The Drive for Five: What Lies Ahead for the Big Ten Bubble Dwellers

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 2nd, 2018

The Big Ten has put at least five teams in the NCAA Tournament in every season since 2008, four years before the league expanded to 12 schools and seven years before it expanded to 14. In fact, you’d have to go back to the pre-Rutgers era (2013-14) to reach the last time the conference sent fewer than seven teams to the Big Dance. That will almost certainly change this season. According to Bracket Matrix, only three of 68 recently-updated bracket projections have more than four Big Ten schools in the NCAA Tournament. The fact is, outside of Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan, the league’s bubble hopefuls still have considerable work to do before earning serious consideration. With February now upon us, let’s examine which teams still have a shot and what they’ll need to do in order to punch a ticket.

It’s been all smiles for Nebraska lately. But will the Huskers go dancing? (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Nebraska (17-8, 8-4) RPI: 57 | KenPom: 56. Nebraska turned a nine-point second-half deficit at Wisconsin on Monday into a runaway 11-point win, the type of season-saving — perhaps season-defining — win its fans won’t soon forget. The Huskers have no RPI sub-150 losses to their name, but also don’t have much to speak of in the “good win” category. Outside of its home win over Michigan, Nebraska is winless against the RPI top 50. With four of their final six games at home — including contests against fellow NCAA Tournament hopefuls Maryland and Penn State — the Huskers will probably need to hold court and avoid a road loss at Illinois on February 18. Even then, at least one quality Big Ten Tournament win (think Michigan or Ohio State) might be necessary for Tim Miles’ group to feel good heading into Selection Sunday. Considering how well James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland have played in recent weeks, that’s certainly within the realm of possibility.

  • RPI Top 50 Wins: vs. Michigan
  • RPI Sub 150 Losses: None
  • Opportunities Left: vs. Maryland (February 13); vs. Penn State (February 25)

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In Search of a Big Ten Darkhorse? Look No Further Than Nebraska…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 8th, 2018

Nebraska’s 15-point trouncing of Northwestern last week was a statement win for the Huskers, and not just because it marked their first road victory of the season. It was the confidence Tim Miles’ group played with — dominating the final eight minutes of the contest — that opened eyes in both Allstate Arena and beyond. Defensively, Nebraska held the Wildcats to 0.89 points per possession on just 29.2 percent shooting; offensively, the team’s go-to playmakers came through when it counted. “I think it… solidifies our vision of what we can be. Like, ‘You know what? This is possible,’” Miles said afterward. With a roster that’s deep, experienced and chock full of high-performing transfers, what Nebraska ‘can be’ is a surprise competitor in the Big Ten this season.

Nebraska was one of just three Big Ten teams to win a game in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. (James Wooldridge, Daily Nebraskan)

  • Playmakers. The most striking difference between this year’s Nebraska team and those of recent past is the number of athletic playmakers on its roster. The infusion of several key transfers — namely Isaac Copeland (Georgetown) and James Palmer, Jr. (Miami (FL)) — has given the Huskers multiple players capable of finishing at the rim. Palmer, who leads the team with 15.6 points per game, has emerged as the team’s most dynamic offensive weapon, adept at using his length to both attack the basket (53.4% FTRate) and shoot over smaller defenders (35% 3FG). The now-healthy Copeland (12.4 PPG, 6.5 RPG) — who averaged double-figures in the Big East as a sophomore — is showing flashes of what made him a five-star recruit coming out of high school. Meanwhile, point guard Glynn Watson, Jr. (12.1 PPG) remains one of the quickest players in the league, his ability to penetrate at will enabling the Huskers to pull away from Northwestern last week. Miles, discussing the importance of guys like Palmer, Copeland and Watson, put it simply: “We’ve got more guys that can make plays.”

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Big Ten Preview Part I: Key Questions for Rutgers and Nebraska

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 27th, 2017

With the season just a few weeks away, Rush the Court’s Big Ten preview will tip off its coverage by posting a season-defining key question for each team. This week, we start at the bottom.

#14 Rutgers – Will the Scarlet Knights score enough to climb out of the cellar?

