Three Keys for Iowa in Its Rematch with Michigan State Tonight

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 14th, 2016

Iowa shocked the college basketball world when it easily knocked off #1 Michigan State in Iowa City two weeks ago. For the rematch in East Lansing tonight, the Spartans will be at full strength, with NPOY candidate Denzel Valentine back in the lineup. Most pundits don’t give Iowa much of a chance to pull off the sweep, but let’s take a look at what the Hawkeyes need to do to move to 4-0 in Big Ten play this evening.

Michigan State will have Denzel Valentine back in uniform for their rematch against Iowa. (Jim Rohash, AP)

Michigan State will have Denzel Valentine back in uniform for its rematch against Iowa. (Jim Rohash, AP)

  1. Don’t Let Valentine Break Their Hearts: The senior Big Ten Player of the Year candidate was clearly rusty in his return game against Penn State on Sunday — shooting 4-of-11 from the floor and 1-of-6 from deep in only 23 minutes of action. Iowa did a great job in holding the Spartans in check from the perimeter in the teams’ first meeting (3-of-13 from three-point range), but it will have to do so here with another big-time shooter to worry about. One key will be how Iowa handles Bryn Forbes. The Hawkeyes held the senior to only three points in their late December meeting, but he has since heated back up (13-of-23 from three). Iowa’s three-point defense is nearly as good as Michigan State’s three-point offense, so whichever unit gets the advantage here will hold a key card in which team wins the game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 01.11.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 11th, 2016

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  1. Purdue dropped to 14-3 (2-2) on the year after losing to Illinois, 84-70, on Sunday night, and a familiar formula has emerged in each its three losses this season. Turnovers and shoddy offensive play have doomed this team, as AJ Hammons and Isaac Haas combined for only 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting. The defense that has been a constant positive all season failed miserably, as Illinois became the first team to shoot over 50 percent from the field against the Boilermakers in 37 games. Is there trouble in West Lafayette?
  2. The return of Michigan State‘s Denzel Valentine from a four-game injury hiatus did not bring a triple-double or a spectacular stat line. Rather, the senior looked a bit rusty early before scoring 10 second-half points as the Spartans blasted Penn State, 92-65, Sunday afternoon. One key takeaway from this game was that Tom Izzo’s squad might have become even better in its All-American’s absence. Eron Harris and Bryn Forbes have emerged as serious offensive threats, while post play has also improved significantly. If Valentine gets back to the productivity he displayed in the first 12 games of the season, Sparty is definitely on the short list of national championship contenders.
  3. If Indiana didn’t completely offset the stench of its early season play in the Hoosiers’ blowout win over Ohio State on Sunday afternoon, they have certainly come close. Tom Crean’s squad stayed undefeated in league play behind big efforts from big men Thomas Bryant and Troy Williams. Williams was especially productive in scoring a team-high 23 points, but what was more important was that he didn’t commit any momentum-killing turnovers. Indiana held the Buckeyes to a paltry 0.86 points per possession, and if the Hoosiers’ defense continues to improve, Indiana will be a dangerous team going forward.
  4. Crean also added a fourth commitment to his 2016 class on Saturday when Devonte Green pledged to his program. The younger brother of former North Carolina standout Danny Green, the Long Island native is a 6’3″ combo guard whom 247sports rates as the sixth best player from New York. Green is the third guard slated to join the Hoosiers next season, joining other commitments Curtis Jones and Grant Gelon in the backcourt.
  5. Nebraska rolled to its biggest road win in 96 years on Saturday, beating Rutgers by 34 points while shooting 56.9 percent from the floor and logging 52 points in the paint. Rutgers is missing some key interior pieces, of course, but the Cornhuskers played arguably one of their best games of the season in getting contributions from everyone. Andrew White III continues to prove that he is one of the best and most efficient scorers in the league, scoring over 20 points (28) for the fifth time this season.
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Big Ten M5: 01.08.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on January 8th, 2016

