Morning Five: 12.28.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 28th, 2015

morning5

  1. It seems like we have been saying this could be the year that Northwestern makes the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever for several years now. The hopes this year took a massive hit yesterday when they announced that senior center Alex Olah would be out indefinitely with an injury to his foot. Olah, who had been averaging 12.8 points (on 59.8% FG), 6.5 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game, helped lead the Wildcats to an 11-1 record (they sit at 12-1 after a win last night over Loyola) with their only loss coming against North Carolina. Northwestern will rely on freshman Dererk Pardon, who had 6 points (3-3 FG) and 4 rebounds last night, to fill in for Olah, but if they have any realistic hope of making the NCAA Tournament this year they will need Olah back pretty soon.
  2. With several conference tournaments being played every year in Las Vegas the NCAA’s refusal to have any of its postseason events there has always seemed strange to us. Now that the NCAA has expressed some interest in softening its stance and considering Las Vegas as a potential postseason site some within the city are beginning to push hard for inclusion. While including Las Vegas in NCAA postseason tournaments probably wouldn’t do much to affect the city’s bottom line (it is basically hosts multiple conventions every single day of the year) it would help lend a sense of legitimacy to the city and also be used as a springboard into talking to the NCAA and other states about increasing the reach of legalized gambling.
  3. Over the past few years we have noted the proliferation of cable networks dedicated to conferences and in some cases teams (we will get to the latter in a minute). These networks have been cited as one of the driving forces behind conference realignment as network contracts in addition to the ones they sign with established networks help drive large sums of money into the pockets of the schools within the conference. The most unique of these arrangements is The Longhorn Network, which as its name suggests is dedicated to Texas. While Texas is undoubtedly one of the biggest brands in college sports (it tops most lists in terms of licensing revenue) the school’s revenue-producing sports (basketball and football) have struggled recently and the network itself has not been doing well financially. While the details behind those struggles are more complex than just the school’s on-field/-court struggles (those details are in the article), it does serve to underscore the tenuous nature of some of these television contracts.
  4. Former Cincinnati assistant coach Al Hmiel decided to come clean recently regarding his history as a college basketball “slimeball”. Hmiel says his decision to “come clean” was the result of hearing about Louisville’s ongoing scandal and how some people were trying to use the recruits as scapegoats. Hmiel basically admits to doing just about every conceivable thing you could imagine to make a player eligible or, in some cases, ineligible. Hmiel’s comments will probably generate a fair amount of reaction over the next few weeks particularly from former players and/or coaches who were mentioned or were at the school when Hmiel was there, but based on the response we have seen online the accusations might not be that ridiculous.
  5. Normally the suspensions of student-athletes for impermissible benefits lead to a bunch of media outrage so we were a bit surprised to see the eight-game suspension of Vermont guard Dre Wills for reselling his textbooks didn’t generate more ridiculous headlines (ok, it did from some of the usual suspects). Wills, a junior who was averaging 6.8 points and 5 rebounds per game, apparently violated his athletic scholarship by selling back his textbooks. It’s not really clear how much money Wills got from reselling those books (from personal experience we can tell you it was probably very little), but since his scholarship almost certainly paid for those books we can understand why he can’t just resell the books and collect the profit.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 »

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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.

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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 »
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CBE Hall Of Fame Classic: Reactions From Night Two

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 25th, 2015

Brian Goodman is the lead Big 12 correspondent for Rush The Court. He’s in Kansas City this week for the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. You can follow Brian on Twitter @BSGoodman or the RTC Big 12 Twitter account @b12hoops.

The CBE Hall Of Fame Classic wrapped in Kansas City on Tuesday night, with North Carolina overcoming a hot night from Kansas State to take the title by a score of 80-70. In the consolation round, Northwestern withstood a second half Missouri run to topple the Tigers 67-62.

  • North Carolina’s late run deflates Kansas State. The Tar Heels and Wildcats traded jabs for most of the night, with Kansas State pulling ahead for a prolonged stretch in the second half. In the closing minutes, however, North Carolina reeled off a 21-3 run to put Bruce Weber’s team away. It was a collective effort down the stretch for North Carolina, but one specific play turned the tide in the Tar Heels’ favor. Coming out of a media timeout with a touch under four minutes left, Roy Williams drew up a baseline out-of-bounds designed play for Joel Berry, who found himself open thanks to a pair of screens to bury a three-pointer off a pass from Brice Johnson. The Tar Heels were soft on offense for the better part of 35 minutes, allowing Kansas State to keep up on the glass and get some steals, but they tightened their game up when it mattered most and showed some toughness to close things out.
Down the stretch, Kennedy Meeks and UNC had just enough to hold off hometown Kansas State. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Down the stretch, Kennedy Meeks and UNC had just enough to hold off hometown Kansas State. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Kamau Stokes puts on a show as the young Wildcats put a scare into UNC. We talked yesterday about Dean Wade‘s great effort on the blocks on Monday, but it was a different Kansas State newcomer who grabbed the attention of everyone in the Sprint Center last night. Stokes came into Tuesday’s final shooting a paltry 3-of-14 from distance on the season, but caught fire against North Carolina with a 6-of-8 effort from distance. With each passing bucket, Stokes grew more confident, firing up the crowd and his teammates. Stokes’ hot stretch even drew a double-team from the Tar Heels at one point. His night was made even more unexpected by the fact that he required an extra year at prep school just to get a Division-I scholarship offer. It’s just unfortunate that the rest of the Wildcats shot just 36 percent from the floor and couldn’t buy a stop late in the game. Tonight served as a reminder that even though Bruce Weber has a young team full of guys that want to play for him, it’s still going to be a process. Stokes will continue to get opportunities as Weber figures out his rotation, but while we wouldn’t expect him to be this hot regularly, even decent three-point shooting would be a big lift to Kansas State as it retools.

