Overrated/Underrated: Six Teams to Watch Down the Stretch

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on February 3rd, 2017

Now halfway through the conference season, things are beginning to take shape around the college basketball landscape. As we advance into February, there are a number of overrated and underrated teams in the national polls. This week let’s dive into who some of those teams are and what makes them that way.

Overrated

Baylor Played Kansas Tough But Found an All Too Familiar Result (USA Today Images)

  • Baylor, 20-2 (7-2), #2. The Bears earned some #1 votes in the most recent AP Top 25 for a reason — this is a very good team. But can Baylor keep it up for the next five weeks in the rugged Big 12? Wednesday night’s loss to Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse was perhaps expected, but what about upcoming road tests at Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech and a home date with West Virginia? Lastly, there’s that pesky issue that Baylor wasn’t ranked in the preseason, which matters more than you’d think. Since 2006, only one team that was unranked in the preseason and ranked in the pre-tournament poll has made the Final Four. That was Shabazz Napier’s 2014 National Championship Connecticut team. These Bears feel more like last year’s Iowa club or the 2014 Syracuse team, though.
  • USC, 19-4 (6-4), NR. After a home upset of UCLA, the Trojans climbed up to a #8 seed in Joe Lunardi’s bracketology and sat just outside the Top 25 in this week’s poll (28th). But KenPom only rates the Trojans as the 59th-best team in college basketball and that’s probably closer to reality. USC is an athletically gifted team that maximizes offensive possessions by grabbing rebounds and avoiding turnovers, but its offense isn’t very efficient (52nd nationally) and its defense generally doesn’t pick up the slack (73rd nationally). Moreover, the bottom quarter of the Pac-12 is exceptionally weak this year, inflating win totals and otherwise artificially boosting all the numbers. The Trojans played well in the non-conference with good wins over SMU and Texas A&M, but if they can’t meaningfully separate themselves from the rest of the league over the last five weeks, they may be staring a bubble disaster right in the face on Selection Sunday.

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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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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: Scout.com 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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Big Ten M5: 12.16.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 16th, 2015

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  1. While most of the country was about to go to bed last night, Bo Ryan decided to shock the college basketball world and announce his retirement, effective immediately. If you remember, Ryan said in the offseason that this would be his last year at Wisconsin, but then backtracked on those comments before the season started. This is a transparent move on Ryan’s part to get his protege — Greg Gard, who will become interim coach the rest of the season — at least a shot to show he can coach this program well into the future. However well Gard does with the remainder of the season, however, look for athletic director Barry Alvarez to see if he can pry Tony Bennett from Virginia as soon as the season is over.
  2. After their disastrous showing at the Maui Invitational where they went 1-2 in the losers bracket, followed by an embarrassing shellacking at Duke on national TV, Indiana has been largely ignored by the media and written off as serious Final Four contenders. But don’t look now, the Hoosier have won three decisive victories in a row (all games won by 30+ points) and are ranked at #23 on KenPom. In the last couple contests, no one has stepped up more than Troy Williams who has averaged 14.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, 2.5 assists, and 2.0 steals–which was good enough to be named CBS Sports Player of the Week. The junior wing has seemed to resurrect his standing within the team after being benched in the St. John’s game. We’ll see if the team as a whole can resurrect itself this Saturday when they play Notre Dame in the Crosstown Classic.
  3. While Williams was named of POTW by CBS, Jarrod Uthoff was chosen for the same honor by the Big Ten thanks to his impressive 32-point performance in a disappointing loss to Iowa State. A few days before, the sharpshooting senior scored 27 points against Western Illinois. While Uthoff is virtually unstoppable when he has his shot going, he still hasn’t found the ability to force his will onto a game. Against the Cyclones, Uthoff scored 30 of his 32 points in the first half; in the second half, when Iowa State made their run to overcome a 21-point deficit, Uthoff was nowhere to be found (until the very end of the game). It’s clear this Iowa team can play with anyone when Uthoff is on fire, but it’s unclear if they’re able to compete when he is having an off-night.
  4. Uthoff wasn’t the only POTW selected by the Big Ten, he shared the award with Melo Trimble. The Maryland point guard has been absolutely stellar and has made a big jump in some important categories from his freshman season. The most important facet of his game that has seen improvement is his ability to distribute the rock. Trimble is averaging over two assists more a game than last season which is vital given that he now has more talented teammates looking to score. Now that Maryland’s point guard, and candidate for National Player of the Year, has developed a complete game–with the ability to score and distribute–the sky is the limit for the Terrapins.
  5. Another high-performing team in the Big Ten has been Purdue, which finds itself at 11-0 going into a much anticipated game against Butler in the Crosstown Classic. The anchors of both the defense and offense has been the Boilermakers three frontcourt players — A.J. Hammons, Isaac Haas, and Caleb Swanigan. How good are they? All three made BTN‘s Jess Settle’s Top 10 player list, by far the most for any one team. With talent like that up front, they are making good on their promise of a special season for Purdue fans.
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Maryland Vulnerable Defensively In Early Season

