Wisconsin Smashes Syracuse Zone by Getting Back to Basics

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 30th, 2016

Wisconsin‘s match-up against Syracuse last night represented a particularly concerning challenge on the offensive end of the floor. Despite an experienced core that includes two potential All-Americans in the starting lineup, Greg Gard‘s offense has been inconsistent. The Badgers made only 11 of a whopping 39 three-point attempts in their loss to Creighton. They turned the ball over 18 times against a Tennessee team that is one of the least experienced squads in the country. To bolster that point, Wisconsin has committed at least 11 turnovers in all seven of its games this season. The notion of a Badgers team easily solving Jim Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3 zone and its corresponding top 10 defense should have spelled disaster in Madison. Instead, they won by 17 points and showed that by simply getting back to basics, Wisconsin may very well end up being the team many expected to win the Big Ten this season.

Ethan Happ (right) had a game-high 24 points in Wisconsin's 77-60 win over Syracuse on Tuesday night. (USA Today Images)

Ethan Happ had a game-high 24 points in Wisconsin’s 77-60 win over Syracuse on Tuesday night. (USA Today Images)

The biggest takeaway from last night’s win over the Orange was just how well forward Nigel Hayes played as a facilitator. Because of his size and passing ability, the senior is the perfect player to set up shop in the middle of a zone. His repeated simple yet effective passes in high-low sets with center Ethan Happ led to a multitude of layups and dunks. Hayes has proven that he can make threes, but he’s only shooting 29 percent from beyond the arc on the season. The best move for the Wisconsin offense is to play Hayes mostly in the post with occasional flashes out to the perimeter. As Purdue has shown with Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas doing likewise, the Badgers should use this option against man-to-man defensive schemes as well. 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 Feast Week Primer: Part Two

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 21st, 2016

Eight of the 14 Big Ten teams will play in early-season tournaments over the next seven days. The festivities begin this afternoon with Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational, but continue for much of the next week as turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce commingles with basketball in far-flung locales. Here’s the first of a two part-breakdown that discusses what each participating Big Ten team faces this week.

Nigel Hayes needs to have a productive stretch of games in Maui for Wisconsin to win it. (Getty).

Nigel Hayes needs to have a productive stretch of games in Maui for Wisconsin to win the event. (Getty).

Maui Jim Maui Invitational

  • Teams: Wisconsin, Tennessee, Georgetown, Oregon, Oklahoma State, UConn, North Carolina, Chaminade
  • Capsule: Wisconsin is 2-1 and looking to gain some momentum after losing a road game to Creighton and not playing well in a win over Chicago State. The Badgers’ offense is attempting a robust 29 three-pointers per game, so establishing Ethan Happ in the paint should help. Top 10 teams like Oregon and North Carolina potentially await later in the week if Wisconsin can get past Tennessee.
  • Key Player: Nigel Hayes hasn’t shot the ball well this season (38.7% FG), only scoring three points in 16 minutes of action against Chicago State. The preseason Big Ten Player of the Year needs to start producing for Wisconsin to earn some big wins on the islands.
  • Prediction: Wisconsin will go 2-1 in Maui. They will win their first game against Tennessee; lose to an Oregon squad that expects to have Dillon Brooks back; and then beat either UConn or Oklahoma State on Wednesday.

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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.

Best-Case Scenario: Final Four Read the rest of this entry »

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 10th, 2016

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our the RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

1stteam

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Can Nigel Hayes Become the Face of Big Ten Basketball?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on October 26th, 2016

As we look ahead to the upcoming season, an immediate question arises about the Big Ten conference: Is there a dynamic personality among the league’s players who can represent the conference as well as Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine did last year? Or how Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell caught the league by surprise with his incredible poise and court vision two years ago? Who is that player this season? In several ways, Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes seems to be the most legitimate candidate to represent the Big Ten in 2016-17. After three years in college with two Final Four appearances to his credit, Hayes’ game should be more mature than ever. His team, with Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ as his sidekicks, also appears ready to make some national noise. And based on his recent showing at ESPN’s College Gameday, Hayes seems poised to make a splash beyond just joking around with the media.

