Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part IV

Posted by Patrick Engel on April 11th, 2016

In three parts over the last week, we’ve examined a key offseason question for 10 of the 14 Big Ten teams. Part I reviewed Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois; Part II featured Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern; Part III examined Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa. The fourth and final part today examines the Big Ten’s top four teams from this season: Purdue, Maryland, Michigan State and Indiana. (Note: Scout.com used for all player and class ranks).

Purdue (26-9, 12-6 Big Ten)

Dakota Mathias (31) needs to be a productive three-point shooter again for Purdue. (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

Dakota Mathias (#31) needs to be a productive three-point shooter again for Purdue. (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

Can Purdue find consistent offensive production from its guards?

The Boilermakers this season possessed one of the most productive frontcourts but one of the least productive backcourts in college basketball. P.J. Thompson boasted a 4.8-to-1 assist-turnover ratio, but the group of Dakota Mathias, Ryan Cline and Kendall Stephens (if he returns) and himself are mainly three-point shooters, none of whom attempted more than 16 percent of his shots at the rim. This group of guards shouldn’t experience much turnover outside of senior Raphael Davis and possibly Stephens, if he transfers, meaning that freshman point guard Carsen Edwards should have every chance to become the starter from day one next year. He’s not very big (5’11”, 175 pounds), but he’s aggressive, mature and a good passer. If he can play well enough to earn major minutes, he’ll mitigate one of Purdue’s clear weaknesses. Matt Painter’s frontcourt should again be a strength, assuming Vince Edwards and Caleb Swanigan return to complement Isaac Haas, whose touches should increase substantially. This team’s Big Ten ceiling, though, might depend on the readiness of its lone freshman.

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It’s Time to Believe in Indiana

Posted by Patrick Engel on January 25th, 2016

Seven short weeks ago, Indiana was 5-3 with losses to Wake Forest, UNLV and Duke. The Blue Devils had just pounded Indiana 94-74 in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, scored an absurd 1.52 points per possession while shooting 52 percent from the field, grabbing 19 offensive rebounds and committing just six turnovers. Angry Tom Crean pictures and photoshopped crying Michael Jordan pictures making fun of Indiana quickly became memes.

OG Anunoby has become an Indiana fan favorite because of his defense and dunks. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images).

OG Anunoby has become an Indiana fan favorite because of his defense and dunks. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images).

Since that loss, Indiana has rattled off 12 straight wins and is one of two unbeaten teams in Big Ten play. The most recent victory was a 32-point romp of Northwestern on Saturday to give Indiana its seventh conference win. The Hoosiers are back in the AP Top 25 and atop the Big Ten. It’s time to believe they might be that good.

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Big Ten M5: 01.22.15 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on January 22nd, 2016

