, however, starts with guard Peter Jok staying put for his senior season. Jok will lead an inexperienced crew highlighted by freshman Tyler Cook, and jack-of-all-trades Dom Uhl. The point guard situation here is dicey, but if either Christian Williams or Jordan Bohannon can handle it, this team could still be in the mix for another NCAA Tournament bid. Jok needs to put up large numbers on the offensive end, though, and several secondary scorers need to emerge for this to happen.

Fran McCaffery and his Iowa Hawkeyes are predicted to finish in the middle of the Big Ten. (AP)

Fran McCaffery and his Iowa Hawkeyes are predicted to finish in the middle of the Big Ten. (AP).

Best-Case Scenario: NCAA Tournament Berth

8. Illinois: Things will be much better at Illinois this season if the Illini can simply keep their roster healthy for the first time in two years. The transfer of Kendrick Nunn will sting a bit, but six seniors make this the most experienced roster in the conference. Malcolm Hill is the team’s best player, but the key to the season will be the health of sixth- year seniors Tracy Abrams and Mike Thorne Jr. If that pair can stay on the floor, last season’s 135th ranked defense should be much better and that ugly 15-19 record should also improve.

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Can Iowa’s Dom Uhl Make a Leap?

Posted by Jerry Scherwin on November 11th, 2016

There is nothing certain but the uncertain in college basketball. Unless someone figures out a way to “Biff” themselves into the past fully equipped with a Sports Almanac and some KenPom rankings, we’re going to get some things wrong. We make suggestions. We make arguments. We make picks. But nothing is 100 percent when it comes to the NCAA. Teams come out of nowhere to capture our basketball hearts (here’s to you, Villanova) and outgoing seniors and bright-eyed freshmen alike make some of the biggest differences for contending programs. Things ultimately get weird. It’s in that weirdness where we get a player like Dom Uhl, the Iowa Hawkeyes’ now starting four/five/positionless-high-ceiling-athlete heading into the 2016-17 season.

Dom Uhl (USA TODAY Sports)

Dom Uhl is a key to Iowa’s possible return to the Big Dance. (USA TODAY Sports)

Uhl, a top reserve during the early part of last year’s schedule, slowly saw his role on last year’s 22-win team decrease as the season rolled along. Call it what you will, but Uhl got lost in the shuffle as Fran McCaffery turned to playing his senior starters more minutes during Big Ten play. As Uhl’s minutes dipped, so too did his confidence, consistency and any sort of urgency that came along with it. That’s not to say there weren’t flashes of the NBA-level athletic talent we’ve all heard about; because there were. It’s just that it came in-between large chunks of time when Uhl seemed like just another guy. When last year was all said and done, Uhl ended the season averaging six points per game on 41.6 percent shooting from the field (45% from three, on nearly two attempts per game) and 3.6 rebounds in 17.9 minutes. As a contributor who was learning how to play out of position for the majority of the year (Uhl was way more comfortable scrambling along the wing than subbing in for Adam Woodbury in the post), that stat line isn’t so bad. If you take into consideration that he had only played a few years of actual basketball before coming to Iowa, well, you can see why fans are hoping Uhl can make a considerable leap heading into his junior season.

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Can Peter Jok Lead Iowa Back to the NCAAs?

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 24th, 2016

Last season Iowa boasted the Big Ten’s highest scoring duo with two players who finished among the top eight in points per game. One of those players is returning to Iowa City; the other (along with three other starters) has exhausted his eligibility. Wing Peter Jok has played in the NCAA Tournament in each of the three years of his career, but now in his senior season, his elevated play may be the only way for the Hawkeyes to reach the Field of 68 for the fourth consecutive time. Much of this determination will also hinge upon the improvements of holdovers who will be thrust into bigger roles, but Jok’s ability to carry Iowa’s scoring load will go a long way toward determining the fate of Fran McCaffery’s seventh season in Iowa City.

