We’re now down to eight teams remaining in the Big Ten Tournament after a wild Thursday resulted in significant upsets to Iowa and Wisconsin. Today the top four seeds will take the floor at Bankers Life Fieldhouse hoping to avoid the same fate that befell the #5 and #6 seeds. As we head into the quarterfinals, here are four storylines to watch during the tournament’s third day in Indianapolis.
Malcolm Hill and his Illini will have to hope that the slipper still fits against Purdue Purdue on Friday. (USA Today Images)
Can Illinois Keep It Going?: Even with Iowa finishing the season with a whimper, #12 Illinois’ win over the Hawkeyes on Thursday might be the biggest Big Ten upset since Rutgers beat Wisconsin last season. An impressive game from Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn along with continued strong play from freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands could get the Illini into the tournament semifinals. Remember that John Groce’s unit — thanks to 52 points from Hill and Dunn — has already beaten Purdue once this year. Read the rest of this entry »
This year’s Big Ten Tournament could very well have something for everyone. There are two teams that seem to be peaking at just the right time (Indiana and Michigan State), two others that have won 20 of their last 26 games (Purdue and Wisconsin), and two more that hope to find their way after recent struggles (Iowa and Maryland). Old rivals Michigan and Ohio State are both stuck squarely on the bubble, while Northwestern and Penn State can secure bids in some of the lower-level tournaments with a win or two. Here are three quick storylines to focus on during the first two days of games in Indianapolis.
Michigan needs quality play from Zak Irvin to get the wins it needs this postseason. (Getty)
Bubble Boys: Michigan has a decent chance to make the field of 68 but it would be strongly advisable that the Wolverines avoid losing to Northwestern on Thursday afternoon. When the two teams played a couple weeks ago, the Wildcats were competitive throughout until Michigan pulled away at the very end. A Michigan loss here probably means John Beilein will punch his ticket to the NIT. Ohio State has a much more arduous task ahead with its first test against a Penn State team that has won five out of its final eight games, including victories over Indiana and Iowa. The Buckeyes are full of mercurial talents who don’t always play consistently, but if Thad Matta can get JaQuan Lyle, Marc Loving and Keita Bates-Diop clicking at the same time, Ohio State could make a run. Read the rest of this entry »
On Monday, the conference gave Peter Jok his first Big Ten Player of the Week award, which makes it two consecutive weeks that a Hawkeye has won the award. Jok becomes the third different Iowa player to earn the honor this season. Jok averaged 19.5 PPG on 58 percent shooting from the field in wins over Michigan and Michigan State last week. While not as efficient as Jarrod Uthoff or as versatile as Mike Gesell, the West Des Moines, Iowa native has emerged as a solid second scoring option for Fran McCaffery.
Things are very different for Wisconsin these days: there’s no Bo Ryan, its record is 10-9, and the Badgers are likely headed to the NIT or worse for the first time in almost two decades. Down times for sure, but one promising development for the future has been the recent play of redshirt freshman Ethan Happ. The 6’8″ big man averaged 13.0 points and 7.0 rebounds last week against Northwestern and Michigan State and made the game winning basket against the Spartans. For his efforts, he was awarded a share of the Big Ten Freshman of the Week award. If Happ can continue to improve, Wisconsin may have a puncher’s chance at edging back towards the bubble.
Happ shared the award with Ohio State freshman point guardJaquan Lyle who registered a triple-double (16 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists) against Rutgers last Wednesday. Lyle’s recent positive play should be a good sign for the Buckeyes after the freshman’s slow start, but it has quixotically occurred during a stretch in which the team has lost two of its last three games by 25 points or more. It seems like the chemistry on Thad Matta’s talented but young needs to be fixed if the Buckeyes are to turn their season around.
Last night, Maryland survived another scare when they eeked out a 62-56 overtime win against Northwestern at the Xfinity Center. Winning close games has been common for the Terrapins the past couple years and has left many wondering when their luck will run out. But it seems that “luck” tends to be on your side when you have players who thrive in the spotlight like Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone. As long as Maryland keeps winning – by whatever margin – they’ll be in the running for a Big Ten title and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Tonight, Michigan State will try to avoid a three-game losing streak when they host Nebraska. The Spartans find themselves at 3-3 in conference play and well behind in the race for the Big Ten title, a dramatic change in forecast from less than a month ago when they were undefeated and ranked #1 nationally. This slip has some in the media calling the game against the Cornhuskers is a must-win. A major issue for Michigan State has been health, as both Denzel Valentine and Tum Tum Nairn have missed multiple games. Valentine is back, but the Spartans will once again be without their diminutive point guard when Nebraska heads into the Breslin Center tonight.
