Four Big Ten Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 27th, 2017

Now that the 2016-17 college basketball season has been put to bed, it’s time for hoopheads to peer into the future and prepare for the 2017-18 season. There is a fair amount of intrigue attached to how the Big Ten will look next season, so here’s a quick look at the biggest stories to consider within the league over the next several months.

The draft decision of Miles Bridges set the bar for the 2017-18 Big Ten championship. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • The Return of Miles Bridges: Michigan State’s uber-talented forward decided to stay in school for his sophomore season, making the Spartans the clear favorite to win the Big Ten and enter next season ranked among the nation’s top five. Plenty of solid pieces were already slated to return to East Lansing next season — sophomores Nick Ward, Cassius Winston, and Joshua Langford — but having the future lottery pick back means Tom Izzo is smiling this offseason.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Michigan State 78, #8 Miami (FL) 58

Posted by Chris Stone on March 17th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Miles Bridges led Michigan State into the Round of 32. (AP)

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. This was a different Michigan State team. The Spartans came into their meeting with Miami tonight as a slight underdog and 42nd-best team in KenPom. They had lost three of their last four games and for the most part had put together a disappointing season. During the Big Ten Tournament, however, head coach Tom Izzo made it clear that some of those struggles related to growing pains with his freshmen. Well, something flipped on Friday as Michigan State dominated the Hurricanes for much of the contest. The Spartans scored 1.24 points per possession, stifled Miami’s best offensive pieces, and set up an exciting matchup with Kansas in Sunday’s Round of 32. Izzo also moved to a 14-10 record as the lower seed in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. The Spartans did well to weather the early storm. Michigan State didn’t dominate the entire contest. In fact, for a while, it looked like the Spartans were going to get run off the floor by Miami. The Hurricanes opened the game by bounding out to a 10-0 lead before Michigan State closed the first half on a 38-17 run where it scored 1.23 points per possession. Miami was dogged by turnovers and gave up six offensive rebounds during the half. For the Spartans to weather such a storm while largely relying on the composure of freshmen was extremely impressive.
  3. Nick Ward powered Michigan State. Freshman forward Nick Ward has become a stabilizing presence on Izzo’s interior. When the Spartans need to find a bucket in a one-on-one situation, it’s easy for them to dump it down low to the 6’8″ forward and let him go to work. Ward put it all together against Miami tonight, scoring 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field and grabbing three offensive rebounds. Ward’s performance was symptomatic of a larger issue for the Hurricanes as Michigan State managed to shoot 72.7 percent on its two-pointers in the contest.

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Big Ten Survival Guide: The Keys For Each Squad’s First Round Survival

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 16th, 2017

The brackets have been set and all of the Big Ten teams left dancing will begin seven separate quests to bring home the league’s first National Championship since Michigan State did so in 2000. Before anything approaching that level of success can take place, however, each team must win its First Round game. Here’s a brief look at how all seven Big Ten teams can get past their first opponent.

Reggie Lynch has to stay on the floor for Minnesota against Middle Tennessee on Thursday. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

  • Minnesota: The Gophers have almost no depth now with the season-ending injury to senior wing Akeem Springs, which means Reggie Lynch has to stay on the floor and out of foul trouble. As a result, Minnesota will have to win this game with defense. If Lynch suffers early foul issues, Middle Tennessee and its 54.3 percent eFG rate will be able to score in the paint at will.
  • Northwestern: Northwestern has a dangerous tendency to go through long scoring droughts. For the most part the Wildcats runs their offense well, but when they go cold, they go frigid. This cannot happen against Vanderbilt because a three-minute drought will feel like five or more with in a one-and-done format. Vanderbilt shoots 37.7 percent from three-point range on the season, so long dry spells could be disastrous against a team that can effectively bomb away from the perimeter.

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Three Thoughts From Illinois’ Bubble-Saving Win Over Michigan State

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 2nd, 2017

A senior wing on a mission to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his career guarding a freshman wing determined to complete his comeback from an early injury was an appropriate ending to last night’s game between Illinois and Michigan State. The Illini’s Malcolm Hill has been on a complete tear lately, averaging approximately 20 points per game in leading his team to four straight wins to keep the team’s postseason hopes alive. The Spartans’ Miles Bridges did his part with 21 points and 10 rebounds, but the freshman could not close the deal in Champaign. Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, Illinois (18-12, 8-9 Big Ten) is clearly back on the bubble while Michigan State (18-12, 10-7 Big Ten) cannot afford to lose a pivotal road game against Maryland. Let’s review three key takeaways from the Illini’s 73-70 victory over the Spartans last night.

