Big Ten’s Opening Night Debut a Win For All

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 15th, 2016

It’s been a few days since the sensational opening-night doubleheader that featured both Michigan State and Indiana, but the attention the Armed Forces Classic in Honolulu brought to the Big Ten deserves further discussion. Unlike most other sports, college basketball rarely opens its season with a number of truly marquee match-ups. Coaches instead typically opt for easy wins against low-majors out of fear of being exposed. This strategy may make sense for individual programs, but it hardly does the sport any favors. This year, however, we were treated to two compelling bouts featuring a quartet of top 15 teams. Each game was action-packed and came down to the wire, as the Spartans lost to Arizona on a last-second layup and the Hoosiers eked out a 103-99 overtime win over Kansas. Kudos should be given to Tom Izzo and Tom Crean for ignoring the “risk” of being exposed early. These coaches instead saw the event as an opportunity to showcase their programs to a captive Friday night national audience, in addition to supporting the brave men and women of the armed forces on Veterans Day.

Miles Bridges' team may have lost the game, but he was the star of opening night (Fansided photo).

Miles Bridges (#22) may not have been on a winning team, but he was the star of opening night (Fansided photo).

In the first game, Michigan State charged to a big early lead before eventually giving up a coast-to-coast layup to lose at the buzzer. While the Spartans missed an opportunity for a nice early resume win, they did get to showcase their celebrated freshmen class. Miles Bridges was especially spectacular, contributing 21 points, seven rebounds and an early candidate for the dunk of the year. In the second game, Indiana outlasted Kansas in a back-and-forth contest that went to overtime. The impressive win against the perennial Big 12 favorite was propelled by a 26-point performance from James Blackmon, Jr., who looked completely healthy after last year’s season-ending surgery.

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Big Ten Preseason Superlatives: POY, COY, FrOY

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 11th, 2016

The season-opening tip-offs are set for tonight and the RTC Big Ten microsite has arrived at our predictions for the coming year. We’ve huddled our clairvoyant minds together and selected our conference preseason Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year, and Coach of the Year. Some of these predictions are likely to miss, but the three individual profiled below are definitely worth keeping a close eye on during the regular season.

Thomas Bryant is the RTC Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year (USA Today Images).

Thomas Bryant is the RTC Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year (USA Today Images).

Player of the Year: Thomas Bryant, Indiana. This was by no means a unanimous choice among our group. While we believe our other two Badger candidates — Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ — will each also have a terrific season, we settled on Bryant for a couple of reasons. First, he is one of the nation’s most talented big men in an offense full of second options — expect him to significantly improve on his 11.9 PPG and 5.8 RPG freshman tallies with an added a year of experience. Second, he is the anchor of a reigning Big Ten champion that is expected to contend for a second consecutive title and a deep NCAA Tournament run. Given the talent and opportunity here, we believe that Bryant is ready for a monster year.

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On the Predictive Power of Top 10 Rankings…

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on November 8th, 2016

The college basketball season is right around the corner, but all we have to amuse ourselves until tip-off this Friday night are the myriad published projections and preseason polls. I am a big fan of preseason polls, and have written extensively in the past about both their predictive power and their biases. This year I decided to focus on the preseason and postseason top 10s (note that only the USA Today/Coaches Poll publishes its final poll after the NCAA Tournament has completed). I was curious if there was any continuity between the two and the corresponding likelihood of a team finishing in the postseason top 10 given their inclusion in the preseason top 10.

Duke is Back in the Top 10, But the Blue Devils Didn't Finish There Last Season. Does it Matter? (USA Today Images)

Duke is Back in the Top 10, But the Blue Devils Didn’t Finish There Last Season. Does it Matter? (USA Today Images)

First, a quick note about each poll. A natural first instinct is to dismiss the preseason Top 25 as little more than idle speculation, but it has proven over time to be a useful predictive tool. In a sport with relatively little year-to-year continuity, the projections of the preseason polls are useful proxies for the objective talent of a team, which is notoriously difficult to quantify. The postseason poll (i.e., the poll taken after the conclusion of NCAA Tournament) is functionally irrelevant in college basketball, but it is a good metric of holistic season success. The Tournament exerts its weighty influence on the judgment of those teams, but it seems harsh to factor the entire perception of teams on a few games in March. The postseason Top 25 represents a season-long assessment. For example, Michigan State, a strong #2 seed that many pundits and fans alike projected into the Final Four, shockingly lost to #15 seed Middle Tennessee State in the First Round. The Spartans were therefore ranked seventh in the postseason poll, which ultimately felt about right.

