Big Ten Tournament Storylines to Watch

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 9th, 2016

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

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

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

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

Posted by Patrick Engel on March 8th, 2016

With the regular season complete, it’s time for our Big Ten postseason awards. Here are our three all-conference teams, all-rookie team and individual award winners as voted on by our microsite staff. Note that our ballots were submitted before the Big Ten released its official winners on Monday night.

Individual Awards

Tom Crean helped his Indiana team regroup and win the Big Ten after a poor nonconference showing. (Getty)

Tom Crean helped his Indiana team regroup and win the Big Ten after a poor nonconference showing. (Getty)

  • Player of the Year (unanimous): Denzel Valentine (G, Michigan State). The Wooden Award Candidate is the first player to lead the Big Ten in both scoring and assists per game since Iowa’s Andre Woolridge in 1996-97. He’s the Big Ten’s best passer (44.6 percent assist rate) and notched a sterling 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio this season. Valentine takes 30 percent of Michigan State’s shots (over half are three-pointers) and he still has a top-35 offensive rating (126.9) nationally.
  • Coach of the Year: Tom Crean (Indiana). The Hoosiers won the outright Big Ten title with a strong 15-3 record and significantly improved its defense during the Big Ten season. Despite losing one of its best offensive players with James Blackmon, Jr.’s injury in January, Indiana still boast the nation’s fourth-most efficient offense (119.6 points per 100 possessions).
  • Rookie of the Year: Ethan Happ (F, Wisconsin). Happ’s production and consistency on both ends of the floor gives him the edge here. He is tied for second in the conference with nine double-doubles and was an important part of Wisconsin’s resurgence after a 1-3 start to the Big Ten season.
  • Defensive Player of the Year: A.J. Hammons (C, Purdue). Hammons has tallied four more blocks (74) than fouls (70) this season, and he helps Purdue hold opponents to a difficult 42.7 two-point percentage. He also rebounds 23.4 percent of opponents’ misses.
  • Most Improved Player: Peter Jok (G, Iowa). Jok went from an inconsistent reserve as a sophomore to a consistently productive scorer as a junior. Iowa needed a complementary scorer to put alongside Jarrod Uthoff this season, and Jok became that guy.

All-Big Ten First Team

Denzel Valentine has become one of the nation's best players, if not the best, in his senior season. (AP)

Denzel Valentine has become one of the nation’s best players, if not the best, in his senior season. (AP)

  • Denzel Valentine (G, Michigan State): Valentine is the only player in the modern history of college basketball to average at least 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game (assists became an official statistic in 1983-84). He also logged two triple-doubles and shot 49.6 percent from beyond the arc in conference play.
  • Yogi Ferrell (G, Indiana): The Hoosiers’ senior point guard is the Big Ten’s fourth-leading scorer (17.1 PPG), fourth-leading distributor (5.5 APG), 10th-leading three-point shooter (42.1 %) and the conference champion’s best player.

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RTC Top 25: Final Regular Season Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on March 8th, 2016

Another regular season has come and gone. In a season that was defined by utter craziness throughout, the final week was laced with mostly expected results. Previously #22 Wichita State, however, suffered an unexpected defeat to Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Tournament semifinals. That loss is part of a less than spectacular NCAA Tournament résumé that will have Gregg Marshall’s Shockers sweating all the way up to Selection Sunday. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty is after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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The Cases For Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine For NPOY

Posted by Chris Stone & Alex Moscoso on March 7th, 2016

The National Player of the Year race wasn’t always a two-man affair (we miss you Ben Simmons, Jarrod Uthoff and Kris Dunn), but as we enter postseason play this week, there’s little denying the simplicity of the choice facing voters: Valentine or Hield. We asked Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) and Alex Moscoso (@alexmoscoso) — writers for the Big 12 and Big Ten microsites, respectively — to make a case for their league’s best players as the most deserving NPOY this season.

The Case For Hield

This season’s battle for National Player of the Year has become a two-man race between Michigan State‘s Denzel Valentine and Oklahoma‘s Buddy Hield, as the other primary candidates have faded into the background with lackluster late season performances from their teams. Thus, Valentine and Hield appear to stand alone as the two players with first-class season-long resumes on Final Four contenders. The case for Sparty’s Valentine is understandable. He’s one of the sport’s most versatile players — a quintessential jack-of-all-trades. But despite all of Valentine’s individual achievements and his oversized role on a national title favorite, the Sooners’ Hield is the player who should be this season’s National Player of the Year.