Fall semesters have wrapped up across Big Ten campuses, and that means that league freshmen have now played 11 to 13 games and put a full semester of the collegiate experience behind them. As usual, their contributions run the gamut. Some have become invaluable parts of their teams; others are playing well but still going under-appreciated in fan circles; while a number of others haven’t yet cracked their teams’ rotations. As we enter the holiday break and look forward to league play starting on Tuesday next week, here is a look at how some of the Big Ten’s freshmen have performed so far this season.
Caleb Swanigan has been one of the Big Ten’s best freshmen and has helped make Purdue’s interior defense among the nation’s best. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
Five Freshman Stars
(Note: Scout.com used for player ratings)
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: This former five-star recruit has made Purdue’s front line even tougher than it already was. Purdue likes to play the 6’9″, 260-pounder alongside A.J. Hammons or Isaac Haas, which creates a special circle of hell for opposing teams and allows for more big-to-big passing on offense. Swanigan is averaging 11.2 PPG, 2.5 APG and a league-best 9.3 RPG, but he has exhibited a bit of a turnover problem (3.4 miscues per game).
Diamond Stone, Maryland: The No. 6 overall prospect in the class of 2015, Stone hasn’t been quite as good as fast as many thought he would be. Nevertheless, he has still put together a fine young season, averaging 10.7 PPG and 4.6 RPG as top-10 Maryland’s starting center. His 18.0 percent offensive rebounding percentage ranks ninth in the country, per KenPom.
On paper, Ohio State came into this season with one of the youngest and most intriguing rosters in the Big Ten. On one hand, the Buckeyes have a great coach in Thad Matta and plenty of talent on the team; on the other hand, they have one upperclassmen who has played significant minutes and plenty of questions about how all the new pieces will mesh together. On Sunday afternoon Ohio State won its lid lifter in disposing of Mount St. Marys by a score of 76-54. They held the Mountaineers to 33.3 percent shooting from the floor and won the battle of the boards by a hefty 50-22 margin. Turnovers and defensive lapses, however, show that while parts of this win were impressive, Matta’s team still has a lot of work to do.
Jae’Sean Tate led Ohio State with 21 points in their season-opening win over Mt. St. Mary’s. (Dispatch Photo by Barbara J. Perenic)
Trotting out a lineup no player shorter than 6’4″, this game was a physical mismatch. As a result, the Buckeyes shot 22-for-38 in the paint and snagged 44.8 percent of the available offensive rebounds. Junior Marc Loving and freshman Daniel Giddens were the ringleaders here, combining for nine offensive caroms by themselves. Offensively, Jae’sean Tate scored a game-high 21 points in a much more diverse way than he did a year ago, and Keita Bates-Diop notched a double-double with ten points and ten rebounds. Despite not scoring with great frequency, the latter showed enough versatility to do a little bit of everything down the line. Lastly, JaQuan Lyle was able to seemingly get into the lane at will. At 6’5″ and 230 pounds, he will be a physical nightmare for opposing point guards.
Thad Matta’s entire career can be summed up in one word — winner. Think of it this way: The 48-year old has won at least 20 games in each of his 15 seasons as a head coach. He’s missed the NCAA tournament only twice, and he ended up as the NIT champion in one of those two years. In the other year — his first season at Ohio State — he took over a team that finished below .500 in Big Ten play and was ineligible for the 2005 postseason and led it to a 20-12 record that included an upset of top-ranked and then-undefeated Illinois on the regular season’s final weekend. Doubt him if you dare.
Thad Matta is a proven winner, but leading a freshmen and sophomore-laden team through the Big Ten is a tough task. (USA TODAY Sports)
While Matta has proven his knack for winning year in and year out, he has a big challenge ahead of him this season. He’s got plenty of talent but not much experience on this year’s team. Seven of Ohio State’s scholarship players have never played a minute of college basketball in Columbus; six are freshmen; one is a junior. There are no seniors. Departed players from last year’s Round of 32 squad accounted for 65 percent of the scoring, 87 percent of the assists and 61 percent of the rebounding. The bottom line is that Matta will have to rely on a group of freshmen and sophomores to replace star guard D’Angelo Russell and four seniors.
