Five Trends to Track During a Big Week in the Big Ten

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 7th, 2018

Ohio State vs. Purdue and Maryland vs. Penn State tonight. Purdue vs. Michigan State on Saturday. Several potential bubble-busters in between. Needless to say, it’s a big week in the Big Ten. Let’s take a look at a few quietly-important trends worth keeping an eye on.

Purdue’s defense has been mediocre in recent weeks. (Anthony Souffle – Purdue Exponent)

  • Purdue’s Struggling Defense. Just because because the Boilermakers own the nation’s longest winning streak of 18 games doesn’t mean all is rosy in West Lafayette. After holding 12 of its previous 14 opponents to less than one point per possession, Purdue has recently allowed five straight opponents to exceed that mark — including Rutgers, which scored 1.17 PPP in a near-upset of the Boilermakers on Saturday. In just a few weeks, Purdue has dropped from fifth nationally in defensive efficiency to 15th, a slump that’s coincided with four straight games decided by fewer than 10 points. Purdue won all four, of course, but when you consider that 10 of its previous 11 victories were absolute blowouts, you begin to understand why it’s worth pointing out. Matt Painter’s group has looked visibly less active in guarding the perimeter over that stretch, and part of the problem may also be rim protection: shot-blocking maven Matt Haarms has only swatted six shots since January 20, his lowest five-game stretch of output this season. It will be interesting to observe how the Boilers fare against Keita Bates-Diop in tonight’s big showdown with Ohio State.
  • Michigan State’s Troubling Late-Game Execution. On January 22, Michigan State led Illinois by 18 points with 4:29 left, only to see the Illini cut the lead to eight in a matter of three minutes. Against Penn State last week, a 15-point lead with 1:09 to play shriveled to six — and nearly three — in just 30 seconds. Up 10 at Indiana on Saturday night, Michigan State mustered just three field goals in the game’s final 12 minutes, giving the Hoosiers a chance to tie it at the buzzer. Part of Sparty’s problem has been shear boneheadedness, like Miles Bridges’ and-1 foul of Devonte Green in the closing seconds against Indiana. But these late-game struggles also shed light on a broader weakness: the Spartans are simply less productive and more turnover-prone in the half-court, where their offense has often lacked rhythm. It wasn’t an issue in Tuesday night’s scare at Iowa, but it could be against Purdue on Saturday.

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The Big Ten’s Biggest Early Surprises

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 19th, 2018

Now that we’re roughly one-third of the way through the Big Ten slate, let’s take a look at the biggest surprises and storylines taking shape in the Midwest.

Who had Ohio State pegged as a Big Ten title contender? (Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Chris Holtmann, Keita Bates-Diop, and the Buckeyes. Forget the Big Ten for a moment — Ohio State might be the biggest surprise in the entire country. The Buckeyes began the season ranked 74th overall by KenPom and picked to finish 11th — yes, 11th — in the conference. And after getting blasted by Gonzaga in the PK80 on Thanksgiving Day, those projections appeared to make sense. That is, until Big Ten play rolled around. Since losing to Clemson on November 29, Ohio State has gone 11-1 overall and 5-0 in league play, including a 25-point road drubbing of Wisconsin and dominant win against top-ranked Michigan State. Its KenPom ranking has skyrocketed as a result to 12th overall nationally. Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop (19.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG) has emerged as the frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year — highlighted by a 32-point effort against the Spartans — while his coach, Chris Holtmann, may be on track for conference (if not national) honors in his own right. Perhaps Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith put it best: “None of us, including me, expected to be here.”
  • Purdue is the clear Big Ten favorite. Who would have expected to be saying that in mid-January? It’s not that Purdue wasn’t expected to be good — the Boilers were picked to finish second, after all — it’s just that Michigan State was supposed to be that much better. Roughly one-third of the way through Big Ten play, however, that’s clearly not the case. Whereas Michigan State has lost two of its last three games, both by double-figures, Matt Painter’s club has been on an absolute tear. Since November 24, Purdue is 14-0 (7-0 in Big Ten play) with eight wins by 25 or more points — including wins against Arizona, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Boilermakers rank among the top six nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency while boasting the third-highest three-point shooting mark (42.6%) in America. 7’2″ center Isaac Haas has been more efficient than ever (122.7 ORtg); sophomore guard Carsen Edwards (17 PPG) has been the breakout player some thought he could be; put simply, Purdue has looked infallible. With home games against Ohio State and Michigan left, Painter’s group is in great position to win the conference outright — even if it were to stumble in East Lansing on February 10.