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  1. Former Boilermaker Robbie Hummel is out for the rest of the season after a mid-December labrum tear while playing overseas in Italy. Upon hearing of his injury, Purdue head coach Matt Painter quickly offered his former star player the chance to rehab at his alma mater and help the current Boilermakers squad as an adviser and mentor. He accepted the offer and will travel with the team and hang around the players as much as possible, while also living with Painter and rehabbing. Hummel considers it an internship of sorts to give him a taste of coaching as a post-playing career possibility.
  2. Michigan is holding its own without injured guard Caris LeVert, but John Beilein said Wednesday the senior is making “encouraging” progress with his lower left leg injury and is “doing more and more” on and off the court. The on-court work is still only light ball-handling and shooting, but he just recently has been able to walk without pain. Beilein said he still is not sure of a return date. In LeVert’s absence, Zak Irvin has found his shooting touch after a bad start: he has made 15 of his last 32 three-point attempts (47 percent).
  3. Rutgers hit a new low Monday, losing to Purdue at home by 50 and furthering the team’s perception as a colossal mess with no improvement in sight. But the school is launching a $100 million athletic facilities project called “R B1G Build,” a move designed to help improve the messy state of Rutgers athletics. The school released a video Wednesday that said athletic director Patrick Hobbs, head basketball coach Eddie Jordan and head football coach Chris Ash will each pledge $50,000 toward the effort. The video came a day after New Jersey governor Chris Christie signed a bill that will allow Rutgers to use $25 million in tax credits toward the project.
  4. Nebraska’s surprising 72-71 road win over Michigan State on Wednesday may say more about the reeling Spartans than the Cornhuskers, but it also revealed a Nebraska offense that has improved significantly from last season. Through seven conference games, Nebraska leads the Big Ten in field goal percentage, shooting 49 percent in conference play. Brian Rosenthal of the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star writes that the new freedom of movement rules have contributed to the more efficient offense. Shavon Shields scored 28 points in Wednesday’s win, but foul-prone Michigan State gave him plenty of space to score, perhaps in fear of fouling too much.
  5. Indiana is back in the top 25 and riding an 11-game winning streak, including five in a row to open Big Ten play. The team’s second-leading scorer, James Blackmon Jr., hasn’t played since Dec. 22 and will not play for the rest of the season due to injury. The Hoosiers’ hot streak has caused some fans and media to wonder if Indiana is better without Blackmon. The Indianapolis Star’s Zach Osterman considers the idea ridiculous. Instead, he asks the question, is Indiana better because it had to confront and deal with losing Blackmon? He points to its defensive improvement and determination to play better defense as a big reason why the answer is yes.
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Big Ten M5: 01.06.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 6th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. On Monday, the Big Ten awarded both its Player and Freshman of the Week to the same person for the first time this season: Maryland’s Diamond Stone. The Milwaukee native shot a scorching 73.7 percent from the floor in two games last week, with his coming-out party (39 points and 12 rebounds) occurring last Wednesday in the Terps’ comeback win against Penn State. As Stone continues to improve, so too do the Terps’ Final Four prospects.
  2. Indiana received some devastating news hours before its tipoff against Wisconsin last night when it learned that James Blackmon, Jr. — the team’s second-leading scorer — would miss the remainder of the season after surgery on his right knee. The sophomore guard has been out since the start of conference play, and although it has not yet affected the Hoosiers record, Tom Crean’s team will miss his prolific scoring and elite defense.
  3. Despite the bad news, Indiana protected its home court and earned a tough 59-58 win over the Badgers to move to 3-0 in conference play. Yogi Ferrell led all players with 19 points as Indiana has now won eight straight games with two of their next three against teams outside of the KenPom top 100 (Illinois and Minnesota). This scheduling gift should allow Indiana some time to recalibrate its rotation now that the Hoosiers know Blackmon won’t be returning.
  4. In the late game on Tuesday night, Iowa comfortably beat Nebraska behind Jarrod Uthoff’s 25 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks. The Hawkeyes have put together the most impressive start to conference play at 3-0 with wins over Michigan State and at Purdue. Those performances have garnered Iowa a place back in the Top 25 and strong consideration as a legitimate contender for the Big Ten championship. Iowa will take this coming weekend off before it faces a hungry Michigan State squad that is expecting Denzel Valentine back in the lineup next Thursday.
  5. Finally, Indiana and Iowa aren’t the only Big Ten teams riding winning streaks. Ohio State has now won six straight games, including a victory against #9 Kentucky, that puts the Buckeyes at 10-5 on the season. The Buckeyes have played a weaker schedule to date — including conference wins over Illinois and Minnesota — but will be tested in the next couple weeks as four of their next five games are on the road (including trips to Maryland and Purdue). Then we’ll know whether Thad Matta’s team has really turned a corner this season or simply took advantage of a soft schedule to put some wins together. Their first exam will come tonight at Northwestern.
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Morning Five: 01.06.16 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 6th, 2016

morning5

  1. Most people rebalance their portfolios at the end of the year, but for some reason Seth Davis decided to file his annual stock report at the start of 2016 (maybe his CPA doesn’t believe in tax-loss harvesting). In any event, it is a good refresher if you haven’t been focused on college basketball with the college football season mercifully ending. We agree with most of Seth’s buy, sell, or hold recommendations although buying the #1 team in this scenario seems akin to buying a stock with a ridiculous P/E ratio.
  2. Indiana will be without sophomore guard James Blackmon Jr. for the rest of the season after he underwent season-ending surgery on his right knee yesterday. Blackmon, who was averaging 15.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game this season (similar to the 15.7 and 5.3 he averaged last year) had surgery on his left knee over the summer and appeared to recover. It is unclear if this injury was related to him overcompensating with the other leg or just a coincidence. In any event, the Hoosiers will have to find a way to make up for the lost offense although as we have seen their problems are usually on the other side of the ball. So far they are off to a good start with their win over Wisconsin last night.
  3. One of the bigger stories of this season that has flown under the radar is the success of Southern Methodist as the Mustangs have started the season 13-0, but are banned from participating in the postseason. That ban is in large part due to issues around the recruitment of Keith Frazier, who had been averaging 11.9 points per game, but decided to leave the program because he feels that he is being blamed for the postseason ban. Given Brown’s history it is an amusing twist that the last stop of his coaching career will end with a player leaving him after the recruitment of that player led to the third time that a program run by Brown has been sanctioned by the NCAA.
  4. Speaking of sanctions, it appears that San Diego State will not face any from the NCAA for allegations that they provided recruits with improper benefits. According to the original reports these could have potentially resulted in Level 1 violations. The full extent of the reported violations never came out publicly (possibly because there wasn’t enough evidence to substantiate them), but given Steve Fischer’s history of being fired at Michigan in the wake of the Ed Martin scandal we can understand if San Diego State fans and the administration are feeling a sense of relief.
  5. It might seem early to be talking about impact transfers, but Louisville appears to have landed one for next season in Penn guard Tony Hicks, who led the Quakers in scoring the past two seasons. Hicks is sitting out this season and will graduate in May making him eligible to play next season for Louisville as a graduate transfer. We aren’t ready to start thinking of Louisville as another version of Iowa State, but Hicks will be the third significant transfer to Louisville in the past two seasons with Damion Lee (17.6 points and 4 rebounds per game) and Trey Lewis (14.3 points and 2.4 assists per game) leading them this year.
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Big Ten M5: 01.04.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 4th, 2016