Buddy Hield is a deserving National Player of the Year. (Mandatory Credit: USATSI)

Buddy Hield is a deserving National Player of the Year. (Mandatory Credit: USATSI)

Hield is not a jack-of-all-trades like Valentine; rather, he’s a master of one. The senior guard is a transcendent scorer, so good that he’s drawn comparisons to Stephen Curry from multiple national analysts. Hield is the nation’s second-leading scorer at 25.3 points per game, and he’s done it while playing in the country’s most challenging conference (according to KenPom‘s adjusted metrics). What’s more impressive, though, is the efficiency with which the Oklahoma guard scores. Hield’s true shooting percentage — a statistic that measures all aspects of shooting, including three-pointers and free throws — is an astonishing 66.3 percent this season. Scoring that many points in such an efficient manner makes Hield’s NPOY case. Only two other players since the 2009-10 season have averaged 25 points per game on a true shooting percentage higher than 60 percent (min. 400 minutes) — one of those, Creighton’s Doug McDermott, won the Naismith Award himself in 2013-14. Hield, who spent much of this season flirting with a 50/50/90 shooting line, is the most efficient of the bunch.

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Reflecting on Denzel Valentine’s Versatile Career

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 3rd, 2016

In Fall 2012 Denzel Valentine was an overlooked freshman guard in a class defined by top-25 recruit Gary Harris. Four years of growth later, Valentine leaves East Lansing with an impressive skill set and leadership skills that represents an excellent case study in player development. Since his freshman year, his scoring has nearly quadrupled (from 5.0 PPG to 19.6 PPG); his long-range shooting has significantly improved (from 28 percent to 45 percent); and his assists have tripled (from 2.4 APG to 7.2 APG). While his improvement in several major statistical categories over his career is impressive, his ability to do so without forcing his way into Tom Izzo’s system is worthy of discussion.

Denzel Valentine (right) had to carve his own identity after Keith Appling (left) graduated (AP Photo/D. Martin)

Denzel Valentine (right) had to carve his own identity after Keith Appling (left) graduated (AP Photo/D. Martin)

Being the third option in an offense that traditionally highlights only two guards in the backcourt isn’t easy, yet Valentine was that guy for two seasons behind Harris and Keith Appling. When he was on the floor, he had to learn how to both play off the ball and without screens because Appling controlled the offense and Harris was the designated three-point gunner. Despite the lack of offense run for him, he found other ways to actively contribute, such as grabbing six rebounds per game as a sophomore. Valentine’s first two seasons highlight his perseverance and efforts to impact the game despite not having an integral role within Michigan State’s offense.

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Big Ten M5: 02.29.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 29th, 2016

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

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

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  1. Nebraska’s Shavon Shields played for the first time since a February 6 game against Rutgers when he suffered a serious concussion on a nasty fall. As if nothing had ever happened, the senior returned to the lineup last night against Penn State and scored a game-high 25 points. It was not enough for the Cornhuskers to win the game, however, as Shields’ off-balance 15-footer at the buzzer misfired, giving the Nittany Lions a 56-55 win.
  2. Bracketology becomes increasingly popular as the calendar inches ever closer to March. ESPN’s February 25 NCAA Tournament bracket projections from Joe Lunardi lists seven Big Ten teams among his field of 68: Michigan State is a #2 seed; Iowa #3; Maryland #3; Indiana #5; Purdue #5; Wisconsin #7; and Michigan #9. CBS SportsJerry Palm’s latest projections differ only slightly: Iowa is a seed line lower at #4, while Wisconsin comes in as a #9 seed and Michigan a #10 seed.
  3. Michigan’s Duncan Robinson started the season as one of the nation’s best shooters, but his prolonged slump in Big Ten play is a growing concern. He is converting only 31 percent of his three-pointers in the second half of conference play, prompting head coach John Beilein to consider shortening his minutes. Fortunately for Michigan, sophomore Aubrey Dawkins has picked up the slack in knocking down a conference-best 51 percent of three-pointers in Big Ten play.
  4. Michigan State has used a deep bench all season and the latest player to get an extended look in the wake of Kenny Goins’ knee injury is sophomore forward Marvin Clark Jr. He was a useful reserve during Sparty’s run to the Final Four a year ago and is finding his confidence in an expanded role. Clark played 19 minutes against Ohio State on Tuesday and made both his three-point attempts for a total of six points. His shooting (35.3% 3FG) has kept him head of Javon Bess in the rotation.
  5. During Wisconsin’s admittedly slow start to the season, some believed that mediocre recruiting was a key reason for the team’s lack of quality depth this season. Now, however, with Wisconsin sitting at 10-5 in the Big Ten, that notion has dissipated. The Wisconsin State Journal reviewed Bo Ryan’s class of 2011, finding that it had considerable talent from top to bottom. Frank Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson led the program to consecutive Final Fours but played their final seasons in 2014-15. Jarrod Uthoff became a star after transferring to Iowa, and George Marshall, now at South Dakota State, is leading the 22-7 Jackrabbits in scoring.
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Big Ten M5: 02.24.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 24th, 2016

