Big Ten Wrap-Up: Lasting Impressions and an Early Top Five

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 6th, 2018

Has Donte DiVincenzo stop hitting shots yet? Okay, good. Now that Monday is behind us, let’s take a moment to reflect on the season that was and look ahead to 2018-19.

Michigan had another year to remember. (PHOTO BY AP/DAVID J. PHILLIP)

  • Michigan is an elite basketball program. Before John Beilein took over in Ann Arbor in 2007, Michigan hadn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 1998, a nine-year drought that made the historically great football school seem like just that — a football school. But that’s changed. Since the drought ended in 2009, Beilein has led the Wolverines to eight NCAA Tournaments, including finishes in the Sweet Sixteen (2017), Elite Eight (2016), and twice in the National Championship game (2013, 2018). After years of mediocrity, Michigan basketball now represents offensive efficiency, outstanding player development and clutch play in March. This season, Beilein — always considered an offensive mastermind — took an unproven collection of talent and won big with his defense, suggesting that the 65-year old coach is still evolving both as a tactician (he recently moved away from the 1-3-1 zone) and manager: His hiring of Illinois State assistant Luke Yaklich as “defensive coordinator” was crucial to the Wolverines’ run. With a decade of excellence under its belt and plenty of talent returning next season, Michigan has firmly established itself among the Big Ten’s elite programs.
  • This season will forever sting for Michigan State and Purdue fans. Michigan State went 30-5 and won the outright regular season Big Ten championship. Purdue finished at 30-7, at one point winning 19 straight games. And yet, this season will probably leave a bad taste in both programs’ mouths for some time. For the Spartans, 2017-18 was a Final-Four-or-bust kind of year, with the return of Miles Bridges alongside future NBA lottery pick Jaren Jackson ostensibly giving Tom Izzo his best chance at a National Championship from a talent perspective since 2000. Instead, a season of offensive inconsistency led to an offensively-inept loss to Syracuse in the Round of 32. For the Boilermakers, bad luck prevailed when 7’2″ center Isaac Haas fractured his elbow in the First Round against Cal State Fullerton, his absence proving too much for Purdue to overcome against Texas Tech in the Sweet Sixteen. On paper, both seasons appear successful. In actuality, postseason disappointment will likely overshadow their 60 combined wins.

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Rutgers’ Garden Party to Michigan’s Run: Big Ten Tournament Postmortem

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 7th, 2018

Now that we’ve had a few days to digest what happened in Madison Square Garden last weekend, let’s examine some of the biggest surprises and takeaways from the early Big Ten Tournament.

Michigan dominated the Competition in Madison Square Garden. (Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Michigan established itself as a legitimate national threat. We knew Michigan was playing its best basketball of the season entering postseason play, and we knew it would probably make some noise last week in Manhattan. What we did not foresee was the Wolverines establishing themselves as a serious Final Four threat en route to a second straight conference title. After escaping Iowa in the second round, Michigan put together three of the most complete performances any Big Ten team has displayed this season. The Wolverines hammered bubble-dwelling Nebraska by 19 points. They beat Michigan State by double-figures for the second time in a row. They limited Purdue’s explosive perimeter game to just 4-of-17 three-point shooting. In all, Michigan’s defense — which now ranks sixth nationally in efficiency — held opponents to just 0.96 points per possession over the four-day run, which is remarkable considering that two of those offenses ranked among the nation’s top 10. The Wolverines’ offense, led by Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (15.0 PPG), executed John Beilein’s low-turnover, pick-and-pop offense to perfection. With its most balance in years and a profile good enough to now warrant a #3 seed, Michigan should no longer be viewed as a Big Ten “other”; the Wolverines are as much a Final Four contender as the Boilermakers and Spartans.

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The Big Ten Tournament’s Most Burning Questions

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 28th, 2018

It’s not even March yet and here we are, Day One of the Big Ten Tournament. It’s a strange feeling. Perhaps the only stranger feeling will be watching these predominantly Midwestern schools battle it out in Madison Square Garden, the venue where Willis Reed was immortalized and Frazier beat Ali and no Big Ten school outside of Rutgers sits within easy driving distance. Jim Delaney be damned, let’s examine the most important questions to be answered this week in Manhattan.

Crazy as it sounds, the Big Ten Tournament is in the Big Apple. (scarletknights.com)

  • Can Nebraska do enough to earn an NCAA Tournament bid? After losing to Illinois on February 18, Nebraska took care of business by beating Indiana and hammering Penn State on Sunday in a veritable NCAA Tournament elimination game. Which is to say, the Cornhuskers — currently among Joe Lunardi’s First Four Out — still have life. Yet, with a 1-5 record against Quadrant 1 opponents and a 2-3 record against Quadrant 2, they will probably need to beat at least one NCAA Tournament-bound opponent this week in order to have a legitimate case come Selection Sunday. Luckily, Tim Miles’ group should get that opportunity on Friday against Michigan — the lone Quadrant 1 opponent they managed to beat this season. Another win over the Wolverines will give the Huskers an argument; a victory over Michigan State in the semifinals would probably make them a lock. Key number: 29.7% 3FG. Nebraska did a masterful job taking away the three-point line this season, holding opponents to a Big Ten-best 29.7 percent mark from behind the arc — among the best of any power conference team in America.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Conference Races Heat Up

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 23rd, 2018

As the first conference tournaments begin as soon as early next week, here are 10 questions I have for this weekend’s slate of important conference games.

