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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Is Maryland Really a Top 25 Team?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 8th, 2016

After making the NCAA Tournament twice in the last two years, Maryland must now replace four starters from a 27-9 unit that earned a #5 seed and lost to Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen. The lone holdover, junior guard Melo Trimble, returns along with the addition of some key recruits, causing voters in both the AP (#25) and Coaches (#21) polls to rank the Terrapins among their Top 25s. While Trimble is a known commodity, much of the rest of the team is not, leading to the key question of whether this edition of Maryland Basketball is actually as good as many people obviously think. Let’s examine that question from three different components.

Melo Trimble will have to shake off a sophomore slump that plagued him late last season. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Melo Trimble needs to shake off a sophomore slump that plagued him late last season. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

  1. Can Trimble Return to His Freshman Form? As a precocious freshman, Trimble burst onto the scene two seasons ago by pacing Maryland in scoring (16.2 PPG) and leading the Terps back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years. With more talent surrounding him last season, his assist rate rose to 28.7 percent (from 21.2 percent) but his Offensive Rating (116.5 to 110.7) and shooting percentages (53.4% eFG to 48.2%) decreased. Will he regain the shooting form from a stellar freshman season when he converted 41.2 percent of his attempts from the three-point line? Or will he struggle carrying the load of his inexperienced supporting cast? Maryland needs the first scenario to come to fruition if the Terrapins want to be as good as they were during the last two seasons. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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The Big Ten’s Biggest Surprises, Improvements & Disappointments

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 16th, 2016

Iowa is atop the Big Ten after Valentine’s Day, Indiana is (mostly) better defensively and Minnesota still hasn’t won a conference game. Those are typical of the team surprises, improvements and disappointments that appear over the course of every Big Ten season. The same thing happens on an individual level: some players seem to come out of nowhere, others take impressive leaps in production, and still others regress or plateau. With conference play now two-thirds finished, here are some of the biggest surprises, improvements and disappointments among this season’s Big Ten players.

P.J. Thompson's ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

P.J. Thompson’s ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt. (Sandra Dukes/USA TODAY Sports)

Biggest Surprises

  • O.G. Anunoby, F, Indiana: The least-heralded member of Indiana’s freshman class is now a crucial part of its rotation. The Hoosiers found the freshman forward from Jefferson City, Missouri, while scouting another player, but he has been their best defender and owns the second-highest effective field goal percentage (64.8%) on the team (minimum 60 FGAs).
  • Nicholas Baer, G/F, Iowa: An unknown freshman walk-on in November, Baer gives Iowa productive minutes off the bench. He makes 43 percent of his threes and 52 percent of his twos, but is also second on the team with 18 blocks. That versatility means that he can play the three or the four positions.

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Team Chemistry the Only Issue that Can Sink Maryland

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 21st, 2015

Maryland hosted its version of Midnight Madness at the Xfinity Center last Saturday. There is much to celebrate in College Park this preseason as the Terrapins, flush with talent with as many as five future NBA players taking the court, are the favorite to win the Big Ten. With so much professional talent on the roster, it’s no wonder that the smart money is on Mark Turgeon‘s squad to make a significant postseason run next March. This October’s situation is in stark contrast from where this program was just a short 12 months ago. Plenty of stories have already been written about that turnaround, but less has been written about the one issue that can undo all of the hype. Team chemistry among a group still learning to succeed is the one thing that can trip up this Maryland team’s aspirations of conference and national banners.

Melo Trimble looks to lead preseason favorite Maryland to a Big Ten title and Final Four. (David J. Philip/AP)

Melo Trimble looks to lead preseason favorite Maryland to a Big Ten title and Final Four. (David J. Philip/AP)

We can’t talk about potential issues with team chemistry without first talking about the individual players — an incredibly talented group of players, mind you. Maryland returns Melo Trimble, Jake Layman and Damonte Dodd from last year’s conference second place squad. Trimble was the breakout star, leading the team in scoring (16.2 PPG) and assists (3.0 APG) as a freshman. Layman is a lanky, athletic scorer with tremendous upside, coming in third on the team in scoring and minutes a year ago. And Dodd has proven himself as a capable defensive presence in the post, showing even more signs of improvement this season. Additional returnees Michal Cekovsky, Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens make up a deep bench for Turgeon.

