The Drive for Five: What Lies Ahead for the Big Ten Bubble Dwellers

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 2nd, 2018

The Big Ten has put at least five teams in the NCAA Tournament in every season since 2008, four years before the league expanded to 12 schools and seven years before it expanded to 14. In fact, you’d have to go back to the pre-Rutgers era (2013-14) to reach the last time the conference sent fewer than seven teams to the Big Dance. That will almost certainly change this season. According to Bracket Matrix, only three of 68 recently-updated bracket projections have more than four Big Ten schools in the NCAA Tournament. The fact is, outside of Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan, the league’s bubble hopefuls still have considerable work to do before earning serious consideration. With February now upon us, let’s examine which teams still have a shot and what they’ll need to do in order to punch a ticket.

It’s been all smiles for Nebraska lately. But will the Huskers go dancing? (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Nebraska (17-8, 8-4) RPI: 57 | KenPom: 56. Nebraska turned a nine-point second-half deficit at Wisconsin on Monday into a runaway 11-point win, the type of season-saving — perhaps season-defining — win its fans won’t soon forget. The Huskers have no RPI sub-150 losses to their name, but also don’t have much to speak of in the “good win” category. Outside of its home win over Michigan, Nebraska is winless against the RPI top 50. With four of their final six games at home — including contests against fellow NCAA Tournament hopefuls Maryland and Penn State — the Huskers will probably need to hold court and avoid a road loss at Illinois on February 18. Even then, at least one quality Big Ten Tournament win (think Michigan or Ohio State) might be necessary for Tim Miles’ group to feel good heading into Selection Sunday. Considering how well James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland have played in recent weeks, that’s certainly within the realm of possibility.

  • RPI Top 50 Wins: vs. Michigan
  • RPI Sub 150 Losses: None
  • Opportunities Left: vs. Maryland (February 13); vs. Penn State (February 25)

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Five Key Questions as Big Ten Play Begins (In Earnest)

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 2nd, 2018

With the New Year upon us and conference play picking up for good this evening, let’s consider a few of the most burning questions that could dictate how the Big Ten plays out.

  • Will Bryant McIntosh return in time for Northwestern to preserve its season? Northwestern dodged a bullet when it announced on Sunday that Bryant McIntosh, who went down with an injury against Brown over the weekend, suffered no structural damage to his knee. The initial situation looked much worse. Still, the all-league point guard is listed as day-to-day, with the expectation being that he will miss some time. Perhaps no player on the Wildcats’ roster is as important as McIntosh, who serves as the catalyst for Chris Collins’ pick-and-roll offense. Not only does he lead the team in assists (5.5 APG) and rank third in scoring (13.3 PPG), no one else on the roster possesses his ability to create off the dribble and break down defenders. If he’s sidelined for even a few games, it could spell trouble for a team already lacking in quality wins. While backup guards Isiah Brown and Jordan Ash looked solid on Saturday, upcoming contests against Penn State (Friday) and Minnesota (January 10) will present an entirely new challenge.

Will Bryant McIntosh suffer any lasting effects from his knee scare? (FOX Sports)

  • Does Maryland have enough depth to overcome key frontcourt injuries? Maryland suffered an enormous blow last Thursday when it announced that forward Justin Jackson, a preseason all-Big Ten selection, will miss the rest of the season with a torn labrum. “It is tough, because we set up a lot of our offense for Justin. A lot of things were playing through him,” head coach Mark Turgeon told the Baltimore Sun. As if losing its best two-way player weren’t bad enough, the Terrapins took another lump on Friday when junior Ivan Bender — expected to help fill the void left by Jackson — tore his meniscus against UMBC. The good news is that Maryland is especially deep in the frontcourt, with Jared Nickens (5.4 PPG), Joshua Tomaic and Sean Obi (Duke transfer) all capable of stepping in for Jackson and Bender (in addition to centers Michal Cekovsky and Bruno Fernandez (10.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG), one of the league’s best freshmen). The bad news is that Jackson, widely considered a first-round NBA Draft prospect, will be awfully hard to replace. Small forward Kevin Huerter (14.1 PPG) pointed out that Jackson “allowed us to play a lot of different ways. Some of our best lineups were with him at the four [power forward], where he could take advantage of mismatch problems.” The extent to which Nickens and the others can pick up Jackson’s slack will determine whether Maryland can compete for an NCAA Tournament bid.

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Big Ten First Impressions: Purdue Very Much a Title Contender; Indiana, Not So Much…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 17th, 2017

With a full week of Big Ten basketball already under our belts, let’s assess some of the strongest first impressions from around the league — for better or worse.