Malcolm Hill is Carrying the Illini on to the Bubble (USA Today Images)

  1. Malcolm Hill isn’t ready to finish his career without a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Illinois’ senior wing has played over 130 games for the Illini without a single minute in college basketball’s marquee event. As a freshman, Illinois didn’t have a point guard to support his offensive versatility. As a sophomore, a late season swoon cost the Illini a chance at an otherwise promising season. Last year, the team’s second-best offensive player wasn’t healthy. As a senior, Hill hasn’t had a consistent complementary player on the offensive end of the floor. Despite these many setbacks over his career, Hill has persevered. On Wednesday night, the senior contributed 22 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals — including the game-winning free throws — as Illinois played itself back on to the NCAA Tournament bubble after appearing all but dead just a few short weeks ago. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 20th, 2017

In the third to last weekend of Big Ten conference play, the stars of the league took over. Wisconsin remained at the top of the standings after beating Maryland behind 20-point efforts from Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes. Purdue likewise kept pace at the top of the standings behind Caleb Swanigan‘s 23rd double-double of the season in a domination of Michigan State. What follows are the highs and lows from a six-game weekend Big Ten schedule.

Caleb Swanigan did nothing to damage his chances at picking up some postseason hardware, as he led Purdue to another Big Ten win. (Boiledsports.com).

  • Player of the Weekend: Caleb Swanigan did to Michigan State what he always does, scoring 24 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in leading his team to a dominant win. The big man’s passing ability really stood out this weekend, as he led Purdue with five assists against only one turnover. Much of the Boilermakers’ offensive damage came from Swanigan either scoring himself or running the high-low game with Isaac Haas on the interior. The sophomore also made 9-of-10 foul shots, elevating his mark on the season to a robust 78.4 percent. Complete efforts like these are the reason that the burly forward is garnering serious consideration for the National Player of the Year award.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: One of the biggest what-ifs this season is how Nebraska might look if Ed Morrow, Jr. had not missed seven games with an injury? The Cornhuskers went 1-6 with Morrow out of the lineup, clearly missing the sophomore forward’s energy and work on the boards (even though the injury also allowed freshman Jordy Tshimanga to take some important strides). Despite only playing 15 minutes with foul trouble on Saturday against Ohio State, Morrow scored 10 points, grabbed six rebounds and posted a 141.0 offensive rating for the game. This keyed Nebraska’s first road win since a New Year’s Day victory at Maryland.

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Can Michigan’s Flashes of Dominance Carry It to March?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 9th, 2017

There are blowouts, and then there’s what Michigan did to Michigan State on Tuesday night. Not four days removed from a home loss to Ohio State, the Wolverines pummeled the Spartans 86-57, shooting 21-of-28 from the field in the first half, grabbing a quick 26-point lead and never looking back. The final margin tied Michigan State’s largest defeat in the rivalry’s long and illustrious history, a beatdown so thorough that Tom Izzo was hard-pressed to find any silver lining (“a complete meltdown,” he said). And it’s not the first time Michigan has crushed an NCAA Tournament-caliber opponent this season. On January 30, John Beilein’s club beat Indiana by 30 points; back in November, it toppled Marquette and SMU by 18 and 22 points, respectively. This team has proven capable of excellence when everything clicks. That “when,” though, has also been a major “if” this season, with the Wolverines just as prone to laying an egg as they are to winning by double-figures. With less than a month left in the regular season, the question now isn’t whether Michigan has the potential to do damage in the Big Dance; it’s whether it can remain consistent enough to get there.

On Tuesday, Michigan point guard Derrick Walton was a man on a mission. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

For as superb as Michigan’s offense was earlier this week, its dominance was ignited and sustained on the defensive end. The Wolverines’ played with a clear sense of urgency on the perimeter, preventing Michigan State—a three-point-reliant team—from creating open looks behind the arc. The Spartans attempted just five threes in the first half and looked completely bewildered in their half-court sets, evidenced by three (and nearly five) shot-clock violations in the first 20 minutes alone. “We got late and lost. We just didn’t execute,” Izzo said afterward. All told, Michigan forced Izzo’s group into 21 turnovers at a whopping 31.8 percent turnover rate—by far the highest of any Wolverines’ opponent this season. Spartan super-freshman Miles Bridges alone accounted for five mishaps. The suffocating defensive effort was reminiscent of the Wolverines’ dominant performances against Illinois and Indiana in late January—and noticeably better than Saturday’s showing against the Buckeyes. “They understand there’s another level we can play at,” Beilein said, later adding, “When we show the video of this, it will be the defense that led to the fast break. The steals that led to the fast break.”

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Big Ten Middle Tier Stock Watch

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 27th, 2017

Nine of the 14 Big Tens currently have conference records of either 4-4 or 3-5. It was expected to be a wide open year in the middle of the standings and we have gotten exactly that this season. With 10 regular season games remaining for each of these nine squads, let’s review which teams are trending toward a finish in the upper half of the league standings and a corresponding NCAA Tournament bid (Buy), which teams are still difficult to figure (Hold), and which teams are going to falter down the home stretch of the regular season (Sell).