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  1. Michigan dropped its first conference game last night at Purdue, 87-70, but the bigger story for the Wolverines was Caris LeVert’s lower leg/ankle injury. The senior guard traveled to West Lafayette and warmed up with team, but he did not play in the loss. Head coach John Beilein has been vague about the seriousness of the injury and hasn’t given a clear timetable for LeVert’s return other than a simple “day to day” estimate given on Saturday. Michigan’s 1.02 points per possession without LeVert in the lineup was the second-highest mark scored against Purdue this year, but he would obviously be a massive loss if forced to miss extended time.
  2. Illinois took a 79-54 beating in East Lansing on Thursday night, but the Illini experienced a couple notable personnel moves before the game. First, point guard Khalid Lewis returned to the lineup after missing the last two games with the mumps. He scored eight points and grabbed four rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench. Meanwhile, shooting guard Kendrick Nunn did not travel to East Lansing because of the birth of his first child. Nunn is tied for the Big Ten lead in scoring at 18.5 points per game.
  3. The player tied with Nunn for the conference lead in scoring is Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, and he could be nearing a return from a right knee injury that has sidelined him since December 21. Valentine recently said that his knee is “90 percent healthy” but that he will not play until he feels that all of his “straight ahead speed” is back. The senior has already been medically cleared to play, but head coach Tom Izzo would not commit to a return on Sunday at Penn State. Valentine has previously said that he is targeting a return against the Nittany Lions.
  4. Wisconsin is 9-7 overall and 1-2 in Big Ten play after Tuesday’s loss at Indiana, another poor offensive performance by a team long known for its offensive potency. Junior forward Nigel Hayes’ shooting numbers have dropped amid the team’s struggles, and the Badgers star on Thursday produced another memorable sound bite by saying he has “played like poop” this season. A season ago Hayes shot 49.7 percent from the floor and 39.6 percent from three compared to 37.4 percent and 28.6 percent this year.
  5. Michigan State has notched two straight wins after losing at Iowa on December 29. The team needed several others to step up in Valentine’s absence and one Spartan who has capably done so is center Matt Costello. The senior has been playing perhaps the best basketball of his career, averaging 13.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per game since Valentine went out. Even when the NPOY candidate returns to the lineup, Izzo will need production at the center position. Costello is proving he is the best option to provide it.
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Big Ten M5: 01.04.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 4th, 2016

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  1. Michigan State has started off 1-1 in Big Ten play and 2-1 overall since losing senior Player of the Year front-runner Denzel Valentine. The Spartans have especially struggled on the offensive end of the floor without Valentine’s scoring and play-making abilities. Sparty will only have to hold serve a bit longer however, as Valentine has targeted Michigan State’s January 10 game against Penn State for his return to action. According to ESPN.com, Valentine said that he’s just waiting on some of the swelling in his knee to go down. This means he will miss only one more game — on January 7 against Illinois.
  2. Iowa won at Purdue on Saturday for the first time since 2006, and it did so by erasing a 17-point halftime deficit. Senior leadership played a role as Jarrod Uthoff rallied the troops during a spirited halftime speech. The senior backed it up on the court as well, scoring 25 for the game. This means that Iowa will more than likely make their way into the Top 25 for the first time all season, and gives them two huge resume-enhancers for the week after they beat Michigan State earlier in the week as well.
  3. Marc Loving continues to lead a resurgence of sorts for Ohio State, as the Buckeyes held off Illinois on Sunday afternoon to go to 2-0 in league play. The junior wing went on a personal 6-0 run to help squelch an Illinois rally in the second half. Loving ended the game with 27 points, doing so by getting to the free throw line 19 times. The Buckeyes have needed someone to become their go-to-scorer, and Loving looks to be starting to emerge and take the offensive burden on his shoulders. Ohio State has now won six in a row, and look like they’ve turned a corner after their important non-conference win over Kentucky.
  4. Despite some uneven play during their first 14 games, Maryland is still a threat to cut the nets down in April as one of the most talented teams in all the land. They submitted one of their best performances of the season on Saturday when they beat Northwestern in Evanston. The Wildcats had been burning people with their perimeter shooting, but the Terrapins held them to a woeful 2-for-20 night from deep as Melo Trimble and Rasheed Suliamon harassed their shooters all night. After a shaky offensive effort against Penn State in their conference lid-lifter, the Terrapins won this one by displaying a stingy defense that if sustained, makes them one of the favorites to win the regular season crown in the Big Ten.
  5. In an assessment of Indiana’s two wins to start off Big Ten play, one of the major positives has been the play of the freshmen and of the bench at large. With James Blackmon Jr out of action, the likes of Nick Zeisloft, OG Anunoby, and Max Bielfeldt all have increased their production. This bodes well for if/when Blackmon Jr comes back into the lineup, as a deeper bench will allow the Hoosiers to more effectively play their uptempo offensive style without a drop off with the subs in the game. Bielfeldt and freshman Thomas Bryant have also done a nice job scoring in the post, giving the Hoosiers more ways to beat teams instead of always relying on jump shots.
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Evalutating the Midseason National Player of the Year Candidates