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  1. Michigan State has started off 1-1 in Big Ten play and 2-1 overall since losing senior Player of the Year front-runner Denzel Valentine. The Spartans have especially struggled on the offensive end of the floor without Valentine’s scoring and play-making abilities. Sparty will only have to hold serve a bit longer however, as Valentine has targeted Michigan State’s January 10 game against Penn State for his return to action. According to ESPN.com, Valentine said that he’s just waiting on some of the swelling in his knee to go down. This means he will miss only one more game — on January 7 against Illinois.
  2. Iowa won at Purdue on Saturday for the first time since 2006, and it did so by erasing a 17-point halftime deficit. Senior leadership played a role as Jarrod Uthoff rallied the troops during a spirited halftime speech. The senior backed it up on the court as well, scoring 25 for the game. This means that Iowa will more than likely make their way into the Top 25 for the first time all season, and gives them two huge resume-enhancers for the week after they beat Michigan State earlier in the week as well.
  3. Marc Loving continues to lead a resurgence of sorts for Ohio State, as the Buckeyes held off Illinois on Sunday afternoon to go to 2-0 in league play. The junior wing went on a personal 6-0 run to help squelch an Illinois rally in the second half. Loving ended the game with 27 points, doing so by getting to the free throw line 19 times. The Buckeyes have needed someone to become their go-to-scorer, and Loving looks to be starting to emerge and take the offensive burden on his shoulders. Ohio State has now won six in a row, and look like they’ve turned a corner after their important non-conference win over Kentucky.
  4. Despite some uneven play during their first 14 games, Maryland is still a threat to cut the nets down in April as one of the most talented teams in all the land. They submitted one of their best performances of the season on Saturday when they beat Northwestern in Evanston. The Wildcats had been burning people with their perimeter shooting, but the Terrapins held them to a woeful 2-for-20 night from deep as Melo Trimble and Rasheed Suliamon harassed their shooters all night. After a shaky offensive effort against Penn State in their conference lid-lifter, the Terrapins won this one by displaying a stingy defense that if sustained, makes them one of the favorites to win the regular season crown in the Big Ten.
  5. In an assessment of Indiana’s two wins to start off Big Ten play, one of the major positives has been the play of the freshmen and of the bench at large. With James Blackmon Jr out of action, the likes of Nick Zeisloft, OG Anunoby, and Max Bielfeldt all have increased their production. This bodes well for if/when Blackmon Jr comes back into the lineup, as a deeper bench will allow the Hoosiers to more effectively play their uptempo offensive style without a drop off with the subs in the game. Bielfeldt and freshman Thomas Bryant have also done a nice job scoring in the post, giving the Hoosiers more ways to beat teams instead of always relying on jump shots.
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Big Ten M5: New Year’s Day Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on January 1st, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. With Alex Olah out indefinitely, Joey van Zegren started at center for Northwestern in its Wednesday Big Ten opener at Nebraska. But freshman Dererk Pardon stole the show in his college debut, with 28 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. Originally slated to redshirt this year, Chris Collins burned Pardon’s redshirt as a result of Olah’s injury. The Cleveland, Ohio, native made a case that he, not van Zegren, should carry the load at center while Olah is out.
  2. Illinois signed wing Kipper Nichols in November as part of its 2016 recruiting class, and the former Tulane signee officially joined and started practicing with the Fighting Illini earlier this week. Nichols, an Ohio native, enrolled and briefly attended class at Tulane this fall. He did not play a game, but he will still likely have to wait until December 2016 to play and will have three and a half years of eligibility left. In addition to Tulane, Nichols held offers from Northwestern, Maryland, Nebraska, Xavier and Butler out of high school. Scout.com originally rated him a three-star prospect in the 2015 class.
  3. Rutgers forward Deshawn Freeman hasn’t played since Nov. 30 because of a knee injury, and was scheduled to be re-evaluated around the start of Big Ten play. Now, he won’t be re-evaluated until the second week of January, keeping him out for at least the first three of Rutgers’ conference games. The junior was averaging 13.1 points per game before his injury.
  4. Indiana guard James Blackmon Jr. missed Wednesday’s 79-72 win over Rutgers with a right knee injury suffered in Monday’s practice. Head coach Tom Crean said it was a non-contact injury suffered during a drill, and is still in the “evaluation stage.” Right now, it’s unclear how serious the injury is or how much time he will miss. The sophomore was averaging 15.8 points per game prior to sustaining the injury.
  5. Illinois is down yet another player after point guard Khalid Lewis missed Wednesday’s loss to Michigan with the mumps, leaving Jaylon Tate as the Illini’s only healthy true point guard. Lewis was kept away from the team with the contagious disease and won’t practice again until healthy. Tate played a career-high 34 minutes in the 78-68 loss, scoring six points and handing out four assists. Illinois’ next game is Sunday at Ohio State.
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Indiana Uses Different Approach to Pick Up Quality Win

