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: 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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Purdue Needs Better Guard Play to Reach Its Goals

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 6th, 2016

At the beginning of the season, Purdue’s backcourt was generally identified as its biggest potential liability. Such concerns were exposed last weekend during a stunning comeback by Iowa in Mackey Arena where the Hawkeyes erased a 17-point halftime deficit to upset the Boilermakers. Matt Painter’s squad gave up more turnovers (10) in the second half than it made field goals (eight). The loss, while just a blip on an otherwise superb season to this point, highlighted several issues of concern in the backcourt: turnovers, weak leadership, and streaky shooting. If Purdue has designs on its first Final Four appearance under Painter this season, he needs to ensure that his guards form an identity that mitigates some of those problem areas.

Alex Barlow and Butler Are Better Than Many Projected (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Raphael Davis committed four turnovers against Iowa, which helped the Hawkeyes steal an unlikely win at Mackey Arena. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Inconsistent shooting is the most vital issue. Spotty perimeter accuracy (35.2 percent from three-point range) fails to create sufficient interior space for Isaac Haas, A.J. Hammons, and Caleb Swanigan to get to work on the low blocks. Butler’s strategy to soundly beat the Boilermakers in December was to crowd the paint and dare the guards to beat them from deep. As a result, the Boilermakers shot 7-of-22 from three-point range (many attempts were wide-open) and never really threatened after getting down early. In the first half last Saturday, Iowa tried to replicate the Butler recipe with little avail, as Purdue’s Dakota Mathias and Kendall Stephens shot a combined 5-of-8 from behind the three-point line. But in the second half, the Hawkeyes’ press forced Purdue into just 1-of-11 three-point shooting as the big lead quickly slipped away.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Five X-Factors Who Will Influence the Big Ten Race

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 30th, 2015

We’re now fully past exams and the insane holiday season, and our reward for all that jolly is a pre-New Year’s feast of Big Ten basketball with which to roll into 2016. This means that it’s a good time to consider how a handful of players who were notable in the non-conference portion of the schedule will fare with the better competition to come. The performance of these five players in particular could make all the difference in determining how well their teams fare over the next two months, and ultimately which teams are still playing deep into March.

Eron Harris and his ability to score will be needed for Michigan State in the coming months. (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports)

Eron Harris and his ability to score will be needed for Michigan State in the coming months. (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports)

  • Eron Harris, Michigan State: Harris finally showed what he could do on the offensive end of the floor with 27 points in Michigan State’s overtime win against Oakland. Prior to that explosion, he had only showed flashes of the scoring ability that he showcased at West Virginia. With Denzel Valentine expected to remain out for another one or two weeks, Harris needs to seize the extra playing time to build greater confidence in his role in Tom Izzo’s system. Those extra minutes could pay dividends when Valentine returns, as the Spartans will need additional scoring options in order to make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
  • Jake Layman, Maryland: Layman’s role has changed this year now that Maryland has a deeper arsenal of scorers on its roster. That said, he’ll need to be a bit more aggressive once conference play begins. He’s only taken more than 10 field goal attempts in a game three times this year, but his offensive rating has improved from 109.8 to 122.7. He needs to find a happy medium where he takes better advantage of his high efficiency and effective shooting in the paint (63.2 percent on two-point shots) to provide more scoring.

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Let’s Play Big Ten Secret Santa…

Posted by Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) on December 25th, 2015

Your class, company, or family probably plays Secret Santa during the holidays. To get in the giving spirit this Christmas, we’ll play Secret Santa with the Big Ten’s 14 teams and coaches. As much fun as it would be to give Richard Pitino more hair gel or Tom Izzo some stilts, we’ll stick to practical basketball-related gifts that each Big Ten coach would be thrilled to unwrap.

Santa has a variety of interesting presents for Big Ten teams to unwrap

Santa has a variety of interesting presents for Big Ten teams to unwrap

Here are the gifts we gave each coach and team (in alphabetical order):