Can Steve Pikiell lift Rutgers out of last place? (Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports)

In Steve Pikiell’s first year, Rutgers doubled its overall win total, won its first-ever Big Ten Tournament game, and climbed nearly 150 spots in the KenPom ratingsOf course, the Scarlet Knights still finished dead-last in the league for the third year in a row, stymied by three-point, two-point, and free throw shooting percentages that ranked among the worst 25 teams nationally. The good news for Pikiell is that significant incoming talent — headlined by four-star power forward Mamadou Doucoure and three-star combo guard Geo Baker — should help diversify Rutgers’ scoring potential. Doucoure, who joins the 2017 class after reclassifying in August, adds needed size to the Scarlet Knights’ frontcourt and should take defensive pressure off senior Deshawn Freeman, who’s proven to be a capable scorer in addition to his rebounding prowess (7.8 RPG). Baker — by all accounts an adept passer and playmaker — adds sorely-needed perimeter shooting and offensive versatility. He should help fill the shoes of Nigel Johnson, a departing graduate transfer who was the team’s best three-point shooter a season ago (36% 3FG). Equally important will be the addition of JuCo transfer Souf Mensah, whose presence at point guard should help leading scorer Corey Sanders (12.8 PPG) play off the ball more regularly and, presumably, score at a more efficient clip. Like Pikiell’s best teams at Stony Brook, Rutgers’ improvement was defined by hard-nosed defense and rebounding last season. Coupling that identity with a more capable offensive attack would make the Scarlet Knights far more competitive in 2017-18.

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Four Big Ten Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 27th, 2017

Now that the 2016-17 college basketball season has been put to bed, it’s time for hoopheads to peer into the future and prepare for the 2017-18 season. There is a fair amount of intrigue attached to how the Big Ten will look next season, so here’s a quick look at the biggest stories to consider within the league over the next several months.

The draft decision of Miles Bridges set the bar for the 2017-18 Big Ten championship. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • The Return of Miles Bridges: Michigan State’s uber-talented forward decided to stay in school for his sophomore season, making the Spartans the clear favorite to win the Big Ten and enter next season ranked among the nation’s top five. Plenty of solid pieces were already slated to return to East Lansing next season — sophomores Nick Ward, Cassius Winston, and Joshua Langford — but having the future lottery pick back means Tom Izzo is smiling this offseason.

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Point Guard Play Already an Issue at Georgetown

Posted by Mike Knapp on November 16th, 2016

Coming into this season, the biggest question surrounding Georgetown was whether it would finally let go of the Princeton offense. While head coach John Thompson III has experienced considerable success — including a 2007 trip to the Final Four — running the patient, half-court oriented system, last season’s 15-18 overall record (7-11 Big East) seemed to have been something of a breaking point. In the Hoyas’ first game this season against South Carolina Upstate, Georgetown pushed the ball in transition, fill the lanes on the fast break, and pressed after made baskets. It was refreshing to a see a Thompson team play with so much freedom, especially given the athleticism he currently has on his roster.

Georgetown Pushed the Ball in (USA Today Images)

Georgetown Pushed the Ball Against Maryland When the Referees Let Them Play (USA Today Images)

Tuesday night’s one-point loss to Maryland was a different story. The Hoyas tried to establish the frenetic pace they had showcased in their season opener, but an astonishing 56 foul calls between the two teams prevented either from finding much of an offensive rhythm. Despite the stagnant nature of the game’s flow, the loss also revealed a major flaw for the Hoyas’ plan to push the ball this season. It takes a competent point guard to keep up the pace, and Thompson’s early season choice to start freshman Jagan Mosley at the position (59 percent of the point guard minutes) is already causing problems. Despite having great size at 6’3″ and possessing many point guard intangibles, Mosley never played consistent minutes there in high school. Junior Tre Campbell has also seen minutes at the position (20%) so far this season, but he has been plagued by the same indecisiveness that hurt him last year — including a late turnover against Maryland. Junior college transfer Jonathan Mulmore has seen a few minutes in the spot as well, but he did not yet look ready for the big stage on Tuesday night — also committing a critical turnover down the stretch.

