Big Ten Tournament Storylines to Watch

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 9th, 2016

The postseason has started and that means we get to enjoy five days of nonstop tournament basketball in Indianapolis. There is always a lot of drama to dig into during the Big Ten Tournament — rubber matches; teams angling for at-large bids and seeding; games between old rivals. We’re likely to see all of that and more after the tournament tips off this afternoon at 4:30 PM ET. In the interest of breaking down the event into four key storylines, here is your crib sheet for the week to come.

Without Caris Lever, Derrick Walton Jr. will need to lead the Wolverines to a respectable showing in the Big Ten Tournament to escape the bubble. (credit: ap.org)

Without Caris Levert, Derrick Walton Jr. will need to lead the Wolverines to a respectable showing in the Big Ten Tournament to escape the bubble. (AP)

  1. All eyes on Michigan State. Indiana may have won the Big Ten title outright, but it is Tom Izzo‘s Spartans that are the heavy favorites to win this tournament. Why is Michigan State such a big favorite? Try this: Sparty has the best player in the country; Izzo already owns four tournament titles; it’s the hottest team in the league, having won 10 of their last 11 games. To put it simply, the Spartans have been in March form for a while now.
  2. Michigan is on the wrong side of the bubble. Oh, how the Wolverines have fallen. At the turn of league play, Michigan owned a 7-2 Big Ten record and was in serious contention for the conference title. The Wolverines then went 3-6 in the second half of conference play and are generally viewed as a team with quite a bit of work to do this week. A 3-9 record against the RPI top 50 means that John Beilein‘s team will likely need to make an appearance in Sunday’s championship game to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. That would require a win over Indiana as well as Purdue or Iowa, a tall order for a team that typically hasn’t fared well against top competition. 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 M5: 02.29.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 29th, 2016

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  1. The combination of Xavier taking a loss at Seton Hall along with Michigan State winning its home game against Penn State moved the Spartans up to a #1 seed on Jerry Palm’s latest bracket. Tom Izzo’s squad has now won eight out of its last nine games, and although they don’t have a chance for an outright claim to the Big Ten regular season title, their overall resume which includes wins over Kansas and Louisville in non-conference action, combined with wins over Indiana, Maryland, and Wisconsin in Big Ten play makes them have a compelling case for a spot on the number one line in two weeks when the brackets are unleashed to the masses.
  2. Minnesota took on Illinois on Sunday night with a rather unique lineup. That’s because their top three guards were all benched due to a violation of team rules. Nate Mason, Kevin Dorsey, and Dupree McBrayer all had to sit, and the result was predictable. Illinois overwhelmed the Gophers in the second half, cruising to an 84-71 victory. It’s not known whether the trio will miss more than this game, and it casts a significant pall over the improvements the struggling team has made in winning two of their last three games.
  3. Analysts on the Big Ten Network used to refer to Tre Demps of Northwestern as “The Microwave” two years ago when he came off the bench and proceeded to give the Wildcats instant offense. For those born after 1985, its origin comes from Vinnie Johnson, a guard on the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons who was known for the same thing. Kam Williams of Ohio State is the 2015-16 version, and his clutch baskets were vital for the Buckeyes as they knocked off Iowa Sunday afternoon. Williams went 5-for-5 from the floor for 11 points in the last eight minutes of a closely-fought win for Ohio State. While this win only brings Ohio State’s record to 2-8 against the RPI top 50 on the season, it certainly makes their once bleak NCAA Tournament hopes look a little better heading into a crucial road game at Michigan State next weekend.
  4. Maryland was doomed by a slow start and a lack of effort on the boards as they fell to Purdue on Saturday afternoon. The Terrapins are the fourth tallest team in the country, yet they managed to give up 19 offensive rebounds to the Boilermakers. They also went down 24-8 early, which ended up being too much of a hole for them to overcome. Melo Trimble continued to struggle shooting from the outside, and their starting frontcourt only managed 13 rebounds for the game. This team has the talent to make a deep late-season run, but one would think that it would have fixed some of its issues by this point in the season.
  5. One play does not win or lose a basketball game, but sometimes a specific play can be used as a strong symbol that it just isn’t your day. Take for example Derrick Walton Jr’s missed opportunity at the rim for Michigan in their loss to Wisconsin Sunday. Walton Jr had a wide-open path to the basket, blew the layup, and then the Wolverines gave up a layup to the Badgers on the other end. It was an example of how a potent offense could never really get things going as they dropped to 10-7 in league play in being held to 0.93 points per possession on the evening. Combine that offensive showing with getting blitzed on the glass, and you why Michigan lost, and why they might be sweating on Selection Sunday.
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Big Ten M5: 02.26.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) on February 26th, 2016