Russell is the glaring loss. The wunderkind freshman accounted for 26 percent of the team’s scoring, took 26 percent of the shots and logged a usage rate of 30.2 percent, per KenPom. He was the go-to scorer for a team that didn’t have a consistent second scoring option and really hasn’t since the Jared Sullinger/William Buford days. The good news for Ohio State is that beside Russell (and Shannon Scott’s terrific on-ball defense), no one else did anything completely irreplaceable. No other player averaged more than 10.2 points per game and no departing player had a usage rate higher than Scott’s 21 percent, a relatively average rate. Read the rest of this entry »
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)
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?
Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul, dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Prep Showcase held each year at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven is the signature event to kick off the high school season. With a variety of prep schools competing against each other a variety of college coaches were seen in the stands from low major schools from the east coast to high major programs from the west coast. A lot happened during and after the three day tournament, so let’s catch up with the seven sweet scoops of the week.
1. Kobie Eubanks Excels And then De-commits
In the spring of 2014, four-star shooting guard Kobie Eubanks chose Baylor over schools such as Pittsburgh, Florida State, and Minnesota, but failed to qualify academically. He subsequently ended up at Elev-8 Prep School in Delray Beach and after two standout performances last weekend he decided to re-open his commitment. What does this mean? With only four of the top 35 shooting guards still available in the class of 2015, Eubanks just became a hot commodity. Numerous schools reached out to Eubanks expressing interest including Louisville, Virginia, Maryland, Iowa State, Michigan, Providence, UConn, and more. The 6’5” strongly built guard scored 37 points in a Saturday performance which included high arcing shots from the perimeter and strong drives to the basket. Baylor’s loss will soon be another team’s blessing.
2. Anyone Interested In A 6’7” Scorer?
Throughout the National Prep Showcase, observers were impressed with Jeremy Harris and the consensus was that Coastal Carolina got themselves a steal.
Thursday was a really bad day for Tennessee. As we documented earlier, Jason King of Bleacher Report reported that Southern Mississippi, which was coached for two years by new Volunteers coach Donnie Tyndall, is under NCAA investigation for improper financial support of “Prop 48” athletes. Tyndall has not been contacted by the NCAA yet, although that appears inevitable. Shortly after that troubling news broke, Chris Clarke, a top-75 senior who committed to Tennessee last week, reneged and announced that he will instead head to Virginia Tech. While it is likely the switch was in the works prior to the release of King’s story, it is hard to believe that the investigation had nothing to do with his change of decision. Clarke was clearly the crown jewel of the Volunteers’ class, and Tyndall must now head back to the recruiting drawing board under the potentially dark clouds of an NCAA investigation.
SI’s Seth Davis recently made waves with an interview of Kentucky head coach John Caliparifor his Campus Insiders show. In the interview, Davis raised the issue of the vacation of his two Final Four appearances at UMass and Memphis. Calipari did not seem overly pleased with Davis’ question, indicating that he was not concerned about “me or my reputation. I sleep great at night.” Of course, that particular topic is one that Calipari’s detractors often raise to support their argument that he does not recruit above board, but he was not implicated in either of the two scandals and he seems to be doing well for himself in the Bluegrass State.
Exhibition basketball is about as meaningful as the NFL preseason, so the results of these games are hardly worth paying attention to. Still, it is always surprising when a top-10 team plays a relatively close game against a Division II school. On Thursday night, #7 Floridastruggled with Barry College in its exhibition opener, winning by only nine points and getting outscored by the Buccaneers in the paint, 22-18. While the Gators may not have played particularly well, they did get a game-high 22 points from Rutgers transfer Eli Carter, who went 5-of-9 from three-point range. Florida head coach Billy Donovanhas to be pleased with Carter’s output — especially given the inexperience in the Gators’ backcourt behind Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier II — and likely will not worry too much about the margin of Florida’s win.
It is no secret that Anthony Grant likely needs a successful season to keep his job, and that he will be sent packing if Alabama does not significantly improve upon last year’s 13-19 record. The Crimson Tide have some returning experience, but Grant also brought in the best recruiting class in his six years in Tuscaloosa. Drew Champlin of AL.com took a look at Grant’s early efforts to blend this team’s youth and experience together. Alabama will be led by seniors Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper, but expect significant contributions from its four freshmen as well. Grant also brought in long-time Buffalo head coach Reggie Witherspoon to add some much-needed experience to his staff. Witherspoon, who has what Grant calls a “great basketball mind,” will be crucial to the development of this team, and given a very difficult pre-conference schedule that includes games against Wichita State, Iowa State, Xavier and UCLA, he will need to work his magic quickly.