Posted by Andy Gripshover on January 1st, 2016

In the spirit of the New Year and the start of conference play, this post will count down the top candidates for National Player of the Year to this point in the season. It’s a diverse list that features a couple players who are putting up strong traditional numbers for low-major teams, a couple of teammates who are putting up fantastic efficiency numbers on one of the top teams in the country, and a few of the standouts that you’ve already heard so much about this season.

10. Jameel Warney, F, Stony Brook — Warney gets the Keenan Reynolds career achievement spot on this list. He’s a four-year starter for the Seawolves who has led the team in scoring each year, going from the America East Rookie of the Year in 2013 to an honorable mention All-American last year while leading the nation in double-doubles with 24 of them. He’s back at it again this season, averaging 20.0 points and 10.8 rebounds per game and contributing a third-best nationally 3.5 blocks per game.

Fighting among the "Big Boys" - Kahlil Felder has been spectacular this season. (Oakland Athletics)

Fighting among the “Big Boys” – Kahlil Felder has been spectacular this season. (Oakland Athletics)

9. Kahlil Felder, G, Oakland — The kid known as “Kay” is the nation’s second leading scorer (26.6 PPG) and its leading assist man (9.3 APG). He’s a classic little man (5’9″) doing big things for the Golden Grizzlies. He exploded for 37 points and nine assists in last Tuesday’s overtime loss to No. 1 Michigan State and put up 30 on Wednesday night against Virginia’s vaunted defense. Greg Kampe’s breakneck offense (12th in adjusted tempo) allows Felder to get what he wants when he wants, and he can both score and set up teammates from anywhere on the floor. Read the rest of this entry »

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Five X-Factors Who Will Influence the Big Ten Race

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 30th, 2015

We’re now fully past exams and the insane holiday season, and our reward for all that jolly is a pre-New Year’s feast of Big Ten basketball with which to roll into 2016. This means that it’s a good time to consider how a handful of players who were notable in the non-conference portion of the schedule will fare with the better competition to come. The performance of these five players in particular could make all the difference in determining how well their teams fare over the next two months, and ultimately which teams are still playing deep into March.

Eron Harris and his ability to score will be needed for Michigan State in the coming months. (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports)

Eron Harris and his ability to score will be needed for Michigan State in the coming months. (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports)

  • Eron Harris, Michigan State: Harris finally showed what he could do on the offensive end of the floor with 27 points in Michigan State’s overtime win against Oakland. Prior to that explosion, he had only showed flashes of the scoring ability that he showcased at West Virginia. With Denzel Valentine expected to remain out for another one or two weeks, Harris needs to seize the extra playing time to build greater confidence in his role in Tom Izzo’s system. Those extra minutes could pay dividends when Valentine returns, as the Spartans will need additional scoring options in order to make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
  • Jake Layman, Maryland: Layman’s role has changed this year now that Maryland has a deeper arsenal of scorers on its roster. That said, he’ll need to be a bit more aggressive once conference play begins. He’s only taken more than 10 field goal attempts in a game three times this year, but his offensive rating has improved from 109.8 to 122.7. He needs to find a happy medium where he takes better advantage of his high efficiency and effective shooting in the paint (63.2 percent on two-point shots) to provide more scoring.

