Let’s Play Big Ten Secret Santa…

Posted by Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) on December 25th, 2015

Your class, company, or family probably plays Secret Santa during the holidays. To get in the giving spirit this Christmas, we’ll play Secret Santa with the Big Ten’s 14 teams and coaches. As much fun as it would be to give Richard Pitino more hair gel or Tom Izzo some stilts, we’ll stick to practical basketball-related gifts that each Big Ten coach would be thrilled to unwrap.

Santa has a variety of interesting presents for Big Ten teams to unwrap

Santa has a variety of interesting presents for Big Ten teams to unwrap

Here are the gifts we gave each coach and team (in alphabetical order):

  • Illinois (John Groce): This is one of the easier teams to shop for: The injury bug has cursed Illinois, so it gets healthy players from Santa. The Fighting Illini are playing this season without their starting point guard (Tracy Abrams), power forward (Leron Black) and center (Mike Thorne, Jr.).
  • Indiana (Tom Crean): Another easy team to shop for. If you haven’t heard of Indiana’s horrific defensive efforts, you’ve been living under a rock. The Hoosiers gave up 70 points to Kennesaw State and 72 to Alcorn State, respectively. Those teams rank 322 and 349 in the KenPom ranks, and average 64.1 and 60.3 PPG, respectively. Crean needs to start thinking of new ways to get his players to play better defense. Santa gives him a “D-Fense” sign that he can throw at players after bad defensive efforts. Better loosen up your arm, Tom.
  • Iowa (Fran McCaffery): The Hawkeyes aren’t elite in any one area, but don’t have a lot of gaping holes. They do struggle to get to the foul line, with a 25.8 free throw rate, which ranks 337th in the nation, per KenPom. Santa gives Iowa more free throw chances, especially to Peter Jok. The junior wing is Iowa’s second-leading scorer, but has attempted just 23 free throws.
  • Maryland (Mark Turgeon): The one knock on the Terps has been turnovers. They turn it over on 20 percent of their possessions and have six players who turn the ball over at least 19 percent of their used possessions. Maryland finds sturdy handles under its tree this year.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Men Standing Out Among Big Ten Freshmen

Posted by Patrick Engel on December 24th, 2015

Fall semesters have wrapped up across Big Ten campuses, and that means that league freshmen have now played 11 to 13 games and put a full semester of the collegiate experience behind them. As usual, their contributions run the gamut. Some have become invaluable parts of their teams; others are playing well but still going under-appreciated in fan circles; while a number of others haven’t yet cracked their teams’ rotations. As we enter the holiday break and look forward to league play starting on Tuesday next week, here is a look at how some of the Big Ten’s freshmen have performed so far this season.

Caleb Swanigan's addition to Purdue has taken this team to new heights in the early season. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Caleb Swanigan has been one of the Big Ten’s best freshmen and has helped make Purdue’s interior defense among the nation’s best. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Five Freshman Stars

(Note: Scout.com used for player ratings)

  • Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: This former five-star recruit has made Purdue’s front line even tougher than it already was. Purdue likes to play the 6’9″, 260-pounder alongside A.J. Hammons or Isaac Haas, which creates a special circle of hell for opposing teams and allows for more big-to-big passing on offense. Swanigan is averaging 11.2 PPG, 2.5 APG and a league-best 9.3 RPG, but he has exhibited a bit of a turnover problem (3.4 miscues per game).
  • Diamond Stone, Maryland: The No. 6 overall prospect in the class of 2015, Stone hasn’t been quite as good as fast as many thought he would be. Nevertheless, he has still put together a fine young season, averaging 10.7 PPG and 4.6 RPG as top-10 Maryland’s starting center. His 18.0 percent offensive rebounding percentage ranks ninth in the country, per KenPom.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Andrew White: The Big Ten’s Most Underrated Player