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 21st, 2015

We are a week into Maryland’s most anticipated season since the early 2000s and as of this post, the Terps are 3-0 and will remain the third-ranked team in the nation when the AP Poll comes out on Monday. But with three contests under their belt, their defense — typically a strength for any Mark Turgeon-coached team — has emerged as a vulnerability. On Friday night, Rider (0-3) came into the Xfinity Center, ripped the Terps interior offense to shreds, and almost completed the upset; Maryland pulled out a 65-58 win in the final five minutes. If the Big Ten favorites can’t get back to playing stellar defense like they did a year ago, their season will fail to meet all the hyped expectations.

Rasheed Sulaimon has been great on offense, but struggled to integrate defensively with Maryland.

Rasheed Sulaimon has been great on offense, but struggled to integrate defensively with Maryland.

Last season, Maryland was Top 40 in defensive efficiency allowing only an adjusted 95.1 points per 100 possessions. The Terps accomplished this by putting pressure on shooters which kept their opponents to 31.9 percent shooting from the three-point line and limiting easy buckets in the paint–under 30 percent of their opponents’ shots came at the rim. But this has not been the case this season. The Maryland newcomers — Rasheed Sulaimon and Diamond Stone — have been a boost offensively, but have struggled to fully adapt to Turgeon’s defensive philosophy. On Tuesday, the Terrapins nearly lost to Georgetown because they allowed the Hoyas to get off good shots (61.2 eFG%) which led to an offensive rating of 111. Three days later against Rider, Maryland got torched off the dribble as the Broncs hit 20 of their 36 2-point field goals–an overwhelming majority of which were at the rim. It should alarm the Maryland coaching staff that a team from the MAAC exposed their interior defense in such easy fashion. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 11.18.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 18th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Last night we were treated to an excellent slate of non-conference matchups involving three Big Ten teams. First, Nebraska traveled to Philadelphia and played Villanova tough for the first 10 minutes of the game before ultimately getting blown out. Next, Maryland rekindled an old city rivalry when it hosted Georgetown. The Terps edged the Hoyas behind Melo Trimble’s 24-point effort and transfer Rasheed Sulaimon’s late three to seal the game. Finally, Michigan State came back to win against Kansas after being behind the Jayhawks for almost the entirety. Denzel Valentine was phenomenal, becoming one of just a handful of players to record a triple-double in a Spartans uniform. It was an excellent all-around night of basketball for Big Ten fans.
  2. For Bo Ryan, the challenge of rebuilding at Wisconsin since the departure of five instrumental players from his back-to-back Final Four teams is becoming real. First, there was a humbling loss to Western Illinois — a team that is projected to finish dead last in the Summit League — at the Kohl Center. Then, on Tuesday night, the Badgers learned that Andy Van Vliet — a 6’10” forward from Belgium — has been ruled ineligible for the entire season. This leaves Ryan short another player at a time when he’s still trying to figure out his rotation and the ultimate identity of his team.
  3. On Monday, Indiana finished its two-game set of Maui Invitational opening round games when it walloped Austin Peay, 102-76. As expected, the Hoosiers’ offense has been humming along early, as evidenced by their 69.8 percent effective field goal percentage on the season. More promising, however, is that Indiana’s defense looks markedly improved as Tom Crean’s group has kept its opponents at under one point per possession so far this season. The true test for his team will be next week’s venture to the Maui Invitational where, along with Kansas, Indiana is the favorite to leave the island with some hardware.
  4. In their first two games of the season, Purdue has showcased why it was selected as a preseason Top 25 team and considered a legitimate contender for a Big Ten title. Winning those contests by a combined 69 points, what’s even more impressive is that they’ve done so without the services of their best player, A.J. Hammons, who has been watching from the bench. Matt Painter has been ambiguous about the specific reason for his senior center’s absence, instead stating that “he’s got to take care of some business internally” before he can again see the court. Whenever he does return to the lineup, though, his presence will certainly add to a squad already performing at a high level — no doubt sending chills throughout the rest of the Big Ten.
  5. One of the reasons the Boilermakers have been able to make do without Hammons in the lineup is because of the exceptional play of star freshman Caleb Swanigan. In his first two games as a collegian, the big-bodied forward averaged 12.5 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game while also shooting over 40 percent from the three-point line. For those efforts, Swanigan was awarded the Big Ten Freshman of the Week award on Monday. Look for the precocious Boilermaker to keep up this pace even when Hammons returns as he has already shown a developed ability to play away from the basket.
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RTC Preseason Big Ten POY: Melo Trimble