Issac Haas and the Boilermakers have looked excellent in the earlygoing. (AP)

  • It’s not a “hot take” to suggest Purdue can win the league. Michigan State was the unanimous pick to win the Big Ten this season, and for good reason — the Spartans are loaded, and Miles Bridges might be the best player in college hoops. But Purdue is also very good, and early returns suggest it may have been seriously undervalued in the preseason polls. After scoring 1.38 and 1.42 points per possessions against SIU-Edwardsville and Chicago State, respectively, last week, the Boilermakers handled Marquette in Milwaukee on Wednesday night, 86-71, as part of the Gavitt Tip-Off Games. The most impressive aspect of the win wasn’t so much the 15-point margin as it was Purdue’s ability to shrug off the Golden Eagles’ patented three-point surges, time and again answering the home team’s offensive spurts with flawless execution of its own. Matt Painter’s group was especially great in the half-court, working much of its offense through center Isaac Haas; the senior finished with 22 points in 20 minutes, using a whopping 44 percent of the possessions while he was on the floor. What’s more, the emergence of 7’3″ Dutch freshman Matt Haarms — who is averaging 19 minutes, nine points, and nearly three blocks per game — suggest that Painter has someone who can consistently (and productively) spell Haas when he sits. The scariest part? Purdue’s usually-excellent three-point shooting was lackluster against Marquette (4-of-12 3FG). Instead, the Boilers thrived on key defensive stops (like this Carsen Edwards’ chase-down block) and outstanding interior ball movement. On nights when Vincent Edwards, Carsen Edwards, Dakota Mathias and PJ Thompson make it rain from the perimeter — like they did in the team’s first two games (combined 19-of-36 3FG) — Purdue will be nearly impossible to beat. Experienced, balanced, and offensively dominant when Haas plays like he did on Wednesday, Purdue has all the pieces to compete neck and neck with Michigan State in the Big Ten this season.

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Big Ten Preview Part IV: Key Questions for Iowa & Maryland

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 3rd, 2017

With the season just a little over a week away, Rush the Court’s Big Ten preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we address Iowa and Maryland.

#8 Iowa – Will the loss of Peter Jok be addition by subtraction?

Isaiah Moss and co. have big shoes to fill, offensively. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Peter Jok largely defined Iowa’s offense last season, taking a whopping 31.2 percent of the Hawkeyes’ shots while on the floor, scoring a quarter of his team’s points (19.9 PPG), and occasionally willing the Hawkeyes to victory — like when he scored 35 points — including 15 in overtime — against Indiana in February. The 6’6″ wing was a scoring machine and will obviously be missed. But he could also be a defensive liability at times, struggling to keep players in front of him and preventing better defenders from seeing the floor. With virtually everyone else on the roster back, Iowa will be defined this season by the extent to which its promising young roster can fill Jok’s offensive void while also improving defensively. Thanks to a rotation that should run more than 10 deep, the former task will fall on a variety of players. While forward Tyler Cook (12.3 PPG) should lead the team in scoring, many of Jok’s 15 shots per game will be distributed among Isaiah Moss (6.5 PPG) and Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Nicholar Baer, both of whom will need to become more aggressive scorers from the wing. Point guard Jordan Bohannon (10.9 PPG), who shot 41.6 percent from three-point range on more than 200 attempts last season, is now the team’s primary perimeter threat; how he performs without Jok to divert defensive attention will also be key. Defensively, more minutes for Baer, Moss and forward Cordell Pemsl should help Iowa improve on last season’s middling defense, which ranked near the bottom of league play in efficiency. Pemsl is reportedly leaner, healthier and more athletic, while Baer — who led the team in both block and steal rate in 2016-17 — is versatile enough to defend multiple positions. With a strong recruiting class entering the program to boot, the Hawkeyes could well be a more well-rounded team without Jok.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Xavier 76, #6 Maryland 65

Posted by Walker Carey on March 16th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Orlando this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Xavier Looked Like the Better Team All Day Today (USA Today Images)

  1. A hot Trevon Bluiett is nearly unstoppable. There are some players who just need to see the ball go in the net once for their games to completely turn on a dime. That situation happened with Xavier junior forward Trevon Bluiett in tonight’s victory, as he was able to shake off a poor first half (just three points on 1-of-8 shooting) and completely dominate the second stanza in his team’s favor. Bluiett scored 18 of his game-high 21 points after the break, reaching a point where everyone in the gym knew anything he shot was likely going in. Bluiett’s second half tear carried over from his performance at last week’s Big East Tournament when he scored 44 of his 58 points after halftime. Xavier will undoubtedly take Bluiett warming up after halftime if it means more victories, but the Musketeers have to wonder what it would mean if Bluiett was hot for an entire game.
  2. Sean O’Mara came off the bench to provide Xavier a consistent post presence. It would make sense if Sean O’Mara had not been a key component of Maryland’s incoming scouting report. The junior big man entered today’s contest averaging a modest 5.5 points and 2.8 rebounds per game, as Xavier is far better known for its perimeter attack than its interior play. You better believe Maryland knows a lot about O’Mara now after he turned in a career-best performance in the 11-point victory. O’Mara finished the game with 18 points (5-of-6 FG and 8-of-9 FT) and seven rebounds. The Terps had no answer for his work in the post, as big man Damonte Dodd struggled all evening and was exploited by the far more athletic O’Mara.
  3. Maryland was overseeded. It is easy in hindsight to point to problems with how certain teams were seeded, but anyone who watched today’s game will tell you that Maryland was not worthy of a #6 seed. The Terrapins were disjointed for much of the game on both ends of the court, and it often appeared that they were just waiting around for junior guard Melo Trimble to make a play. This was a questionable strategy because Trimble struggled all night, finishing with 13 points on just 5-of-15 shooting. The bracket cannot be changed in retrospect, but you have to think the NCAA Tournament may have been a little better if the Terrapins were actually placed where they belonged.