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Big Ten Preview Part VI: Key Questions For Northwestern & Purdue

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 8th, 2017

With the season just a few days 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 Wisconsin and Michigan.

#4 Northwestern – Can the Wildcats’ offense take another step forward?

Chris Collins hopes to improve on last season’s historic campaign. (Getty Images)

Here’s what we know about Northwestern heading into 2017-18: it’s experienced, well-coached and should be darn stingy on defense. What we don’t know is whether the Wildcats, fresh off their first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history, can improve enough offensively to become the top-tier Big Ten contender everyone expects them to be. But there is reason to expect an upswing in production. Already one of the least turnover-prone units in the country (16% TO rate), Northwestern welcomes back the Big Ten’s most experienced — and productive — starting backcourt in Bryant McIntosh (14.8 PPG, 5.2 APG) and Scottie Lindsey (14.1 PPG), a pair of preseason all-conference honorees. While neither is a great outside shooter, both players are very effective from inside the arc and at the free throw line (87% FT and 84% FT, respectively). What’s more, 6’8″ forward Aaron Falzon returns this season after missing most of 2016-17 to knee surgery. His three-point shooting ability (35.5% 3FG) alongside Vic Law (12.3 PPG) — the team’s best returning perimeter shooter, defender and overall athlete — should give head coach Chris Collins plenty of depth and versatility at the wing position. Throw in one of the league’s top offensive rebounders in Dererk Pardon (12.1% OReb rate) and you’re suddenly looking at a roster that can stretch the floor, limits miscues, maximizes its opportunities to score, and makes the most of its trips to the free throw line. In other words, you’re looking at all the makings of an efficient offense. After scoring less than a point per possession in eight of their 12 losses a year ago, the Wildcats need to realize that potential this year if they’re to truly compete for a league title.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2017

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks.

New Favorite: #1 Kansas (30-4). Despite receiving a 30-minute test from #9 Michigan State on Sunday, Kansas remains the favorite to win the Midwest Region. The Jayhawks smashed #16 UC Davis 100-62 before dominating the last 10 minutes against the Spartans in the Round of 32 — a hard-fought victory that should prepare them well for an even stronger Big Ten opponent, #4 Purdue, on Thursday. If you buy into advanced metrics, this appears to be a fairly even matchup: Kansas ranks seventh in KenPom, while the Boilermakers rank 13th. Unfortunately for Matt Painter’s group, the game will be played in Kansas City, where a sea of Jayhawk faithful is sure to outnumber Purdue fans several fold. Assuming Kansas prevails, it will be a similar story against #3 Oregon or #7 Michigan. Beating Kansas is one thing, but beating Kansas in a semi-road game is something entirely different.

Kansas Rolls Into KC as the Clear Midwest Region Favorite (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #7 Michigan (26-11). The Wolverines have not lost since that epic defeat at Northwestern on March 1, a nearly three-week stretch which has included a near-plane crash, a Big Ten Tournament championship, and a pair of gutsy NCAA Tournament victories over Oklahoma State and Louisville. Michigan now boasts the third-most efficient offense in college basketball, thanks in large part to blistering performances like the one Moritz Wagner (26 points on 11-of-14 FT) put on against the Cardinals on Sunday. If John Beilein’s group can get past shorthanded Oregon on Thursday, there’s no reason to think it can’t win this region. Heck, the Wolverines have already beaten Purdue twice since February 25, and the last time they played Kansas in the Big Dance, this happened. Look out.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #11 Rhode Island (25-10). Rhode Island entered the NCAA Tournament on an eight-game winning streak, so its victory over #6 Creighton in the Round of 64 was not that surprising. The fashion in which it whipped the Bluejays, though — winning by 14 points and trailing for exactly zero seconds in game time — was quite unexpected. So too was the Rams’ effort against #3 Oregon on Sunday night, a game in which they led by double-figures in the second half before falling victim to a cold-blooded Tyler Dorsey three-pointer in the closing seconds. For a program that had not gone dancing since 1999, Rhode Island was certainly ready for prime time.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Purdue 80, #5 Iowa State 76

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 19th, 2017

Purdue advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2012 by beating Iowa State in one of the best games of the NCAA Tournament so far.

Biggie Swanigan Dominated the Inside For Purdue (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways. 

