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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Handing Out Big Ten Awards and Superlatives

Posted by Patrick Engel on March 8th, 2016

With the regular season complete, it’s time for our Big Ten postseason awards. Here are our three all-conference teams, all-rookie team and individual award winners as voted on by our microsite staff. Note that our ballots were submitted before the Big Ten released its official winners on Monday night.

Individual Awards

Tom Crean helped his Indiana team regroup and win the Big Ten after a poor nonconference showing. (Getty)

Tom Crean helped his Indiana team regroup and win the Big Ten after a poor nonconference showing. (Getty)

  • Player of the Year (unanimous): Denzel Valentine (G, Michigan State). The Wooden Award Candidate is the first player to lead the Big Ten in both scoring and assists per game since Iowa’s Andre Woolridge in 1996-97. He’s the Big Ten’s best passer (44.6 percent assist rate) and notched a sterling 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio this season. Valentine takes 30 percent of Michigan State’s shots (over half are three-pointers) and he still has a top-35 offensive rating (126.9) nationally.
  • Coach of the Year: Tom Crean (Indiana). The Hoosiers won the outright Big Ten title with a strong 15-3 record and significantly improved its defense during the Big Ten season. Despite losing one of its best offensive players with James Blackmon, Jr.’s injury in January, Indiana still boast the nation’s fourth-most efficient offense (119.6 points per 100 possessions).
  • Rookie of the Year: Ethan Happ (F, Wisconsin). Happ’s production and consistency on both ends of the floor gives him the edge here. He is tied for second in the conference with nine double-doubles and was an important part of Wisconsin’s resurgence after a 1-3 start to the Big Ten season.
  • Defensive Player of the Year: A.J. Hammons (C, Purdue). Hammons has tallied four more blocks (74) than fouls (70) this season, and he helps Purdue hold opponents to a difficult 42.7 two-point percentage. He also rebounds 23.4 percent of opponents’ misses.
  • Most Improved Player: Peter Jok (G, Iowa). Jok went from an inconsistent reserve as a sophomore to a consistently productive scorer as a junior. Iowa needed a complementary scorer to put alongside Jarrod Uthoff this season, and Jok became that guy.

All-Big Ten First Team

Denzel Valentine has become one of the nation's best players, if not the best, in his senior season. (AP)

Denzel Valentine has become one of the nation’s best players, if not the best, in his senior season. (AP)

  • Denzel Valentine (G, Michigan State): Valentine is the only player in the modern history of college basketball to average at least 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game (assists became an official statistic in 1983-84). He also logged two triple-doubles and shot 49.6 percent from beyond the arc in conference play.
  • Yogi Ferrell (G, Indiana): The Hoosiers’ senior point guard is the Big Ten’s fourth-leading scorer (17.1 PPG), fourth-leading distributor (5.5 APG), 10th-leading three-point shooter (42.1 %) and the conference champion’s best player.

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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 Player of the Year Ladder: Volume Two, Part I

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 20th, 2016

After finishing roughly two months of the college basketball season, it’s time to revisit the leaderboard for the Big Ten Player of the Year race. Injuries have played a role in shaking things up a bit since the last listing, but eight of the ten listed last time are still in the top ten. Isaac Haas has seen his productivity and minutes go down since conference play started and Robert Carter Jr also is off the list for now. Here’s a quick look at players 10-6, with players 5-1 to come shortly:

  • 10. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: (16.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.6 APG, 59.5 Free Throw Rate)- Hayes has struggled at times much like his team has. The easy looks that he was able to capitalize on with Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker on the roster last season have gone away, but Hayes has still managed to score more than 20 points five times. He also has increased his assist rate from 11.9 to 21.9 percent as he has done a nice job facilitating for the Badgers.
  • 9. Caris LeVert, Michigan: (17.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.2 APG, 129.9 O-Rating)- Through no fault of his own, LeVert took a decent sized drop here because he has missed the last five games for Michigan due to a lower leg injury. The numbers he has put up to date still hold up however, as he leads the Wolverines in points, rebounds, assists, and steals.
Caris LeVert is still one of the top ten players in the B1G despite missing his teams' last five games. (Getty)

Caris LeVert is still one of the top ten players in the B1G despite missing his teams’ last five games. (Getty)

  • 8. Malcolm Hill, Illinois: (18.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.6 APG, 80.0% FT)- Even though Illinois is off to a 1-4 start in conference play, Hill has still been one of the most consistent and versatile performers in all the league. The junior has scored in double-figures in each game this season, and has also lead the Illini in rebounds five times, and lead them in assists seven times.