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 17th, 2015

We’ve written a lot about Nebraska here at the Big Ten microsite, perhaps more than a borderline NCAA Tournament team deserves. But there’s some reasoning behind it, as the Cornhuskers have become one of the most interesting stories in the Big Ten this season. They’ve done so despite losing one of the league’s best players from a season ago, but their offense has actually improved without Terran Petteway’s volume shooting. Another major factor in that improvement has been the emergence of Kansas transfer Andrew White, the Huskers’ leading scorer (16.7 PPG) and second-leading rebounder (5.1 RPG). But the 6’7” junior isn’t just a typical star on a middling team — he’s an All-Big Ten caliber player who is playing efficiently in almost every possible way. White ranks among the league’s top 10 in field goals made (seventh), field goal percentage (sixth), effective field goal percentage (fourth), true shooting percentage (10th), three-point field goals made (sixth), free throw attempts (10th), free-throw percentage (sixth), steals (sixth), and points per game (seventh). He hasn’t received much coverage outside of Lincoln, which gives the Nebraska star an early claim as the Big Ten’s most underrated player this season.

Andrew White has been the biggest impact player on a better-than-expected Nebraska squad. (Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications)

Andrew White has been the biggest impact player on a better-than-expected Nebraska squad. (Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications)

White, the Virginia Player of the Year as a prep senior, was considered among the top 50 prospects in the country when he committed to Kansas in 2012. When he decided to transfer to Tim Miles’ burgeoning program after his sophomore season, White’s career averages of only 2.3 PPG and 1.2 RPG suggested that perhaps he had been overrated. Take a closer look, though, and you’ll see that he lost a lot of potential playing time during his second year to future No.1 pick Andrew Wiggins, an entirely understandable situation. Being recruited over by Bill Self — always a possibility in a basketball factory like Lawrence — forced White to move to a school where he has ended up in a better situation. Miles certainly isn’t upset about it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The Big Ten Player of the Year Ladder: Volume One, Part I

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 15th, 2015

Since we’re a month into the season, we’ve acquired a decent sample size to start ranking and rating how various players have performed. Unfortunately for the sake of this exercise, a certain player from a certain team that is currently ranked number one in the country has been playing out of his freaking mind. Now that the suspense as to who will end up number one and the end of this list has been sufficiently lifted, here’s a brief look at how things stand according to the humble opinion of yours truly. The list goes from #10 to #6, with numbers #5 to #1 to come later on.

  • 10. Robert Carter Jr, Maryland: (12.5 PPG, 6.7 RBS, 1.4 BPG, 61.3 FG%, 117.0 O-Rating) — Carter Jr. has been a huge reason why Maryland is ranked in the top ten. He had good numbers at Georgia Tech, but the transfer has fit in seamlessly in College Park. He can score inside and out, and leads the Terrapins in rebounding, blocked shots, and field goal percentage.
  • 9. Andrew White III, Nebraska: (16.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 83.7% FT, 42.2% 3PT) — Many may have thought that White III would be the second banana behind Shavon Shields. Instead he’s emerged as Nebraska’s best scorer, doing so while only averaging 11 field goal attempts per game. The Kansas transfer has been at his best shooting from deep, as he’s made over three triples in six of the team’s 11 games.
Despite missing two games, AJ Hammons has been a top player in the Big Ten this season. (AP Photo/Darrell Hoemann)

Despite missing two games, AJ Hammons has been a top player in the Big Ten this season. (AP Photo/Darrell Hoemann)

