Is Northwestern Finally Breaking Through?

Posted by Jim Root on November 30th, 2016

It’s nearly impossible to talk about Northwestern basketball without mentioning its ignominious streak of missing the NCAA Tournament in every year since the event’s inception. While that dishonor receives nowhere near the public interest that north side of Chicago neighbor Cubs’ 107-year World Series drought gets, it’s a similar marker of futility. Wait — what’s that? The Cubs did what this year? Well, I’ll be darned… so can another long Windy City sports dry spell be snapped this year? Early indicators look good.

Bryant McIntosh looks like an all-conference lead guard, both scoring and distributing the basketball. (AP)

Bryant McIntosh looks like an all-conference lead guard, both scoring and distributing the basketball. (AP)

The outlook at this point is relatively positive, as head coach Chris Collins did an excellent job of fixing last year’s primary problem — an incredibly weak non-conference schedule (334th nationally, per both KenPom’s ranking system and ESPN’s RPI formula). The Wildcats have already played a road game at Butler (L), neutral site games against Texas (W) and Notre Dame (L), and beat Wake Forest at home in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge earlier this week. A win at Butler or against the Irish would have been massively helpful for Northwestern’s at-large cause, but a vastly improved non-conference strength of schedule already puts Collins’ team ahead of last year’s resume. As it’s not even December yet, there’s still work to do. Northwestern cannot afford a loss in its five remaining non-conference home games against shaky-to-very-bad foes, and a December 17 date with Dayton at the United Center in Chicago looms as the team’s last chance to provide substance to its ledger. That game against the Flyers will present the Wildcats with the odd situation of having an interior advantage, something that they are unlikely to experience during the Big Ten grinder. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten Conference Preview: Rutgers, Nebraska, Minnesota, Penn State, Northwestern

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 10th, 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 first of three segments lists our bottom five teams.

14. Rutgers: There’s a new coach and correspondingly new enthusiasm at Rutgers. Eddie Jordan is gone and former Stony Brook head coach Steve Pickiell has taken over. There’s still some talent on this roster, with sophomore lead guard Corey Sanders returning along with Mike Williams on the wing. The Scarlet Knights’ biggest issue is that they need to shoot the ball much better all over the floor, ranking 282nd on three-point percentage and 311th on two-point field goals last season. Things weren’t much better defensively, but they added some size and versatility with graduate transfer CJ Gettys and the return of Deshawn Freeman. Pickiell has a great reputation for development, but this won’t be a quick rebuild in the Garden State.

Best Case Scenario: Double-figure wins

Corey Sanders is the leading returning scorer for Rutgers. (Getty).

Corey Sanders is the leading returning scorer for Rutgers. (Getty)

13. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers actually improved by three wins last season, but the program has still fallen sharply after making the NCAA Tournament in 2014. This team loses a second-team all-conference performer (Shavon Shields) as well as an honorable mention selection (Andrew White, transfer to Syracuse). They will replace some of that talent with Louisville transfer Anton Gill, but the majority of the roster aside from senior Tai Webster is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. Scoring is going to be a question mark for this team, but the defensive side doesn’t look much better (last year’s team dipped from 28th in defense efficiency in 2014-15 to 114th last season). It looks like another long season in Lincoln.

Best-Case Scenario: Winning Record Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part II

Posted by Patrick Engel on April 7th, 2016

Part one of our four-part review of each Big Ten team examined key questions for the league’s bottom three finishers: Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois. Part two tackles important offseason questions for Penn State, Nebraska and Northwestern. (note: Scout.com used for all player and class ranks).

Penn State (16-16, 7-11 Big Ten)

Pat Chambers signed the highest-rated recruiting class in Penn State history, but will it bring immediate results (AP Photo/Michael Conroy).

Pat Chambers signed the highest-rated recruiting class in Penn State history, but will it net immediate results? (AP Photo/Michael Conroy).

Can the best recruiting class in program history bring immediate results?