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Maryland’s Big Three Leads the Way

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 12th, 2015

Maryland‘s three best players have all struggled at various times in recent games — one might be hitting shots while the other two disappear. But on Wednesday night the Terps received double-figure scoring from each of Melo Trimble, Dez Wells, and Jake Layman, and as a result of a two-point win over Indiana, were able to move into a tie for second place in the Big Ten. The trio combined for 50 points, and did so on a highly-efficient 18-of-31 clip from the field. Granted, the Hoosiers won’t be confused with the ’85 Bears in defensive prowess anytime soon, but after a dreadful effort against Iowa on Sunday, Mark Turgeon has to be pleased with this performance.

Dez Wells tallied 18 points as Maryland moved to 8-4 in conference play with their win Wednesday night over Indiana. (Getty)

Dez Wells tallied 18 points as Maryland moved to 8-4 in conference play with its win Wednesday night over Indiana. (Getty)

Trimble, Wells and Layman each took turns making plays on the offensive end, exhibiting why Maryland is at its best when they spread the floor offensively. Because all three have a knack for getting to the basket when things aren’t too clogged up inside, the Terps’ offense is at its best when there are abundant driving lanes. There is some size in the interior with Damonte Dodd and Jon Graham manning the post, but neither is much of a threat to score from anything other than putbacks and broken plays. The primary issue this season has occurred when Wells and Trimble get into the habit of taking too many contested twos and Layman has simply disappeared for long stretches. Last night, by contrast, they mixed things up nicely and got much better perimeter looks because the realistic threat of the drive had been established. In turn, Maryland made 10-of-21 shots from behind the arc (six from the trio) and shot 49.0 percent from the field.

Maryland is now 9-0 when its best players reach double-figures, and the Terps have won those games by an average margin of 14.8 points. Granted, that group includes some bad non-conference competition, but it also includes wins over Arizona State, Iowa State, Purdue, Minnesota and now Indiana. Expecting freshmen like Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens to suddenly morph into major scoring threats at this point is wishful thinking, so the ultimate success of Maryland’s season will hinge on whether they can consistently play like they did against Indiana for the rest of the way.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 13th, 2015

The Big Ten unthinkable happened in the form of bottom-feeder Rutgers knocking off Wisconsin in Piscataway on Sunday night. The Scarlet Knights went crazy on the offensive end in the second half against a Badgers squad that is now reeling with the news that senior point guard Traveon Jackson could miss significant time with a foot injury that he suffered in the second half. Maryland, Michigan State and Michigan all won games over the weekend to move into a four-way tie for first place, while Minnesota continued to struggle in losing its fourth straight contest in conference play. Just ahead of a big Tuesday night of action, here’s the rest of the happenings around the weekend in the B1G.

Terran Petteway once again lead Nebraska in scoring when they beat Illinois Sunday night. (AP)

Terran Petteway once again lead Nebraska in scoring when they beat Illinois Sunday night. (AP)

  • Player of the Weekend: Nebraska’s Terran Petteway narrowly edges out Rutgers’ Myles Mack here, and he did so by being much more efficient than he has been this season. He did turn the ball over five times on Sunday against Illinois, but he didn’t force shots en route to 18 points on 4-of-7 shooting from behind the arc. He also did a nice job as a facilitator, leading the team with four assists. It was mentioned on the broadcast, but Petteway and Shavon Shields look more comfortable now that the Huskers have their whole roster finally intact. Moses Abraham and Leslee Smith only combined to play 11 minutes in this game, but Petteway moved like the weight of the world was off of his shoulders so that he could concentrate exclusively on scoring and passing. Pay attention to Nebraska in the next couple of weeks to see if the Huskers get it together and make a run.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Maryland’s Richaud Pack is not usually a substitute (starting 15 games), but Pack made a cameo appearance off the bench in the Terps’ Saturday game against Purdue as the Terps went with more size (Jared Nickens) against Purdue. The senior scored 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including eight in the second half that were essentially rally-killers — each time he scored, it was immediately after Purdue had cut the Maryland lead to under five points. Pack didn’t lead the team in scoring on this day, but his poise under pressure to quell Purdue’s momentum transcend the box score. Credit the transfer for responding to a short-term demotion to still make a large contribution in the win.

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Three Keys for Maryland Against Oklahoma State

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 21st, 2014

Maryland quite possibly could be the surprise of the Big Ten thus far, as they sit at 10-1 and are ranked in both polls. They’ve already taken care of one Big 12 foe when they beat Iowa State in late November, but now they will get challenged again when they head to Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State on Sunday. Dez Wells will more than likely still be sidelined, as he’s not slated to return until conference play starts. This is a winnable game however, and could help their resume should the Cowboys keep playing as well as they have to date. Here are some quick keys for the Terps in order to pick up a quality road win.