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  1. Nebraska’s Shavon Shields played for the first time since a February 6 game against Rutgers when he suffered a serious concussion on a nasty fall. As if nothing had ever happened, the senior returned to the lineup last night against Penn State and scored a game-high 25 points. It was not enough for the Cornhuskers to win the game, however, as Shields’ off-balance 15-footer at the buzzer misfired, giving the Nittany Lions a 56-55 win.
  2. Bracketology becomes increasingly popular as the calendar inches ever closer to March. ESPN’s February 25 NCAA Tournament bracket projections from Joe Lunardi lists seven Big Ten teams among his field of 68: Michigan State is a #2 seed; Iowa #3; Maryland #3; Indiana #5; Purdue #5; Wisconsin #7; and Michigan #9. CBS SportsJerry Palm’s latest projections differ only slightly: Iowa is a seed line lower at #4, while Wisconsin comes in as a #9 seed and Michigan a #10 seed.
  3. Michigan’s Duncan Robinson started the season as one of the nation’s best shooters, but his prolonged slump in Big Ten play is a growing concern. He is converting only 31 percent of his three-pointers in the second half of conference play, prompting head coach John Beilein to consider shortening his minutes. Fortunately for Michigan, sophomore Aubrey Dawkins has picked up the slack in knocking down a conference-best 51 percent of three-pointers in Big Ten play.
  4. Michigan State has used a deep bench all season and the latest player to get an extended look in the wake of Kenny Goins’ knee injury is sophomore forward Marvin Clark Jr. He was a useful reserve during Sparty’s run to the Final Four a year ago and is finding his confidence in an expanded role. Clark played 19 minutes against Ohio State on Tuesday and made both his three-point attempts for a total of six points. His shooting (35.3% 3FG) has kept him head of Javon Bess in the rotation.
  5. During Wisconsin’s admittedly slow start to the season, some believed that mediocre recruiting was a key reason for the team’s lack of quality depth this season. Now, however, with Wisconsin sitting at 10-5 in the Big Ten, that notion has dissipated. The Wisconsin State Journal reviewed Bo Ryan’s class of 2011, finding that it had considerable talent from top to bottom. Frank Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson led the program to consecutive Final Fours but played their final seasons in 2014-15. Jarrod Uthoff became a star after transferring to Iowa, and George Marshall, now at South Dakota State, is leading the 22-7 Jackrabbits in scoring.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 23rd, 2016

There are now two weeks to go before the close of the 2015-16 Big Ten season. Senior night ceremonies and the conference tournament are on the horizon, and the NCAA Tournament not too far beyond them. It’s unfair to jump to the conclusion that the long season has taken its toll on Big Ten teams, but there was some flat out ugly offense in the league last weekend. Four teams were held under 1.00 point per possession, and three of the five teams that came away with victories failed to crack 50 percent eFG shooting. On the brighter side, Indiana was able to fight off a late Purdue rally, and Maryland held serve at home against Michigan. This means that the regular season tournament is still a three team race at the moment (with Ohio State and Michigan State lingering a couple games back). Here are some of the noteworthy and not-so-noteworthy performances from the weekend before the final sprint.

Ethan Happ controlled the paint as Wisconsin rallied to beat Illinois Sunday night. (Nick Lisi, AP)

Ethan Happ controlled the paint as Wisconsin rallied to beat Illinois Sunday night. (Nick Lisi, AP)

Player of the Weekend: Ethan Happ isn’t always the prettiest or most graceful post player in the Big Ten, but the Wisconsin freshman is having a sensational first go of it in the Big Ten. After going up against the likes of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker in practices last season, Happ has played with a veteran edge that his former practice combatants would be proud of. He doesn’t shoot from the outside, nor does he dominate physically, but the “old guy at the YMCA” element to his game has proven valuable. He’s seemingly always in the right spot on the floor, and flashes a unique creativity in the shots he both attempts and makes in the post. Illinois had the Badgers in danger of enduring another bad resume loss at home, but Happ was there to notch his fourth double-double since conference play began. He also added a career-high six steals, bringing his average to 2.5 SPG in conference games. In a season where four other freshmen big men — all with much higher profiles than Happ — have also made large contributions to probable Big Ten NCAA Tournament teams, Happ could be the best freshman in the league.