  • Illinois (John Groce): This is one of the easier teams to shop for: The injury bug has cursed Illinois, so it gets healthy players from Santa. The Fighting Illini are playing this season without their starting point guard (Tracy Abrams), power forward (Leron Black) and center (Mike Thorne, Jr.).
  • Indiana (Tom Crean): Another easy team to shop for. If you haven’t heard of Indiana’s horrific defensive efforts, you’ve been living under a rock. The Hoosiers gave up 70 points to Kennesaw State and 72 to Alcorn State, respectively. Those teams rank 322 and 349 in the KenPom ranks, and average 64.1 and 60.3 PPG, respectively. Crean needs to start thinking of new ways to get his players to play better defense. Santa gives him a “D-Fense” sign that he can throw at players after bad defensive efforts. Better loosen up your arm, Tom.
  • Iowa (Fran McCaffery): The Hawkeyes aren’t elite in any one area, but don’t have a lot of gaping holes. They do struggle to get to the foul line, with a 25.8 free throw rate, which ranks 337th in the nation, per KenPom. Santa gives Iowa more free throw chances, especially to Peter Jok. The junior wing is Iowa’s second-leading scorer, but has attempted just 23 free throws.
  • Maryland (Mark Turgeon): The one knock on the Terps has been turnovers. They turn it over on 20 percent of their possessions and have six players who turn the ball over at least 19 percent of their used possessions. Maryland finds sturdy handles under its tree this year.

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Big Ten M5: 11.20.15 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on November 20th, 2015


  1. A healthy Peter Jok is huge for Iowa. The junior wing scored 20 points last night as the Hawkeyes pasted Marquette to give the Big Ten a 4-3 lead over the Big East in the Gavitt Tipoff Games. Before the season began, we detailed Jok’s importance to the team’s success, but an injury sustained in the Hawkeyes’ first game of the season put him on the shelf. Sophomore Dom Uhl and freshman Brady Ellingson combined for 38 points on 14-of-18 shooting and eight rebounds in Jok’s absence, but in only 28 minutes of action this season, Jok has accounted for 28 points himself. Nevertheless, Uhl and Ellingson’s production is an encouraging sign for Iowa’s depth, which was a significant question mark entering the season.
  2. Rutgers may have found itself a leader. The Scarlet Knights lost a heartbreaker to St. John’s on Thursday when Bishop Daniels’ game-winning three-pointer left his hand just after the clock hit all zeros. But the silver lining in the loss was the continued emergence of freshman Corey Sanders, who played at least 30 minutes for the second straight game and is averaging 4.5 APG on the season. On Rutgers’ last possession yesterday, head coach Eddie Jordan trusted Sanders to call and run the final play that was very close to producing a buzzer-beating victory. Even if Rutgers struggles mightily again this season, Sanders is quickly looking like a key building block for the program’s future.
  3. The early signing period ended on Wednesday, and Wisconsin and Rutgers were the two Big Ten programs that failed to land any signees. Every other conference team signed at least one player, and all but Purdue signed two. Rutgers lost its lone commitment — three-star point guard Kwe Parker — in early November when he decided to reopen his recruitment. Wisconsin whiffed on two of its bigger targets, top-100 point guards Xavier Simpson and JaQuori McLaughlin, down the stretch. Neither team has enough space for a large incoming class, but Bo Ryan and Eddie Jordan have work to do before the next signing period in April.
  4. Purdue’s backcourt is proving itself. We touched on the Boilermakers’ need for additional backcourt help before the season started, and so far it has delivered. In the team’s first three games, forwards Isaac Haas, Caleb Swanigan, A.J. Hammons and Vince Edwards made a combined total of 41 field goals — the backcourt or Edwards (a wing who does a little of everything) assisted on 20 of those. Meanwhile, incumbent guards Rapheal Davis, Kendall Stephens, Dakota Mathias and freshman Ryan Cline are averaging a combined 40 points per game and are shooting 48 percent from behind the arc. The biggest open question was with UT-Arlington transfer Johnny Hill, who was brought in to be the starting point guard. So far he boasts an 11-to-4 assist-turnover ratio with seven steals, yet another reason why Purdue has won three games by an average of 34.7 points per game.
  5. Illinois’ freshmen are surviving trial by fire. With Jaylon Tate, Kendrick Nunn, Leron Black (who returned to action after missing one game) and Tracy Abrams all sustaining various injuries since the start of the school year, Illinois has needed some mileage from its freshmen, D.J. Williams, Aaron Jordan and Jalen Coleman-Lands. While not perfect to this point, the trio has been productive. Williams started the first two games and only totaled four points, but he had zero turnovers and just one foul. Jordan has averaged 8.0 points per game with an 8-to-1 assist-turnover ratio. Coleman-Lands ranks third on the team in scoring with 12.3 points per game and has averaged 24.3 minutes of action off the bench. He also leads the team in steals (five), three-pointers (nine) and three-point percentage (56 percent). All of this hasn’t been enough to get Illinois more than a single win against North Dakota State, but the experience that the youngsters are getting will be invaluable when conference play starts in January.
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Purdue’s Frontcourt Needs a Competent Backcourt

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 27th, 2015

There is hope in West Lafayette — Purdue fans haven’t been this optimistic during a preseason since Robbie Hummel roamed campus back in 2011. The reason for all those good feelings is because the Boilermakers return the bulk of an NCAA Tournament roster that lost an excruciatingly close opening round overtime game to Cincinnati. Matt Painter’s squad really put it together at the end of last season, winning nine of its last 12 regular season games, including an impressive victory against Illinois that effectively cemented its place in the field of 68. With virtually all their important pieces returning and joined by the services of a top 20 freshman, why did the coaches slot Purdue as a borderline Top 25 team? It’s because despite an impressive group of big men populating the frontcourt, the Boilermakers must address serious concerns about the legitimacy of their backcourt.