Player of the Game. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier. The game changed for the Musketeers when Bluiett got going in the second half. The junior Indianapolis native finished the game with 21 points (7-of-15 FG and 5-of-10 3FG) and made his presence felt on the defensive end by nabbing three steals. Bluiett was the best player on the floor throughout the second 20 minutes and Xavier’s win would not have been possible without him coming alive.

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Angry Melo Trimble Keeps Maryland in Big Ten Race

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 16th, 2017

If Wednesday night’s performance at Northwestern is any indication, Melo Trimble’s recent shooting slump is officially over. The junior guard came into Evanston having made only three of his last 22 attempts from the three-point line, but according to Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon, Trimble was “pissed off” by some of the comments made about his shooting prowess. The normally reserved guard responded to the criticism with a career-high 32 points on 12-of-17 shooting (4-of-5 from behind the arc) in yet another big road win. Not only does the 74-64 victory keep Maryland’s shot at a Big Ten regular season title alive, but it also shows as March quickly approaches that the Terrapins have a superstar capable of taking over games. The Terps are now 10-3 in Big Ten play, tied with Purdue for second in the standings and just a half-game back of league-leading Wisconsin. In a coincidental twist of scheduling fate, Maryland travels next to Madison to face the Badgers in the Kohl Center on Sunday afternoon. Keeping in mind that the team is 6-1 on the road in Big Ten action this season, another outstanding performance in an opponent’s building could mean that the Big Ten pole position is well within reach.

Melo Trimble torched Northwestern for a career-high 32 points on Wednesday night. (USA Today Images)

Trimble reminded everyone last night that he can carry the offensive load if needed. With Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ taking turns making headlines as the two best players in the Big Ten, Trimble has quietly ceded center stage while remaining an all-Big Ten caliber player. Advanced metrics do not show much faith in the Terrapins (KenPom ranks Maryland 32nd nationally, for example), but it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore a 22-4 team that is a robust 6-1 against the top 50. Steady play from freshmen Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter has relieved some of the pressure from Trimble, but few teams around college basketball have a legitimate and experienced gamer who has played in two NCAA Tournaments and embraces the big moment. If last night’s performance turns out to be the beginning of a Maryland run into March, it will be because Trimble led the way.

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Evaluating Maryland’s Freshman Duo: Anthony Cowan & Justin Jackson

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 27th, 2016

Losing experienced seniors such as Jake Layman and Rasheed Sulaimon was a big concern for Maryland heading into this season. Without Layman’s energy and Sulaimon’s offensive versatility, the Terrapins needed the talented trio of Robert Carter, Diamond Stone and Melo Trimble to stick around campus. Trimble’s sole decision to return saved whatever was left of Mark Turgeon’s roster, but considering all the key personnel losses, Turgeon has to be pleased with a 12-1 record heading into today’s Big Ten opener against Illinois. The primary reason that the Terps have not dropped off the cliff has been the surprisingly consistent contributions from freshmen Anthony Cowan and Justin Jackson.

Anthony Cowan's emergence at the point guard position should help Melo Trimble's offensive production.

Anthony Cowan’s emergence at the point guard position should help Melo Trimble’s offensive production. (Getty)

Cowan’s reliability in handling the ball allows Trimble to roam around to find his shot. This dynamic was blatantly obvious in the second half against Charlotte last week when Trimble nailed multiple long-range shots that were assisted by the freshman. Cowan is averaging a team-high 3.7 assists per game, and while his 2.5 turnovers per contest is too many for a player getting over 70 percent of the available minutes at the position, he will improve as he gains more experience. During Maryland’s one-point wins over Georgetown and Oklahoma State, Cowan took some of the pressure off Trimble by averaging 11 points per contest. Another impressive aspect of the young point guard’s game is his ability to get to the free throw line — he attempted 23 total free throws against Georgetown, Charlotte and Oklahoma State, already showing his maturity in understanding there’s more to the game than long jump shots. Read the rest of this entry »

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Maryland: Lucky or Good?