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Big East Key Offseason Questions: Part I

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 12th, 2016

The NCAA Tournament is now behind us and the days of transfers, NBA Draft declarations and coaching moves are upon us. April signals yet another ending, as we tear down everything we knew and build anew. The offseason has a way of inspiring hope that a new season will bring about improvement, that maybe this time things will be different. Consider where the Big East’s very own Villanova was just one year ago this spring. That unknown is why the offseason is such an intriguing time. Below is a list of key questions that each Big East team will attempt to solve over the coming six months.

ButlerWho will replace the scoring void left behind by Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones?

Kellen Dunham, Butler's third all-time leading scorer, won't be easily replaced. (Photo: Getty)

Kellen Dunham, Butler’s third all-time leading scorer, won’t easily be replaced. (Photo: Getty)

Butler has appeared in several “way too early” Top 25 rankings with little explanation as to why. The team will lose four of its seven rotation players, with Dunham and Jones having accounted for 38 percent of its scoring output this season. Rising junior hybrid forward Kelan Martin (15.7 PPG) will assume the duty of primary scorer, having already demonstrated an ability to do so numerous times. The question marks come next. Forward Andrew Chrabascz seemingly regressed as the season proceeded, although his potential as a stretch forward within Butler’s offense is intriguing. The remaining offensive responsibility will fall on George Washington transfer Kethan Savage and senior Tyler Lewis, with the hope that incoming freshman Joey Brunk can also contribute.

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Behind a Cloudy Georgetown Start Emerges a Shining Sophomore

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 23rd, 2015

As with any Georgetown game over the past two seasons, all eyes were focused on the All-Big East First Team nominee. Opponents watched his every move as he came off ball screens, flared behind the three-point line or looked to score with the ball in his hands. After all, the 6’3″ combo guard has been held below 10 points just three times in his last 34 games. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that such a highly regarded, attention-grabbing player has played in such an under-the-radar fashion so far this year. Four games into his senior season, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera is averaging only 13.6 PPG and shooting just 41.3 percent from the field, his lowest marks since his freshman year. He played better against Duke on Sunday — tallying 14 points and six assists — but Smith-Rivera has certainly left much to be desired as the team’s go-to scorer. His coach, John Thompson III, however, remained unfazed: “I’m not worried about D’Vauntes, he’ll be just fine.”

Isaac Copeland is getting it done on both ends of the court. (AP)

Isaac Copeland is getting it done on both ends of the court. (AP)

After playing what might be the toughest schedule in the country through four games, Georgetown stands at a less than desirable 1-3 mark. What that record doesn’t reveal is that, while Smith-Rivera has struggled, we are simultaneously witnessing the development of the next Hoyas’ star. A jump in productivity as a sophomore is a common phenomenon, especially in Georgetown’s system centered around perimeter passing and backdoor cuts. So when Isaac Copeland scored 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting and grabbed a team-high six rebounds against Duke, it was hard not to notice. The 6’9″ forward had shown flashes of ability last season but mostly played a complementary role behind leading offensive threats Smith-Rivera and Joshua Smith. In the offseason, Copeland saw the opportunity and he pounced. “I think the main thing is he worked extremely hard,” said Thompson III. “Freshman year he spent some time trying to figure things out, now he understands and has settled in not thinking and now playing.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Season Preview: The Contenders (#1-#3)

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 11th, 2015

Over the last two days, we covered the group of Big East teams that are likely to be on the outside looking in (#7-#10) followed by the group of dark horses that could go either way (#6-#4). Today’s group falls under the “almost certain to win” category — in other words, the contenders. While it’s true that there are some strong teams within the middle-tier category as well, a clear, distinctive line exists between the groupings. All three of the league contenders should be in the Top 25 on a weekly basis, and each one has a strong case for winning the conference.

