Big Ten Season Grades: Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Nebraska

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on April 30th, 2014

To close out the season for good, we’re finishing our official Big Ten grades with the four top tier teams: Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Nebraska. Yes, take that in one last time — Nebraska ended the season in the top four of the standings in the best conference in the country. For our previously-published grades on the eight other teams in the Big Ten, here are Part I and Part II.

Michigan

Grade: A

This season (28-9,15-3): Last year, Michigan broke through to make it all the way to the National Championship game. And while that was an impressive run, the coaching job that John Beilein did this season — leading the Wolverines to their first outright B1G title since 1986, and finishing just one play from another Final Four appearance — may be even more impressive. It’s important to note where this program was two years ago to fully appreciate the leap that Beilein has guided Michigan basketball through. In 2012, the Wolverines hadn’t yet been able to escape the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament under his direction, and Beilein’s squads were thought of as good but not great. This season, he proved that his success was not just the product of a special player like 2013 NPOY, Trey Burke; it is fundamentally anchored in player development and buy-in from his kids. This season was a successful one by any standard and it looks like the head coach in Ann Arbor has gone and rebuilt himself an elite program in Ann Arbor.

John Beilein has cemented himself as a premier coach after winning the outright title. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

John Beilein has cemented himself as a premier coach after winning the outright title. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

Next season: The Wolverines lose a lot of their roster: Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Mitch McGary. They will bring in heralded recruit Kameron Chatman with returning players like Caris Levert, Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, and Spike Albrecht joining him. In short, Michigan loses all of its frontcourt experience and its two best backcourt players. The Wolverines seemed poised to fall back a notch, but that was also the popular thought when McGary went out for the rest of this season. The bottom line is that Beilein will find a way to get this team competitive and back to the NCAA Tournament — and he has enough returning talent to get there.

Wisconsin

Grade: A+

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Reviewing the Big Ten’s Bubble Teams Before Indy

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on March 12th, 2014

The Big Ten Tournament commences on Thursday and teams are either hoping to improve their seeding, resume, or win it outright. But these conference tournaments are always of most consequence to the bubble teams. It’s their final chance to rack up a quality win or two in order to impress the selection committee and see their name announced on Selection Sunday. Four Big Ten teams are on the bubble to varying degrees: Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, and Illinois. The Cornhuskers and Gophers are squarely on it, while the Hoosiers and Illini are longshots at this point. According to bracketmatrix.com, the consensus view has Nebraska in the tourney as an #11 seed while most have Minnesota in their “first four out.” The table below displays the current profile for all four teams.

b1g bubble resumes 2014

Here’s what lies ahead for each of these teams heading into Indianapolis:

Indiana and Illinois. As it turns out, the two longshots face each other in the first round in the #8/#9 match-up on Thursday afternoon. So while one team will be automatically eliminated from bubble talk in its first game, the other will move on to face Michigan on Friday. Beating Michigan will be a tall task, as the outright Big Ten champs have won five straight — the last two of which were against Indiana and Illinois — and at 15-3 have been the hands-down best team in the league. That said, Michigan won a close game against the Hoosiers last Saturday and went to overtime against last-place Purdue a few weeks back, so they are not infallible. The Wolverines are #10 in the RPI and have an SOS of #9, so a win over Michigan here would be a significant boost to either team’s RPI and could advance that team on to the bubble.

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Nebraska on the Bubble: Big Ten Schedule Both Helps and Hurts Huskers

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on February 20th, 2014

In Tuesday’s Morning Five, I stated matter-of-factly that it was unlikely Nebraska would make the NCAA Tournament. I based this off the fact that, despite their current three-game winning streak and impressive 6-6 record in the Big Ten, they already have 10 losses (including some bad ones) and six more games to go in one of the toughest leagues in America. But after reading CBSSports’ Gary Parrish article that further examined the Cornhuskers’ record, I think I may have been too quick to dismiss their hopes. The crux of Parrish’s article is that, despite the Cornhuskers’ high number of losses, Nebraska has as many quality wins as most bubble teams, and a majority of their losses are against elite competition. He points out that Tim Miles’ team has as many top-50 RPI wins (three) as some other surefire NCAA Tournament teams: Ohio State, Virginia, Louisville, Memphis, and Connecticut. In this post, I will illustrate Nebraska’s resume, analyze Parrish’s findings, and identify what may be the main point of contention working against the Cornhuskers on Selection Sunday.