Posted by Jim Root on December 13th, 2016

Is it better to be lucky or good? An argument can be made either way, but the easy answer is to simply be both. Maryland this season appears to have struck a delicate balance between the two, sitting at 11-1 overall with impressive wins versus Oklahoma State and Kansas State as well as a road game at Georgetown. Only a home loss to a respectable Pittsburgh squad tarnishes the ledger, but that’s forgivable given the other successes. So with all of these positives, why do the Terps rank only 61st nationally, per KenPom, and an even worse 73rd according to Jeff Sagarin? The truth is that Maryland’s resume looks better than how well the team is actually playing. Its three resume-enhancing wins came by a combined three points – for the readers without a calculator, that means they won each game by a single point. They also have relatively narrow home wins over minnows American and Stony Brook and needed significant second half comebacks to top Towson and Richmond. Maryland has been slightly more convincing in recent games against Howard and Jacksonville State, but how is this team squeaking by?

trimble-and-turg

Star player Melo Trimble and Mark Turgeon debate their next move. (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

One explanation is luck. This is a notoriously difficult metric to quantify, but KenPom calculates a “luck” rating for every team based on “expected wins” from an efficiency standpoint, compared with their actual record. Here’s the concept explained in his own words in 2006 (nerd note: “correlated gaussian method” is a fancy way of saying bell curve):

pommer
The Terrapins are a sterling 10th nationally in luck, as their series of unconvincing performances contrasts with a nearly-perfect record. On the side of the eye test, Maryland clearly benefited from a game-winner for Oklahoma State coming just after the buzzer, among a few other nice breaks, so it does appear to be an element of the Terps’ success. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 12.02.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 2nd, 2016

On Wednesday night, the Big Ten lost five of six games to drop the ACC/Big Ten Challenge for the first time since 2008. This result represented an already disappointing start to the season for the league, but several teams have an opportunity to right the ship this weekend with solid resume-enhancing wins. In this season’s first weekend look-ahead, we’ll discuss how those teams can get big victories Saturday that may prove consequential on Selection Sunday.

For a second straight season, Nigel Hayes is shooting below 30 percent from the three point line. (Getty).

For a second straight season, Nigel Hayes is shooting below 30 percent from the three-point line. (Getty).

  • Oklahoma at Wisconsin (Saturday 1:00 PM ET, BTN). This is the Madison installment of a home-and-home series where the Badgers were run off the court in Norman last year. Of course, the Sooners no longer boast three of the seniors – including Naismith POY winner Buddy Hield – who led last year’s squad to the Final Four. Even with all that attrition, it is foolish to bet on a Lon Kruger team to miss the postseason, which means this game is a golden opportunity for Wisconsin to add another victory over a likely NCAA Tournament team (Syracuse) to its non-conference resume. To accomplish this, Wisconsin needs to establish greater offensive balance against a strong Sooners’ defense (24th nationally). Nigel Hayes would be wise to abandon his burgeoning propensity to shoot threes — where he is only hitting 29 percent on the season — and instead establish himself by geting into the paint and earning trips to the free throw line.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 79, #3 Maryland 63

Posted by Will Tucker on March 24th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Perry Ellis delivered another big performance against Texas. (KU Sports/Nick Krug)

Perry Ellis carried Kansas to the Elite Eight past a scrappy Maryland team. (KU Sports/Nick Krug)

  1. Maryland’s guards took care of business, but got little help down low. The final box score tells a different story, but for a long stretch of the game, the Terps’ backcourt of Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon got the best of counterparts Frank Mason III, Wayne Selden, Jr., and Devonte Graham. That Jayhawks unit combined for 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting in the first half, while Sulaimon and Trimble guided their team to a six-point lead. What happened after halftime? The wheels came off in the rebounding department, where Kansas dominated 21-8 on the boards and claim a 43-28 advantage for the game.
  2. Kansas is winning without production from beyond the arc. Despite ranking fourth in the nation in three-point percentage at 41.8 percent, the Jayhawks have only shot a combined 15-of-42 (36%) through tonight’s game. That’s a double-edged sword: While overreliance on the three-point shot never bodes well for championship prospects, they need to be prepared to keep up with Villanova on Saturday should the Wildcats’ streak of lightning-hot shooting continue from behind the arc.
  3. Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon was unfazed by his sentimental ties to Kansas. One of the central storylines in the week heading up to this matchup was Turgeon’s deep connection to the Kansas program, for whom he played and coached in his youth. That didn’t stop him from giving his alma mater all it could handle, in the process reaffirming that he’s serious about again making Maryland a powerhouse program. In his postgame press conference, Turgeon was dismissive when asked if this one hurt more because it came at the hands of Kansas. Instead, he focused on the fact that this was Maryland’s first Sweet Sixteen in 13 long years.

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