Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 23rd, 2016

There are now two weeks to go before the close of the 2015-16 Big Ten season. Senior night ceremonies and the conference tournament are on the horizon, and the NCAA Tournament not too far beyond them. It’s unfair to jump to the conclusion that the long season has taken its toll on Big Ten teams, but there was some flat out ugly offense in the league last weekend. Four teams were held under 1.00 point per possession, and three of the five teams that came away with victories failed to crack 50 percent eFG shooting. On the brighter side, Indiana was able to fight off a late Purdue rally, and Maryland held serve at home against Michigan. This means that the regular season tournament is still a three team race at the moment (with Ohio State and Michigan State lingering a couple games back). Here are some of the noteworthy and not-so-noteworthy performances from the weekend before the final sprint.

Ethan Happ controlled the paint as Wisconsin rallied to beat Illinois Sunday night. (Nick Lisi, AP)

Ethan Happ controlled the paint as Wisconsin rallied to beat Illinois Sunday night. (Nick Lisi, AP)

Player of the Weekend: Ethan Happ isn’t always the prettiest or most graceful post player in the Big Ten, but the Wisconsin freshman is having a sensational first go of it in the Big Ten. After going up against the likes of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker in practices last season, Happ has played with a veteran edge that his former practice combatants would be proud of. He doesn’t shoot from the outside, nor does he dominate physically, but the “old guy at the YMCA” element to his game has proven valuable. He’s seemingly always in the right spot on the floor, and flashes a unique creativity in the shots he both attempts and makes in the post. Illinois had the Badgers in danger of enduring another bad resume loss at home, but Happ was there to notch his fourth double-double since conference play began. He also added a career-high six steals, bringing his average to 2.5 SPG in conference games. In a season where four other freshmen big men — all with much higher profiles than Happ — have also made large contributions to probable Big Ten NCAA Tournament teams, Happ could be the best freshman in the league.

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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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Big Ten M5: 02.19.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 19th, 2016

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  1. Illinois ended its long athletic director search when it formally introduced Josh Whitman as its next AD on Thursday morning (the news of his hire first broke on Wednesday). Whitman, 37, has been the athletic director at Division III Washington University in St. Louis since 2014. He also previously served as athletic director at Division III Wisconsin-La Crosse before that. His first full day on the job will be March 21, but that didn’t stop him from writing an immediate letter to Illinois donors.
  2. The “0-14 Game” won’t happen in the Big Ten after all. Many had been hyping up next Tuesday’s Rutgers at Minnesota matchup as a battle between the winless since both teams appeared headed into that game with zeros in the win column. Not anymore, as Minnesota stunned Maryland last night for its first Big Ten win of the season. The Terps were playing without freshman center Diamond Stone, who was suspended for the game after a technical foul on Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown last weekend. The win was the Gophers’ first of any kind since December 13 against Chicago State.
  3. Minnesota also played a man short on Thursday night, and it will do so for the rest of the season. Gophers head coach Richard Pitino announced on Wednesday that guard Carlos Morris had been dismissed from the program for conduct detrimental to the team. That conduct was later identified as a heated exchange between Morris and Pitino last Sunday. The senior was in his second season for Minnesota after transferring over from Chipola College (FL) and was averaging 9.8 PPG, the fourth-best mark on the team.
  4. Purdue point guard P.J. Thompson’s foot issues have persisted for more than a week, and while he has not yet missed any games, his practice routine is also not back to normal. He was in a walking boot for Thursday’s practice even though he still expects to play against Indiana this weekend. Thompson has committed just 11 turnovers in 585 minutes this season, and for a team that has had turnover issues in road games, he will need to be healthy and in the lineup on Saturday at Assembly Hall.
  5. Nebraska‘s Shavon Shields missed his third straight game after suffering a concussion against Rutgers two weeks ago, and the Huskers’ record dropped to 1-2 without their second-leading scorer in the lineup against Indiana. Nebraska misses his production as well as his leadership, as Robin Washunt of Rivals.com notes. Head coach Tim Miles had no update for Shields’ status for Saturday’s game vs. Ohio State, but suffice it to say that he’s needed back in the line up very soon.
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The Big Ten’s Biggest Surprises, Improvements & Disappointments

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 16th, 2016

Iowa is atop the Big Ten after Valentine’s Day, Indiana is (mostly) better defensively and Minnesota still hasn’t won a conference game. Those are typical of the team surprises, improvements and disappointments that appear over the course of every Big Ten season. The same thing happens on an individual level: some players seem to come out of nowhere, others take impressive leaps in production, and still others regress or plateau. With conference play now two-thirds finished, here are some of the biggest surprises, improvements and disappointments among this season’s Big Ten players.

