Six Big Ten X-Factors Heading Into Conference Play

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 26th, 2016

Conference play is almost here, and after a 138-42 (.767) combined non-conference start, Big Ten teams will begin squaring off against each other tomorrow afternoon. As of right now, it looks like three front-runners (Wisconsin, Purdue and Indiana) have emerged, followed by a group of good-not-great teams competing for the top of the next tier — a glance at the most recent KenPom ratings reveals eight teams ranked within the NCAA Tournament at-large sweet spot of #29-#68. With things so relatively even, a number of x-factors around the league could very well swing the race with improved performances. Here are six players who could heavily influence how the Big Ten standings ultimately end up.

Carsen Edwards (USA Today Images)

Carsen Edwards is a Possible X-Factor For Purdue (USA Today Images)

  • Carsen Edwards, Purdue: One of the reasons why Purdue is a perceived title threat is because the majority of their players are reasonably consistent. Edwards, however, is the biggest wild card in the rotation, and his continuing development could be the key for the Boilermakers in March. Since the freshman moved into the starting lineup on December 3, he has averaged 9.3 PPG and a couple assists per outing. His shooting can stand to improve, but he’s a blur in the open court and causes havoc defensively on the perimeter. If Edwards can become a more efficient scorer during Big Ten play (95.0 Offensive Rating on 24.9 percent usage), Purdue’s offense (as well as the team) could move into the top 10 nationally.
  • D’Mitrik Trice, Wisconsin: With five returning starters this season, little was expected from Wisconsin’s lone true freshman. And yet Trice has been an efficient and capable third guard off the bench, including some outstanding shooting from deep so far (18-of-30 3FG). He has basically stolen the minutes that were going to Jordan Hill last season, and if he continues to give the Badgers another backcourt option beyond Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter, Wisconsin could make another run at the Final Four.

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Recruiting Mishaps Showing Their Impact at Ohio State

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 9th, 2016

After Ohio State’s home overtime loss to Florida Atlantic earlier this week, along with the very real threat of missing a second consecutive NCAA Tournament, it is time to admit that something might be wrong in Columbus. Head coach Thad Matta is currently in the midst of the most difficult stretch of his 13-year career with the Buckeyes after a dominant run that included two Final Four appearances, three Elite Eights, five Sweet Sixteens and four Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. The program’s momentum clearly seems to have stalled, and we’re left to wonder if this is a permanent decline for the former rising star or a just an inevitable rough patch after several years of sustained success. One possible explanation for the recent downturn is related to Matta’s recruiting stumbles in recent years — mistakes which may not be evident to many — and the cascading effects they’ve had on the current roster.

Keita Bates-Diop (right) has been good, but not quite to the level of expectations he had as a Top 30 recuit (Jay LaPrete, AP).

Keita Bates-Diop (right) has been good, but not quite to the level of expectations of a top 30 recruit (Jay LaPrete, AP).

In his most successful years, Matta relied on top-tier talent to fill out his roster. Ohio State landed a top 10 recruiting class in five of the six cycles between 2006-11, populated by transcendent players like Greg Oden, Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger, first round talent like Mike Conley, Daequan Cook, Kosta Koufos and Byron Mullens, and college standouts like David Lighty, Jon Diebler, Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft. Matta’s 2012 and 2013 classes, however, fell outside the top 25. The effects of this lull in talent procurement were latent because Thomas and Craft played into their upperclassmen seasons. The Buckeyes bounced back with top 10 classes in 2014 and 2015, but for various reasons their results have been mixed.

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Thad Matta Trading Offense For Defense Determines Ohio State’s Fate

Posted by Jim Root on November 18th, 2016

The annual late-October release of KenPom’s preseason rankings is a sneaky-big holiday for college basketball fans. Though Ken Pomeroy himself admits that his system takes up to a month to work out the kinks and accumulate enough data to be reliable, it is still fun to see where teams fall given the effectiveness of his past rankings. One Big Ten team that turned heads this preseason was Ohio State, which came in at #13 despite not making the NCAA Tournament last year. A primary reason for that ranking was Pomeroy projecting the Buckeyes’ defense as the eighth-best in college basketball. The Buckeyes finished last season at 43rd in that metric, but KenPom heavily weighs coaching history and continuity of minutes. To those points: Thad Matta’s average defensive ranking at Ohio State in the last 12 years is #21, and the Buckeyes returned their top six players in minutes from last season. Still, jumping from a solid-not-spectacular 43rd to among-the-elite eighth would be a major leap. Is this group of Buckeyes capable of that level of defensive improvement?

matta-and-lyle

Matta needs Lyle to step up in order for the Buckeyes’ defense to truly thrive (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports).