3. Butler

Andrew Chrabascz will be looking to improve upon a breakout sophomore campaign. (Butler Athletics)

Andrew Chrabascz will be looking to improve upon a breakout sophomore campaign. (Butler Athletics)

The Bulldogs fall into a strikingly familiar predicament as Xavier, only the impact of their losses is less significant. Gone are starters Alex Barlow and Kameron Woods, both of whom provided a strong defensive presence but neither a game-changing impact. In come two transfers and a 6’10” freshman, Nate Fowler. What does this mean for Butler? Perhaps predictably, more of the same old “grind-it-out” basketball that the program is known for. Leading scorers Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones are back for their senior seasons and center Andrew Chrabascz will be looking to improve upon a breakout sophomore campaign. Moreover, Tyler Lewis, NC State’s former starting point guard, is eligible and should elevate Butler on the offensive end of the floor. Given the team’s experience and offensive versatility at every position, it seems that just about all of the pieces are in place for a successful season. The Bulldogs enter the season nationally ranked (#24) and with two preseason conference first teamers (Dunham and Jones), but it seems as if they’re still being overlooked. Head coach Chris Holtmann will undoubtedly use this to his advantage, but there should be no doubt that shotmaker extraordinaire Dunham and his helter-skelter counterpart Jones will keep Butler in contention all season long. Read the rest of this entry »

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After a Long Climb, Georgetown Once Again Atop the Big East

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 22nd, 2015

Monday night was it, “it” being the capstone moment of Georgetown’s slow rise to the Big East mountain top that began when the Florida Gulf Coast debacle happened and was followed by Otto Porter’s subsequent departure to the NBA. What made that night so special? The Hoyas hosted #4 Villanova – an original Big East member, longtime conference rival, and the unquestioned dominant team in the league – with first place in the conference standings at stake. Just two days before, Georgetown had fended off pesky Butler from giving the Hoyas their second home loss of the season (the first was to Kansas), avenging an earlier loss to the Bulldogs in the Battle 4 Atlantis. In Monday night’s dominant 20-point win over the Wildcats, Georgetown notched the program’s best victory in over three years and showed once and for all that Hoyas basketball is indeed back.

Students celebrate after Georgetown routed Villanova for first place in the Big East.

Students celebrate after Georgetown routed Villanova for first place in the Big East (USATSI).

After a successful 2012-13 regular season when Georgetown won a share of the Big East regular season title, head coach John Thompson III had to regroup with Porter leaving to become a lottery pick and it becoming clear that Greg Whittington would not remain a part of the program. To kickstart the rebuilding process, Thompson convinced Joshua Smith to transfer from UCLA and also inked a top-15 recruiting class full of talented players who are likely to stay within the program for several years. What’s been the result two years hence is that four of the five players among that group of freshmen play significant minutes for a team that is now evenly dependent on veterans and young players. Thompson has done a laudable job in meshing the roles between the two and has his team improving with each passing game.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. VIII

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 20th, 2015

The Big East Weekend Wrap covers news and notes from the previous weekend’s games.

Big East parity continues, as Villanova’s attempts to separate itself from the field have failed while teams like Providence, Georgetown, Butler and Seton Hall are all pushing the Wildcats. With eight of 10 league teams now carrying two or three conference losses, the next six weeks of action should be a bloodbath for those positions in the standings. Below are three key takeaways from the weekend’s (including Monday!) Big East action.

It Was That Kind of Night at Georgetown Monday (USA Today Images)

It Was an RTC Kind of Monday Night at Georgetown (USA Today Images)

  1. Marquette and Creighton remain shockingly competitive in “rebuilding seasons.” Marquette struggled defensively in the early part of the season, but the Golden Eagles seem to have figured things out since transfer Luke Fischer entered the lineup in mid-December. Steve Wojciechowski as a result has his team playing lockdown defense, mixing zone with man-to-man looks in a fashion that has confused Big East opponents. The offense, overly reliant on Matt Carlino, has still sputtered at times, but Duane Wilson and Fischer have made good progress and will serve as core contributors next season. While Marquette currently stands at 2-3 in the conference standings, their average margin of defeat in those three games has been just 4.3 points per game. At Creighton, even though the Bluejays sit at the bottom of the standings with an 0-6 record, they continue to sell out the CenturyLink center and have been competitive in every one of its league home games. They also suffered a one-point loss at Xavier, lost by two to Seton Hall and recently pushed Providence to the very end before falling. While Greg McDermott will lose a number of key seniors again after this season, the play of his youngsters such as Isaiah Zierden, Zach Hansen, James Milliken and Toby Hegner has been promising. Creighton fans are hoping that redshirt freshman sniper Ronnie Harrell, along with incoming center Justin Patton, will turn things around next season. Read the rest of this entry »
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