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CBE Hall of Fame Classic: Reactions From Night One

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 24th, 2015

Brian Goodman is the lead Big 12 correspondent for Rush The Court. He’s in Kansas City this week for the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. You can follow Brian on Twitter @BSGoodman or the RTC Big 12 Twitter account @Big12Hoops.

The CBE Hall Of Fame Classic tipped off in Kansas City on Monday night, with Kansas State walloping Missouri in the opener and North Carolina taking care of Northwestern in the nightcap. Here are the most important takeaways from each team’s performance last evening.

Bruce Weber's crew had a good night in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Bruce Weber’s crew had a good night in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Dean Wade steps up inside for Kansas State. Post production on both ends of the court was a massive struggle for Kansas State a year ago, but it’s been a different story this year thanks to Bruce Weber‘s most important newcomer. Wade overwhelmed Missouri’s undersized lineup all night long, finishing with 14 points and 13 rebounds to register his first career double-double. The 6’10 freshman doesn’t yet have a ton of polish around the rim, but he showed impressive range all the way out to the three-point line and made all six of his free throws. Weber was very pleased with his big man’s play on Monday, telling media after the game that his rookie “responded against probably bigger, more athletic guys than we had played in the previous games.” Wade faces his biggest test of his young career today (7:00 PM PT, ESPN2) when he’ll go up against North Carolina’s formidable back line of Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson.
  • Missouri has an all-around rough night. After last weekend’s gritty loss to Xavier, Missouri was only able to keep up with Kansas State for the first 10 minutes of the game. From that point, the Wildcats clamped down defensively and the wheels just fell off for the Tigers. Kim Anderson’s team was aggressive and played hard, particularly on one occasion where freshman Terrence Phillips leaped out of bounds to save a loose ball, but its execution otherwise couldn’t have been much worse. Missouri’s lack of size made things easy for Kansas State on the interior, and an ice-cold 4-of-18 night from three-point range did little to reduce the gap. This is an important year for the second-year head coach, who is not only working for an athletic director who didn’t hire him, but is also surrounded by SEC coaches who are far more accomplished. Monday night’s game was an opportunity to build on a solid effort against Xavier but the Tigers fell hard instead.

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Big Ten M5: 11.24.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 24th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan State celebrated jumping to No. 3 in the newest AP poll by thrashing Eastern Michigan on Monday night. The common motifs of offensive balance and sharing the ball were once again on display, as the Spartans put five players in double figures and assisted on 26 of their 31 made field goals. One of the five was transfer Eron Harris, who had been struggling so far this season. The junior made both of his three-point attempts, and his improved offensive play should bode well as Sparty heads to Anaheim this week to play in the Wooden Legacy.
  2. After being named the Big Ten Player of the Week, Denzel Valentine was also named the national player of the week by NBC’s CollegeBasketballTalk. The Michigan State senior put on a clinic in recording a triple-double as the Spartans came back to beat Kansas in last Tuesday’s Champions Classic. Purdue also got some recognition from the site, as the Boilermakers were named the team of the week along with Miami (FL). Purdue is off to a very nice 5-0 start this season and clearly looks like a team that should easily finish in the top four of the Big Ten.
  3. You may have thought that things couldn’t get much worse for Illinois this season. After a 1-3 start that included losses at home to North Florida and Chattanooga, the Illini needed a Jalen Coleman-Lands buzzer-beater to beat lowly Chicago State on Monday night. Illinois was down by a score of 58-45 at one point, and needed two costly turnovers from Chicago State in the last minute to get the win. With much of the Illinois athletic department in a state of flux after scandals in the football and women’s basketball programs, the men’s team getting off to such a slow start hasn’t done anything to help in Champaign.
  4. The other B1G school from the Land of Lincoln has gotten off to a better start than its counterpart, but Northwestern lost its first game of the season on Monday night in the CBE Classic in Kansas City. At one point the Wildcats led formerly top-rated North Carolina by two points in the second half before ultimately losing, 80-69. Northwestern shot the ball well but it ended up losing the battle inside the paint. This game was probably the best non-conference chance for Chris Collins’ unit to dial up a resume-enhancer, so if the Wildcats want to break their infamous NCAA Tournament drought, they will have quite a bit of work to do during conference play.
  5. The Big Ten at large hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts this season as league teams have lost too many games to teams that have no business beating them. Indiana was one of the exceptions to that trend in getting off to a nice 3-0 start, but that ended on Monday in the Maui Invitational when the Hoosiers lost to Wake Forest in the first round. Some familiar concerns were raised in the loss, as Indiana allowed Wake to score a whopping 52 points in the paint. Turnovers and a lack of execution late in the game were also key issues in the loss, raising some of the same questions in Bloomington that have been around for a couple of years now.
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