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 20th, 2015

Things were looking bleak for Indiana at the Crossroads Classic, similar to how they looked in the Hoosiers’ three previous losses this season. Sloppy and ill-timed turnovers coupled with uninterested, passive defense had put the Hoosiers in a 56-40 hole with 15:11 left on Saturday against Notre Dame. But then something strange happened. Tom Crean’s squad held the Fighting Irish to 8-of-26 shooting for the rest of the contest, using contributions from throughout its roster to pull off an impressive 80-73 comeback win. A loss in Indianapolis — its fourth against a top-100 opponent this season — would have been catastrophic, but instead the Hoosiers found a new and different approach to earn the victory. Balanced scoring, crashing the boards, and — believe it or not — solid defense carried the day, showing that it’s far to early to give up on the Hoosiers making a deep run in March.

Indiana's Comeback Win Was Cause for Celebration in Indy (USA Today Images)

Indiana’s Comeback Win Was Cause for Celebration in Indy (USA Today Images)

One of the most important things to come from yesterday’s win was that Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. only combined for 19 of Indiana’s 80 points. All nine members of the rotation played at least seven minutes, and four players scored in double-figures. Robert Johnson, Collin Hartman, and Thomas Bryant all had their moments on the offensive end, scoring several key buckets in crunch time. Meanwhile, Troy Williams got to the rim at will. This type of offensive balance is important for the role players’ confidence as Big Ten play approaches. A nine-man rotation where each player is capable of making a difference is a great deal more formidable than an attack consisting primarily of Ferrell and Blackmon taking a high volume of shots.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-Big Ten Second Team

Posted by Patrick Engel on November 12th, 2015

It’s the eve of the start of the college basketball season and we’re well into our preseason awards lists. We’ve already released our third team all-conference selections and our projected league standings (#14-#8 and #7-#1), so now it’s time to unveil our All-Big Ten second team. Here are the next five best players in the league, as voted on by our three-man staff.

A healthy Caris LeVert is poised for a big senior season (Gregory Shamus, Getty).

A healthy Caris LeVert is poised for a big senior season (Gregory Shamus, Getty).

  • Bronson Koenig (JR, Guard, Wisconsin). Koenig stepped into the starting point guard spot for the Badgers last January after Traeveon Jackson suffered an untimely foot injury. The sophomore started the remaining 24 games, averaging 11.5 points per contest and producing an offensive rating (120.7), turnover percentage (11.3%) and three-point percentage (40.5%) that were all better than those of Jackson. As a junior, Koenig is primed for an even bigger year in his first full season as the starting point guard.
  • Caris LeVert (SR, Guard, Michigan). LeVert led the Wolverines in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks through 18 games last year before suffering a season-ending foot injury. Michigan struggled to keep its head above water when he was healthy (11-7), but the team plummeted after his injury (5-9). Much like last season, the Wolverines have a deep and talented backcourt but an unproven and young frontcourt. John Beilein’s club should be better with Derrick Walton Jr. healthy and an improved Zak Irvin in the lineup, but LeVert will once again be this team’s leader. He can score many different ways and his length makes him a sturdy perimeter defender.