Matta’s best defenses have come in various forms over the years. The 2011-12 squad, led by Jared Sullinger, dominated the defensive glass, while the 2013-14 team utilized the inimitable peskiness of Aaron Craft and the quick hands of Shannon Scott to force turnovers and harass perimeter shooters. This exhibits that Matta will mold his defense to the talent of his roster, and the strength of this year’s squad is definitely in its length and athleticism up and down the lineup. In the backcourt, JaQuan Lyle is a 6’5” point guard capable of guarding multiple positions, while Jae’Sean Tate, Keita Bates-Diop and Marc Loving are interchangeable parts on the wings and at the four. Up front, Trevor Thompson is one of the Big Ten’s best shot-blockers (7.3% block rate last season), or Matta can play freshman Micah Potter, who is more of a positionally-sound defender that can switch screens with the wings without much issue. On paper, using that length and versatility to switch almost every screen and bother drivers and shooters, the Buckeyes’ defense absolutely has top-10 potential.

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Big Ten Conference Preview: Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 11th, 2016

The ballots have been revealed and the results have been tabulated. Unlike another round of voting that took place this week, there isn’t as much shock value in seeing these results. We at the Big Ten microsite have voted and determined how the league will shake out this season. The second of three segments lists our middle five teams (the bottom tier can be found here).

9. Iowa: The Hawkeyes arguably lost more than any other squad in the Big Ten, with four senior starters moving on from Iowa City. The good news, however, starts with guard Peter Jok staying put for his senior season. Jok will lead an inexperienced crew highlighted by freshman Tyler Cook, and jack-of-all-trades Dom Uhl. The point guard situation here is dicey, but if either Christian Williams or Jordan Bohannon can handle it, this team could still be in the mix for another NCAA Tournament bid. Jok needs to put up large numbers on the offensive end, though, and several secondary scorers need to emerge for this to happen.

Fran McCaffery and his Iowa Hawkeyes are predicted to finish in the middle of the Big Ten. (AP)

Fran McCaffery and his Iowa Hawkeyes are predicted to finish in the middle of the Big Ten. (AP).

Best-Case Scenario: NCAA Tournament Berth

8. Illinois: Things will be much better at Illinois this season if the Illini can simply keep their roster healthy for the first time in two years. The transfer of Kendrick Nunn will sting a bit, but six seniors make this the most experienced roster in the conference. Malcolm Hill is the team’s best player, but the key to the season will be the health of sixth- year seniors Tracy Abrams and Mike Thorne Jr. If that pair can stay on the floor, last season’s 135th ranked defense should be much better and that ugly 15-19 record should also improve.

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Big Ten Tournament Storylines: First and Second Rounds

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 9th, 2016

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 they need in the Big Ten Tournament. (Getty).

Michigan needs quality play from Zak Irvin to get the wins it needs this postseason. (Getty)

  1. 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 »
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Big Ten Weekend In Review: 03.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 1st, 2016

We’re now only 13 games away from complete resolution to the Big Ten regular season, as last weekend’s action, like much of the regular season, gave us some close games sprinkled among a few blowouts. Indiana clinched a share of the regular season crown without playing a game, and the four teams chasing the Hoosiers still have a double-bye in Indianapolis to play for. Here’s are the highlights from the second-to-last weekend of the regular season.

Keita Bates-Diop (right) influenced things offensively and defensively for Ohio State as they knocked off Iowa( Jay LaPrete, AP).

Keita Bates-Diop (right) influenced things offensively and defensively for Ohio State as they knocked off Iowa (Jay LaPrete, AP).