  • 8. AJ Hammons, Purdue: (12.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.2 BPG, 62.3% FG, 114.6 O-Rating) — Hammons hasn’t been as much of a topic of conversation for two reasons. First, the team has been so deep and dominant, the individual numbers don’t pop as much, as the Boilermakers don’t have anyone averaging more than 27.2 MPG. Secondly, Isaac Haas has gotten off to such a solid start as the pivot position has become more of a platoon-type situation. A deeper look at the numbers however show that the senior is attacking the glass at a higher clip, shooting for a higher percentage from the floor, and he has a higher offensive rating from a year ago (114.6-104.2) on similar usage.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten M5: 12.14.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 14th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. It’s hard to say that the number one team in the country is a work in progress, but Michigan State struggled in their 58-52 win over Florida on Saturday. The Spartans scored a season-low 58 points and only managed 0.95 points per possession on 37 percent shooting from the floor. Outrebounding the Gators by 11 caroms helped, but it’s worth watching whether the Spartans can win the Big Ten without getting additional scoring from other sources.
  2. Nebraska notched a hard-fought comeback win on Sunday afternoon, coming back from double-digits against a solid Rhode Island squad. The main catalyst in the rally was freshman point guard Glynn Watson, who ended the game with 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting. The Cornhuskers have three point guards that play a good amount. This makes one wonder if this game makes the “point guard of the future” crack the starting five.
  3. Minnesota stumbled for the third game in a row after losing to Oklahoma State on Saturday night. Curiously, part-time starter Charles Buggs never saw the court in the game. Coach Richard Pitino didn’t particularly clear things up after the game, saying that he “just played the guys that would help us win the game.” Buggs had been averaging 27.3 MPG so far this season. The Gophers have been struggling on the defensive end of the floor, so it could be that Pitino thinks the younger players on the roster have a higher upside on that end of the floor. Buggs has had some solid games however, so that rationale has to be called into question.
  4. One lingering question for Michigan this season has been the health of Spike Albrecht. After having two hip surgeries in the summer months, the senior struggled in his brief spells on the court this season. The health concerns became answered last Friday, as Albrecht ended his Michigan career ten games into his senior season. The guard had some tremendous moments in his first three seasons, including his memorable performance in the 2013 National Championship game against Louisville. Now the return of Derrick Walton Jr. becomes that much more important.
  5. Purdue fans got their wish on Saturday afternoon, as centers Isaac Haas and AJ Hammons played together for the first time all season. It turned out to be much ado about nothing, as the “twin towers” lineup was only on the court for a brief time. Coach Matt Painter tried the combo out briefly last season against Michigan State, but who knows if the duo will see the floor at the same time if situations call for it later on in the season.
Share this story

Big Ten Resume Ranker: Mid-December Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 12th, 2015

Now that we’re almost a month into the season, it’s time to start taking a looking at Big Ten teams in terms of their early resumes. The conference appears to have three potentially elite teams, with four or five more capable of getting things on track and making run. It’s worth noting that Purdue went 8-5 in non-conference play with home losses to two bad teams a year ago, and let’s also not forget how Nebraska was 8-8 two seasons ago before winning 11 of their last 14 contests. So if your favorite team didn’t make the cut for this exercise, don’t fret. Sometimes teams take a while to come together and turn things around after the New Year. Teams below have been placed into their tiers based upon their resumes to date and using KenPom’s efficiency ratings as a reference point.

Bo Ryan and Wisconsin has two harmful home losses on their resume thus far. (Getty)

Bo Ryan and Wisconsin has two harmful home losses on their resume thus far. (Getty)

Outside Looking in: (Wisconsin, Nebraska, Penn State) — Wisconsin can look to a neutral court win over VCU and a road win over Syracuse in the positive column, but those home losses to Western Illinois and Milwaukee are problematic. Nebraska had an opportunity to beat Miami (FL) at home and played Cincinnati well, but both games still resulted in a loss. The Cornhuskers really don’t have any bad losses but didn’t look great in losing to a Creighton team that Indiana blew out earlier in the season. Penn State is barely hanging on, but the Nittany Lions looked decent in losing to George Washington on the road this week. Beating Colorado in Las Vegas could be crucial, as they would get a bump from the Pac-12’s likely status as a solid and deep league. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 12.11.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 11th, 2015

The college football championships are now in the books, which means basketball has center stage for a while. There are just under three weeks left in the non-conference portion of the schedule, so teams are still looking to notch a few resume-enhancing wins before conference play begins at the end of the month. Luckily for Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Nebraska this weekend, they will have those opportunities against top 100 teams this weekend. Here is your weekend preview of those four games.