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 12th, 2015

Maryland’s remarkable turnaround in the past 12 months has been a hot topic in the run up to this season. Mark Turgeon has transformed the proud but suffering program back into national title contenders, and while the head coach who engineered everything certainly deserves a great deal of the credit, the primary catalyst on the floor has been sophomore guard Melo Trimble. The Arlington, Virginia, native was a highly regarded four-star recruit coming out of high school, but no one expected him to immediately dominate in the manner that he did last season. To wit, Trimble finished an All-Big Ten freshman campaign by averaging 16.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 3.0 APG. In the offseason, he decided to spurn the NBA to lead an upgraded Maryland roster to a Big Ten title and Final Four before making the jump. There wasn’t much doubt about it: Melo Trimble is the RTC Big Ten microsite preseason Player of the Year.

Melo Trimble is the best player on the best team in the B1G. (David J. Philip/AP)

Melo Trimble is the best player on the best team in the B1G. (David J. Philip/AP)

Trimble was so effective because of his ability to both shoot the three (41.2%) and score inside (55.1% field goal shooting at rim). The shot chart below shows how most of his field goal attempts came from those two spots on the court. Additionally, his slashing ability earned him a large number of trips to the charity stripe: Trimble shot a Big Ten-best 240 free throws last season, where he made opposing teams pay for fouling him (86.3%). This combination of threes, shots at the rim and free throws made him one of the most efficient players in the league, as evidenced by his true shooting percentage of 62.8 percent (second in the Big Ten).

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Team Chemistry the Only Issue that Can Sink Maryland

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 21st, 2015

Maryland hosted its version of Midnight Madness at the Xfinity Center last Saturday. There is much to celebrate in College Park this preseason as the Terrapins, flush with talent with as many as five future NBA players taking the court, are the favorite to win the Big Ten. With so much professional talent on the roster, it’s no wonder that the smart money is on Mark Turgeon‘s squad to make a significant postseason run next March. This October’s situation is in stark contrast from where this program was just a short 12 months ago. Plenty of stories have already been written about that turnaround, but less has been written about the one issue that can undo all of the hype. Team chemistry among a group still learning to succeed is the one thing that can trip up this Maryland team’s aspirations of conference and national banners.

