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 Preview Part VI: Key Questions For Northwestern & Purdue

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 8th, 2017

With the season just a few days 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 Wisconsin and Michigan.

#4 Northwestern – Can the Wildcats’ offense take another step forward?

Chris Collins hopes to improve on last season’s historic campaign. (Getty Images)

Here’s what we know about Northwestern heading into 2017-18: it’s experienced, well-coached and should be darn stingy on defense. What we don’t know is whether the Wildcats, fresh off their first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history, can improve enough offensively to become the top-tier Big Ten contender everyone expects them to be. But there is reason to expect an upswing in production. Already one of the least turnover-prone units in the country (16% TO rate), Northwestern welcomes back the Big Ten’s most experienced — and productive — starting backcourt in Bryant McIntosh (14.8 PPG, 5.2 APG) and Scottie Lindsey (14.1 PPG), a pair of preseason all-conference honorees. While neither is a great outside shooter, both players are very effective from inside the arc and at the free throw line (87% FT and 84% FT, respectively). What’s more, 6’8″ forward Aaron Falzon returns this season after missing most of 2016-17 to knee surgery. His three-point shooting ability (35.5% 3FG) alongside Vic Law (12.3 PPG) — the team’s best returning perimeter shooter, defender and overall athlete — should give head coach Chris Collins plenty of depth and versatility at the wing position. Throw in one of the league’s top offensive rebounders in Dererk Pardon (12.1% OReb rate) and you’re suddenly looking at a roster that can stretch the floor, limits miscues, maximizes its opportunities to score, and makes the most of its trips to the free throw line. In other words, you’re looking at all the makings of an efficient offense. After scoring less than a point per possession in eight of their 12 losses a year ago, the Wildcats need to realize that potential this year if they’re to truly compete for a league title.

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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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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2017

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks.

New Favorite: #1 Kansas (30-4). Despite receiving a 30-minute test from #9 Michigan State on Sunday, Kansas remains the favorite to win the Midwest Region. The Jayhawks smashed #16 UC Davis 100-62 before dominating the last 10 minutes against the Spartans in the Round of 32 — a hard-fought victory that should prepare them well for an even stronger Big Ten opponent, #4 Purdue, on Thursday. If you buy into advanced metrics, this appears to be a fairly even matchup: Kansas ranks seventh in KenPom, while the Boilermakers rank 13th. Unfortunately for Matt Painter’s group, the game will be played in Kansas City, where a sea of Jayhawk faithful is sure to outnumber Purdue fans several fold. Assuming Kansas prevails, it will be a similar story against #3 Oregon or #7 Michigan. Beating Kansas is one thing, but beating Kansas in a semi-road game is something entirely different.

Kansas Rolls Into KC as the Clear Midwest Region Favorite (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #7 Michigan (26-11). The Wolverines have not lost since that epic defeat at Northwestern on March 1, a nearly three-week stretch which has included a near-plane crash, a Big Ten Tournament championship, and a pair of gutsy NCAA Tournament victories over Oklahoma State and Louisville. Michigan now boasts the third-most efficient offense in college basketball, thanks in large part to blistering performances like the one Moritz Wagner (26 points on 11-of-14 FT) put on against the Cardinals on Sunday. If John Beilein’s group can get past shorthanded Oregon on Thursday, there’s no reason to think it can’t win this region. Heck, the Wolverines have already beaten Purdue twice since February 25, and the last time they played Kansas in the Big Dance, this happened. Look out.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #11 Rhode Island (25-10). Rhode Island entered the NCAA Tournament on an eight-game winning streak, so its victory over #6 Creighton in the Round of 64 was not that surprising. The fashion in which it whipped the Bluejays, though — winning by 14 points and trailing for exactly zero seconds in game time — was quite unexpected. So too was the Rams’ effort against #3 Oregon on Sunday night, a game in which they led by double-figures in the second half before falling victim to a cold-blooded Tyler Dorsey three-pointer in the closing seconds. For a program that had not gone dancing since 1999, Rhode Island was certainly ready for prime time.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Purdue 80, #5 Iowa State 76

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 19th, 2017

Purdue advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2012 by beating Iowa State in one of the best games of the NCAA Tournament so far.