Texas Tech is Flagging But Still Alive in the Big 12 Race (USA Today Images)

  1. How can Texas Tech keep its dreams of a Big 12 title alive? Having now lost two games in a row, Texas Tech sits a game back of Kansas in the Big 12 standings. In order to sweep the series against Kansas and knot things up in the conference race, the Red Raiders must replicate their earlier performance of dominating the offensive glass and winning the free throw battle. Texas Tech must also hope that the toe injury to leading scorer Keenan Evans has improved, as Evans has scored just six points over his last two games.
  2. Will Arizona be focused for its game at Oregon? Arizona was 10-0 in conference play last season before a 27-point loss at Oregon. This season, Arizona has been much shakier on the road, having lost close games at Washington and Colorado and barely surviving a trip to Stanford. Oregon, on the other hand, improves its points scored and allowed averages by four points per game in Eugene.
  3. Can Wichita State keep the pressure on Cincinnati? Sitting just a game out of first-place in the AAC, Wichita State travels to Dallas to play an SMU team that already has one win over the Shockers. In that loss to the Mustangs, Gregg Marshall’s team allowed them to shoot an exceptional 76 percent on their two-point field-goal attempts.
  4. Is Arkansas’s bubble close to popping? While Arkansas currently sits as a consensus #8 seed in Bracket Matrix, the Razorbacks still have three Quadrant 1 games remaining on their SEC schedule. They also have a 2-5 road record in SEC games heading into this weekend’s trip to Alabama. While Arkansas has the profile of an NCAA Tournament team as of today, a losing streak to end the season coupled with some shaky wins mean the Razorbacks’ position on the bubble is anything but safe. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Questions to Consider: Seeding and Bubble Talk Intensifies

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 16th, 2018

This weekend’s slate of games will only further intensify the ongoing talk of seeding, the bubble and conference championships. Here are 10 questions heading into this weekend’s action.

Are the Bonnies Bubbling? (USA Today Images)

  1. Is a win over Rhode Island what St. Bonaventure needs to get on the right side of the bubble? Sitting just outside of the current RPI top 40, St. Bonaventure has a chance for a Quadrant 1 win against Rhode Island tonight. With the Rams’ best player E.C. Matthews status unclear from a recent injury, the Bonnies could be facing Rhode Island at just the perfect time.
  2. How much is Villanova missing Phil Booth?  The Wildcats’ recent losses to St. John’s and Providence have raised questions about Villanova’s potency without the services Phil Booth. With the junior guard sidelined, Jalen Brunson’s increased playing time time has perhaps contributed to his current three-point shooting slump — 3-of-19 over his last three games.
  3. Simply put, how good is Louisville? The post-Rick Pitino era has gotten off to a good start as Louisville sits at 18-8 overall and among the top five in the ACC standings. The Cardinals have benefited from a friendly schedule thus far, however, earning seven wins against teams outside of the KenPom top 200 and just three wins against those in the top 50.
  4. How will Texas Tech deal with its unfamiliar position as the Big 12 leader? Since losing three of four games during a shaky mid-January stretch, Texas Tech has now reeled off seven straight wins. The Red Raiders travel to Waco this weekend to play a hot Baylor team which has won four straight and owns the best opponent effective field-goal percentage in Big 12 play. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Drive for Five: What Lies Ahead for the Big Ten Bubble Dwellers

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 2nd, 2018

The Big Ten has put at least five teams in the NCAA Tournament in every season since 2008, four years before the league expanded to 12 schools and seven years before it expanded to 14. In fact, you’d have to go back to the pre-Rutgers era (2013-14) to reach the last time the conference sent fewer than seven teams to the Big Dance. That will almost certainly change this season. According to Bracket Matrix, only three of 68 recently-updated bracket projections have more than four Big Ten schools in the NCAA Tournament. The fact is, outside of Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan, the league’s bubble hopefuls still have considerable work to do before earning serious consideration. With February now upon us, let’s examine which teams still have a shot and what they’ll need to do in order to punch a ticket.

