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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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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Big Ten Conference Preview: Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 11th, 2016

The ballots have been revealed and the results have been tabulated. Unlike another round of voting that took place this week, there isn’t as much shock value in seeing these results. We at the Big Ten microsite have voted and determined how the league will shake out this season. The last of three segments lists our top four teams (the bottom tier can be found here and the middle tier can be found here).

4. Purdue: The Boilermakers enjoyed their best season since 2010-11 by winning 26 games and finishing 12-6 in conference play. They lost two All-Defensive Team members, including the Defensive Player of the Year AJ Hammons, but expectations are still high in West Lafayette. This is mainly because there just aren’t many teams nationally that can unleash a frontcourt with a trio of players as talented as Vince Edwards, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. With this trio in place, Purdue can expect the defense and interior scoring to comparable to last season. If PJ Thompson and Dakota Mathias can also consistently knock down shots from the perimeter, Purdue should equal, or surpass last season’s success.

Caleb Swanigan leads a deadly Purude frontcourt that is one of the best in the nation. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Caleb Swanigan leads a deadly Purude frontcourt that is one of the best in the nation. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Best-Case Scenario: Elite Eight

3. Michigan State: A brutal early schedule and some nagging injuries on the interior makes Sparty’s preseason ranking a little fluid, but it’s difficult to not give Tom Izzo a well-earned benefit of the doubt. A star freshman crew of Miles Bridges, Josh Langford, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward will all have to contribute early, but they have the skill sets to do so. Bridges (26.5 PPG, 4.0 BPG) in particular dominated in Michigan State’s two exhibition wins and could be a First-Team Big Ten talent. Also keep an eye on Eron Harris and Matt McQuaid. They will have to make many of the shots that Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes took last season. If Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter can return well at some point from their injuries, this will be one of the best and deepest teams in college basketball.

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How Will Michigan State Adapt to Its Injuries?

Posted by Jim Root on November 9th, 2016

The losses Michigan State sustained after last year’s disappointing First Round NCAA Tournament exit would cripple most programs: a national Player of the Year (Denzel Valentine), the Big Ten’s best three-point shooter (Bryn Forbes), a stout senior interior presence (Matt Costello), and a one-and-done freshman (Deyonta Davis). Fortunately, Tom Izzo was able to reload with perhaps his best recruiting class ever, and along with some veteran returnees, it looks as if the Spartans once again have a team capable of winning the Big Ten and making a run in March.

Michigan State's excellent freshman will need to be good right away for Tom Izzo's short-handed squad. (Source: Detroit Free Press)

Michigan State’s excellent freshman class will need to be good right away for Tom Izzo’s short-handed squad. (Source: Detroit Free Press)

Not so fast. Injuries have already struck hard to the Spartans’ frontcourt, sidelining UNLV graduate transfer Ben Carter and senior Gavin Schilling with knee ailments before exhibition games even tipped off. Both figured to see extensive minutes at the four and five slots, and the loss of both leaves Izzo in a precarious position with his frontcourt rotation. Right now it basically consists of two true freshmen (albeit highly-regarded ones): 6’7” Miles Bridges, 6’8” Nick Ward, and 6’6” redshirt sophomore (and former walk-on) Kenny Goins.

The best version of this team’s lineup probably involves Bridges at the four and Ward at the five, although Izzo will likely go with Goins as the nominal center to start (for example, he started against Northwoods). Bridges will be a matchup nightmare up front, too quick for big men and too strong for wings. He has a smooth lefty stroke from the perimeter (going 5-of-5 from deep in the first exhibition game), and he can also grab a defensive rebound and push the ball up the floor by himself. Most of all, he’s an insane athlete – the height he gets when leaping and the sheer power with which he dunks are awe-inspiring. Ward, on the other hand, is a more traditional post player. He’s got great touch around the basket with his left hand and has proven capable of playing above the rim. Given his girth (listed at 250 pounds), he has the best chance of slowing opposing big men, but Izzo will still be forced to double-team against the likes of burly Big Ten bodies such as Ethan Happ, Isaac Haas and Thomas Bryant.

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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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