Big Ten Tournament Storylines: Quarterfinal Friday

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 11th, 2016

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 the Illini will have to hope that the slipper still fits against Purdue Purdue on Friday. (USA Today Images)

Malcolm Hill and his Illini will have to hope that the slipper still fits against Purdue Purdue on Friday. (USA Today Images)

  1. 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 »
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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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Levy’s B1G Layup Line: Week 8

Posted by Adam Levy on January 15th, 2016

With the college basketball season more than halfway over, who knew that the Big Ten would, statistically, be just the fifth highest rated conference in the country (behind even the Pac-12!)? There’s no doubting that it has been a down year for a conference that has arguably been the nation’s best league over the past five years. Seeing the two best teams in the non-conference season (Michigan State and Purdue) already with two league losses isn’t helping. Surpisingly, Iowa and Indiana stand together atop the standings at 4-0 each, but they are coached by Fran McCaffrey and Tom Crean. How long can this really go on? It’s week eight of the Layup Line.


A: John Groce, Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn

They only played one game since last Friday, but the Illini sure made the most of what was a huge game Sunday night against Purdue. They were in control from the start thanks to the Batman-and-Robin duo of Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn. Both juniors continue to have their way with nearly every opponent, but no performance has been as impressive as the one they delivered Sunday. The two combined for 52 points on 17-of-27 shooting and 13-of-17 from the line, while adding 13 rebounds and three blocks. Nunn now leads the Big Ten in scoring (18.8), while Hill ranks third (18.1).

Malcolm Hill Helped The Illini Cruise Past Purdue (USA Today Sports)

Malcolm Hill Helped The Illini Cruise Past Purdue (USA Today Sports)

Best of all, the Illini fulfilled John Groce’s game plan to a T, attacking the nation’s second-best two-point defense (38.2%) all night. The Illini had no problem with Purdue’s major size advantage, shooting 17 of 31 inside the arc, scoring 1.20 points per possession and forcing Purdue into its worst defensive effort of the season. If only Groce had a remotely healthy roster that wasn’t so reliant on Hill and Nunn…

B: Big Ten Point Guards

Overall, it was a great week for a number of Big Ten point guards, starting with Yogi Ferrell. He continued his brilliant play on Sunday against Ohio State, scoring 16 points and adding six assists, five rebounds and three steals. He’s averaging 19.8 points in Big Ten play and has been tasked, as usual, with guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter player each game. So far, he has lived up to the challenge, slowing down Andrew White, Bronson Koenig and Marc Loving the past three games.

Iowa point guard Mike Gesell earned Player of the Week honors after posting his first career double-double (22 points, 10 assists) in a win over Nebraska. He ranks ninth nationally in assists per game (6.9).

Bryant McIntosh continued to lead a shorthanded Northwestern group, as he dished out 11 assists at Minnesota and picked apart Wisconsin at home to the tune of 28 points, five assists and four rebounds. He ranks seventh nationally in assists per game (7.1).

Melo Trimble struggled in Tuesday’s loss in Ann Arbor, but he did put up 21 points and five assists and hit the game winning three-pointer in Madison on Saturday.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 12th, 2016

Much like the NFL Wildcard games, the road was friendly to visiting Big Ten teams over the weekend. Impressive home wins from Indiana and Illinois on Sunday halted a four-game visitor’s winning streak, but blowouts were also a common theme, as only one of the weekend’s six contests featured a single-figure final scoring margin. As always, there were several impressive performances individually and from certain teams. Here are the weekend’s superlatives.

Malcolm Hill proved he's one of the best scorers in the Big Ten Sunday by scoring 30 points against Purdue. (Stephen Haas, Herald and Review)

Malcolm Hill proved he’s one of the best scorers in the Big Ten Sunday by scoring 30 points against Purdue. (Stephen Haas, Herald and Review)

Player of the Weekend: Illinois’ Malcolm Hill figured he would need to be a scorer when Purdue’s Raphael Davis started the game guarding his high-scoring teammate Kendrick Nunn. Hill did so to the tune of 13 points from a variety of different spots on the floor. When Davis moved over to Hill in the second half, Nunn went off for 18 points of his own. Hill, who had already by then found his groove, contributed 17 more as the juniors combined for 35 of the Illini’s 47 points coming after the break. Hill also led the team in rebounds (nine), tied for the team lead in assists (three), and added a pair of blocks. In a lost season in Champaign, Hill has been a bright spot in hitting for double figures in all 17 games. The total package that he brings beyond just scoring was on full display in Illinois’ impressive win, its first of the Big Ten season.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Maryland barely squeaked by Wisconsin in Madison on Saturday, and although it wasn’t to the level of his 39-point, 12-rebound performance against Penn State last week, Diamond Stone was quietly efficient in the victory. On a day when the Terps didn’t get much from Jake Layman or Rasheed Sulaimon, Stone went 4-of-5 from the field en route to an 11-point outing. In what was no doubt an emotional homecoming for the freshman from Milwaukee who spurned his home state school, Stone didn’t overdo it and was a key reason that the Terrapins remained perfect in league play at 4-0.

