Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 7th, 2017

Chaos has been a commonality throughout this Big Ten season and it was on full display Saturday afternoon when all four road teams won games in opposing venues. Purdue earned possibly its biggest win of the season by coming back from a double-figure deficit in the second half to knock off Maryland. Rutgers won its first conference road game of the year by besting Penn State in Happy Valley. Fading Minnesota picked up a much needed road win at Illinois. Finally, Ohio State won a battle of two teams that have become increasingly difficult to figure out by beating Michigan in Ann Arbor. Things normalized a bit on Sunday with Wisconsin taking sole possession of first place in defeating Indiana at home, while Iowa likewise held serve in its own gym against Nebraska. There are now only four weekends left in the regular season, so look for more surprises as the pressure intensifies and the calendar flips to March. Here’s the best and worst of the Big Ten from the first weekend of February.

Corey Sanders led Rutgers to its second conference win in scoring 25 points as they knocked off Penn State (USA Today Images)

  • Player of the Weekend: Corey Sanders started off the 2016-17 campaign by figuring out how to adequately co-exist with Kansas State transfer Nigel Johnson in the Rutgers backcourt. Things have improved for the sophomore in recent weeks, however, as the dynamic point guard has scored in double figures in nine of his last 10 games. He’s taken over primary ball-handling duties, which has led to a more effective Rutgers offense. Sanders was dominant on Saturday, scoring 25 points and making 4-of-5 threes in leading Rutgers to its first ever Big Ten road victory. He also notched six rebounds, four assists and three steals. The Scarlet Knights are hoping that they can ride his enhanced scoring to a handful more wins to close out the regular season.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Iowa’s Nicholas Baer has drawn comparisons to Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ during a couple of Big Ten telecasts this season because he call fill up the stat sheet without providing the most beautiful of performances. The sophomore wing contributed seven points, six rebounds and three blocks against Nebraska on Sunday, cementing his status as Iowa’s second best player, regardless of whether he he starts or comes off the Hawkeyes’ bench.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 31st, 2017

We’re now halfway through the conference slate and things still haven’t gotten much clearer in the Big Ten standings. There is a notable top four in Wisconsin, Maryland, Northwestern and Purdue, but nine of the remaining 10 teams reside in the middle of the pack with between three and five conference wins. This has led to quite a few unexpected results, including the weekend haul of Nebraska beating Purdue, Maryland staying undefeated on the road by outlasting a slipping Minnesota squad, and Rutgers very nearly pulling off the biggest upset of the Big Ten season against Wisconsin. Here’s the rest of the weekend’s highlights.

Ethan Happ (right) scored more than half of Wisconsin’s points as it defeated Rutgers on Saturday. (Getty Images).

  • Player of the Weekend: There’s no easier way to show it than to let the numbers tell the story. Ethan Happ scored 32 of Wisconsin’s 61 points in an overtime victory at Madison Square Garden. While most of the Badgers were busily clanking away from the outside (Wisconsin shot an ice-cold 12 percent from three-point range), Happ utilized his quickness advantage over CJ Gettys to cause all kinds of damage around the rim. His defensive efforts also led to four steals (the sixth time the sophomore has had more than three steals in one game this season), as the center appears well on his way to a spot on the Big Ten All-Defensive team for the second year in a row.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: With apologies to Jack McVeigh and the 21 points he notched in leading Nebraska to an important win over Purdue, Iowa’s Brady Ellingson picked up the scoring load for the Hawkeyes in the absence of leading scorer Peter Jok. The injured senior has been a do-everything wing for a struggling team, so expectations were low heading into Saturday’s match-up with Ohio State. Instead, Ellingson scored 17 points on 5-for-7 shooting from three-point range, part of a big surge in Iowa’s bench production (44 points). In easily his most productive game in conference play, the sophomore also added four rebounds and three assists with zero turnovers. Ellingson could become a viable threat off the bench for the Hawkeyes the rest of the season.