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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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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 5

Posted by Adam Levy on December 18th, 2015

Finals week is the absolute worst. You’re stuck at the library through the wee hours of the morning, cramming information that you may or may not have ever seen before into your brain and trying to memorize it for 24 to 48 hours (what, you didn’t study like that?). On top of that, there is legitimately no watchable college basketball throughout the week, which is actually way worse for people like myself who aren’t in college anymore. Only five Big Ten teams played a game this week, and the rest of them have not played since last weekend. It was a super boring week for almost all college basketball fans, and the Big Ten was no different. The Layup Line is back but on a small diet for week five due to all the inactivity around the nation; it promises to eat and drink its way through Christmas Eve next week and come back strong.


A: Northwestern Wildcats

Chris Collins and Northwestern had a good week. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Chris Collins and Northwestern had a good week. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)


Sure, Northwestern annihilated two of the 12 worst teams in the country (actually) this week, but they looked damn good doing it and earned themselves a promotion to the no. 45 ranking in the Bilas Index. Many pundits (like myself) were high on Northwestern heading into the season but low on them when Vic Law was lost for the season. They have yet to beat a ranked team, and their strength of schedule to date is incredibly weak (338th nationally), but wins are wins. They’ve proven they have the experience and balance to win games they should (see Virginia Tech and Missouri) as well as stay competitive in games they probably shouldn’t (see North Carolina). In what looks to be a fairly weak Big Ten this year, the Wildcats could have some prime opportunities to do something special.

B: Malcolm Hill

Much like most of the Big Ten teams, Ilinois only played one game this week against dreadful Illinois-Chicago and only won by four. Take Malcolm Hill out of the equation and they’d likely have lost this game, the Yale game and the Chicago State game. The junior’s length and athleticism make him a mismatch for a lot of opposing guards, and the play of him and Kendrick Nunn have impressively kept this team floating just above water. Hill can certainly stand to improve his shot, but the “underrated-ness” of his all-around game cannot go unstated. He’s third in the Big Ten in points (17.1) and free throw attempts (65), sixth in steals (1.45) and 12th in assists (3.9). Here’s to hoping Hill can help the Illini win their last two games of the non-conference season (South Dakota and Missouri) so they can enter conference play on a hot five-game win streak.

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RTC Big Ten Preview: The Bottom Tier (#14-#8)

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 10th, 2015

It’s almost time to get rolling, as actual games begin in three days. That means that it’s time for us here at the Big Ten microsite to unleash our preseason predictions and superlatives for the upcoming season. Keep an eye out in the next few days for our preseason all-league teams and some other preview material before the first games tip off on Friday. After careful deliberation among our group of writers, here’s how we see the standings shaking out, starting with our projected bottom half of the conference.

It could be another long season for Eddie Jordan and Rutgers in their second Big Ten season (USATSI).

It could be another long season for Eddie Jordan and Rutgers in their second Big Ten season (USATSI).

  • 14. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights started last season 10-7 before proceeding to lose their last 15 games. That team lost three of their top four scorers and only returns two starters. Corey Sanders is a nice building block for the future, but Eddie Jordan needs his freshman point guard and some of the sophomores to really improve quickly in order to move out of the basement.
  • 13. Penn State: Pat Chambers is starting to get things going on the recruiting side of things, but losing DJ Newbill and Geno Thorpe means that his backcourt is going to be a question mark all season long. The Nittany Lions have the bodies with which to bang down low, but who scores for this team at the level of Newbill?

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