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Big Ten M5: 01.08.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on January 8th, 2016


  1. Michigan dropped its first conference game last night at Purdue, 87-70, but the bigger story for the Wolverines was Caris LeVert’s lower leg/ankle injury. The senior guard traveled to West Lafayette and warmed up with team, but he did not play in the loss. Head coach John Beilein has been vague about the seriousness of the injury and hasn’t given a clear timetable for LeVert’s return other than a simple “day to day” estimate given on Saturday. Michigan’s 1.02 points per possession without LeVert in the lineup was the second-highest mark scored against Purdue this year, but he would obviously be a massive loss if forced to miss extended time.
  2. Illinois took a 79-54 beating in East Lansing on Thursday night, but the Illini experienced a couple notable personnel moves before the game. First, point guard Khalid Lewis returned to the lineup after missing the last two games with the mumps. He scored eight points and grabbed four rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench. Meanwhile, shooting guard Kendrick Nunn did not travel to East Lansing because of the birth of his first child. Nunn is tied for the Big Ten lead in scoring at 18.5 points per game.
  3. The player tied with Nunn for the conference lead in scoring is Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, and he could be nearing a return from a right knee injury that has sidelined him since December 21. Valentine recently said that his knee is “90 percent healthy” but that he will not play until he feels that all of his “straight ahead speed” is back. The senior has already been medically cleared to play, but head coach Tom Izzo would not commit to a return on Sunday at Penn State. Valentine has previously said that he is targeting a return against the Nittany Lions.
  4. Wisconsin is 9-7 overall and 1-2 in Big Ten play after Tuesday’s loss at Indiana, another poor offensive performance by a team long known for its offensive potency. Junior forward Nigel Hayes’ shooting numbers have dropped amid the team’s struggles, and the Badgers star on Thursday produced another memorable sound bite by saying he has “played like poop” this season. A season ago Hayes shot 49.7 percent from the floor and 39.6 percent from three compared to 37.4 percent and 28.6 percent this year.
  5. Michigan State has notched two straight wins after losing at Iowa on December 29. The team needed several others to step up in Valentine’s absence and one Spartan who has capably done so is center Matt Costello. The senior has been playing perhaps the best basketball of his career, averaging 13.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per game since Valentine went out. Even when the NPOY candidate returns to the lineup, Izzo will need production at the center position. Costello is proving he is the best option to provide it.
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Levy’s B1G Layup Line: Week 6

Posted by Adam Levy on December 25th, 2015

Christmas is here, and I’m ecstatic to provide you the ever-popular gift of reading material in the form of the Week 6 Layup Line! It was an excellent week of college hoops with only four Big Ten teams recording a loss, thus (almost) concluding the non-conference slate. Next time you visit, conference play will have begun, and we’ll all be better for it. CAN’T WAIT.

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals… and a Happy Layup Line!


A: Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State Undressed Kentucky Last Saturday (USA Today Images)

Ohio State Undressed Kentucky Last Saturday (USA Today Images)

After getting blasted on the report card multiple times this season, Thad Matta decided he’d had enough and whipped his students into shape. The result? A convincing win over fourth-ranked Kentucky in Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon that featured everyone in the rotation scoring between six and 14 points. In a two-week span, Ohio State has jumped from 78th to 29th in defensive efficiency, thanks in part to its two shot-blocking machines, Trevor Thompson and Daniel Giddens. At least one of those two rim protectors have been on the court for 97.2% of the past five games. Opponents are beginning to be cautious as they work to get shots off inside the perimeter, as evidenced by Ohio State’s 40.6% opponent two-point field goal percentage (17th in country). What seemed like a lost cause for the first month of the season is now a borderline defensive juggernaut as it heads into conference play next Wednesday. This young Buckeyes team still has a lot of work to do, but beating Kentucky is a huge step in the right direction.