  1. Purdue was large and in charge, and this carried the day. It was fairly well-known by anybody who watches the sport that Purdue was going to have an advantage in the post this evening, and it did so by scoring 40 points against the undersized Cyclones in the paint. Caleb Swanigan, Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas were the team’s top three players in scoring, combining for 55 of the team’s 80 points on 56.1 percent shooting for the game.
  2. Tournament Vincent is the best Vincent. Edwards has yet to have a poor effort in thefour NCAA Tournament appearances over his career — the junior forward now boasts averages of 20.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, and 3.8 APG on 54.2 percent shooting from the floor. He led the Boilermakers in scoring again tonight, doing most of his damage at the rim. Were it not for Swanigan’s heroics at the end of the game, Edwards would have easily been deserving as the best player on the floor.
  3. This was a brutal way for the career of Iowa State’s seniors to end. Even as a neutral party on press row, watching the careers of four seniors end with such a tough loss was difficult to watch. The foursome of Monte’ Morris, Matt Thomas, Nazareth Mitrou-Long and Deonte Burton will go down as one of the best senior classes in Iowa State history, and they deserve to be commended for the way they fought back to put the heat on Purdue in the second half.

Star of the Game. Edwards was extremely good in this game, but it’s hard not to give Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan the nod here. It wasn’t his best or most efficient offensive game, but he still scored 20 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and offered a team-leading seven assists. He’s been a solid passer all season long for the Boilermakers, but he really did a nice job feeding Edwards and Haas from either the high post or down on the blocks.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Purdue 80, #13 Vermont 70

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 16th, 2017

Purdue did not play its best game of the season this evening, but the Boilermakers did enough things right to hold off a pesky Vermont team that was still within five points in the last five minutes. Turnovers and shaky defense are still a concern for Matt Painter’s team going forward, though.

BIggie Swanigan Notched His 27th Double-Double of the Season (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1.  Purdue still has a dangerous offense. The final numbers made things look much nicer for Purdue’s offense than it actually played tonight — at times, the Boilermakers really struggled to get anything going. All in all, though, Purdue finished the game scoring well over 1.10 points per possession, solid shooting percentage numbers, and only two turnovers after halftime. The first half was somewhat uglier, so there’s plenty for Matt Painter to focus on cleaning up with his team before Saturday.
  2. Purdue still has issues to fix. This isn’t the time of year for Painter to deal with things like inadequately closing out on three-point shooters or improperly feeding the post. It is possible that the Boilermakers slightly overlooked the Catamounts, but that too is problematic because this team simply isn’t good enough to hit an on and off switch like that.
  3. Vermont could have grabbed the upset but lost the game in the paint. If a couple of three-pointers hadn’t rolled in-and-out, this game was there for the Catamounts’ taking, having received tremendous performances from Anthony Lamb and Trae Bell-Haynes. Tonight wasn’t a very good defensive performance from Purdue, but a +11 rebounding edge and a +14 advantage in the paint ensured the victory.

Star of the Game. Purdue’s Vincent Edwards experienced a similar scoring stretch similar to Reggie Upshaw for Middle Tennessee earlier today. Edwards scored the first eight Purdue points in the second half, while adding five rebounds, three assists, a steal and two blocks. The junior didn’t need to carry the whole offense tonight, but his early second half scoring punch perhaps prevented a fatal lull.

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Michigan Has the Look of a March Sleeper

Posted by Chris Stone on March 11th, 2017

After dispatching Illinois in their opening round game of the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan upset top-seeded Purdue on Friday behind 26 points from DJ Wilson and 54.3 percent shooting inside the arc. Now, just two days after an incredibly harrowing incident in which the Wolverines’ plane aborted takeoff, skidded off the runway and nearly ended up in a ravine, the team has the look of a potential NCAA Tournament sleeper. “We’ve been selling the fun of a run,” head coach John Beilein said after Friday’s victory. “You throw in what happened on Wednesday, now they’ve got a lot of memories. We don’t want it to stop.”

Derrick Walton Jr. and Michigan are built to win in March. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Michigan figures to make the NCAA Tournament field come Selection Sunday, likely ending up with a middling seed after amassing a 10-8 record during Big Ten regular season play. Recent history suggests that might not be such a bad thing. Under-seeded major conference teams who are well-respected by efficiency metrics like KenPom have been known to deliver. Last season, Syracuse became the first No. 10 seed to make a Final Four. In 2015, Michigan State made the final weekend as a No. 7 seed, and in 2014, No. 11 Tennessee found its way into the Sweet Sixteen after winning a play-in game. After Friday’s win, the Wolverines rank 24th in KenPom, a placement that would put them in line for a No. 6 seed if the Selection Committee seeded strictly on that ranking. Michigan may end up a couple lines lower than that.

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Should Purdue Think About Going Small?