Melo Trimble looks to lead preseason favorite Maryland to a Big Ten title and Final Four. (David J. Philip/AP)

Melo Trimble looks to lead preseason favorite Maryland to a Big Ten title and Final Four. (David J. Philip/AP)

We can’t talk about potential issues with team chemistry without first talking about the individual players — an incredibly talented group of players, mind you. Maryland returns Melo Trimble, Jake Layman and Damonte Dodd from last year’s conference second place squad. Trimble was the breakout star, leading the team in scoring (16.2 PPG) and assists (3.0 APG) as a freshman. Layman is a lanky, athletic scorer with tremendous upside, coming in third on the team in scoring and minutes a year ago. And Dodd has proven himself as a capable defensive presence in the post, showing even more signs of improvement this season. Additional returnees Michal Cekovsky, Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens make up a deep bench for Turgeon.

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Big Ten M5: 12.29.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 29th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. On Saturday, Indiana lost its final non-conference match-up to Georgetown in Madison Square Garden. In the second half, the game became a duel between two former teammates and Indianapolis natives, the Hoosiers’ Yogi Ferrell and the Hoyas’ D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Ferrell scored a team-high 27 points, including two three-pointers that helped the Hoosiers tie the game and send it to overtime. As Zach Osterman explains, there is no shame in losing to Georgetown on a neutral site — the disappointment stems from what would have been gained with a win. A win over a good Big East team would not only have given Indiana a big boost going into its conference schedule, but also earned them their first resume win and mitigated some of the stain from their bad loss to Eastern Washington. Now, the Hoosiers will have to overperform in Big Ten play in order to earn an NCAA bid.
  2. This weekend we also saw the return of Dez Wells when Maryland defeated Oakland. After missing five games with a wrist injury, Wells did not get the start but played 22 minutes, chipping in 10 points and four assists. The senior’s return adds to the momentum the Terrapins have built after going 12-1 in non-conference play. In Wells’ absence, Jake Layman has stepped up his production, emerging as a legitimate scoring option for Maryland; combine that with the standout play of freshman stud Melo Trimble and a healthy Wells and Evan Smotrycz, and Mark Turgeon now has a wealth of talent with which to develop his new rotation, shaping up Maryland to be a force in its first season in the Big Ten.
  3. The slate of Saturday games also included Minnesota’s convincing win against UNC-Wilmington. This was the Golden Gophers’ eighth victory in a row, and it caps off a nice finish to their non-conference schedule after starting 3-2 — they’re now 11-2 with losses only to Louisville and St. John’s (both in KenPom’s top 20). Richard Pitino’s pressure defense has once again been a big part of their success (defensive turnover rate of 28.0 percent, third in the country), but it’s their ability to share the ball that has really boosted the offense and overall play, as evidenced by the 66.2 percent of field goals made that come off of assists (fifth nationally). Minnesota will see if its collegial philosophy on offense will translate to a step up in competition when it starts Big Ten play Wednesday at Purdue.
  4. Now that the non-conference schedule season has wrapped up, it’s worth reviewing what has happened in the season thus far. We will have some look-back posts coming up here on the microsite, but the MaizeNBrew blog from SB Nation has compiled a pretty comprehensive version of its non-conference awards. Wisconsin was honored as the Best Team, while Northwestern shamefully beat out Rutgers to be named the Worst Team. Additionally, the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky was awarded midseason MVP, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell was Best Freshman, Maryland’s Jake Layman was Most Improved, Wisconsin/Duke was the best game of the non-conference season, Iowa over North Carolina was deemed the Best Win, and Michigan’s infamous defeat to NJIT was identified as the Worst Loss. There are many, many more awards in the article, and it serves as a good recap of the early part of the season for the Big Ten.
  5. Finally, fans have been grasping at straws to make sense of the “mushy middle”of this year’s Big Ten. It seems as if there is not much daylight between teams unless your name is Wisconsin (for good reason) or Northwestern and Rutgers (for not-so-good reasons). If you’re looking for some clarity, Jeff from the BasketballPredictions blog has updated his bracketology predictions to include Saturday’s results. His predictions and seedings reflect what he expects to occur by the end of the season. In it, he has eight Big Ten teams making the Dance: Wisconsin (#1 seed), Ohio State (#4), Maryland (#7), Illinois (#7), Iowa (#8), Michigan State (#9), Michigan (#11), and Minnesota (#12). This leaves out bubble-hopefuls Penn State (and their 12-1 record), Indiana, Nebraska and Purdue. These predictions seem to highlight how much uncertainty there is with any team’s record and/or performance in the non-conference, and that we’ll likely have a slugfest in the conference all season long for those precious NCAA Tournament bids. There are two exciting months of Big Ten play coming our way that will sort all of this out. Get excited!
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Big Ten M5: 12.12.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 12th, 2014