B: Indiana Hoosiers

It’s bizarro week this week, as another team that has gotten blasted in this space multiple times this season has finally earned itself some praise. Indiana was as desperate as any team, in the Big Ten or elsewhere, for a quality non-conference win, and Notre Dame was its only hope of getting one. By now, everyone is familiar with the Hoosiers’ defensive woes, but throughout the final 15 minutes, Indiana looked like Syracuse South as Tom Crean employed a shockingly stingy 2-3 zone that took Notre Dame out of its offensive rhythm. The Irish managed to score on only five of 16 possessions against the zone – good for a measly 10 points.

For the first time since the Victor Oladipo days, Indiana’s defense actually fueled its offense, pushing the Hoosiers over the hump in the gutsy 16-point comeback victory. Troy Williams, who has struggled with decision-making all season (four+ turnovers in seven games; 17 turnovers committed in past four games), actually played fantastic down the stretch. He finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and three steals. Whether a Tom Crean-coached team can take this kind of momentum — and defense — into Big Ten play remains to be seen, but there’s no doubting that this was the biggest win for the Hoosiers since their beat down of Maryland last January.

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Levy’s B1G Layup Line: Week 4

Posted by Adam Levy on December 11th, 2015

The week after the ACC/Big Ten Challenge usually consists of a bunch of major conference teams playing a bunch of cupcakes to beef up their win columns, and that’s exactly what we had here in the Big Ten. Outside of the Iowa vs. Iowa State game last night, it was a pretty uneventful week in terms of competitiveness and good basketball, but one shall always strive for giving some love to those who deserve it and hating on those who suck or continue to suck. It’s week four of the Layup Line.


A: Andrew White

Nebraska's Andrew Smith

Nebraska’s Andrew White Has Been a Revelation in Lincoln (USA Today Images)

Nebraska has played three and a half good teams so far in Villanova, Cincinnati, Miami, Creighton (they’re the half, obvi) and lost them all, so I’m not going to bore you with details on how bad they are. However, I will bore you with details on how good their junior guard/forward, Andrew White, was this past week. 30 points, seven rebounds, four steals, four treys and 14/16 from the line in a win against Abilene Christian; 28 points, eight rebounds, three steals and three treys in a win at Creighton. He’s fourth in the Big Ten in scoring just behind Michigan’s Caris LeVert and finds himself in the top five in three pointers made.

What most casual fans don’t realize is that White is a Kansas transfer. He was the 48th best prospect in the Class of 2012 according to ESPN but found himself playing behind the likes of Ben McLemore, Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden, etc. throughout his first two seasons. He’s a good spot up shooter with an excellent mid-range game. This kid is no joke and could very easily find himself on an All-Big Ten Team by season’s end.

B: Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner

It’s finally time for some Penn State love. It has been an up and down season for the Nittany Lions so far, but they had a decent week by beating Eastern Michigan and Canisius and playing a very underrated George Washington team close on the road. They may not be any good, and they may not have any supporters whatsoever (because, you know, Penn State basketball), but amidst all of the negativity throughout the Pat Chambers era arises a two-player nucleus that has made some noise this season.

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Starting Five: Five Big Ten Teams Feeling Good About Feast Week

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 30th, 2015

The non-conference portion of the schedule hasn’t been great to the Big Ten so far this season, but Feast Week gave some of the league’s teams positive feelings about the future. Here are five schools that can feel good about themselves after the week that was.

John Groce got his lineup back in full, and his squad looked much better. (USAT Images)

John Groce got his full lineup back and his squad looked much better as a result. (USAT Images)

  1. Illinois: The Illini have a lot of extra dead weight to shed from their 3-4 start to the season, but anyone who watched their win against UAB and the first 30 minutes against Iowa State saw that this is a different and better team with a full complement of players. Kendrick Nunn looked rusty but he averaged 18.5 PPG in the two games — a healthy Nunn, Leron Black and Jaylon Tate showed the potential that exists here. The knee injury to Mike Thorne, Jr., however, is a real downer.
  2. Maryland: After struggling with teams that they shouldn’t have struggled with, the Terps finally put it all together against Rhode Island on Wednesday night in the championship game of the Cancun Classic. It appears as though Maryland’s on-court chemistry and offensive movement are improving with the realization that they any member of the starting unit can carry them for stretches — Rasheed Suliamon and Robert Carter Jr., for example, had moments where they looked like the best players on the floor. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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