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Michigan State’s Freshmen Will be This Season’s Catalysts

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 25th, 2016

As another exciting Big Ten season approaches, Tom Izzo, the league’s most accomplished and celebrated figure, finds his program in the familiar position as the favorite. What’s different this year is that the longtime Michigan State head coach brings something he’s never had into this season – a top-five recruiting class (according to 247sports). While that fact may surprise some, it shouldn’t. Izzo has had his fair share of individual blue-chip prospects in the past, but he’s never snagged so many at once nor has he been considered a recruiting virtuoso like John Calipari or Mike Krzyzewski. Rather, he’s previously expressed his frustration with the seedier aspects of chasing commitments from 17-year olds but he’s since adjusted his recruiting approach which has culminated in an incoming group of four top 50 players – two of whom are McDonald’s All-Americans. This talented group joins enough returning veterans that the Spartans are once again poised to challenge for a Big Ten championship.

Tom Izzo has his highest-ranked recruiting class coming into a season with big expectations.

Tom Izzo has his highest-ranked recruiting class coming into a season with big expectations.

This year’s freshmen class includes four exceptional players: Miles Bridges (#12), Josh Langford (#20), Cassius Winston (#33), and Nick Ward (#41). Aside from that notable injection of talent, it is a balanced class with each player filling a specific position on the floor. As the crown jewel of the class, Bridges – a bouncy yet physical combo forward who can finish above the rim – is the freshman who will be ready to contribute from day one. Langford is a big-bodied combo guard who likes driving to the rim and proved he could play among elite players when he scored 12 points in 15 minutes of action at the McDonald’s All-American game. Winston is a prototypical point guard with a well-rounded offensive skill set, but what makes him most attractive are his intangibles — the Detroit product led his high school team to four state championships. Finally, Ward is the true big man of the class. The wide-bodied Gahanna, Ohio, native has exceptional hands, has dropped 20 pounds since his last high school season, and says “I’m in the best shape of my life.” Read the rest of this entry »

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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 Weekend Look Ahead: 12.11.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 11th, 2015

The college football championships are now in the books, which means basketball has center stage for a while. There are just under three weeks left in the non-conference portion of the schedule, so teams are still looking to notch a few resume-enhancing wins before conference play begins at the end of the month. Luckily for Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Nebraska this weekend, they will have those opportunities against top 100 teams this weekend. Here is your weekend preview of those four games.

Mark Loving (left) leads a very mediocre Buckeyes unit into Stoors on Saturday.

Mark Loving (left) leads a mediocre Buckeyes unit into Storrs on Saturday.

  • Ohio State at Connecticut (Saturday, 12:00 PM ET, CBS). The Huskies are coming off a tough loss at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, possibly because their coach, Kevin Ollie, received an ill-timed technical in the latter stages of the game. They’ll get another shot against a Big Ten team when the Buckeyes visit Gampel Pavilion on Saturday afternoon. Thad Matta’s young squad has looked its age as the Buckeyes commit a turnover in one out of every five possessions so far this season. If Ohio State can’t protect the ball against a very good Connecticut defense, they’ll slip below .500 with a record of 4-5, something that hasn’t happened this late in the season during the Matta era.
  • Marquette at Wisconsin (Saturday, 1:30 PM ET, ESPN2). If you haven’t yet heard, this version of Wisconsin isn’t your typical Bo Ryan team. Rather, this team, to the consternation of its head coach, shies away from three-pointers in favor of mid-range jumpers. Therefore, this rivalry game may rely on which player wins the battle in the paint between the Badgers’ Nigel Hayes and the Golden Eagles’ Henry Ellenson. While the freshman is bigger and more naturally gifted, the upperclassman knows how to take over a game — Hayes scored 32 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a recent loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Look for whoever wins this individual battle to set the tone for the rest of his team.

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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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Michigan State vs. Kansas: Four Things to Know

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 17th, 2015

Tonight the fifth annual Champions Classic will tip off at the United Center in Chicago where Michigan State will face Kansas in the late game. The Spartans and Jayhawks — both ranked in the top 15 — bring the usual lofty season expectations each program is accustomed to. Bill Self and Tom Izzo have built the type of rosters that seem to be the recipe for success in today’s college game: a healthy mix of experienced upperclassmen along with some talented freshmen. In order to prepare you for tonight’s game and get you familiar with some of the new faces, here are four things you need to know before you tune in to watch.