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Big Ten Week in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 18th, 2017

The standings in the Big Ten continue to be a jumbled mess, with 10 teams within two games of the top spot. All but Rutgers has won a conference game, and aside from Wisconsin, is there another Final Four contender among the bunch? Here’s the best and worst of the last week of Big Ten action.

Jaquan Lyle led Ohio State in both points and assists as the Buckeyes won their first conference game over Michigan State. (Jim Davidson)

  • Player of the Week: Ohio State’sJaquan Lyle had one of the most efficient outings of his career as the Buckeyes picked up their most significant win off the season over Michigan State. Lyle used his size to bully Sparty’s point guard tandem of Cassius Winston and Tum Tum Nairn, but his primary contributions to the victory were twofold: 5-of-7 shooting from three-point range and six assists along with only one turnover. Lyle, who was shooting a poor 28.2 percent on the season from deep just three games ago, has improved to 36.4 percent after making nine of his last 14 attempts. The sophomore has had a maddening tendency to make a couple head-scratching mistakes per game, but if he is finally becoming one of the best point guards in the league, Ohio State should be in good position to turn things around after a slow Big Ten start.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 10th, 2017

The second weekend of conference action did nothing to solve the Big Ten puzzle. Wisconsin could have gotten a massive head start in the league race by winning at Purdue, but instead the Badgers were stymied by Matt Painter’s team. Maryland had looked vulnerable in losing a home game to Nebraska, but the Terrapins bounced back by winning at Michigan. Indiana, coming off a three-game losing streak, thoroughly outplayed Illinois in Bloomington and reminded everyone how well the Hoosiers were playing earlier this season. You get the idea. If you like chaos and unpredictability, the Big Ten is your conference this season. Here’s the best and worst of the weekend.

Thomas Bryant did not miss a shot from the field as Indiana beat Illinois on Saturday. (Kelsey Kremer, Des Moines Register).

  • Player of the Weekend: Unlike his sophomore counterpart in West Lafayette who is generating buzz for Player of the Year recognition, Thomas Bryant has not yet broken out this season. His statistics are down across the board, and much of this is attributable to no longer having one of the best point guards in the nation (Yogi Ferrell) to find him in premium scoring situations. It was therefore encouraging that Bryant went for a season-high 20 points and added a team-high six rebounds in Saturday’s 96-80 victory over the Illini. The Hoosiers made a point of finding their big man when Illinois started to make things interesting, and he responded by showcasing some nifty post moves to seal the win. For Indiana to make its way back to the top of the Big Ten, it will need to get Bryant going down low more frequently.

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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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Big Ten Feast Week Winners and Losers

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 28th, 2016

After 10 days of games in eight different tournaments, the picture as to how things will play out in this season’s Big Ten has become clearer. It is still somewhat murky and disjointed, but Feast Week gave us some insights as to the ceilings and floors for each squad. Here’s a brief look at which teams helped their cause last week and those that came away looking like they still have considerable work to do.

Winners

  • Maryland: While not playing in the most prestigious of events, Maryland was able to pick up wins over Richmond and Kansas State in the Barclays Center Classic. Neither were huge resume boosters, but they should help come March rather than hurt. The Terps pounded the offensive backboards all weekend, snatching an average of 40 percent of their own misses in the two victories. The most significant aspect of Maryland’s performances was that Mark Turgeon’s freshmen trio of Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson all played heavy crunch time minutes in a pair of tight games. Their continued improvement will largely determine the arc of the Terrapins’ season.
Justin Jackson helped lead Maryland to two wins in Brooklyn last weekend. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports).

Justin Jackson helped lead Maryland to two wins in Brooklyn last weekend. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports).

  • Michigan: The shine from the Wolverines’ two wins at the beginning of Feast Week lost some of its luster when they lost at South Carolina last Wednesday. Concentrating solely on their play in the 2k Classic, however, Michigan looked like it could be a serious threat to finish in the top three of the Big Ten. DJ Wilson’s defensive versatility was on full display, as he successfully guarded almost every position on the floor. The Wolverines held both Marquette and SMU under 1.00 point per possession and under 39 percent shooting from the field. They also hit 22 three-pointers and paired stellar outside shooting with their typical runs that led to easy buckets. Overall, Feast Week was a net plus for John Beilein’s team.