Posted by Jim Root on December 28th, 2016

Entering the season, West Lafayette, Indiana, had a fairly legitimate claim to possession of the best collegiate frontcourt in college basketball (apologies to Wisconsin and a couple of other teams). Between incredibly versatile swingman Vince Edwards, half-man/half-Terminator center Isaac Haas, and former five-star power forward and Big Ten POY candidate Caleb Swanigan, the Boilermakers had the bodies to own the paint in most any match-up.

purdue-bigs

Vince Edwards, Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan provide a potent trio up front for the Boilermakers .(Associated Press)

Despite all of that front line talent, though, head coach Matt Painter has faced an interesting decision in how to deploy his best three players. Playing them at the 3-4-5 spots gives the Boilermakers a massive size advantage, but there are drawbacks with that lineup too. Haas, for example, can be a liability on both ends of the floor when pulled outside of the paint, and his presence on the offensive end — despite being a major weapon in drawing fouls and double-teams — can clog up the lane for the more dynamic Swanigan. To his credit, Swanigan has developed his outside shot to the point of greater respectability (52 percent from three-point range this season, compared with 29 percent last year), which resolves some of the prior spacing issues. But Painter’s tradeoff of playing Swanigan with Haas usually takes him out of the interior, where his combination of strength and quickness make him a match-up nightmare for most defenders.

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Purdue Enhances Its Reputation Despite a Loss

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 15th, 2016

Aside from not coming away with a hard-fought victory, Purdue‘s Monday night loss at home against the reigning National Champion Villanova went about as well as possible. The Boilermakers proved that they can play at a roughly equivalent level to a top five team in coming back from double-figure deficits twice to tie the game before falling late. Matt Painter would undoubtedly argue that a loss is still a loss, but there are some things that Purdue should take away from this game that represent encouraging signs for the rest of the season.

Purdue Gave Villanova Nearly All It Could Handle (USA Today Images)

Purdue Gave Villanova Nearly All It Could Handle (USA Today Images)

  • Physical Mismatches: Villanova is not a big team at all but few teams in college basketball will be able to match Purdue’s size down low. Seeing how the Boilermakers’ front line played against the gritty Wildcats, though, proves that Purdue should be able to run its offense through the paint. When Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan are both on the floor together, they can run some beautiful high-low action to take advantage of Swanigan’s exceptional abilities as a passer. Both players can also get to the free throw line at will, so expect many more nights where the pair combines to shoot 70 percent (14-of-20) on two-point field goals as they did on Monday night.

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Rushed Reaction: #12 Little Rock 85 #5 Purdue 83 (2OT)

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 17th, 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.

Not So Little Rock Today (USA Today Images)

Not So Little Rock Today (USA Today Images)

  1. Grind It Out. At the under-four media timeout, Purdue led by 11 and everyone in the Pepsi Center (except for maybe the Little Rock bench) was ready to put a bow on the opening game. A.J. Hammons exited the timeout, knocked in a couple free throws and the Boilermakers were well on their way to the round of 32, up 65-52. Things turned a little bit when Little Rock was able to get a layup out of their halfcourt offense, then turned up their defense. Josh Hagins got a steal in the backcourt and assisted on a Jalen Jackson jumper, then got a jumper of his own after another Purdue miss. Suddenly Little Rock believed again. When Hagins hit another three to bring the Trojans back within one possession, things were on. A few possessions later, Hagins delivered a shot that will live on in March lore, and a game thought to be over minutes earlier was headed to overtime.
  2. Overtimes. The Hagins shot tied it, but Little Rock still had to find a way to win the game. They kept up the pressure on defense and Purdue struggled for possessions at a time to find coherent offense in a first overtime that was not a work of art. In the second overtime, it was against Hagins scoring six points to help establish the final distance between his team and the Boilermakers.
  3. Fight For Everything. Against a team with three talented players taller than 6’10”, all of whom have NBA aspirations, Little Rock appeared to be at a disadvantage (they rank 263rd in the nation in KenPom’s average height metric). But if there was a metric for toughness, the Trojans would have to be near the top. Despite the size disadvantage, they denied post touches, collapsed on Purdue post players when they did get the ball in there, and forced multiple turnovers on the double-teams. If there was a loose ball, there was a Trojan ready to get down on the floor to grab it. They fought the Boilermakers to a draw on the glass, grabbing 15 offensive boards. And in the second half, when Purdue extended their lead to as many as 14 and it seemed like there was no energy left in the building, Little Rock manufactured their own.

Star of the Game. Josh Hagins. The three-pointer at the end of regulation will be replayed both this March and many in the future. But his overall performance was insane, too. His final line: 31 points (a career high) on 20 field goal attempts, six assists, seven boards and five steals. His leadership shouldn’t be overlooked, either.

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