Penn State signed a top-20 recruiting class that includes top-40 overall point guard Tony Carr, top-75 overall wing Lamar Stevens, three-star wing Nazeer Bostick and three-star center Joe Hampton. It comes on the heels of a 2015 class that included four-star wing Josh Reaves – who showed great promise in 19 starts as a freshman — and big man Mike Watkins, who had to sit out the year with academic issues. How quickly can all these young players make an impact? Carr is a natural point guard, a good transition player and passer who can get into the paint and find quality shots. He’s not known for long-range shooting, but he’s good enough that head coach Pat Chambers could move Shep Garner off the ball. At 6’6″, Stevens is a hybrid forward in the mold of former Maryland star Dez Wells. He should fit well in the Brandon Taylor role for the Nittany Lions. Penn State’s post offense was a significant weakness this year, but with two of its three centers finishing their careers, Watkins and Hampton will have an opportunity to produce. A potential starting five of Carr, Garner, Reaves, Stevens and Watkins, Hampton or junior Julian Moore is a very good lineup on paper. But the young stars will need to adjust right away for Penn State to finish higher than 10th in the Big Ten for the first time under Chambers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Way-Too-Early Power Rankings in the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 6th, 2016

The “Way-Too-Early” part of doing power rankings predicting the next Big Ten season is even more difficult this year. That’s because those players who declare for the NBA Draft but do not sign with an agent can decide to return to school as late as the last week in May. So even though it’s likely that things will change between now and early summer, here’s our early rundown of how things look heading into next season.

Michigan State and Bryn Forbes Should Expect to be at the Top of the Big Ten Again Next Season (USA Today Images)

Michigan State Will Say Goodbye to Several But Should Expect to be at the Top of the Big Ten Again Next Season (USA Today Images)

  1. Michigan State: Even if Deyonta Davis decides to leave after his freshman season, Michigan State has another loaded class coming to East Lansing. Miles Bridges and Josh Langford should be special from the start, and even though the losses of Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello will sting, the returns of Eron Harris, Gavin Schilling and Alvin Ellis should lessen the blow considerably.
  2. Wisconsin: After an underwhelming junior season, it just doesn’t seem likely that Nigel Hayes will leave Madison early. Even if he does depart, though, four other starters will be back as the program gets a full offseason with Greg Gard leading the way. Expect the Badgers to once again be in the mix for the Big Ten crown.
  3. Indiana: We know that Yogi Ferrell is finished (graduation) but we don’t know for sure about Troy Williams, Thomas Bryant or OG Anunoby. Chances are the Hoosiers won’t slip much if at least two of those three come back along with expected returnees James Blackmon, Jr. and Robert Johnson.
  4. Michigan: There’s a lot to like here with potentially all five starters returning to Ann Arbor next season. The keys seems to be whether Zak Irvin can be consistent for a full season and whether Marc Donnal can make additional strides. If they can, the Wolverines should be a Top 25 team. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Big Ten Tournament Storylines: First and Second Rounds

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 9th, 2016

This year’s Big Ten Tournament could very well have something for everyone. There are two teams that seem to be peaking at just the right time (Indiana and Michigan State), two others that have won 20 of their last 26 games (Purdue and Wisconsin), and two more that hope to find their way after recent struggles (Iowa and Maryland). Old rivals Michigan and Ohio State are both stuck squarely on the bubble, while Northwestern and Penn State can secure bids in some of the lower-level tournaments with a win or two. Here are three quick storylines to focus on during the first two days of games in Indianapolis.

Michigan needs quality play from Zak Irvin to get the wins they need in the Big Ten Tournament. (Getty).

Michigan needs quality play from Zak Irvin to get the wins it needs this postseason. (Getty)