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Feast Week Mission Preview: Kansas State in the Barclays Center Classic

Posted by Justin Fedich on November 25th, 2016

Kansas State is off to a strong start, going 4-0 with an average margin of victory of 21 points per contest. However, Bruce Weber’s team has neither faced a Power 5 opponent, nor played a game outside Manhattan yet. That changes tonight, when the Wildcats travel to Brooklyn for the Barclays Center Classic.

Catching Up: Kansas State’s undefeated record is in large part the result of a weak non-conference schedule. The four opponents the Wildcats have faced have combined to go 5-14 this season, with each one sitting below .500. Poor schedule notwithstanding, Weber has to be happy with a number of developments. Sophomore guard Barry Brown has made the biggest jump since last season, leading the Wildcats in scoring with 15.3 points per game. Brown was sixth on the team in scoring last year. The Wildcats have also enjoyed the return of versatile senior forward Wesley Iwundu, who is averaging 14 points, five rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Sophomore Dean Wade has increased his scoring in each of the last three games, and totaled 13 points and nine rebounds in the most recent contest against Robert Morris. Kansas State will not be the most talented team in the Big 12 this season, but the fact that all five starters were on the Wildcats’ roster last season provides an unusual degree of continuity. Oh, and the other nice part of the weak early slate: Kansas State has been able to get its bench heavily involved. Against Robert Morris, 15 players saw action for the Wildcats.

Wesley Iwundu (25) And Barry Brown (5) Will Look To Help Kansas State Remain Perfect in Brooklyn (Photo: Wichita Eagle)

Wesley Iwundu (25) And Barry Brown (5) Will Look To Help Kansas State Remain Perfect in Brooklyn (Photo: Wichita Eagle)

Opening Round Preview: While Boston College will be Kansas State’s first Power 5 opponent this season, the Eagles don’t exactly fall under the quality opponent category. BC began its season with a home loss to Nicholls State, which sits at 317 in the KenPom rankings. The Eagles, like Kansas State, has yet to leave its home court all season. But while the Wildcat starters are all returning players, Boston College starts two sophomores, two graduate transfers and a freshman. The Eagles’ lack of proven talent gives the Wildcats a great chance to move to 5-0. The Wildcats, who rank 30th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, should be able to bottle up the Eagles, whose are just 201st nationally in offensive efficiency. Still, this will be the toughest opponent the Wildcats have faced all season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Feast Week Primer: Part Three

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 24th, 2016

Eight of the 14 Big Ten teams have already started, finished or will play in early-season tournaments this week. The festivities began Monday afternoon with Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational, but continue for much of the week as turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce commingles with basketball in far-flung locales. Here’s the third of a three-part breakdown that discusses what each participating Big Ten team faces this week.

NIT Season Tip-Off

Malcolm Hill will need to display the form that made him a Preseason All Big-Ten player in New York City this weekend. (USA Today Sports)

Malcolm Hill will need to display the form that made him a Preseason All-Big Ten player in New York City this weekend. (USA Today Sports)

  • Teams: Illinois, West Virginia, Florida State, Temple
  • Capsule: Things were looking relatively good for Illinois as it got off to a 4-0 start… and then the Illini lost to Winthrop at home. In what might be a make-or-break season for John Groce, a couple of wins against quality teams in the Big Apple would definitely ease some stress. Illinois squares off today against the national leader in creating turnovers and steals when it plays West Virginia. Those same 22 turnovers against Winthrop will end this game quickly.
  • Key Player: Tracy Abrams will be the key here. The sixth -year senior not only needs to break the Mountaineers’ press, but unlike the offensively-challenged Jaylon Tate, he can also be a threat to score. Abrams needs to max out his experience and ability for Illinois to come away with two wins in New York this week.
  • Prediction: The West Virginia game will be an ugly loss, but expect the Illini to respond and beat Temple in the consolation game on Friday.

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