LSU recently extended Johnny Jones’ contract through the 2017-18 season, based in large part upon his ability to bring in talent to Baton Rouge. He already has a commitment from Rivals.com’s top player in the 2015 class, Ben Simmons, and this weekend he will receive visits from two big-time recruits, JaQuan Lyle and Antonio Blakeney, both of whom previously committed to Louisville before backing out of their pledges. Lyle was a Class of 2014 player who committed to Oregon before reclassifying and going to prep school. Blakeney is ranked No. 13 in the 2015 class, and his decommitment from the Cardinals garnered significant attention because of the widespread belief that his decision was related to shoe company affiliation. For Jones, getting the two on campus for the weekend of the LSU-Alabama football game is a major coup, and if he can somehow convince the two guards to join forces with Simmons, the landscape of this program would change significantly.
The most intriguing thing about preseason preview time in college basketball is finding out about all the new faces you’re about to get to know and trying to make sense of how they’re going to fit in with their new teams. We more or less know what to expect of guys like Chasson Randle and Kaleb Tarczewski and Askia Booker, but in this first Morning Five of the new season, we’ll take a quick five-stop tour around the conference to meet some of the new guys. First stop: Eugene, where Dana Altman welcomes in six new faces (four freshmen and two junior college transfers), but five-star guard JaQuan Lyle is not among them. Lyle’s struggled with academic eligibility questions all summer, questions that were apparently answered when he did not enroll at Oregon for the fall semester. Similarly, freshman forward Ray Kasongo was denied admission to Oregon and is now at Southern Idaho. Still, after a tumultuous offseason, the Ducks are happy to be back on the court and look forward to contributions from all of their newcomers. Freshmen Casey Benson and Ahmaad Rorie will share duties at point guard, while freshmen Jordan Bell and Dillon Brooks should expect time there as well. Likewise, JuCo transfer Dwayne Benjamin appears to be in for a big role, while the other JuCo transfer, Michael Chandler, is dealing with knee problems early that have prevented him from getting in much work.
Like the Ducks, Arizona State is also going to be dealing with a number of fresh faces, as seven newcomers have chances to earn playing time for head coach Herb Sendek. And, as Connor Pelton of The House of Sparky writes, despite new faces in the backcourt, Sendek appears primed to stick with the more up-tempo offense we saw during the last two seasons. Point guard Tra Holder and off-guard Kodi Justice are a pair of freshmen who have a good chance to jump right into the meat of the Sun Devils’ backcourt rotation, with JuCo transfer Gerry Blakes in the mix as well. And given that Sendek says that this team is the fastest and most athletic team he’s coached in his time in Tempe, that up-tempo style could fit them well.
As USC heads into its second season under head coach Andy Enfield, even the most die-hard USC basketball fan probably wouldn’t recognize any of the players on this year’s squad if they walked by on campus. But while the talent level on this squad is still in need of an upgrade, this team is slowly but surely starting to fit Enfield’s vision. Last year, Enfield inherited some players whose style did not fit his, but with freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin – whose services Enfield beat out cross-town suitors UCLA for – leading the way, this year’s Trojans should at the very least play the type of pace that the second-year head coach is looking for.
While there are plenty of familiar faces on the Arizona squad, freshman point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright is a new one with a lot to prove. You see, not only is Jackson-Cartwright a 5’10” player in a sport dominated by giants and a point guard in a program known for the consistent excellence of their point guards, but he is a young man looking to bounce back from a rough senior season in high school. You see, in the middle of the season, he left his high school because of an academic misconduct investigation and spent the remainder of the year finishing up his prep education at a different school without the benefit of basketball to fall back on. In the process, Jackson-Cartwright may have proven his maturity for the way he handled the situation.
Rounding out our Morning Five by landing back in Central Oregon again, new head coach Wayne Tinkle may not have a ton of true newcomers on his first Oregon State team, but they will largely be new faces even to the most dedicated Pac-12 basketball fan. The most experienced player on his roster – Langston Morris-Walker – averaged just 18 minutes per game last season. Nobody on this roster can rightfully dodge the “unproven” tag, so they’re all embracing it and hoping to use this year — and the opportunities for playing time that come with an unproven roster — to do some proving. Check back later today for RTC’s Oregon State team preview.