Senior Evan Smotrycz is still feeling things out with Maryland's newcomers after missing eight games due to an injury. (Zimbio.com)

Senior Evan Smotrycz is still feeling things out with Maryland’s newcomers after missing eight games due to an injury. (Zimbio.com)

  1.  Continue to Figure Things Out With Evan Smotrycz: In their win Saturday against USC Upstate, Smotrycz had a nice game, as he scored ten points in only 18 minutes. But with Wells out of the lineup, he hasn’t played much with any of the five newcomers that get extended minutes. This showed in that game, as the offense was out of sync at times when he was on the floor. The comfort level will get better with a full roster, but right now it’s key for Mark Turgeon to figure who Smotrycz works better with, and whether or not lineups with Jake Layman on the floor at the same time are feasible. They both essentially play the same position, but they’re both two of the best five players on the roster. It will be interesting to see how the minutes work themselves out, starting in this game.
  2. Get Something Out of Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens: The two freshmen wing shooters have been up and down, shooting it at a 32.1 percent, and 36.7 percent clip respectively. Wiley started the season 6-for-13, but has gone 3-for 15 in his last six games. Meanwhile Nickens started out 9-for-28, but has gone 9-for-21 in his last four games. With Melo Trimble and Richaud Pack being better drivers than outside shooters, getting these two to both heat up for an extended stretch would make the Maryland offense markedly better.
  3. Defensive Rebounds Will be Crucial: Despite having a decent amount of size and bulk, the Cowboys are only rebounding 27.5 percent of their misses (276th in the country). Maryland isn’t a great defensive rebounding team, and in their only loss to Virginia they were minus 12 on the boards. Damonte Dodd and Smotrycz have been their two best on the defensive backboards, but 7’1″ freshman Michal Cekovsky needs to come in and control things on the glass like he did when he grabbed a season-high eight rebounds in the Iowa State game.
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Big Ten Feast Week Recap

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 1st, 2014

After 38 games in seven days, Big Ten teams had some noteworthy performances of both the good and bad variety. In all, three teams came away with championships in the tournaments they played in. Illinois won the Las Vegas Invitational, Maryland took first in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, and Wisconsin won the stacked Battle 4 Atlantis field. While it was impossible to watch absolutely everything, especially with the whole pesky, “hang out with relatives on Thanksgiving” getting in the way of hoop watching, here’s a brief recap of what went down during the last seven days.

Bronson Koenig keyed a second half rally as Wisconsin came back to beat Georgetown in the Battle 4 Atlantis. (Reuters)

Bronson Koenig keyed a second half rally as Wisconsin came back to beat Georgetown in the Battle 4 Atlantis. (Reuters)

  • Wisconsin Shows Off Depth That Matters: Many times when announcers or others cite depth when discussing a certain team, it simply means that the coach plays a lot of players. A team with true depth has players coming off the bench that can win a game for them. This is exactly what happened in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, as Bronson Koenig and Duje Dukan combined to score 18 of the team’s 33 points in the second stanza, with the Badgers holding off a pesky Georgetown team in the process. With Frank Kaminsky struggling and Traveon Jackson and Josh Gasser in foul trouble, they just found a way to win with other guys doing the heavy lifting. Things were back to normal in the championship game, as Kaminsky and Jackson led the way. This team has so many weapons, and is off to a 7-0 start that is making preseason projections look really solid right now.

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A Year After Texas’ Resuscitation, Maryland’s On Track as The Next Big Program Revival

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 26th, 2014

Coming into the season, one of the key storylines in the Big Ten was how Maryland would perform in a season as important for its pedigree as it is for its head coach’s job security. By now, Terrapin fans are all too familiar with the list,

Has Mark Turgeon's Program Turned the Corner?

Has Mark Turgeon’s Program Turned the Corner?

but for the uninitiated, Maryland lost five of its top eight scorers from last year to transfer. Then the school denied enrollment to would-be freshman Trayvon Reed after the four-star prospect was arrested for stealing candy from a convenience store and assaulting a plainclothes officer. As if that weren’t enough, they suffered yet another setback last month when senior Evan Smotrycz broke a bone in his foot, sidelining the former Michigan forward for the start of the season.

But in handling Big 12 power Iowa State, 72-63, behind a talented and quickly-developing crop of newcomers, Turgeon showed that his team is in a better position than many prognosticators believed, and while he didn’t explicitly acknowledge it, that could mean big things for the Maryland program.

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