It’s been all smiles for Nebraska lately. But will the Huskers go dancing? (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Nebraska (17-8, 8-4) RPI: 57 | KenPom: 56. Nebraska turned a nine-point second-half deficit at Wisconsin on Monday into a runaway 11-point win, the type of season-saving — perhaps season-defining — win its fans won’t soon forget. The Huskers have no RPI sub-150 losses to their name, but also don’t have much to speak of in the “good win” category. Outside of its home win over Michigan, Nebraska is winless against the RPI top 50. With four of their final six games at home — including contests against fellow NCAA Tournament hopefuls Maryland and Penn State — the Huskers will probably need to hold court and avoid a road loss at Illinois on February 18. Even then, at least one quality Big Ten Tournament win (think Michigan or Ohio State) might be necessary for Tim Miles’ group to feel good heading into Selection Sunday. Considering how well James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland have played in recent weeks, that’s certainly within the realm of possibility.

  • RPI Top 50 Wins: vs. Michigan
  • RPI Sub 150 Losses: None
  • Opportunities Left: vs. Maryland (February 13); vs. Penn State (February 25)

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What’s Trending: Weekend of Buzzer-Beaters

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 22nd, 2018

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

Earlier this season, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey made a fashion statement in Hawaii with a casual shorts and t-shirt look. Last week, Kansas head coach Bill Self decided to make his own fashion statement in the Jayhawks’ Big Monday game against West Virginia…

While Kansas ultimately got the victory, West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate had himself a one-man block party…

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In Search of a Big Ten Darkhorse? Look No Further Than Nebraska…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 8th, 2018

Nebraska’s 15-point trouncing of Northwestern last week was a statement win for the Huskers, and not just because it marked their first road victory of the season. It was the confidence Tim Miles’ group played with — dominating the final eight minutes of the contest — that opened eyes in both Allstate Arena and beyond. Defensively, Nebraska held the Wildcats to 0.89 points per possession on just 29.2 percent shooting; offensively, the team’s go-to playmakers came through when it counted. “I think it… solidifies our vision of what we can be. Like, ‘You know what? This is possible,’” Miles said afterward. With a roster that’s deep, experienced and chock full of high-performing transfers, what Nebraska ‘can be’ is a surprise competitor in the Big Ten this season.

Nebraska was one of just three Big Ten teams to win a game in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. (James Wooldridge, Daily Nebraskan)

  • Playmakers. The most striking difference between this year’s Nebraska team and those of recent past is the number of athletic playmakers on its roster. The infusion of several key transfers — namely Isaac Copeland (Georgetown) and James Palmer, Jr. (Miami (FL)) — has given the Huskers multiple players capable of finishing at the rim. Palmer, who leads the team with 15.6 points per game, has emerged as the team’s most dynamic offensive weapon, adept at using his length to both attack the basket (53.4% FTRate) and shoot over smaller defenders (35% 3FG). The now-healthy Copeland (12.4 PPG, 6.5 RPG) — who averaged double-figures in the Big East as a sophomore — is showing flashes of what made him a five-star recruit coming out of high school. Meanwhile, point guard Glynn Watson, Jr. (12.1 PPG) remains one of the quickest players in the league, his ability to penetrate at will enabling the Huskers to pull away from Northwestern last week. Miles, discussing the importance of guys like Palmer, Copeland and Watson, put it simply: “We’ve got more guys that can make plays.”

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Big Ten Preview Part I: Key Questions for Rutgers and Nebraska

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 27th, 2017

With the season just a few weeks away, Rush the Court’s Big Ten preview will tip off its coverage by posting a season-defining key question for each team. This week, we start at the bottom.

#14 Rutgers – Will the Scarlet Knights score enough to climb out of the cellar?

Can Steve Pikiell lift Rutgers out of last place? (Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports)

In Steve Pikiell’s first year, Rutgers doubled its overall win total, won its first-ever Big Ten Tournament game, and climbed nearly 150 spots in the KenPom ratingsOf course, the Scarlet Knights still finished dead-last in the league for the third year in a row, stymied by three-point, two-point, and free throw shooting percentages that ranked among the worst 25 teams nationally. The good news for Pikiell is that significant incoming talent — headlined by four-star power forward Mamadou Doucoure and three-star combo guard Geo Baker — should help diversify Rutgers’ scoring potential. Doucoure, who joins the 2017 class after reclassifying in August, adds needed size to the Scarlet Knights’ frontcourt and should take defensive pressure off senior Deshawn Freeman, who’s proven to be a capable scorer in addition to his rebounding prowess (7.8 RPG). Baker — by all accounts an adept passer and playmaker — adds sorely-needed perimeter shooting and offensive versatility. He should help fill the shoes of Nigel Johnson, a departing graduate transfer who was the team’s best three-point shooter a season ago (36% 3FG). Equally important will be the addition of JuCo transfer Souf Mensah, whose presence at point guard should help leading scorer Corey Sanders (12.8 PPG) play off the ball more regularly and, presumably, score at a more efficient clip. Like Pikiell’s best teams at Stony Brook, Rutgers’ improvement was defined by hard-nosed defense and rebounding last season. Coupling that identity with a more capable offensive attack would make the Scarlet Knights far more competitive in 2017-18.

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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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