Biggie Swanigan Dominated the Inside For Purdue (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways. 

  1. Purdue was large and in charge, and this carried the day. It was fairly well-known by anybody who watches the sport that Purdue was going to have an advantage in the post this evening, and it did so by scoring 40 points against the undersized Cyclones in the paint. Caleb Swanigan, Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas were the team’s top three players in scoring, combining for 55 of the team’s 80 points on 56.1 percent shooting for the game.
  2. Tournament Vincent is the best Vincent. Edwards has yet to have a poor effort in thefour NCAA Tournament appearances over his career — the junior forward now boasts averages of 20.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, and 3.8 APG on 54.2 percent shooting from the floor. He led the Boilermakers in scoring again tonight, doing most of his damage at the rim. Were it not for Swanigan’s heroics at the end of the game, Edwards would have easily been deserving as the best player on the floor.
  3. This was a brutal way for the career of Iowa State’s seniors to end. Even as a neutral party on press row, watching the careers of four seniors end with such a tough loss was difficult to watch. The foursome of Monte’ Morris, Matt Thomas, Nazareth Mitrou-Long and Deonte Burton will go down as one of the best senior classes in Iowa State history, and they deserve to be commended for the way they fought back to put the heat on Purdue in the second half.

Star of the Game. Edwards was extremely good in this game, but it’s hard not to give Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan the nod here. It wasn’t his best or most efficient offensive game, but he still scored 20 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and offered a team-leading seven assists. He’s been a solid passer all season long for the Boilermakers, but he really did a nice job feeding Edwards and Haas from either the high post or down on the blocks.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Purdue 80, #13 Vermont 70

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 16th, 2017

Purdue did not play its best game of the season this evening, but the Boilermakers did enough things right to hold off a pesky Vermont team that was still within five points in the last five minutes. Turnovers and shaky defense are still a concern for Matt Painter’s team going forward, though.

BIggie Swanigan Notched His 27th Double-Double of the Season (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1.  Purdue still has a dangerous offense. The final numbers made things look much nicer for Purdue’s offense than it actually played tonight — at times, the Boilermakers really struggled to get anything going. All in all, though, Purdue finished the game scoring well over 1.10 points per possession, solid shooting percentage numbers, and only two turnovers after halftime. The first half was somewhat uglier, so there’s plenty for Matt Painter to focus on cleaning up with his team before Saturday.
  2. Purdue still has issues to fix. This isn’t the time of year for Painter to deal with things like inadequately closing out on three-point shooters or improperly feeding the post. It is possible that the Boilermakers slightly overlooked the Catamounts, but that too is problematic because this team simply isn’t good enough to hit an on and off switch like that.
  3. Vermont could have grabbed the upset but lost the game in the paint. If a couple of three-pointers hadn’t rolled in-and-out, this game was there for the Catamounts’ taking, having received tremendous performances from Anthony Lamb and Trae Bell-Haynes. Tonight wasn’t a very good defensive performance from Purdue, but a +11 rebounding edge and a +14 advantage in the paint ensured the victory.

Star of the Game. Purdue’s Vincent Edwards experienced a similar scoring stretch similar to Reggie Upshaw for Middle Tennessee earlier today. Edwards scored the first eight Purdue points in the second half, while adding five rebounds, three assists, a steal and two blocks. The junior didn’t need to carry the whole offense tonight, but his early second half scoring punch perhaps prevented a fatal lull.

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Michigan Has the Look of a March Sleeper

Posted by Chris Stone on March 11th, 2017

After dispatching Illinois in their opening round game of the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan upset top-seeded Purdue on Friday behind 26 points from DJ Wilson and 54.3 percent shooting inside the arc. Now, just two days after an incredibly harrowing incident in which the Wolverines’ plane aborted takeoff, skidded off the runway and nearly ended up in a ravine, the team has the look of a potential NCAA Tournament sleeper. “We’ve been selling the fun of a run,” head coach John Beilein said after Friday’s victory. “You throw in what happened on Wednesday, now they’ve got a lot of memories. We don’t want it to stop.”