Mark Loving (left) leads a very mediocre Buckeyes unit into Stoors on Saturday.

Mark Loving (left) leads a mediocre Buckeyes unit into Storrs on Saturday.

  • Ohio State at Connecticut (Saturday, 12:00 PM ET, CBS). The Huskies are coming off a tough loss at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, possibly because their coach, Kevin Ollie, received an ill-timed technical in the latter stages of the game. They’ll get another shot against a Big Ten team when the Buckeyes visit Gampel Pavilion on Saturday afternoon. Thad Matta’s young squad has looked its age as the Buckeyes commit a turnover in one out of every five possessions so far this season. If Ohio State can’t protect the ball against a very good Connecticut defense, they’ll slip below .500 with a record of 4-5, something that hasn’t happened this late in the season during the Matta era.
  • Marquette at Wisconsin (Saturday, 1:30 PM ET, ESPN2). If you haven’t yet heard, this version of Wisconsin isn’t your typical Bo Ryan team. Rather, this team, to the consternation of its head coach, shies away from three-pointers in favor of mid-range jumpers. Therefore, this rivalry game may rely on which player wins the battle in the paint between the Badgers’ Nigel Hayes and the Golden Eagles’ Henry Ellenson. While the freshman is bigger and more naturally gifted, the upperclassman knows how to take over a game — Hayes scored 32 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a recent loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Look for whoever wins this individual battle to set the tone for the rest of his team.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Nebraska’s Offense is Better Without Terran Petteway

Posted by Patrick Engel on December 11th, 2015

Folks in Nebraska are accustomed to seeing their Cornhuskers start the season slowly, and this year has been no exception as Tim Miles’ team is now 6-4 for the second straight December. Despite the identical record, the numbers show that this year’s team is better than the disappointing 13-18 group of a season ago, and the improvement centers on the absence of Terran Petteway. Yes, the Nebraska offense is actually better without the services of last year’s leading scorer.

Andrew White has replaced Terran Petteway as Nebraska's go-to scorer (Photo Credit: Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications)

Andrew White has replaced Terran Petteway as Nebraska’s go-to scorer (Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications)

Before the season, we touched on the possibility of Nebraska’s offense improving without Petteway in the lineup. The basis for such a prediction was that his high usage rate – he took 33.4 percent of the Cornhuskers’ shots when he was on the floor – and less-than-stellar shooting (39.6%) hurt Nebraska’s overall offensive efficiency. Sure enough, the absence of a high-volume, low-percentage scorer has helped Miles’ squad spread the ball around among a corps of talented newcomers and improved returnees. This increased sharing of opportunity has led to better ball movement, which has in kind also led to better shooting percentages and a more sustainable and efficient offensive operation. Last year, Petteway was one of three Nebraska players to take more than 20 percent of the team’s shots when he was on the floor. This year, Nebraska has five players at above 20 percent — proof positive of a Cornhuskers team dividing its allocation of shots better than it did a year ago. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Off to a Hot Start, Cincinnati’s Improved Offense the Key

Posted by Jared Kotler on December 2nd, 2015

Going into the season, Cincinnati wasn’t getting a whole lot of respect. Despite being picked to finish third in the American by the league’s coaches, Mick Cronin thought his team was better than that. Fast forward a month and the Bearcats are out to a blazing hot 7-0 start, including two solid wins against Nebraska and George Washington in last week’s Barclays Center Classic. Led by a new-look offense, Cincinnati takes on a tough Butler team tonight at home. Let’s take a quick look at what has made Cincinnati look more like a contender than a sleeper through the first two-plus weeks of the young season.