The infographic below illustrates the makeup of Nebraska’s resume against teams grouped by RPI bins. Teams with an “(N)” next to their name represent a game played on a neutral court. Not shown are Nebraska’s four wins against teams with an RPI of #200 or more.

nebraska bid

From the illustration above, we see that Nebraska’s conference affiliation has been both advantageous and hurtful this season. Because the Cornhuskers are part of the Big Ten, they’ve had multiple chances to face elite competition. By the same token, Miles’ team has been able to upset a number of top-50 teams, but they’ve also stacked up a heavy number of losses against very good teams (the Huskers carry a 3-7 record against top-50 competition). By way of a comparison, all but one of the teams mentioned in Parrish’s article that also has three top-50 wins have four or less losses against the same group — Memphis has six losses against the top-50 but no losses outside that group.

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When Will Nebraska See a Return on Its Basketball Investment?

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on October 25th, 2013

Most college basketball fans haven’t been paying attention to what’s happening in Lincoln. And honestly, unless they know a Cornhusker personally, why would they? The Nebraska program has been mostly abysmal since its inception. In its 118-year history, the basketball team has only made the NCAA Tournament five times and has yet to get past the first round. It’s won only 20 games once in the last decade and hasn’t been ranked since 1994 when part of something completely foreign called the Big 8. Despite all that, fans may want to start paying attention to the team in the state not named Creighton; otherwise they may miss the story arc of a program rising from the ashes. How’s that? Well, largely because the boosters and athletic department in recent years have decided to finally start investing in basketball.

If nothing else, Tim Miles and Nebraska head into the Big 10 tournament knowing they are capable of knocking off a quality opponent after their upset of Minnesota. (Getty)

Tim Miles has another tough season ahead of him, but he has the tools around him to right the ship. (Getty)

It started four years ago with the decision to build an $18.7 million, 84,000 square feet practice facility. Next, the administration green-lit the construction of a brand new $179 million, 15,000 seat arena which will open this year. Nebraska fans have responded in kind by selling out the Cornhuskers’ first season in the shiny new building. And last year, the program hired a young and well-respected head coach in Tim Miles from Colorado State. They were able to lure him to Lincoln by offering a competitive Big Ten salary – he is set to make $1.5 million this year. But perhaps more importantly, they promised Miles he would have the resources to pay his assistant coaches competitive salaries as well.  True to their word, the university has stepped up. Currently, all three assistant coaches make $200,000 or more, which, in terms of college basketball, is on the high end for an assistant coach.

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Big Ten M5: 01.16.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on January 16th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Despite a valiant comeback effort that nearly resulted in a win at Assembly Hall, Minnesota ended up falling to Indiana in its first Big Ten loss on Saturday. The Gophers fell behind by 23 at halftime due to a slow start, and Tubby Smith said part of that was due to a lack of aggressiveness. The Indiana game wasn’t the only slow start Minnesota has had. The Gophers also got into an early hole against Illinois before coming back for an impressive win. They did the same against some inferior competition in non-conference season. Minnesota has the talent to hang with anyone in the country, but in games against top teams,the Gophers must make sure they are strong from the start.
  2. The Big Ten has some fairly active coaches on Twitter. Indiana’s Tom Crean tweets a lot of biblical passages while Nebraska’s Tim Miles tweets about his games at halftime. But don’t expect Tom Izzo to join Twitter any time soon as the Michigan State coach hates the social media platform. There are a lot of good quotes in that article from Izzo, who said he thinks his players listen to criticism more because of it. He has also had conversations with Derrick Nix, who searches his name after every game to retweet fans who criticized him during the game.
  3. In Tim Miles’ first season in Lincoln, nobody expected Nebraska to make much noise in the Big Ten. And while the Huskers have still yet to win a conference game, they have kept things close with both Michigan and Michigan State on the road, thanks to stellar defensive play. Tom Izzo came away impressed with Miles’ squad and said, “I don’t think anybody wants to play them home or away.” Even more impressive, Nebraska held its own against Michigan State without top player Brandon Ubel.
  4. Ohio State has struggled to score this year, and that was very evident at Illinois in a lopsided loss. The Buckeyes have been able to score in transition and have gotten points in the paint at times, but they don’t have consistent shooters. However, the defense was outstanding in their win over Michigan on Sunday and the offense was good enough. Aaron Craft frustrated Trey Burke and the Buckeyes did the same to freshman stars Nick Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. The Wolverines admitted to noticing the pressure. Considering how inconsistent the offense is, Ohio State’s season outlook could depend on how the defense plays from here on out.
  5. When Wisconsin arrives at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Iowa will be facing the Big Ten’s lone undefeated team. That plus the prospect of playing a rival makes the game a good one, but an added emotional dimension will be in play, as well. The Hawkeyes will be honoring the legacy of former player Chris Street, who died in a car accident 20 years ago. Rick Brown of The Des Moines Register has a nice story on Street’s legacy, his family, and the impact he has left on the University of Iowa.
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Big Ten M5: 12.06.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on December 6th, 2012