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Big Ten M5: 12.30.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 30th, 2015

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  1. Conference play tipped off Tuesday night when Purdue earned a 61-55 road victory at Wisconsin. It was your stereotypical Big Ten affair — a defensively dominated grinder — where the game was sealed after two consecutive Dakota Mathias three-pointers in the final 90 seconds. But the star of the night was A.J. Hammons, who contributed 24 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks on the evening. The senior center was able to carry his team to a win despite his teammates shooting only 36 percent from the field and committing 11 turnovers. Next for the Boilermakers will be two home games against projected NCAA Tournament teams Iowa and Michigan.
  2. Speaking of A.J. Hammons, he was selected as the Big Ten POTW for the second time this season on Monday. Hammons has been completely locked in since returning from his early-season suspension where he missed the first two games, but is now averaging 14.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, and 2.8 BPG on the season. What may be most impressive is the fact that he’s been this effective coming off the bench and barely averaging over 20 MPG. The big man from Gary, Indiana has been one of those rare cases in modern college basketball where a 7-footer stays the full four years and actually improves enough through his tenure to be considered a first round pick. All Big Ten fans should be enjoying his final year in the league while he challenges for Big Ten POTY honors.
  3. Also on Tuesday night, Iowa got its biggest win of the season when the Hawkeyes beat No. 1 Michigan State, 83-70, at home — the Hawkeyes’ first win over a #1 ranked team since 1999 (against UConn). While it was an off-night for Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gessell stepped up and scored 23 points which included going 10 for 12 at the free throw line. Even though the win came against the Spartans without Denzel Valentine, their leader and All American, the win no doubt solidifies Iowa as one of the top four teams in the conference and a contender for the Big Ten title.
  4. It’s been a hard week for Tom Izzo, the loss to Iowa aside. On Monday, the Michigan State coach’s 90-year old father, Carl Izzo, passed away. The elder Izzo had worked Tony Izzo & Sons in Iron Mountain, Michigan, where he had spent most of his adult life. The job of a college coach is inherently difficult and stressful, but coaching days after the loss of a parent must make the task that more cumbersome. The RTC Big Ten microsite sends it thoughts and prayers to the Izzo family.
  5. The opportunities to write about Rutgers in a positive light are few and far between, but in case you haven’t been watching the Scarlet Knights (and why would you), you’ll miss the fact that they have been lead by talented freshman Corey Sanders. The Lakeland, Florida, native is first in the team in scoring (14.0 PPG) and assists (3.5 APG) while also providing respectable defense (98.0 rating). On Monday, he was awarded Big Ten FOTW behind his 21-point, five rebound performance against Farleigh Dickinson. Sander’s potential gives this Rutgers at least a glimmer of hope down the road to build this program upon.
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Evaluating Big Ten Resumes Through the Non-Conference Season

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 29th, 2015

The Big Ten non-conference schedule ended on Sunday and conference play begins this evening when Purdue ventures into the Kohl Center and battles a Bo Ryan-less Wisconsin team at 6:00 PM CT. Now that we’re at this natural evaluation point, the Big Ten microsite has rank-ordered the 14 Big Ten resumes using KenPom rankings instead of RPI — which the selection committee uses — because the RPI does not become a reliable metric until later. The table below displays each resume from best to worst and illustrates each team’s KenPom current ranking, strength of schedule, record against different groups of rankings, best win (and whether it was home, away, or neutral game), and worst loss. Below that we provide a few notes of interest on each resume.