•The UC-UConn rivalry benefits from the mutual respect between Cronin and Ollie (Richard Messina / Hartford Courant)

A lot of pundits felt Cincinnati would stagnate this season but Mick Cronin has his squad pointing up so far. (Richard Messina / Hartford Courant)

Elite Defense

Defense is a staple of Cronin’s Cincinnati teams. The Bearcats have had a top 50 defense in each of the last six seasons, and Cincinnati is off to its best defensive start under Cronin ever, ranking third nationally and allowing more than 70 points only once thus far (Western Carolina). Let’s take a look at the team’s most recent performance in a 61-56 victory over George Washington. Two statistics stand out — the Colonials’ three-point and two-point field goal percentages. The Bearcats held GW to a miserable 29 percent shooting on two-point attempts, and it was only by virtue of 50 percent shooting beyond the arc that the Colonials stayed in the game. This shows that Cincinnati will muck things up inside the paint in an effort to prevent any easy baskets, even if by doing so the Bearcats give up some open threes in the process. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Drawing Battle Lines, Day Two: Making a Case For Tuesday’s Games

Posted by Brad Jenkins and Patrick Engel on December 1st, 2015

After one day of competition, the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge is tied at one game a piece, with 12 more matchups to come tonight and tomorrow (schedule below). Wake Forest tipped things off Monday night by using a furious late rally to top Rutgers, 69-68, while Minnesota held off Clemson, 89-83, in the evening’s nightcap behind a strong performance by freshman Jordan Murphy. Both of those games were played at Big Ten venues, but the ACC will have the home court edge tonight by hosting four games. To prepare for this evening’s action, the ACC and Big Ten microsites are once again here to defend the schools they cover. Patrick Engel (Big Ten) and Brad Jenkins (ACC) make the case for each team in their respective leagues for all six contests that will take place tonight on the ESPN family of networks.

acc big ten schedule

Michigan at N.C. State (7:00 PM ET, ESPN2)

  • Patrick: We’ve seen Michigan at both its best and its worst so far this season. As I detailed on Monday, it’s becoming clear that the Wolverines have plenty of shooters but are going to once again struggle in the paint. NC State isn’t great at either defending the three (35.7%) or shooting it (32.4%), but the Wolfpack are one of the biggest teams in the country (ninth in height). Michigan has to find space against NC State on the perimeter without getting beat in the paint or on the glass to earn a win here.
  • Brad: The obvious advantage here for the Wolfpack is in the paint. N.C. State should control the boards, and it will need to because Michigan is bound to hit more threes than Mark Gottfried’s team. As long as he can stay relatively fresh, Anthony Barber (39.2 MPG) should win the point guard matchup with Derrick Walton. The Wolfpack aren’t deep and must avoid foul trouble, but they can’t shy away from being physical in defending the offensively-potent Michigan wings.

Northwestern at Virginia Tech (7:00 PM ET, ESPNU)

  • Brad: There’s no way to sugarcoat Virginia Tech’s opening home loss to a SWAC team (Alabama State), but Buzz Williams’ guys have shown some recent signs of improvement. Iowa State beat them handily in the semifinals of the Emerald Coast Classic last week, but the Hokies bounced back to beat a decent UAB squad in overtime the next night. If Virginia Tech is to win this game, it probably will have to do so by living at the foul line.
  • Patrick: The Wildcats have survived without Vic Law so far. They’re not elite in any one area, but they also don’t have a singular glaring weakness. They’ve been a perimeter-oriented team to this point, but Alex Olah’s ability to get to the free throw line will challenge a Virginia Tech team that rarely lets its opponents get there. Northwestern has a good chance of winning this game on the road if it can earn charity stripe opportunities while keeping the free throw-minded Hokies (nation-leading 60.9% free throw rate, per KenPom) away from the line.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Starting Five: Five Big Ten Teams Feeling Good About Feast Week

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 30th, 2015

The non-conference portion of the schedule hasn’t been great to the Big Ten so far this season, but Feast Week gave some of the league’s teams positive feelings about the future. Here are five schools that can feel good about themselves after the week that was.