Buy: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State

Michigan State has been inconsistent, but it would be foolish to bet against a Tom Izzo coached team making the NCAA Tournament. (Getty Images).

  • Michigan leads the list in the Buy category for a number of different reasons. Not only do the Wolverines already have three top-100 KenPom wins — two of which are looking better by the day (SMU and Marquette) — but they also have the best record (4-2) against the other middle-tier teams. John Beilien has coached in a National Championship game and two of his starters have played as far as the Elite Eight. Clear buy.
  • Michigan State is only 12-9 to this point in the season but it would be unwise the count this team out. How many times have we seen Michigan State struggle during the regular season only for Tom Izzo to have Sparty firing on all cylinders by mid-March?  Keep a close eye on the progression of Miles Bridges, who is starting to play like a legitimate superstar and can carry the Spartans through rough patches. Sell at your peril.
  • Ohio State started conference play 0-4 but the Buckeyes have won three of their last four to creep back into bubble consideration. Thad Matta does not have a long history of his teams tanking in Big Ten play, while Trevor Thompson has possibly become the best post player in the league not outside of Caleb Swanigan and Ethan Happ. Buy the Bucks.

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Three Biggest Surprises & Disappointments in the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 3rd, 2017

Each and every season people like myself who cover college basketball make predictions as to how the season will go. Each and every season people like myself are wrong. What follows are three of the biggest surprises and disappointments in the Big Ten so far this season. Whether they will hold true over the next two months is anybody’s guess.

Three Surprises

  1. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: That the Purdue sophomore is having a massive impact this season isn’t the surprise — the surprise, rather, is in the level of dominance he has displayed 14 games into the season. Swanigan is averaging 18.5 PPG, 13.0 RPG and 2.9 APG in high-possession usage, while shooting 41 percent from the three-point line, 59 percent inside the arc and converting 77 percent of his free throws. He has already notched four 20/20 games in points and rebounds, including a few flirtations with a triple-double. Swanigan made the preseason All-Big Ten team with good reason after a freshman campaign where he led the conference in rebounds, but his play to this point makes him the early frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year.

    Caleb Swanigan has played like a potential All-American so far this season. . (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

    Caleb Swanigan has played like a potential All-American so far this season. . (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

  2. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights were 44-84 over the last four seasons and that’s why little was expected of them despite adding a new coach (Steve Pikiell) and some impact newcomers this year. An 11-2 non-conference record has ceded to an 0-2 start in the Big Ten (losses at Wisconsin and vs. Penn State), but Rutgers should be commended on the defensive end for protecting the rim (ranking among the nation’s best 25 teams in two-point field goal percentage defense and block percentage). Someone on this microsite mentioned that the Scarlet Knights’ goal this season should be to win 10 games and a 15-win season seems reasonable on this trajectory. In a position that requires a certain kind of coach, Pikiell appears to be the right person to eventually turn this program around. Read the rest of this entry »
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Race for a Top NCAA Seed Begins Early in the Big Ten

Posted by Shane McNichol on November 29th, 2016

At least one team has represented the Big Ten at the Final Four in six of the last nine NCAA Tournaments and seeding is a big part of that. Big Ten teams have been awarded a #1 seed in four of those nine tourneys with seven more conference teams receiving #2 seeds over that period. Being projected among the mix to win the conference title usually means that the jockeying for March begins right away. In the season’s first two weeks, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Indiana all had great chances to put themselves in the Big Ten pole position before conference play even begins. Yes, the NCAA Tournament is still three and a half months away, but the Selection Committee weights all games the same regardless of when they are played. Parsing through the first handful of games among this trio allows us a chance to see which, if any, teams took an early head start in the race for a top-two NCAA Tournament seed.

Michigan State

Tom Izzo needs to make sure his team gains confidence before the NCAA tournament.

Tom Izzo needs to make sure his team gains confidence before the NCAA tournament. (AP)

The Spartans’ early struggles have been well-documented so there’s no reason to re-hash them here. With three losses already on the books and a very difficult game at Cameron Indoor Stadium tonight, dreams of a #1 seed have been all but dashed in East Lansing. In the past 10 NCAA Tournaments, only one school has been awarded a top seed with seven or more regular season losses — Michigan State in 2012. With games at Minnesota, Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan, Purdue and Maryland still to come (not to mention several other potentially tricky road tilts as well as home games against Purdue, Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin), the Spartans are very likely to surpass that loss figure. The loss of Denzel Valentine and his 28.9 percent usage rate has proven difficult to replace, as the capable role players around him last season have so far failed to step up. Instead, it has been freshmen like Miles Bridges, Joshua Langford, and Cassius Winston who have sparked the Spartans during their better moments. Tom Izzo hasn’t yet found the right combinations but history suggests that he will do so. Whether he can manage to turn things around quickly enough to push Michigan State into the discussion for a #2 seed is an open question.

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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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