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Resume Notes

  • Michigan State: The obvious top pick. Not only are the Spartans undefeated but they have three wins against the KenPom top 25: Kansas (KP#2), Louisville (KP#6), and Florida (KP#22). Tom Izzo usually challenges his teams with difficult non-conference schedules, a tactic which usually leads to a handful of early losses. This year, however, Sparty escaped unscathed. If Michigan State can simply manage to tread water while Denzel Valentine is out of the lineup for two weeks, it will be in the running for the overall #1 NCAA Tournament seed in two months.
  • Purdue: The Boilermakers were surprisingly routed by Butler (KP#20) in last week’s Crossroads Classic, but they still have three top 30 wins against Vanderbilt (KP#18), Florida (KP#22), and at Pittsburgh (KP#27). The rest of Purdue’s schedule is generally unremarkable except in that it has dominated its opponents, winning by an average margin of over 20 points per game. Right now, Purdue is headed toward a top-four protected seed in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Maryland: While the Terrapins didn’t play the most challenging non-conference schedule, they did enough with wins against Connecticut (KP#31), Rhode Island (KP#63), and Georgetown (KP#75) to carry a top-three resume. Their only game against an elite team was at North Carolina, where they put up a valiant fight but eventually succumbed to their only loss. Despite the missed opportunity, Maryland is also in line for a top-four protected seed.

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Evaluating the Big Ten’s Performance in Non-Conference Play

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 29th, 2015

The book has officially been closed on the non-conference portion of the Big Ten schedule. As a collective, the league finished with a 130-49 record. This is a tad worse from last season’s 136-44 mark, and even further down from the conference’s 122-32 mark of two seasons ago. And as much as league official would like to do so, this can’t all be blamed on Rutgers’ 6-7 record to start the season. Despite the fact that the conference appears to have fallen off a bit, there are a number of positives and negatives to glean from this season’s opening chapter.

Northwestern finished up non-conference play with a 12-1 record, putting themselves in position to make their first every trip to the NCAA Tournament. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

Northwestern finished up non-conference play with a 12-1 record, putting themselves in position to make their first every trip to the NCAA Tournament. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

A three-team pack has emerged as the clear front-runners heading into conference play. Michigan State, Maryland and Purdue have all impressed and can be viewed as potential Final Four teams. The trio has combined to lose only two games on the year, with both of those defeats coming to teams that are currently ranked in the top 10. Sparty has beaten a whopping seven teams among the KenPom top 100, while the Boilermakers have beaten four and the Terps three. All three of these teams are in line for protected seeds come March if they perform well during conference play.

Among other Big Ten teams, Northwestern has done exactly what it needed to do in getting to 12-1 with its sole loss to preseason No. 1 North Carolina. The Wildcats’ schedule wasn’t arduous but they avoided any resume-disrupting losses. They still may not end up in the NCAA Tournament, depending on how conference play goes, but Chris Collins’ team has done a nice job positioning itself for it. Iowa also really can’t complain after getting to conference play at 9-3. The Hawkeyes put together a 3-3 record against teams in the KenPom top 100, and also avoided the bad loss bugaboo.

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A Brief Look at the Most and Least Difficult Big Ten Schedules

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 28th, 2015

Now that the non-conference part of the Big Ten season is finished, we can enthusiastically look ahead at the conference schedule. Because of an unbalanced league schedule that requires 14 teams to play 18 games, some teams are going to get railroaded while others find an easier road to March. Every team will get tested in one way or another, of course, but some unlucky teams will be tested more than others. Here’s a look at three schedules that appear excessively tough and two others that could be a bit more manageable this year.