  1. Michigan State doesn’t have any commitments yet for the class of 2013 and only has one — three-star guard Drake Harris — for the class of 2014, but Tom Izzo still has a chance to pull in some very impressive classes in both years. MSU is still after top recruit Jabari Parker in 2013, but the 2014 class is expected to be much bigger (and presumably, better). This week, Izzo was in Chicago to see five-star center Jahlil Okafor and Apple Valley, Minnesota, to see five-star point guard Tyus Jones. Parker and Jones have both visited East Lansing and MSU is in their top five and top eight schools, respectively. If Izzo can snag even one of those three, he’ll have a star in the making, and he has MSU very well in the mix for each of these players.
  2. Illinois is 9-0 and went on a surprising run to win the Maui Invitational, but the Illini still have a lot to work on if they want to keep up their hot start. John Groce’s team nearly lost to Gardner-Webb and Hawaii and struggled again with Western Carolina this week. It might be too early to judge these Illini, who Loren Tate of IlliniHQ reminds us started last year with a 10-0 record. Illinois’ shooting has been erratic and it must be more consistent for the Illini to make a big run, but we’ll find out what this team is made of soon enough, with games against Gonzaga and Missouri coming up. This is a crucial point in the season, with some tough non-conference games remaining and a very difficult Big Ten slate coming up. Now is the time for the Illini to prove this team is actually different than last year’s group that collapsed down the stretch.
  3. Since it’s still only December, rankings are relatively meaningless right now. However, a debate has been raging about whether Indiana or Duke deserves to be No. 1. Of course, this isn’t college football; it’s doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. But it’s a very interesting question. Do the Hoosiers deserve to stay at the top of the polls for not yet faltering from its preseason perch, or should the Blue Devils pass them after what can only be described as a remarkable non-conference run? Since we don’t even have a chance of seeing this match-up until March (or, more likely, April), Hoosier State of Mind gave its opinion on which team has the edge. Obviously, HSOM is an Indiana blog, but it’s a very interesting breakdown on which team matches up better. Will IU fall because of the Big Ten’s depth? Can Duke continue to be successful with such a short rotation? Which frontcourt would ultimately prevail? A potential meeting is still four months away, so why not have some fun with the speculation?
  4. Football has been a sore topic for Nebraskans this week, but for the first time in awhile, Huskers fans can actually turn to some basketball for relief. First-year coach Tim Miles has Nebraska off to its best start since the 2008-09 season and can now boast back-to-back wins against Wake Forest and USC. Fans have taken notice as Miles tries to create some momentum for the program heading into next year’s unveiling of a new 16,000-seat arena. It’s tough to imagine this team, which has just nine scholarship players, doing much damage in the Big Ten, but we’ll get a good barometer of where the Huskers stand when they play Creighton, without question the flagship basketball program in the state.
  5. Coming into the season, freshman Mike Gesell was supposed to be Iowa’s point guard of the future. However, just a month into this year, another freshman, Anthony Clemmons, has taken over that spot, pushing Gesell to the shooting guard position. Some Iowa players have noted that Clemmons is a good defender, but his command of the offense has been impressive in the two games he has started. He was particularly impressive in the Hawkeyes’ recent win over South Dakota, and while he only scored four points, he also had eight assists and zero turnovers. Iowa now has the flexibility to start three players at the point — Clemmons, Gesell and junior Devyn Marble — and all three have seen time there so far. The Hawkeyes already had tremendous depth up and down the roster, so adding Clemmons to the point guard rotation gives coach Fran McCaffery even more options.
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Big Ten M5: 11.29.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on November 29th, 2012