Peter Jok faces a big load as the only returning starter for Iowa in 2016-17. (Alyssa Hitchcock, The Daily Iowan)

Peter Jok faces a big load as the only returning starter for Iowa in 2016-17. (Alyssa Hitchcock/The Daily Iowan)

Jok enjoyed quite the breakout season last year as he more than doubled his scoring average (7.0 to 16.1 PPG), scored 20 or more points 11 times, and did so with the sixth best offensive rating in the Big Ten among those using over 24 percent of his team’s possessions. His effective field goal percentage (53.1%) and his true shooting percentage (57.3%) were also career-highs by a wide margin. The caveat with this, however, is that a certain lanky forward wearing jersey number 20 (Jarrod Uthoff) was the clear first option, meaning that Jok was able to get much better looks than he’s likely to get this season. He’ll be the Hawkeyes’ first option this year, and the lack of an experienced point guard like Mike Gesell or Anthony Clemmons to run the offense may also hinder his efficiency numbers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part III

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on April 8th, 2016

We continue to address key questions for each Big Ten team as they head into the offseason. Today we will tackle Michigan, Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Parts I and II can be found here and here.

Michigan (23-13, 10-8 Big Ten)

John Beilein will need a dominant presence in the paint to compete for the Big Ten title. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

John Beilein will need a dominant presence in the paint to compete for the Big Ten title. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

Will the Wolverines have any presence at all in the paint?

With the unexpected departure of Ricky Doyle, John Beilein suddenly has a dearth of big men on his roster. The Wolverines ranked 12th in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding percentage and badly need a big man who can consistently hold his own on the defensive glass. Michigan returns a lineup of athletic wings with excellent range on their jumpers, but it won’t rise to the top of the Big Ten standings without better rebounding — particularly on the defensive end of the floor.

Iowa (22-11, 12-6 Big Ten)

Can the Hawkeyes fill the huge void left by their four well-traveled seniors?

Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons and Adam Woodbury were the foundation of a Hawkeyes’ squad that spent over a third of this season ranked among the top 10. Peter Jok will be the team’s primary offensive weapon next season, but the rest of the roster will be very inexperienced. Dom Uhl showed good range in shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc; he is in line for a big increase in minutes and production.

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Way-Too-Early Power Rankings in the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 6th, 2016

The “Way-Too-Early” part of doing power rankings predicting the next Big Ten season is even more difficult this year. That’s because those players who declare for the NBA Draft but do not sign with an agent can decide to return to school as late as the last week in May. So even though it’s likely that things will change between now and early summer, here’s our early rundown of how things look heading into next season.

Michigan State and Bryn Forbes Should Expect to be at the Top of the Big Ten Again Next Season (USA Today Images)

Michigan State Will Say Goodbye to Several But Should Expect to be at the Top of the Big Ten Again Next Season (USA Today Images)

  1. Michigan State: Even if Deyonta Davis decides to leave after his freshman season, Michigan State has another loaded class coming to East Lansing. Miles Bridges and Josh Langford should be special from the start, and even though the losses of Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello will sting, the returns of Eron Harris, Gavin Schilling and Alvin Ellis should lessen the blow considerably.
  2. Wisconsin: After an underwhelming junior season, it just doesn’t seem likely that Nigel Hayes will leave Madison early. Even if he does depart, though, four other starters will be back as the program gets a full offseason with Greg Gard leading the way. Expect the Badgers to once again be in the mix for the Big Ten crown.
  3. Indiana: We know that Yogi Ferrell is finished (graduation) but we don’t know for sure about Troy Williams, Thomas Bryant or OG Anunoby. Chances are the Hoosiers won’t slip much if at least two of those three come back along with expected returnees James Blackmon, Jr. and Robert Johnson.
  4. Michigan: There’s a lot to like here with potentially all five starters returning to Ann Arbor next season. The keys seems to be whether Zak Irvin can be consistent for a full season and whether Marc Donnal can make additional strides. If they can, the Wolverines should be a Top 25 team. Read the rest of this entry »
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