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RTC Top 25: Week Fourteen Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on February 22nd, 2016

The unpredicatability of this college basketball season was in full effect last week as 15 of the RTC25 suffered defeats. For example, archrivals #8 North Carolina and #11 Duke both experienced the thrill of victory and agony of defeat in a matter of just four days. In last Wednesday evening’s showdown between the two teams, Duke stormed back from a significant second half deficit to grab an impressive road victory — all the more impressive when considering it came without the services of injured forward Amile Jefferson or guard Matt Jones, who left the game with an ankle injury. The Blue Devils, however, could not keep the winning ways going, falling at #16 Louisville on Saturday. On the other hand, North Carolina bounced back from its defeat in a major way, dominating #17 Miami (FL) from start to finish. Just another week in a wacky season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Team Managers Plan Tourney to Crown Nation’s Best

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 19th, 2016

How do you determine which school has the best managers? Is it the school whose white uniforms are the whitest? The school with the most perfectly folded towels? The school where managers grab the most rebounds during practice? How about a 64-team basketball tournament with the final four teams meeting at the real Final Four in Houston? That last one is the dream of Michigan State managers Ian May and Andrew Novak, and Spartans’ assistant athletic director Kevin Pauga. But once that idea was on the table, even more questions emerged: How do you play? What if you can’t play every game? When’s the best time to play? How do you fit it into a bracket, still have fun and draw attention to the hard-working managers?

Imagine showing up to a pickup game and Juan Dixon is on the opposing team. That was the athletic predicament that some are now facing. (AP)

Imagine showing up to a pickup game and Juan Dixon is on the opposing team. That was the athletic predicament that some are now facing. (AP)

May formed a Twitter account in January 2015, @B1GManagerHoops, to track Big Ten managers’ basketball games last season, and enlisted Novak to help run it a short time later. The conference had informal manager games dating back at least to Pauga’s time as a manager – which started in 2000 – but the Twitter account and corresponding blog catalogued results and kept conference standings for the manager teams of the 14 schools for the first time. An online group message on the GroupMe app allowed the Big Ten managers to schedule games much more easily than they ever had before. “I made the Twitter account because I heard that teams were keeping their own records and there was a phone notepad, a little scratched-together thing of records that I got a hold of, and then from there I just started keeping track and I would gather up the scores just from people tweeting at me just in the Big Ten,” May said. “And then we had the same ambitions for this year, which was doing the Big Ten, and then all of a sudden we started getting scores from around the country.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 02.19.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 19th, 2016

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  1. Illinois ended its long athletic director search when it formally introduced Josh Whitman as its next AD on Thursday morning (the news of his hire first broke on Wednesday). Whitman, 37, has been the athletic director at Division III Washington University in St. Louis since 2014. He also previously served as athletic director at Division III Wisconsin-La Crosse before that. His first full day on the job will be March 21, but that didn’t stop him from writing an immediate letter to Illinois donors.
  2. The “0-14 Game” won’t happen in the Big Ten after all. Many had been hyping up next Tuesday’s Rutgers at Minnesota matchup as a battle between the winless since both teams appeared headed into that game with zeros in the win column. Not anymore, as Minnesota stunned Maryland last night for its first Big Ten win of the season. The Terps were playing without freshman center Diamond Stone, who was suspended for the game after a technical foul on Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown last weekend. The win was the Gophers’ first of any kind since December 13 against Chicago State.
  3. Minnesota also played a man short on Thursday night, and it will do so for the rest of the season. Gophers head coach Richard Pitino announced on Wednesday that guard Carlos Morris had been dismissed from the program for conduct detrimental to the team. That conduct was later identified as a heated exchange between Morris and Pitino last Sunday. The senior was in his second season for Minnesota after transferring over from Chipola College (FL) and was averaging 9.8 PPG, the fourth-best mark on the team.
  4. Purdue point guard P.J. Thompson’s foot issues have persisted for more than a week, and while he has not yet missed any games, his practice routine is also not back to normal. He was in a walking boot for Thursday’s practice even though he still expects to play against Indiana this weekend. Thompson has committed just 11 turnovers in 585 minutes this season, and for a team that has had turnover issues in road games, he will need to be healthy and in the lineup on Saturday at Assembly Hall.
  5. Nebraska‘s Shavon Shields missed his third straight game after suffering a concussion against Rutgers two weeks ago, and the Huskers’ record dropped to 1-2 without their second-leading scorer in the lineup against Indiana. Nebraska misses his production as well as his leadership, as Robin Washunt of Rivals.com notes. Head coach Tim Miles had no update for Shields’ status for Saturday’s game vs. Ohio State, but suffice it to say that he’s needed back in the line up very soon.
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What’s Trending: Tackles, Tempers, And More!