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  1. Michigan has had as bad a week as you could have after consecutive losses to inferior opponents, first to NJIT on Sunday followed by Eastern Michigan on Wednesday. Yesterday, it came out that Spike Albrecht has been dealing with an unspecified lower body injury since the offseason. This on top of the toe injury to point guard Derrick Walton. As John Beilein said, “when your two point guards are banged up, it could impact you.” Albrecht says he’s been playing through the pain all season and it has not affected his play, but Wolverines fans must hope that’s the case because things won’t get easier for them as they face Arizona in Tucson Saturday.
  2. If Michigan had the worst week, Nebraska may be a close runner-up after they dropped a home game to Incarnate Word on Wednesday, losing 73-74. The Cornhuskers were shorthanded against the Cardinals as senior Moses Abraham did not play due to a broken hand suffered in practice the day before. Nebraska now has three losses on the season, including two at home which is more than they had all last season. With Terrran Pettaway and Shavon Shields already carrying a disproportionate amount of the scoring, losing an experienced big man like Abraham is only going to put more stress on them. They’ll need to figure out how to remedy their offense quick, as Cincinnati and their Top 40 defense come into town this weekend.
  3. Over on the east coast, Maryland is also going through its own health issues with two of their starters, Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz, out for an extended period of time. Unlike the Cornhuskers, the Terrapins have been able to navigate through their injuries due to the excellent play of their freshman point guard, Melo Trimble. One of the best traits of the first-year player is his ability to get to the free throw line. On Wednesday’s 67-56 win over North Carolina Central, Trimble was perfect from the free throw line and scored eight of his total twelve points from the charity stripe. It’s his ability to generate points even during an off-shooting night that makes him so valuable and keeps this Maryland team afloat despite injuries to key personnel.
  4. On Tuesday, Indiana lost 74-94 to Louisville in large part due to their poor rebounding – the Cardinals out rebounded the Hoosiers 52 to 34, which includes grabbing 26 offensive rebounds. Indiana has been dealing with their deficiencies in rebounding since the loss of Noah Vonleh to the NBA Draft during the offseason. As Tom Crean and company contemplate how to fix their rebounding woes, an obvious starting point would be for the lone true big man in the starting lineup, Hanner Mosquera-Perrea, to be more consistent in his effort to grab boards. Indiana still has challenging opponents in its non-conference schedule, such as Georgetown, and they’ll need to improve their rebounding performance, otherwise they’ll be relying on getting hot from the three point line to win games.
  5. Finally, Ohio State may have found another offensive weapon on their roster with the impressive performance of Kam Williams in their 97-43 win over High Point. The freshman guard scored a career-high 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting including 4 three pointers. The Buckeyes already have an arsenal of weapons with D’Angelo Russell, Marc Loving, and Sam Thompson. So, Thad Matta won’t need a scoring output like this from Williams every night, but it must be nice to know that he has another potential high-scoring wing waiting on his bench.
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