John Groce got his lineup back in full, and his squad looked much better. (USAT Images)

John Groce got his full lineup back and his squad looked much better as a result. (USAT Images)

  1. Illinois: The Illini have a lot of extra dead weight to shed from their 3-4 start to the season, but anyone who watched their win against UAB and the first 30 minutes against Iowa State saw that this is a different and better team with a full complement of players. Kendrick Nunn looked rusty but he averaged 18.5 PPG in the two games — a healthy Nunn, Leron Black and Jaylon Tate showed the potential that exists here. The knee injury to Mike Thorne, Jr., however, is a real downer.
  2. Maryland: After struggling with teams that they shouldn’t have struggled with, the Terps finally put it all together against Rhode Island on Wednesday night in the championship game of the Cancun Classic. It appears as though Maryland’s on-court chemistry and offensive movement are improving with the realization that they any member of the starting unit can carry them for stretches — Rasheed Suliamon and Robert Carter Jr., for example, had moments where they looked like the best players on the floor. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Big Ten M5: 11.18.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 18th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Last night we were treated to an excellent slate of non-conference matchups involving three Big Ten teams. First, Nebraska traveled to Philadelphia and played Villanova tough for the first 10 minutes of the game before ultimately getting blown out. Next, Maryland rekindled an old city rivalry when it hosted Georgetown. The Terps edged the Hoyas behind Melo Trimble’s 24-point effort and transfer Rasheed Sulaimon’s late three to seal the game. Finally, Michigan State came back to win against Kansas after being behind the Jayhawks for almost the entirety. Denzel Valentine was phenomenal, becoming one of just a handful of players to record a triple-double in a Spartans uniform. It was an excellent all-around night of basketball for Big Ten fans.
  2. For Bo Ryan, the challenge of rebuilding at Wisconsin since the departure of five instrumental players from his back-to-back Final Four teams is becoming real. First, there was a humbling loss to Western Illinois — a team that is projected to finish dead last in the Summit League — at the Kohl Center. Then, on Tuesday night, the Badgers learned that Andy Van Vliet — a 6’10” forward from Belgium — has been ruled ineligible for the entire season. This leaves Ryan short another player at a time when he’s still trying to figure out his rotation and the ultimate identity of his team.
  3. On Monday, Indiana finished its two-game set of Maui Invitational opening round games when it walloped Austin Peay, 102-76. As expected, the Hoosiers’ offense has been humming along early, as evidenced by their 69.8 percent effective field goal percentage on the season. More promising, however, is that Indiana’s defense looks markedly improved as Tom Crean’s group has kept its opponents at under one point per possession so far this season. The true test for his team will be next week’s venture to the Maui Invitational where, along with Kansas, Indiana is the favorite to leave the island with some hardware.
  4. In their first two games of the season, Purdue has showcased why it was selected as a preseason Top 25 team and considered a legitimate contender for a Big Ten title. Winning those contests by a combined 69 points, what’s even more impressive is that they’ve done so without the services of their best player, A.J. Hammons, who has been watching from the bench. Matt Painter has been ambiguous about the specific reason for his senior center’s absence, instead stating that “he’s got to take care of some business internally” before he can again see the court. Whenever he does return to the lineup, though, his presence will certainly add to a squad already performing at a high level — no doubt sending chills throughout the rest of the Big Ten.
  5. One of the reasons the Boilermakers have been able to make do without Hammons in the lineup is because of the exceptional play of star freshman Caleb Swanigan. In his first two games as a collegian, the big-bodied forward averaged 12.5 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game while also shooting over 40 percent from the three-point line. For those efforts, Swanigan was awarded the Big Ten Freshman of the Week award on Monday. Look for the precocious Boilermaker to keep up this pace even when Hammons returns as he has already shown a developed ability to play away from the basket.
Share this story