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  1. The Big Ten on Monday awarded Indiana forward Troy Williams its conference Player of the Week honors for averaging 18.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assist and 2.5 steals per game in wins over Nebraska and Purdue last week. It was the second award of the year for a junior who has been instrumental in helping the Hoosiers move into contention for their second Big Ten title in four years. Williams may not have made the giant leap he had hoped — he averages fewer points and rebounds than last season — but he remains the team’s third-leading scorer and has improved on the defensive end. With his contributions leading the way, Tom Crean’s team hopes to win that regular season title as well as make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors went to Minnesota‘s Jordan Murphy for his 17 points and 11 rebounds against Maryland last Thursday. Although it wasn’t considered in the award, he forward followed up that performance with another terrific effort with 19 points and 14 rebounds in a win over Rutgers last night. His emergence is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season at Minnesota. He, along with classmate Nate Mason, gives Richard Pitino a glimmer of hope for Minnesota basketball going into the next season.
  3. Michigan State earned its sixth win in its last seven contests last night when Sparty handled Ohio State, 81-62. The Buckeyes prevented Denzel Valentine from scoring 20 points or dishing out 10 assists (he finished with “only” 17 points and eight assists), but they were unable to stop Bryn Forbes 27 points on 7-of-10 shooting from behind the three-point line. While a regular season title is still a long shot for a team two games back in the standings, Tom Izzo’s team is playing as well as any team in the country and is certainly in the mix for a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. As always, the Spartans appear to be peaking at just the right time.
  4. As Michigan makes a push to solidify its place in the NCAA Tournament with a game against Northwestern tonight, the Wolverines may again find themselves without the services of senior guard Caris Levert. In fact, the Wolverines’ two upperclassmen leaders, Levert and Spike Albrechthave been absent from John Beilein‘s lineup for a majority of the season. Despite those limitations, Michigan has managed to win enough games to remain competitive in the Big Ten race and appears poised to get back to the NCAA Tournament. It will come one step closer to that objective if it protects home court against the Wildcats this evening.
  5. The biggest conference game of the week will take place tonight when Wisconsin visits Iowa in a game that has major implications for both teams. The Hawkeyes need a victory to keep up with Indiana in the loss column in pursuit of a Big Ten title. The Badgers with a win could seal their place in the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin has steadily climbed back from a 2-5 Big Ten record to likely being a big win away from its 18th consecutive trip to March Madness. That would make quite the case for the administration to permanently hire Greg Gard and continue the Bo Ryan legacy in Madison for years to come.
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Mapping Ohio State’s Path to the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) on February 23rd, 2016

After an uninspiring first half of the season, Ohio State has over the last few weeks slowly but surely crept back into the Big Ten race. The Buckeyes are unlikely to contend for the title but they are all alone in fourth place at 10-5. Teams among the top four of power conference standings in late February are usually considered safe bets for the NCAA Tournament, but Thad Matta‘s group is challenging that notion. After a miserable start to the season that included early losses to UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech, the Buckeyes are now in position to lock up a bid with another good win or two. There’s just one problem, though: Winning another regular season game won’t be easy. Ohio State plays Michigan State twice in its final three games with a home date against Iowa sandwiched in-between.

Marc Loving and Ohio State face an important three-game stretch that will determine their postseason fortune (Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch)

Marc Loving and Ohio State face an important three-game stretch that will determine their postseason fortune (Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch)

Double-figure conference wins is usually enough for an at-large bid from the Big Ten, and every 11-win team in the history of the league has made the field of 68. But as we’ve learned in the era of expanded conferences, not all records are created equal. Eight of Ohio State’s conference wins came against Rutgers, Minnesota, Penn State, Illinois and Northwestern. The other two were notched against Nebraska and fellow bubble team Michigan. Furthermore, Ohio State has just one RPI top 100 win from the non-conference season (Kentucky). This means that the two wins over the Wolverines and Wildcats are the Buckeyes’ lone RPI top 100 wins of the season, and that they have more losses to teams outside the RPI top 100 (three) than wins over teams within it. Losses to Texas-Arlington, Louisiana Tech and Memphis all stink about as much or more as they did at the time. The tally to this point is that 18-10 record and an RPI rating of #75.

One more win pushes Ohio State to the 11-victory mark, but that won’t do much to improve the Buckeyes’ overall resume. Two more wins would result in a 4-8 record against the RPI top 50, but even 12 conference wins combined with an early Big Ten Tournament loss would make for a tense Selection Sunday. Three wins, however unlikely, means that Ohio State can think about seeding options instead of worrying about a bid. Go winless and the Buckeyes would need a deep conference tournament run and some luck around the country among the other bubble teams.

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Team Managers Plan Tourney to Crown Nation’s Best

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

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

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

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

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

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