Shep Garner and Penn State will have one of the most difficult league schedules in the Big Ten(Mark Selders)

Shep Garner and Penn State will have one of the most difficult league schedules in the Big Ten. (Mark Selders Photography)

Most Difficult

  • Penn State: The Nittany Lions are the only team that really didn’t catch a break with either their home or road slates. They play each of the league’s top three teams (Michigan State, Maryland and Purdue) on the road and also will visit three other potential NCAA Tournament teams (Iowa, Michigan, and Northwestern) this season. They also lost a home game by playing the return game with Michigan in New York City, and their other home-and-homes include Michigan State, Iowa, and Northwestern. The only silver linings here are avoiding Purdue and Maryland twice and an opportunity to sneak into NIT consideration with a few unexpected wins.
  • Maryland: The Terrapins have to play Purdue twice and will face Michigan State in East Lansing. Their other home-and-homes include Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State and Wisconsin. This schedule will certainly boost Maryland’s RPI and overall resume, but avoiding rematches with any of the bottom tier could make its road to a conference regular season title appear a bit taxing. Winning the majority of these games will do nothing but give Mark Turgeon’s group a bit of an edge when it comes to seeding for the Big Dance.
  • Ohio State: The Buckeyes are still one of the biggest question marks in the Big Ten, but their win against Kentucky leaves them with much more realistic bubble expectations than previously. They will have the chance to undo some rough home losses by getting two cracks at Maryland and Michigan State along with road games against Indiana, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin. Win three of those six contests and take care of business against the others and Ohio State could punch its dance card for the eight consecutive season.

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RTC Top 25: Week Six Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on December 28th, 2015

The most important development of the holiday week in college hoops was two RTC top 10 teams finding a way to win without the services of a key contributor. On Tuesday night, #1 Michigan State had to fend off a pesky Oakland team in a very hard-earned 99-93 overtime victory. The Spartans were of course without star player Denzel Valentine, who will miss 2-3 weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. #8 Kentucky had to showcase some resiliency of its own in a big rivalry win over #18 Louisville on Saturday after freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe suffered an ankle injury during pregame warm-ups. He is expected back soon. Injuries are part of the game, but as we head into the start of conference play this week, teams generally can’t afford to be banged up. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

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Quick n’ Dirty Analysis.

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Let’s Play Big Ten Secret Santa…

Posted by Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) on December 25th, 2015

Your class, company, or family probably plays Secret Santa during the holidays. To get in the giving spirit this Christmas, we’ll play Secret Santa with the Big Ten’s 14 teams and coaches. As much fun as it would be to give Richard Pitino more hair gel or Tom Izzo some stilts, we’ll stick to practical basketball-related gifts that each Big Ten coach would be thrilled to unwrap.

Santa has a variety of interesting presents for Big Ten teams to unwrap

Santa has a variety of interesting presents for Big Ten teams to unwrap

Here are the gifts we gave each coach and team (in alphabetical order):

  • Illinois (John Groce): This is one of the easier teams to shop for: The injury bug has cursed Illinois, so it gets healthy players from Santa. The Fighting Illini are playing this season without their starting point guard (Tracy Abrams), power forward (Leron Black) and center (Mike Thorne, Jr.).
  • Indiana (Tom Crean): Another easy team to shop for. If you haven’t heard of Indiana’s horrific defensive efforts, you’ve been living under a rock. The Hoosiers gave up 70 points to Kennesaw State and 72 to Alcorn State, respectively. Those teams rank 322 and 349 in the KenPom ranks, and average 64.1 and 60.3 PPG, respectively. Crean needs to start thinking of new ways to get his players to play better defense. Santa gives him a “D-Fense” sign that he can throw at players after bad defensive efforts. Better loosen up your arm, Tom.
  • Iowa (Fran McCaffery): The Hawkeyes aren’t elite in any one area, but don’t have a lot of gaping holes. They do struggle to get to the foul line, with a 25.8 free throw rate, which ranks 337th in the nation, per KenPom. Santa gives Iowa more free throw chances, especially to Peter Jok. The junior wing is Iowa’s second-leading scorer, but has attempted just 23 free throws.
  • Maryland (Mark Turgeon): The one knock on the Terps has been turnovers. They turn it over on 20 percent of their possessions and have six players who turn the ball over at least 19 percent of their used possessions. Maryland finds sturdy handles under its tree this year.

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