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RTC Big Ten Preview: The Top Tier (#7 – #1)

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 11th, 2015

We continue our Big Ten microsite predictions and superlatives with the second half of our preseason standings. We presented our preseason standings with teams #14 – #8 on the microsite yesterday; today, we unveil the top half. These are the teams that we as a group believe will finish near or atop the league when all the dust settles and will result in the likely conference representatives in the NCAA Tournament.  Enjoy!

It's Jarrod Uthoff's turn to lead the Hawkeyes to another NCAA Tournament.

It’s Jarrod Uthoff’s turn to lead the Hawkeyes to another NCAA Tournament.

  • 7. Iowa: With Aaron White now graduated, all eyes turn to senior Jarrod Uthoff to take the baton and lead the Hawkeyes to a third consecutive NCAA Tournament— something this program hasn’t accomplished since the early 1990s. With players like Adam Woodbury, Peter Jok and an experienced backcourt to work with, Uthoff will have a supporting cast with enough talent to get it done.
  • 6. Michigan: The Wolverines are a talent-laden team with a number of players similar to Caris LeVert who fit perfectly into John Beilein’s prolific three-point offense. Both he and Derrick Walton were sidelined with injuries for the majority of last season, which gave the rest of the young roster experience to draw from this year. Now fully healthy, Michigan is set up for a comeback campaign pushing toward the top of the Big Ten.

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Defense is the Only Thing Holding Indiana Back

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 6th, 2015

There’s not many programs out there that will be more interesting to follow this season than Indiana. For starters, Hoosiers’ head coach Tom Crean is on the hot seat. Given his team’s lofty preseason ranking (#15 in AP preseason poll) and icy relationship with a sizable portion of the Indiana fan base, the 49-year old head coach could find himself in the unemployment line in April if he fails to lead his team to an NCAA Tournament run this year. Luckily for him, Indiana is a team more than capable of doing such a thing, thanks to a high-powered offense (116.7 adjusted efficiency, ninth in the nation) that will be led by one of the best point guards in the country (Yogi Ferrell). Now entering his senior season, the two-time all-Big Ten performer looks to lead the Hoosiers back to how he found the program when he was freshman — capable of winning the Big Ten and becoming legitimate national title contenders.

Yogi Ferrell will need to improve his defense and his teammates to make a run in his senior year. (Darron Cummings, AP).

Yogi Ferrell will need to lead the Hoosiers to play better defensively if he is to make a serious run in the NCAA Tournament in his final year. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Ferrell (16.3 PPG last season) is lucky to have talented players like James Blackmon, Jr. (15.7 PPG) and Troy Williams (13.0 PPG) on his wings. The trio fuels a frenetic uptempo offense (77.4 PPG) that can score in bunches against any team, but even with the addition of five-star center Thomas Bryant to man the post, the Hoosiers won’t go anywhere next March if they don’t improve their atrocious defense. There’s no nice way to put it: Last year’s defense — ranked 214th nationally, per KenPom — was an unmitigated disaster. It was an inexcusable display of ineptitude in almost every defensive area from a power conference team, as only four other NCAA Tournament teams had a worse defensive rating last season (all were #13 seeds or higher). The table below illustrates Indiana’s woeful play on the defensive end of the court. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Storylines Heading Into Next Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 17th, 2015

There are still some dominoes to fall in terms of Big Ten roster turnover in coming weeks but we already have a pretty good idea of how the league will look next year. Here are a few things to ponder as Big Ten fans brace themselves for seven months without any games with which to occupy their time.

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

  • Return to Multiple Conference Championship Contenders: Wisconsin essentially went wire-to-wire this season, going from the unanimous preseason favorite to winning both the conference regular season and postseason titles. Next season should be a bit more like the 2013-14 campaign with several teams with a realistic shot to win the league. Maryland is rightfully getting a good deal of love in the preseason “way-to-early” top 25 lists. The Terps will return two of their top three players in Melo Trimble and Jake Layman and will add a bruiser down low in freshman Diamond Stone. Indiana (assuming both Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. return to Bloomington), and Michigan State could also very well start the season in the top 15 nationally. Thomas Bryant will give the Hoosiers someone to keep defenses honest inside, while Sparty adds Eron Harris, Devonta Davis, and Caleb Swanigan to a nucleus of eight players who were contributors on a Final Four squad. These three should all challenge for the top spot in Big Ten play next season.
  • Wisconsin Rebuild: It will be fun to observe how Bo Ryan replaces the multiple talented pieces that he is losing from a group that went to back-to-back Final Fours. He has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt so as to figure that players like Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter will break out with more playing time next season. Getting key starters Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig back is also a pretty decent starting point. How far will the Badgers actually fall, and how long will it take for the newcomers to make an impact?

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