Hayes’ junior year wasn’t as much of a breakout season that many had expected. While he led the Badgers in scoring (15.7 PPG) and was selected First Team All-Big Ten, he faltered in the NCAA Tournament and it was clear to observers that the emergence of Happ alongside him required an adjustment. In an effort to create space in new head coach Greg Gard’s system, Hayes had a tendency to shoot too many three-pointers, only 29.3 percent of which found the mark. With NPOY Frank Kaminsky manning the post two seasons ago, Hayes shot a sterling 39.6 percent from three-point range. Now that Hayes has had a full offseason to learn the subtleties of Gard’s offense, expect improvement in that area this season. His ability to play both inside and out is a matchup nightmare for opposing forwards generally uncomfortable with that level of offensive versatility.. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part III

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on April 8th, 2016

We continue to address key questions for each Big Ten team as they head into the offseason. Today we will tackle Michigan, Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Parts I and II can be found here and here.

Michigan (23-13, 10-8 Big Ten)

John Beilein will need a dominant presence in the paint to compete for the Big Ten title. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

John Beilein will need a dominant presence in the paint to compete for the Big Ten title. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

Will the Wolverines have any presence at all in the paint?

With the unexpected departure of Ricky Doyle, John Beilein suddenly has a dearth of big men on his roster. The Wolverines ranked 12th in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding percentage and badly need a big man who can consistently hold his own on the defensive glass. Michigan returns a lineup of athletic wings with excellent range on their jumpers, but it won’t rise to the top of the Big Ten standings without better rebounding — particularly on the defensive end of the floor.

Iowa (22-11, 12-6 Big Ten)

Can the Hawkeyes fill the huge void left by their four well-traveled seniors?

Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons and Adam Woodbury were the foundation of a Hawkeyes’ squad that spent over a third of this season ranked among the top 10. Peter Jok will be the team’s primary offensive weapon next season, but the rest of the roster will be very inexperienced. Dom Uhl showed good range in shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc; he is in line for a big increase in minutes and production.

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Three Statistics That Favor Wisconsin Over Notre Dame

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 25th, 2016

January 12, 2016, was a low point for Wisconsin basketball. Not only did the Badgers lose to a sub-par Northwestern squad on the road, but they also appeared to have dug themselves into a dangerous and perhaps irrevocable hole with a 1-4 record in the Big Ten. Nobody then would have expected that team to have a legitimate chance of making the Elite Eight two months later. Ken Pomeroy’s model predicts a one-point win for the #7 seed in its regional semifinal versus #6 Notre Dame tonight. The oddsmakers in Vegas, however, originally pegged Notre Dame as a one-point favorite, although that appears to have moved toward Wisconsin as well since then. Here are three statistics that indicate that KenPom is accurate in considering Wisconsin tonight’s favorite.

Bronson Koenig should have plenty of good looks from beyond the arc against a porous Irish defense. (AP)

Bronson Koenig should have plenty of good looks from beyond the arc against a porous Irish defense. (AP)

  • Opponents shot 38.7 percent from three against the Irish during ACC conference play. Notre Dame ranked 12th of 15 ACC teams in this defensive category this season, so poor perimeter defense will be an issue against a hot Bronson Koenig, who went 6-of-12 from behind the arc against Xavier last weekend. As a team, the Badgers shot 38 percent from three-point range during conference play, and Koenig’s long-range efforts have been complemented effectively by Vitto Brown‘s 40 percent shooting. Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia will have their hands full in keeping up with Wisconsin’s hot-shooting backcourt.

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Handing Out Big Ten Awards and Superlatives

Posted by Patrick Engel on March 8th, 2016

With the regular season complete, it’s time for our Big Ten postseason awards. Here are our three all-conference teams, all-rookie team and individual award winners as voted on by our microsite staff. Note that our ballots were submitted before the Big Ten released its official winners on Monday night.

Individual Awards

Tom Crean helped his Indiana team regroup and win the Big Ten after a poor nonconference showing. (Getty)

Tom Crean helped his Indiana team regroup and win the Big Ten after a poor nonconference showing. (Getty)