  1. Bubble Boys: Michigan has a decent chance to make the field of 68 but it would be strongly advisable that the Wolverines avoid losing to Northwestern on Thursday afternoon. When the two teams played a couple weeks ago, the Wildcats were competitive throughout until Michigan pulled away at the very end. A Michigan loss here probably means John Beilein will punch his ticket to the NIT. Ohio State has a much more arduous task ahead with its first test against a Penn State team that has won five out of its final eight games, including victories over Indiana and Iowa. The Buckeyes are full of mercurial talents who don’t always play consistently, but if Thad Matta can get JaQuan Lyle, Marc Loving and Keita Bates-Diop clicking at the same time, Ohio State could make a run. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten M5: 03.04.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on March 4th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. When Bo Ryan retired as Wisconsin’s head coach in December, many thought he wanted to give his longtime assistant, Greg Gard, a trial period so that athletic director Barry Alvarez would seriously consider him for the full-time position. If that was Ryan’s intent, the move appears to have worked. On Thursday, The Milwaukee (Wisc.) Journal-Sentinel reported that Wisconsin is prepared to offer Gard a long-term contract. Gard has led the Badgers to a 12-5 Big Ten record, which includes 11 wins in their last 12 games.
  2. Two Big Ten players were named to the College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-America team on Thursday: Nebraska’s Shavon Shields and Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff. Shields, who owns a 3.72 GPA in biological sciences, made the team for the second straight year. Uthoff had a 4.0 GPA in the fall semester while pursuing his graduate degree and has a 3.42 overall GPA and with a bachelor’s degree in economics from Iowa.
  3. Northwestern will be a frontcourt player short for the rest of the season. Head coach Chris Collins announced Wednesday that graduate transfer Joey van Zegeren will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury suffered in Monday’s practice. The Netherlands native was averaging 3.6 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. Collins said that sophomore forward Gavin Skelly could play center if primary centers Alex Olah and Dererk Pardon get into foul trouble.
  4. Although conference tournament season hasn’t even begun for the Big Ten, non-conference tournaments for next fall are already announcing participants. On Wednesday, The Cancun Challenge announced a Big Ten team as one of its eight participants. Purdue will play in the Challenge’s Riviera Division, where they will join Texas Tech, Utah State and Auburn. The tournament will be played Nov. 22 and 23.
  5. On Tuesday, Richard Pitino decided to make the one-game suspension of guards Nate Mason, Kevin Dorsey and Dupree McBrayer a season-long one. Pitino did not comment on the reason for the suspension, but a sexually explicit video posted on Dorsey’s Twitter account is the believed cause. Dorsey’s family says that cannot the case. In a statement faxed to the Twin Cities (Minn.) Pioneer Press, Dorsey’s family said he could not have posted the video because his phone was stolen at Minnesota’s Mall of America two days before the video surfaced. Bloomington (Minn.) police said they are investigating a phone theft at the mall and that there is video evidence of it being taken from a store there.
Share this story

Big Ten Weekend In Review: 03.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 1st, 2016

We’re now only 13 games away from complete resolution to the Big Ten regular season, as last weekend’s action, like much of the regular season, gave us some close games sprinkled among a few blowouts. Indiana clinched a share of the regular season crown without playing a game, and the four teams chasing the Hoosiers still have a double-bye in Indianapolis to play for. Here’s are the highlights from the second-to-last weekend of the regular season.

Keita Bates-Diop (right) influenced things offensively and defensively for Ohio State as they knocked off Iowa( Jay LaPrete, AP).

Keita Bates-Diop (right) influenced things offensively and defensively for Ohio State as they knocked off Iowa (Jay LaPrete, AP).

Player of the Weekend: With apologies to Illinois’ Malcolm Hill, who teamed with Kendrick Nunn to look like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen toying with Toni Kukoc in the 1992 Olympics because Minnesota was playing without guards, Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop gets the nod because he essentially out-Uthoffed Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff. He had a highly efficient scoring night with 19 points (8-of-11 shooting) and four blocks as Ohio State came back in the final few minutes to beat Iowa. The surging Buckeyes held an Iowa team that scores 31.4 percent of its points on the season from the three-point line to a quiet 3-of-12 from the perimeter, and Uthoff in particular continued to struggle (16 points on 5-of-14 shooting). Iowa is now in the midst of another late-season swoon.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Before Saturday’s game against Maryland, Purdue sophomore Dakota Mathias had only scored in double figures twice all season. Both of those instances occurred in games where Purdue scored over 100 points against weak competition. But Mathias saved his best game of the year for Saturday as Purdue held off Maryland for a big win in West Lafayette. Mathias has now shot 6-of-11 from distance over his last five games, hitting three treys against the Terrapins en route to a career-high 17 points for the game. One of Purdue’s strengths is its outstanding depth, and in order to make a postseason run, players like Mathias need to step up.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story