P.J. Thompson's ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

P.J. Thompson’s ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt. (Sandra Dukes/USA TODAY Sports)

Biggest Surprises

  • O.G. Anunoby, F, Indiana: The least-heralded member of Indiana’s freshman class is now a crucial part of its rotation. The Hoosiers found the freshman forward from Jefferson City, Missouri, while scouting another player, but he has been their best defender and owns the second-highest effective field goal percentage (64.8%) on the team (minimum 60 FGAs).
  • Nicholas Baer, G/F, Iowa: An unknown freshman walk-on in November, Baer gives Iowa productive minutes off the bench. He makes 43 percent of his threes and 52 percent of his twos, but is also second on the team with 18 blocks. That versatility means that he can play the three or the four positions.

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The RTC Big Ten Podcast: Debut Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 2nd, 2016

Welcome to the first-ever Big Ten microsite podcast! Big Ten microsite writers Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) and Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) are here to give you a quickish overview of the league at the turn. In this episode, we analyze the two first-place teams in detail, select a few others that are poised to challenge for a regular season title, discuss whether any of the teams currently outside the bubble can get back on to it, consider a few Big Ten POY candidates, and finally talk about the few coaches on the hot seat. Let us know if you enjoyed the podcast and, if so, what topics we should cover next time, at @rushtheB1G. The complete rundown is below.

  • 1:06 – 8:35 — Indiana and Iowa
  • 8:36-17:39 — Maryland and Michigan’s regular season title hopes
  • 17:40-25:59 — Ohio State and Nebraska’s chances at an at-large bid
  • 26:00-31:41 — Jarrod Uthoff and A.J. Hammons as possible Big Ten POYs
  • 31:42-47:00 — Coaches on the hot seat
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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 01.29.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 29th, 2016

The Big Ten season is about halfway done and it looks like the top six schools–Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Purdue, and Michigan State – are putting some distance between themselves and the rest of the conference. While there are no head-to-head matchups between any of these teams this weekend, there are still a handful of consequential games. Here are the three most important of them:

Shavon Shields faces a huge frontline this weekend when they face Purdue. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Shavon Shields will take on a huge frontline this weekend when the Cornhuskers battle Purdue. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Nebraska at #21 Purdue (Saturday 4:30 pm ET, BTN). Time is running out for the Cornhuskers’ hopes for an at-large bid. While they have a nice win at Michigan State, they’ll need another win over a highly-ranked team to make up for some of the questionable losses of late 2015. They will get a great opportunity to do so this weekend when they travel to West Lafayette. The Boilermakers are still ranked in the Top 25 and sit 27th in RPI. But Purdue has also recently had some shaky performances, most notably a loss at Illinois and a near-defeat at Minnesota. If the Boilermakers look past Nebraska towards a matchup with Maryland next week, they could easily be upset. Look for Shavon Shields to try to find some open lanes against the massive Purdue frontcourt; if he’s successful, the Cornhuskers will have a shot at a critically important victory.

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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 01.22.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 22nd, 2016

After a three-week hiatus, the Weekend Look Ahead is back! The return is well timed: there are four top-notch games that may have lasting impact on both the Big Ten title race and NCAA Tournament seeding. Here are the games to watch in the B1G this weekend:

Denzel Valentine is will try to stop the Spartan's free fall when they host Maryland at home. (Getty)

Denzel Valentine will try to help stop the Spartans’ losing streak when they host Maryland at home Saturday. (Getty)

Northwestern at #25 Indiana (Saturday 12 pm ET, ESPNU). On Tuesday, the Wildcats almost got the marquee win their resume so desperately needs, ultimately losing in overtime at Maryland. Northwestern gets another shot to upset a ranked team on the road when they head to Bloomington on Saturday, while Indiana tries to keep up with Iowa as the only remaining teams undefeated in conference play. In addition to conference race ramifications, this game also treats us to a matchup between Bryant McIntosh and Yogi Ferrell – two of the best point guards in the Big Ten. The Wildcats competed with Maryland largely due to their defense stifling the Terps’ offense (only 0.91 points per possession for Maryland). They’ll have their hands full with an Indiana attack that has been on fire; most recently, it put on a clinic against Illinois in scoring an amazing 1.45 points per possession.