  • Player of the Year (unanimous): Denzel Valentine (G, Michigan State). The Wooden Award Candidate is the first player to lead the Big Ten in both scoring and assists per game since Iowa’s Andre Woolridge in 1996-97. He’s the Big Ten’s best passer (44.6 percent assist rate) and notched a sterling 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio this season. Valentine takes 30 percent of Michigan State’s shots (over half are three-pointers) and he still has a top-35 offensive rating (126.9) nationally.
  • Coach of the Year: Tom Crean (Indiana). The Hoosiers won the outright Big Ten title with a strong 15-3 record and significantly improved its defense during the Big Ten season. Despite losing one of its best offensive players with James Blackmon, Jr.’s injury in January, Indiana still boast the nation’s fourth-most efficient offense (119.6 points per 100 possessions).
  • Rookie of the Year: Ethan Happ (F, Wisconsin). Happ’s production and consistency on both ends of the floor gives him the edge here. He is tied for second in the conference with nine double-doubles and was an important part of Wisconsin’s resurgence after a 1-3 start to the Big Ten season.
  • Defensive Player of the Year: A.J. Hammons (C, Purdue). Hammons has tallied four more blocks (74) than fouls (70) this season, and he helps Purdue hold opponents to a difficult 42.7 two-point percentage. He also rebounds 23.4 percent of opponents’ misses.
  • Most Improved Player: Peter Jok (G, Iowa). Jok went from an inconsistent reserve as a sophomore to a consistently productive scorer as a junior. Iowa needed a complementary scorer to put alongside Jarrod Uthoff this season, and Jok became that guy.

All-Big Ten First Team

Denzel Valentine has become one of the nation's best players, if not the best, in his senior season. (AP)

Denzel Valentine has become one of the nation’s best players, if not the best, in his senior season. (AP)

  • Denzel Valentine (G, Michigan State): Valentine is the only player in the modern history of college basketball to average at least 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game (assists became an official statistic in 1983-84). He also logged two triple-doubles and shot 49.6 percent from beyond the arc in conference play.
  • Yogi Ferrell (G, Indiana): The Hoosiers’ senior point guard is the Big Ten’s fourth-leading scorer (17.1 PPG), fourth-leading distributor (5.5 APG), 10th-leading three-point shooter (42.1 %) and the conference champion’s best player.

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Big Ten M5: 02.12.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 12th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. Purdue announced on Thursday that athletic director Morgan Burke will retire when his contract expires on June 30, 2017. Burke, who has held the job in West Lafayette since 1993, is the longest-tenured athletic director in the Big Ten by 12 years. Michael Berghoff, former football player and current chairman of the Purdue Board of Trustees, will lead the search and gave no timetable for making a hire. The Lafayette (IN) Journal & Courier‘s Nathan Baird put together a list of possible candidates for the job.
  2. In more Purdue news, starting point guard P.J. Thompson has sprained ligaments in his left ankle, causing him to miss practice and wear a walking boot. His status for Saturday’s game at Michigan is unclear, although X-rays came back negative. Thompson said he suffered the injury in the second half of the Boilermakers’ overtime win versus Michigan State on Tuesday. The Indianapolis native is on pace to shatter Purdue’s record for assist-to-turnover ratio: The sophomore has 71 assists against 11 turnovers this season.
  3. The James Naismith Trophy released its midseason list for its men’s college basketball Player of the Year award. The list of 35 names includes five Big Ten players: Purdue center A.J. Hammons, Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine, Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff, Maryland point guard Melo Trimble and Indiana point guard Yogi Ferrell. Trimble, a sophomore, is the only non-senior of the five Big Ten candidates.
  4. Rutgers is in the middle of a 23-game Big Ten losing streak and head coach Eddie Jordan is displeased with the fan base’s impatience. Responding to a question about their disappointment, Jordan’s frustration showed as he defended Rutgers’ direction, saying, “They just have to be more educated in what the real deal is. If they understand what this conference is about, what type of players and teams we’re going up against with injuries and being a young team. If they don’t understand that, I don’t need to read what the reaction is.” Rutgers’ average home game attendance of 4,483 is easily the worst in the Big Ten.
  5. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Wisconsin has won six straight games since a 1-4 start to Big Ten play. Forward Nigel Hayes is tied for fourth in the conference in scoring with 17.3 PPG and has scored at least 20 points in four of the six wins. But Hayes isn’t doing all the work. Junior forward/center Vitto Brown’s newfound consistency has given the Badgers a big lift too. He scored a career-high 18 points in Wednesday’s win over Nebraska and made all three of his three-point attempts. Brown is averaging 14.0 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in Wisconsin’s last four contests. He has made six three-pointers in that stretch after making only eight in the first 20 games of the season.
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