Player of the Weekend: With apologies to Illinois’ Malcolm Hill, who teamed with Kendrick Nunn to look like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen toying with Toni Kukoc in the 1992 Olympics because Minnesota was playing without guards, Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop gets the nod because he essentially out-Uthoffed Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff. He had a highly efficient scoring night with 19 points (8-of-11 shooting) and four blocks as Ohio State came back in the final few minutes to beat Iowa. The surging Buckeyes held an Iowa team that scores 31.4 percent of its points on the season from the three-point line to a quiet 3-of-12 from the perimeter, and Uthoff in particular continued to struggle (16 points on 5-of-14 shooting). Iowa is now in the midst of another late-season swoon.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Before Saturday’s game against Maryland, Purdue sophomore Dakota Mathias had only scored in double figures twice all season. Both of those instances occurred in games where Purdue scored over 100 points against weak competition. But Mathias saved his best game of the year for Saturday as Purdue held off Maryland for a big win in West Lafayette. Mathias has now shot 6-of-11 from distance over his last five games, hitting three treys against the Terrapins en route to a career-high 17 points for the game. One of Purdue’s strengths is its outstanding depth, and in order to make a postseason run, players like Mathias need to step up.

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Big Ten M5: Christmas Eve Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on December 24th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Wisconsin played its first game in eight days last night, and its first after Bo Ryan announced his retirement. Interim head coach Greg Gard earned a win in his coaching debut as the Badgers edged Green Bay, 84-79. It wasn’t pretty, as Wisconsin was outscored 52-36 in the second half and turned the ball over 26 times. Redshirt sophomore guard Jordan Hill, who hadn’t scored and played just 27 minutes all season, received 22 minutes and scored 10 points to go along with four rebounds and four assists. Nigel Hayes scored his 1,000th career point in the win as well. Wednesday’s game was also the first for newly-named assistant Howard Moore, whom Gard hired Tuesday for the rest of the season. The former UIC coach was an assistant under Ryan from 2005-10.
  2. Minnesota will enter Big Ten play with a 6-6 record after a disappointing Wednesday home loss to Milwaukee. The Gophers played just seven scholarship players and were without freshman point guard Kevin Dorsey, who is dealing with a foot injury. Fellow freshman Dupree McBrayer, primarily a shooting guard, saw time at point guard — playing him there showed Minnesota’s lack of depth at the position with Dorsey out.
  3. Ohio State freshman wing Mickey Mitchell was ruled eligible on Saturday, just two days after Austin Grandstaff decided to transfer. Mitchell didn’t play in the Buckeyes’ upset of then-No. 4 Kentucky, but he debuted in Tuesday’s 64-44 win over Mercer. He played nine minutes and had three rebounds, but didn’t make his one field goal attempt. Mitchell will team up with sophomore Kam Williams to add depth on the wing behind starters Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate and Marc Loving.
  4. The legend of Nicholas Baer continues to grow. The Iowa redshirt freshman walk-on scored 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-4 threes, in Tuesday’s 85-63 win over Tennessee Tech. On Monday, Baer earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors after his 13-point game against Drake on Saturday. He’s shooting 46 percent (11-of-24) from three so far this season.
  5. Spike Albrecht may not be done with college basketball just yet. Albrecht’s dad, Charles, told Mike Hutton of the Northwest Indiana Post-Tribune that he believes his son will play next season if he is able to completely rehabilitate his surgically repaired hips, complications from which forced him to step aside for the rest of the season. Since the senior played in less than 30 percent of Michigan’s games this season, he is still eligible for a medical redshirt. Should he come back, it may not be at Michigan, though, due to the Wolverines’ scholarship crunch. They already have four players signed for next season, which puts them at 14 scholarships for next year as of today.
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Ohio State Showcases Plenty of Good, Plenty of Bad in Opener

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 16th, 2015

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)

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.