Posted by Griffin Wong on February 18th, 2016

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

If College Basketball’s Tripping Epidemic Wasn’t Enough…

Then we have this item for you, as Maryland’s Diamond Stone took it up a notch. At the end of the first half, with Maryland down big to Wisconsin at home, the freshman phenom briefly lost his temper, tackling Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown after the whistle. To make matters worse, Stone pushed Brown’s head back into the ground as he was getting up. Take a look:

Stone was given a flagrant 1 for his actions, and subsequently suspended for a game by coach Mark Turgeon. Though Stone was apologetic after the game, it’s a shame to see any player lose his temper like that. Oh, and Wisconsin snapped Maryland’s 27-game home winning streak.

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The Big Ten’s Biggest Surprises, Improvements & Disappointments

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 16th, 2016

Iowa is atop the Big Ten after Valentine’s Day, Indiana is (mostly) better defensively and Minnesota still hasn’t won a conference game. Those are typical of the team surprises, improvements and disappointments that appear over the course of every Big Ten season. The same thing happens on an individual level: some players seem to come out of nowhere, others take impressive leaps in production, and still others regress or plateau. With conference play now two-thirds finished, here are some of the biggest surprises, improvements and disappointments among this season’s Big Ten players.

P.J. Thompson's ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

P.J. Thompson’s ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt. (Sandra Dukes/USA TODAY Sports)

Biggest Surprises

  • O.G. Anunoby, F, Indiana: The least-heralded member of Indiana’s freshman class is now a crucial part of its rotation. The Hoosiers found the freshman forward from Jefferson City, Missouri, while scouting another player, but he has been their best defender and owns the second-highest effective field goal percentage (64.8%) on the team (minimum 60 FGAs).
  • Nicholas Baer, G/F, Iowa: An unknown freshman walk-on in November, Baer gives Iowa productive minutes off the bench. He makes 43 percent of his threes and 52 percent of his twos, but is also second on the team with 18 blocks. That versatility means that he can play the three or the four positions.

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Big Ten Seeding Forecast: 02.16.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 16th, 2016

It’s been a little under a month since our previous seeding forecast and that means it’s time for an update. While a lot has happened over the last four weeks, the race for the Big Ten title and NCAA at-large bids have remained relatively even. There are still six Big Ten teams that appear comfortably within the field of 68 while a seventh remains firmly entrenched on the bubble. There’s also a three-way race for the #4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and its accompanying double-bye. The table below shows each school’s updated likelihoods for finishing the regular season at each seed.

big ten seeding 14 feb 2016

Here are three takeaways from the data.

1. Iowa is the strong favorite to capture a regular season title. There was a three-way tie for first place between Iowa, Indiana and Maryland heading into last weekend. In fact, the Terrapins — which owns the tiebreaker over the Hawkeyes — had at the time almost a 50 percent chance of finishing in first place. But after Maryland lost to Wisconsin and Indiana lost to Michigan State, Iowa once again finds itself alone at the top. Along with its one-game lead, Iowa has a comparative advantage with its remaining schedule. The toughest games for the Hawkeyes in the final three weeks will be versus Indiana and at Michigan; Maryland, on the other hand, still has games against Michigan, at Purdue and at Indiana; Indiana must face Purdue and Maryland as well as travel to Iowa. With this kind of advantage in place, Iowa has sole possession of the Big Ten Championship within grasp for the first time in 36 years.
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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 02.13.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 13th, 2016

Finally! After two weekends of mediocre action, Big Ten fans are treated to a packed slate of games with the top six contenders playing against one another or facing teams nipping at their heels. These games will have tremendous implications on the regular season title race, Big Ten tournament seeding and NCAA Tournament at-large bids. So set up camp on that couch this weekend, because there’s plenty of ball to be watched. Here the top Big Ten games of the weekend.

Yogi Ferrell will try and keep his Hoosiers in the Big Ten title race with a win against the Spartans.

Yogi Ferrell will try and keep his Hoosiers in the Big Ten title race with a win against the Spartans.

#18 Purdue at Michigan (Saturday 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2): This is essentially a playoff game to remain in the race for the regular season title — although the winner would still be a considerable long shot. Michigan only has two top 50 KenPom wins this season (Texas and Maryland). Their poor performance against elite competition has typecast the Wolverines as a good-not-great team. If Caris Levert returns to the lineup today, he may provide a spark Michigan needs to get a win over a ranked team and garner some momentum going into the final few weeks of the regular season. The Boilermakers, on the other hand, are not only trying to compete for a Big Ten title but also vying for a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. This game will be decided by one metric: three-pointers made by Michigan. If the Wolverines don’t get hot from outside the Boilermakers’ front line will simply eat them up. If Purdue can bother the Michigan shooters enough, though, they’ll add another excellent road win on their resume.

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