Derrick Walton Jr. and Michigan are built to win in March. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Michigan figures to make the NCAA Tournament field come Selection Sunday, likely ending up with a middling seed after amassing a 10-8 record during Big Ten regular season play. Recent history suggests that might not be such a bad thing. Under-seeded major conference teams who are well-respected by efficiency metrics like KenPom have been known to deliver. Last season, Syracuse became the first No. 10 seed to make a Final Four. In 2015, Michigan State made the final weekend as a No. 7 seed, and in 2014, No. 11 Tennessee found its way into the Sweet Sixteen after winning a play-in game. After Friday’s win, the Wolverines rank 24th in KenPom, a placement that would put them in line for a No. 6 seed if the Selection Committee seeded strictly on that ranking. Michigan may end up a couple lines lower than that.

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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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Should Purdue Think About Going Small?

Posted by Jim Root on December 28th, 2016

Entering the season, West Lafayette, Indiana, had a fairly legitimate claim to possession of the best collegiate frontcourt in college basketball (apologies to Wisconsin and a couple of other teams). Between incredibly versatile swingman Vince Edwards, half-man/half-Terminator center Isaac Haas, and former five-star power forward and Big Ten POY candidate Caleb Swanigan, the Boilermakers had the bodies to own the paint in most any match-up.

purdue-bigs

Vince Edwards, Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan provide a potent trio up front for the Boilermakers .(Associated Press)

Despite all of that front line talent, though, head coach Matt Painter has faced an interesting decision in how to deploy his best three players. Playing them at the 3-4-5 spots gives the Boilermakers a massive size advantage, but there are drawbacks with that lineup too. Haas, for example, can be a liability on both ends of the floor when pulled outside of the paint, and his presence on the offensive end — despite being a major weapon in drawing fouls and double-teams — can clog up the lane for the more dynamic Swanigan. To his credit, Swanigan has developed his outside shot to the point of greater respectability (52 percent from three-point range this season, compared with 29 percent last year), which resolves some of the prior spacing issues. But Painter’s tradeoff of playing Swanigan with Haas usually takes him out of the interior, where his combination of strength and quickness make him a match-up nightmare for most defenders.

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Dakota Mathias is Purdue’s Unsung Hero

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 8th, 2016

Purdue is off to a strong 7-2 start with the losses coming in close contests to top 15 teams Villanova and Louisville. From what we’ve seen so far, the Boilermakers have established that they’re on a short list of teams that look like they can win the Big Ten and make a run into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan are the stars who deserve first billing, but it’s also time to note the significant improvement that junior guard Dakota Mathias has made in becoming one of the league’s best shooters as well as the steady hand guiding Purdue’s offense.

Dakota Mathias has been one of the best deep shooters in the B1G this season. (John Terhune, Journal &Courier).

Dakota Mathias has been one of the best deep shooters in the B1G this season. (John Terhune, Journal & Courier)

Mathias has always been a strong long-range shooter, as his 38.6 percent mark from three-point range last season shows. But he’s taken it to another level so far this year, connecting on 24-of-43 threes (55.8%) and sporting one of the nation’s best Offensive Ratings (133.4). More than just a bomber, he has also led the team in assists four times and averages around four rebounds and a steal per outing. And even though he has also increased his turnovers (up nearly six percent over last season), Purdue owns the 14th most efficient offense in the land because it shoots the ball so well all over the court. Mathias leads a corps of shooters such as Ryan Cline, PJ Thompson and Vincent Edwards, all of whom are shooting better than 39 percent from deep. Purdue’s ability to shoot the ball from three-point range so well (44.8%, third nationally) gives the big men Swanigan and Haas numerous easy looks in the post.

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