Deyonta Davis will need to keep dominating inside against Kansas. (Rey De Rio/Getty Images)

Deyonta Davis faces his first major challenge in the paint against Kansas. (Rey De Rio/Getty Images)

  1. Deyonta Down Low. Michigan State lost a lot of its muscle in the post when Branden Dawson graduated but Izzo seems to have found a more-than-suitable replacement in four-star freshman Deyonta Davis. The Muskegon, Michigan, native didn’t let his youth and inexperience make him reticent in his inaugural outing on Friday, as evidenced by his stat line of 13 points on 14 shots (team-high), 11 rebounds, and five blocks against Florida Atlantic. But his head coach might have to calm his budding star down a bit tonight because Davis won’t be able to physically bully the Jayhawks in the paint like he did against the Owls. Read the rest of this entry »
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Michigan State Turnaround Started When Izzo Spurned the NBA

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 25th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

There’s not much that can be said about Tom Izzo as a basketball coach that hasn’t already been said. After Michigan State’s upset of #2 Virginia in the Round of 32, there was overwhelming media praise for the 60-year old icon and his ever-growing reputation in March. It’s an accolade that’s well-deserved — in 20 years as the Spartans’ head coach, Izzo has taken Michigan State to six Final Fours, eight Elite Eights and 13 Sweet Sixteens (including this season). He also won a National Championship in 2000 – representing the last Big Ten coach to successfully reach the mountain top. While he was certainly a celebrated figure well before this weekend’s upset victory, this season’s run is earning him even more praise because of the flawed roster he’s taken there. Because of Villanova and Virginia’s losses in the East Region, the Spartans find themselves with a realistic path from the Sweet Sixteen to the Final Four. Even more remarkable is that Izzo’s latest run comes merely a year after he seriously considered a jump to the NBA because of frustrations with the current environment of college basketball.

Izzo

Tom Izzo Could be Coaching the Detroit Pistons Right Now (USA Today Images)

Last May, Izzo faced quite a professional choice. He could either take an offer to finally move on to the NBA – where the Detroit Pistons were set to pay him a hefty salary and give him general management responsibilities over the franchise – or he could return for his 20th season to a Michigan State club where three crucial players had moved on. Add that to the fact that he had experienced some high-profile misses on the recruiting trail and was apparently growing increasingly frustrated with the entire process — it just seemed as if all the stars had finally aligned for him to make the jump to the pros, a move he had flirted with as recent as 2010. He obviously chose East Lansing, which meant that he would be returning to what appeared to be on paper a flawed team. From a talent perspective, the Spartans looked barely capable of making the NCAA Tournament with only one blue-chipper, Branden Dawson, on the roster. That result still seemed possible in early February when Michigan State lost to Illinois in the Breslin Center, sinking them to 6-4 in the Big Ten standings. Since then, however, Izzo has done what he does best — push his team with a late surge so that it was playing well enough to finish among the top four of the Big Ten and make a run in March. Is anyone surprised that Michigan State nearly upset Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament championship game a couple of Sunday ago, or that his group is among the last 16 schools standing? Read the rest of this entry »

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The Big Ten Third and Fourth Place Race Cheat Sheet

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on March 6th, 2015

Last week, I broke down the race for the top four seeds in the Big Ten because finishing in that group guarantees those teams a double-bye in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament. Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, we have a much clearer picture of this race. Wisconsin and Maryland have already locked up the #1 and #2 seeds, but the #3 and #4 seeds are still very much up in the air. Currently, there is a four-way tie for third place between Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Purdue. All teams have a record of 11-6 with one game remaining — none of which are against each other. This means that there are 16 possible (and very confusing) combinations of outcomes from this weekend’s games. To help clear things up, I created a cheat sheet showing where each team will be seeded given each scenario. The table below displays the 16 possibilities: Michigan State gets a double-by in 12 of the 16 options; Purdue in nine; Iowa in six; and, Ohio State in five.

cheat sheet b1g

Below is a synopsis for each team:

  • Michigan State. Thanks to a 3-0 record against the other three teams, the Spartans would win all of the tiebreakers and end up with a top four seed in 12 of the sixteen scenarios and with the #3 seed in nine of the 16 scenarios. It breaks down like this: If the Spartans beat Indiana on the road, they’ll lock up the #3 seed; if they lose, they’ll need at least two other teams to also fall to get the double-bye. In this four-team race, Michigan State clearly has the upper hand.
  • Iowa. The Hawkeyes finish with a top four seed in six of the 16 possible scenarios. In head-to-head tiebreakers, they will have the advantage over Ohio State (2-0) but not against the other two teams (0-1). In situations where multiple teams are tied, Iowa is hurt by its two losses to Wisconsin because the others only have one loss from the Badgers.

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