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Big Ten M5: 02.11.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 11th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Player of the Year talk in both the B1G and nationally is starting to heat up. Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell has been mounting an impressive campaign with his play of late, but Wisconsin is squarely in first place. That’s why many think that the award in both the conference and nationally should go to the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky. The case for Kaminsky comes from the fact that he is the offensive linchpin for the most efficient offense in the country. In addition to his abilities as a scorer and on the glass, he’s led the Badgers in assists eight times. His defense is more advanced than that of Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, and he showed his true value in the fact that Wisconsin is 0-1 (against a bad team) when he’s not in the lineup. Keep an eye on Russell, however, as the buzz will continue to grow if Ohio State can make a late run with its precocious freshman leading the way.
  2. Don’t expect Marc Loving back for Ohio State’s game against Penn State tonight. The sophomore is expected to miss his third straight contest but he may be back for the team’s Saturday tilt against Michigan State. Loving was suspended by the athletic department for an undisclosed violation. He’s been able to keep practicing, and he may be motivated by the fact that freshmen Jae’Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop have played well in his absence.
  3. Maryland has struggled lately with three not-so-close road losses to teams that they are currently stuck in a logjam with behind Wisconsin in the league standings. Turninovers and poor shooting have been the catalysts for the Terps’ significant drop in offensive efficiency since conference play began. The Testudo Times tried to diagnose the offensive problems by crunching some numbers. They have increased their tempo significantly since conference play started, but have seen their point per game drop to 62.6. While they’re still getting to the free throw line at a decent clip, they’ve started turning the ball over more frequently. There’s a good deal to digest there, but one major sticking point is the inconsistent play lately of Melo Trimble, Dez Wells, and Jake Layman. If these three can all get rolling, Maryland can right the ship.
  4. After suffering through close loss after close loss, Northwestern got blown out at home Tuesday night against Michigan State. This brings up some concern in Evanston as to why this team- especially with how young they are at key positions- seemingly getting worse as the season goes on. The Wildcats are now 1-10 in the Big Ten after surprising many with their 5-5 start last season. BTN’s Dave Revsine brought up the fact that this year’s unit has a better point differential than last year’s team, so luck is a factor. But maybe it’s time to realize that Drew Crawford was extremely important to last year’s team, and that maybe the rebuilding process at Northwestern may take longer than some expected.
  5. The Big Ten is close to having the rights to some of their games going up for bidding after their ESPN deal ends, and some feel as though a move to Fox and Fox Sports One would make sense since the media conglomerate owns half of the Big Ten Network. It might not end up that way however if Commissioner Jim Delany looks closely at the ratings the network is drawing with its coverage of the Big East. Granted, it may take a while for the “new Big East” to gain the eyeballs of the casual fan. But this year the league is probably the second best in the country yet has experienced some brutal numbers with its television ratings. While the B1G has more established brands nationally, a move away from ESPN could be risky.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 10th, 2015

The weekend before Valentine’s Day in the Big Ten was hardly easy on the eyes. Only five teams were able to crack the the 1.00 points per possession mark, and 10 of the 14 league teams had double-figure turnovers. As an example, Nebraska only managed 13 first half points en route to a 29.4 percent shooting performance in its ugly loss to Penn State. Maryland found itself down by a score of 23-2 to Iowa before finally waking up to make the score a little more respectable (71-55). All in all, it wasn’t a good weekend if you were looking for aesthetically pleasing hoops. As always, though, there were a few highlights and solid performances, so here are some of the best.

D'Angelo Russell and his freshmen cohorts lead Ohio State's efforts in their win Sunday over Rutgers. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

D’Angelo Russell and his freshmen cohorts lead Ohio State’s efforts in their win Sunday over Rutgers. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

  • Player of the Weekend: D’Angelo Russell continues to strengthen his candidacies for both Big Ten Player of the Year and National Player of the Year, notching Ohio State’s first triple-double since Evan Turner recorded one in 2010. We can probably just go ahead and make it a post rule that if someone earns a triple-double and his team wins, he will end up with the Player of the Weekend award. Russell didn’t make the handful of spectacular plays that he’s become known for in this game, but he continued to just put up numbers in an efficient way. He scored a ‘quiet’ 23 points, including 17 in the first half on only 13 attempts. He also had six rebounds and seven assists by halftime, making it almost a forgone conclusion that the triple-double was imminent. Granted, all of this production came against Rutgers, but a Player of the Year race that once looked like an easy win for Frank Kaminsky has now become much more competitive. The March 8 tilt between the two stars in Columbus might ultimately decide the award.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Ohio State freshmen accounted for 61 of the Buckeyes’ 79 points on Sunday night, and Keita Bates-Diop enjoyed his most productive game of the season. Stepping in because Marc Loving was still suspended, Bates-Diop boosted his confidence by hitting two threes early in the first half. From there, he managed to either tie or post career-bests in all five major statistical categories. He tied a career-high in points (19) and assists (three), and set career-highs with his nine rebounds, two steals and three blocks. Not bad for 19 minutes of action. The Buckeyes are getting great contributions from their freshmen right now, and Thad Matta’s first-year players may decide how far this team goes.

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