  1. Defense seemed optional for last year’s Iowa Hawkeyes squad, but this year, coach Fran McCaffery and his team claimed things would be different. A week ago, Iowa staged a comeback against Gardner-Webb that was led primarily by defense, and the Hawkeyes had yet to give up more than 75 points. That was before Tuesday, when Iowa gave up 95 points in a loss in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge to Virginia Tech. It looked like last year’s Iowa team all over again, but McCaffery claimed that his team simply didn’t follow the game plan. The game plan certainly needs to be defense, and lots more of it, if Iowa wants to go dancing in March. With big games against in-state rivals Iowa State and Northern Iowa coming in December, we’ll find out soon if Tuesday’s game was a fluke or a possible warning sign that not enough has improved on the defensive end.
  2. Teams often underachieve following a coaching change, but Illinois has exceeded expectations this year under first-year coach John Groce. The Illini are undefeated and ranked No. 22 in the latest poll, and a big reason for that is how well the current players have bought in. That’s especially true of seniors Brandon Paul and Tyler Griffey, who have both improved their offensive outputs this season. Despite being picked ninth in the Big Ten during the preseason, enough unexpected players have stepped up for Illinois to certainly make a run at the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Michigan has been a guard-oriented team for a long time, and that’s no different this year, as Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. are the Wolverines’ two leaders. However, coach John Beilein says that this team has a different feel to it — it can also play with anyone in the post. Finally, in addition to good outside shooting, the Wolverines can compete inside and have solid athleticism down low too. Freshmen Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III are leading the way for UM’s frontcourt, and with that increased inside presence, Beilein’s offensive system has been able to change for the better. That all adds up to a No. 3 national ranking and a marquee ACC/Big Ten Challenge win over NC State.
  4. Nebraska figures to have some growing pains this year under new coach Tim Miles, but the Cornhuskers got a big win on Tuesday by defeating Wake Forest 79-63 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It was also a win for the record book, writes Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World Herald. The 16-point win was the Huskers’ largest margin of victory in a true road game in nine years, and Miles became the first Nebraska coach to win his first road game since Paul Schlisser in the 1919-20 season. It was also just the Huskers’ sixth true road win in the last four seasons. It’s too early to call this a turnaround in Lincoln, but there are some bright spots for a team that was picked to finish last in the Big Ten.
  5. Minnesota finished up a long road trip with a win over Florida State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and the Gophers proved why they’re considered a sleeper in the conference this year. In fact, they showed exactly how they need to play, writes Amelia Rayno of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Minnesota put together a clean and balanced offensive game, getting help from both its frontcourt and the backcourt. They got up early on Florida State and put the game out of reach fairly quickly. Defensively, the Gophers pressured the Seminoles and forced them into 14 turnovers. If Tubby Smith’s team plays like that all year, Minnesota will be very dangerous — and, of course, it will help if forward Rodney Williams continues to do things like this.
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Big Ten Team Previews: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Posted by KTrahan on November 8th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out the featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Where we left off: Nebraska’s inaugural year in the Big Ten was about as rough as expected. The Huskers finished 12-18 overall and 4-14 in the Big Ten in a year that culminated with head coach Doc Sadler’s firing. The defining moment of the year was a one-point home win over Indiana, but there were also a number of bad losses and a general lack of talent. This year, Nebraska is in rebuilding mode with new coach Tim Miles. Miles enjoyed success at Colorado State and is joining the program just as the school is starting to invest in it. He could eventually have a bright future in Lincoln, but there’s not much to work with right now.

New Coach Tim Miles Has A Lot Of Work To Do In The Coming Months To Get Nebraska On Track (AP)

Positives: Perhaps the only positive surrounding Nebraska basketball right now is that there is a new energy with a new coach. Sadler could never get the program over the hump and Miles brings a new attitude. He’s very popular on social media and even tweeted at halftime of the Huskers’ exhibition game that they needed to improve. There isn’t much to look forward to in the lineup other than forward Brandon Ubel, who will be the face of the program this year. However, freshman Benny Parker is an unknown at point guard who could surprise some people.

Negatives: Plain and simple, this isn’t a very talented roster. Nebraska lost its best player, Bo Spencer, to graduation, and Tim McCray, Jorge Brian Diaz and Brandon Richardson are all gone as well. Dylan Talley is back, but when he and Ubel are the best returning players, that’s a serious problem for the Huskers. Andre Almeida returns after missing all of last year with an injury, but along with Ubel and Talley, he also lacks star ability. Not only will Miles’ team be inexperienced, but it also doesn’t have a go-to player or someone capable of taking over the game.

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