Raphael Davis is the lead scoring guard (10.7 PPG) in a backcourt looking for firepower. (Mike Fenner, Indianapolis Star)

Raphael Davis is the lead scoring guard (10.7 PPG) in a backcourt looking for firepower. (Mike Fenner/Indianapolis Star)

There’s no doubt that the strength of this team lies with its big men, starting foremost with senior center A.J. Hammons — the Big Ten’s leading shot-blocker for two consecutive seasons, member of the All-Big Ten Second Team and All-Defense Team — and fellow seven-footer Isaac Haas, who showed well in his freshman season, averaging 7.6 PPG and 4.1 RPG in fewer than 15.0 MPG. Add into the mix five-star freshman Caleb Swanigan (assuming he is ruled eligible), and Purdue likely boasts the second-best front line in the Big Ten behind only Maryland. However, with the notable exception of Swanigan, these players aren’t agile enough to create scoring opportunities for themselves on the blocks. Rather, they need to be fed from the perimeter to score on a consistent basis — around 70 percent of Hammons and Haas’ shots at the rim come from assists. Therefore competent guard play will be integral for Purdue to reach the full potential of its frontcourt. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 17th, 2015

Valentine’s Day weekend in the Big Ten was dominated by love for the three-pointer. Indiana showed its affection for the trifecta by bombing away to the tune of a school-record 18 makes against Minnesota. Purdue was able to nail eight threes of its own in a key win against Nebraska, including four from a struggling Kendall Stephens. Northwestern hit on nine attempts from long distance in its surprising upset of Iowa. Finally, Michigan State’s aptly-named Denzel Valentine broke hearts all over the Buckeye State by hitting a game-winning three in the waning seconds of its win. Here are the rest of the highs and lows from an interesting weekend around the league.

Troy Williams led Indiana in reboudning as they dominated the glass against Minnesota.  (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

Troy Williams led Indiana in reboudning as the Hoosiers dominated the glass against Minnesota. (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

  • Player of the Weekend: In a weekend full of great performances, Indiana’s Troy Williams gets this weekend’s nod in that he managed to do his usual work on the glass (nine boards) while also scoring 19 points on a very efficient 10 field goal attempts. The sophomore also tripled his three-point output for the season, hitting both of his attempts after entering the game only 1-of-6 on the year. If Williams can add a long-range shot to his offensive arsenal, he will be a certain first-round pick whenever he chooses to leave Bloomington for the professional ranks.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Chicago Catholic League alumnus and Northwestern freshman Scottie Lindsey has largely struggled to adapt to Big Ten play. Heralded as a knockdown outside shooter, the lanky swingman didn’t hurt Iowa over the weekend with his shooting prowess. Instead, Lindsey subbed for fellow freshman Vic Law (foul trouble) and played a season-high 38 minutes off the bench. He contributed seven points, six rebounds, a couple assists and three of his team’s 13 blocks as the Wildcats notched a win that they desperately needed.

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Analyzing Purdue’s Performance in Maui

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 27th, 2014

After three convincing wins against three low-major teams and the impressive debut of freshman Vince Edwards, Purdue entered the Maui Invitational ready to test themselves against their major-conference peers and see if they’re as significantly improved from last season as they have appeared thus far. So what did they find out? They’re definitely better than last year but their season-long trajectory is still yet to be determined. Purdue finished Maui in fifth place with a 2-1 showing. The Boilermakers have proven they can beat teams likely not making the NCAA Tournament (Missouri) or likely to be on the bubble (BYU); but they missed their opportunity to get a resume win or two when they dropped their tournament-opener to Kansas State. But most importantly, they learned they’re a talented group that will need more consistency from their starters and less costly turnovers in order to really make some waves in conference play.

Rapheal Davis helped lead Purdue to a 2-1 and 5th place finish in Maui.

Rapheal Davis helped lead Purdue to a 2-1 record and 5th place finish in Maui.