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Big Ten M5: 01.22.15 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on January 22nd, 2016

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  1. Former Boilermaker Robbie Hummel is out for the rest of the season after a mid-December labrum tear while playing overseas in Italy. Upon hearing of his injury, Purdue head coach Matt Painter quickly offered his former star player the chance to rehab at his alma mater and help the current Boilermakers squad as an adviser and mentor. He accepted the offer and will travel with the team and hang around the players as much as possible, while also living with Painter and rehabbing. Hummel considers it an internship of sorts to give him a taste of coaching as a post-playing career possibility.
  2. Michigan is holding its own without injured guard Caris LeVert, but John Beilein said Wednesday the senior is making “encouraging” progress with his lower left leg injury and is “doing more and more” on and off the court. The on-court work is still only light ball-handling and shooting, but he just recently has been able to walk without pain. Beilein said he still is not sure of a return date. In LeVert’s absence, Zak Irvin has found his shooting touch after a bad start: he has made 15 of his last 32 three-point attempts (47 percent).
  3. Rutgers hit a new low Monday, losing to Purdue at home by 50 and furthering the team’s perception as a colossal mess with no improvement in sight. But the school is launching a $100 million athletic facilities project called “R B1G Build,” a move designed to help improve the messy state of Rutgers athletics. The school released a video Wednesday that said athletic director Patrick Hobbs, head basketball coach Eddie Jordan and head football coach Chris Ash will each pledge $50,000 toward the effort. The video came a day after New Jersey governor Chris Christie signed a bill that will allow Rutgers to use $25 million in tax credits toward the project.
  4. Nebraska’s surprising 72-71 road win over Michigan State on Wednesday may say more about the reeling Spartans than the Cornhuskers, but it also revealed a Nebraska offense that has improved significantly from last season. Through seven conference games, Nebraska leads the Big Ten in field goal percentage, shooting 49 percent in conference play. Brian Rosenthal of the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star writes that the new freedom of movement rules have contributed to the more efficient offense. Shavon Shields scored 28 points in Wednesday’s win, but foul-prone Michigan State gave him plenty of space to score, perhaps in fear of fouling too much.
  5. Indiana is back in the top 25 and riding an 11-game winning streak, including five in a row to open Big Ten play. The team’s second-leading scorer, James Blackmon Jr., hasn’t played since Dec. 22 and will not play for the rest of the season due to injury. The Hoosiers’ hot streak has caused some fans and media to wonder if Indiana is better without Blackmon. The Indianapolis Star’s Zach Osterman considers the idea ridiculous. Instead, he asks the question, is Indiana better because it had to confront and deal with losing Blackmon? He points to its defensive improvement and determination to play better defense as a big reason why the answer is yes.
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Big Ten Player of the Year Ladder: Volume Two, Part I

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 20th, 2016

After finishing roughly two months of the college basketball season, it’s time to revisit the leaderboard for the Big Ten Player of the Year race. Injuries have played a role in shaking things up a bit since the last listing, but eight of the ten listed last time are still in the top ten. Isaac Haas has seen his productivity and minutes go down since conference play started and Robert Carter Jr also is off the list for now. Here’s a quick look at players 10-6, with players 5-1 to come shortly:

  • 10. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: (16.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.6 APG, 59.5 Free Throw Rate)- Hayes has struggled at times much like his team has. The easy looks that he was able to capitalize on with Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker on the roster last season have gone away, but Hayes has still managed to score more than 20 points five times. He also has increased his assist rate from 11.9 to 21.9 percent as he has done a nice job facilitating for the Badgers.
  • 9. Caris LeVert, Michigan: (17.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.2 APG, 129.9 O-Rating)- Through no fault of his own, LeVert took a decent sized drop here because he has missed the last five games for Michigan due to a lower leg injury. The numbers he has put up to date still hold up however, as he leads the Wolverines in points, rebounds, assists, and steals.
Caris LeVert is still one of the top ten players in the B1G despite missing his teams' last five games. (Getty)

Caris LeVert is still one of the top ten players in the B1G despite missing his teams’ last five games. (Getty)

  • 8. Malcolm Hill, Illinois: (18.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.6 APG, 80.0% FT)- Even though Illinois is off to a 1-4 start in conference play, Hill has still been one of the most consistent and versatile performers in all the league. The junior has scored in double-figures in each game this season, and has also lead the Illini in rebounds five times, and lead them in assists seven times.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 20th, 2016

Because of the Martin Luther King holiday, this week’s weekend wrap-up post includes the rare Monday Big Ten game. In what was the third weekend of Big Ten play, it’s fitting that three-pointers played a large role in many of the outcomes. Northwestern and Illinois suffered losses where they shot too many while Maryland and Iowa made double-digit shots from deep as they cruised to home wins. The rest of the best and worst from the weekend follows below:

Andrew White notched a double-double with 21 points and 13 rebounds Saturday for Nebraska. (Getty)

Andrew White notched a double-double with 21 points and 13 rebounds Saturday for Nebraska. (Getty)

Player of the Weekend: Andrew White III has had better shooting efforts than what he put forth Saturday for Nebraska in their win at Illinois, but this game may have been his best all-around effort. The junior continued to show that he’s more than just a shooter in going for a season-high 13 rebounds, and also dishing out a season-high three assists. White and Shavon Shields outscored Illinois’ potent duo of Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn 35-32, but more importantly White III keyed the 42-24 advantage for the Cornhuskers on the boards as they evened their conference record at 3-3 in winning their third game in a row.

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