Against Kansas State, the Boilermakers effectively lost the game in the first half when they committed 11 turnovers that led to 17 Wildcats points, and subsequently a 15-point halftime deficit. In their second game against Mizzou, Purdue remedied their first half woes by coming out strong and playing physical defense right from tipoff, which led to the Tigers being unable to make a field goal until six minutes into the game. In the final game against BYU, the Boilermakers found themselves in a back-and-forth nail biter that went into overtime, which could have been lost due to a Rapheal Davis turnover, but instead was won on A.J. Hammons hook shot. The last few sequences of the BYU game seems representative of Purdue’s Maui performance: moments of intense frustration from turnovers, that is overcome by the innate talent within this group.

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Purdue’s Hot Start Brings Hope to Program

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 18th, 2014

From a distance, this weekend seemed like a relatively unremarkable start for the Big Ten. The teams that were expected to win won, and those that were expected to lose lost. But if you take a closer look, you’ll find that one team, with the help of an especially impressive freshman, turned some heads with its dominant weekend play. Purdue looked nothing like the team picked to finish 11th in the Big Ten, as predicted in the Preseason Media Poll, easily disposing of both of its opponents by a combined 60 points. Outstanding performances from certain players, especially freshman guard Vince Edwards, fueled Purdue’s offense to an average of 78.5 points in the two games, giving Boilermakers fans and some prognosticators reevaluating the trajectory of their season.

Vince Edwards has led Purdue to their hot start. (Jerry Schultheiss).

Vince Edwards has led Purdue to their hot start. (Jerry Schultheiss).

Edwards, a little-known freshman, was awarded this season’s inaugural Big Ten Freshman of the Week – ahead of a number of other high-profile freshmen like Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell – after averaging 19.5 points (including a 26-point outing against IUPUI), 8.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in his first two games. The freshman was so unheralded as a recruit that he failed to make both Scout’s and Rivals’s Top 100 rankings. The Middletown, Ohio, native has been a stat stuffer so far, but he hasn’t been the only major contributor. Sophomore Kendall Stephens has been deadly from the outside, evidenced by his 9-of-13 shooting from deep and 17.0 PPG average. A.J. Hammons already has eight blocks, if little else, and sophomore Raphael Davis and freshman Isaac Haas brought excellent performances to the season opener – Davis chipped in 13 points, while Haas contributed 11 points and eight rebounds. The Boilermakers’ hot start has been an impressive team effort thus far, which is in stark contrast to the underachieving unit we saw come out of the gates last year.

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First Weekend Observations From the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 17th, 2014

The Big Ten tipped things off along with the rest of the country this weekend in the form of a whopping 18 games in three days. Minnesota and Rutgers were the only two conference teams that lost, but they also played two teams in Louisville and George Washington, respectively, that should make some noise nationally. While it would be next to impossible to have seen all 18 games in some capacity, here’s some of what we observed on this end.

James Blackmon Jr lead the way offensively in Indiana's huge opening win. (Matt Detrich, Indy Star)

James Blackmon Jr lead the way offensively in Indiana’s huge opening win. (Matt Detrich, Indy Star)

  • Indiana Could be Fun to Watch: A team effective field goal percentage of 75.4 percent will not be duplicated for the whole season, but the Hoosiers played a really fun brand of offensive basketball in their throttling of Mississippi Valley State, 116-65, on Friday night. Freshman James Blackmon, Jr looks to be the real deal, and Robert Johnson (15 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals) might not be far behind. Max Hoetzel also was impressive, displaying the versatility at times to serve as a point forward. The Hoosiers did a really nice job moving without the ball and creating offensive spacing, which lead to many of their 23 three-point attempts being wide-open looks. They will get tested playing SMU at home on Thursday night (after tonight’s Mike Davis reunion with Texas Southern), but the contrast in styles and the return of Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson to the lineup will make it worth watching.
  • Michigan State Needs to Find a Post Presence: Michigan State seemed to be sleepwalking through a good chunk of its five-point win over Navy on Friday night, and it wasn’t just from turning the ball over 18 times. The Spartans allowed Navy to score way too easily inside the paint, causing the game to be much closer than it should have been given the size and talent differential on display. With Jahlil Okafor and Duke looming for Tom Izzo’s team on Tuesday night, Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling will have to be much bigger factors on the defensive end of the floor. Denzel Valentine won’t play as poorly as he did that night, but the Spartans’ offense looked disjointed other than the times when Travis Trice got open looks (5-of-6 from three). Michigan State will eventually get things right and still be a factor in the B1G race, but it might take some time if they can’t prevent those easy inside looks.

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