Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 01.29.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 29th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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Big Ten M5: 01.29.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on January 29th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. Iowa lost its first conference game of the year on Thursday at Maryland, 74-68, and perhaps the most surprising part of the loss was Jarrod Uthoff’s poor play. Uthoff had scored double-digit points in every game this year entering Thursday and was shooting 48 percent on both two-pointers and three-pointers. The Terps held him to nine points on 2-13 shooting; Uthoff did not make a field goal in the first half. Eleven of his 13 field goal attempts were jumpers, and he missed them all. Iowa’s loss means no more Big Ten teams are unbeaten in conference play, although the Hawkeyes retain pole position in the conference standings.
  2. Michigan and Penn State will play each other in basketball and hockey on Saturday in the inaugural “Super Saturday – College Hoops and Hockey” doubleheader at Madison Square Garden. The Big Ten announced the teams for the doubleheaders in 2017, 2018 and 2019 on Wednesday. Rutgers and Wisconsin will play in basketball in 2017, while Ohio State and Wisconsin will play hockey. In 2018, Minnesota and Ohio State will take the court and Minnesota and Michigan State will take the ice. Maryland and Illinois square off in basketball in 2019.
  3. Purdue beat Minnesota on Wednesday night, but by a much smaller margin that expected, 68-64. Boilermakers wing Vince Edwards played the game with a bruised patellar tendon suffered in a Jan. 24 loss at Iowa, but logged 39 minutes and scored 24 points to go with eight rebounds. He did not sustain any ligament damage, but admitted his knee was not close to fully healthy. It hasn’t impacted Edwards’ play of late: He is averaging 17.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists in his last five games.
  4. Wednesday’s games produced two of the stranger plays of the season. Rutgers, trailing Michigan by eight with 45 seconds to go, tossed a free throw rebound out of bounds because its players thought Michigan’s Zak Irvin was shooting two free throws. Irvin was actually shooting a 1-and-1 and had missed the front end, but no Rutgers player realized that. In Purdue’s win over Minnesota, A.J. Hammons grabbed a rebound with one hand over two Minnesota players. He used one hand because his other hand held his shoe, which fell off earlier in the play. He put his hand inside it and kept playing. That board has to be the most impressive rebound of his college career.
  5. Illinois center Mike Thorne Jr.’s season was considered over when he had meniscus surgery in late November. But he returned to the court for the Illini’s Jan. 19 loss at Indiana. However, he hasn’t played since. He did not play in Thursday’s overtime loss vs. Ohio State, but did pregame work and was a game-day decision. As Scout.com’s Jeremy Werner said Monday, Thorne is no longer eligible for a medical redshirt after playing against Indiana.
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Big Ten M5: 01.20.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 20th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. On Monday, the conference gave Peter Jok his first Big Ten Player of the Week award, which makes it two consecutive weeks that a Hawkeye has won the award. Jok becomes the third different Iowa player to earn the honor this season. Jok averaged 19.5 PPG on 58 percent shooting from the field in wins over Michigan and Michigan State last week. While not as efficient as Jarrod Uthoff or as versatile as Mike Gesell, the West Des Moines, Iowa native has emerged as a solid second scoring option for Fran McCaffery.
  2. Things are very different for Wisconsin these days: there’s no Bo Ryan, its record is 10-9, and the Badgers are likely headed to the NIT or worse for the first time in almost two decades. Down times for sure, but one promising development for the future has been the recent play of redshirt freshman Ethan Happ. The 6’8″ big man averaged 13.0 points and 7.0 rebounds last week against Northwestern and Michigan State and made the game winning basket against the Spartans. For his efforts, he was awarded a share of the Big Ten Freshman of the Week award. If Happ can continue to improve, Wisconsin may have a puncher’s chance at edging back towards the bubble.
  3. Happ shared the award with Ohio State freshman point guard Jaquan Lyle who registered a triple-double (16 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists) against Rutgers last Wednesday. Lyle’s recent positive play should be a good sign for the Buckeyes after the freshman’s slow start, but it has quixotically occurred during a stretch in which the team has lost two of its last three games by 25 points or more. It seems like the chemistry on Thad Matta’s talented but young needs to be fixed if the Buckeyes are to turn their season around.
  4. Last night, Maryland survived another scare when they eeked out a 62-56 overtime win against Northwestern at the Xfinity Center. Winning close games has been common for the Terrapins the past couple years and has left many wondering when their luck will run out. But it seems that “luck” tends to be on your side when you have players who thrive in the spotlight like Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone. As long as Maryland keeps winning – by whatever margin – they’ll be in the running for a Big Ten title and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
  5. Tonight, Michigan State will try to avoid a three-game losing streak when they host Nebraska. The Spartans find themselves at 3-3 in conference play and well behind in the race for the Big Ten title, a dramatic change in forecast from less than a month ago when they were undefeated and ranked #1 nationally. This slip has some in the media calling the game against the Cornhuskers is a must-win. A major issue for Michigan State has been health, as both Denzel Valentine and Tum Tum Nairn have missed multiple games. Valentine is back, but the Spartans will once again be without their diminutive point guard when Nebraska heads into the Breslin Center tonight.
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Big Ten Seeding Forecast: 01.19.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 19th, 2016

All the Big Ten teams are now about one-third of the way done with their conference schedule, so it seems like a natural breaking point to do a quick projection on each team’s finish. The table below presents the probabilities each team places at every seed (1-14) in the Big Ten Tournament. These numbers are based on the probability of the outcome for each game set by KenPom. One caveat is that these projections do not include tiebreakers, and therefore may be more positively skewed for some teams–although not by a large degree. This table will be updated in a few weeks and right before the final week of regular season. Follow the handle @AlexPMoscoso on Twitter for intermittent updates to the projected seedings. Below the table are some take-away points from this analysis.

big ten seeding 18 jan 2016

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Big Ten M5: 01.11.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 11th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. Purdue dropped to 14-3 (2-2) on the year after losing to Illinois, 84-70, on Sunday night, and a familiar formula has emerged in each its three losses this season. Turnovers and shoddy offensive play have doomed this team, as AJ Hammons and Isaac Haas combined for only 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting. The defense that has been a constant positive all season failed miserably, as Illinois became the first team to shoot over 50 percent from the field against the Boilermakers in 37 games. Is there trouble in West Lafayette?
  2. The return of Michigan State‘s Denzel Valentine from a four-game injury hiatus did not bring a triple-double or a spectacular stat line. Rather, the senior looked a bit rusty early before scoring 10 second-half points as the Spartans blasted Penn State, 92-65, Sunday afternoon. One key takeaway from this game was that Tom Izzo’s squad might have become even better in its All-American’s absence. Eron Harris and Bryn Forbes have emerged as serious offensive threats, while post play has also improved significantly. If Valentine gets back to the productivity he displayed in the first 12 games of the season, Sparty is definitely on the short list of national championship contenders.
  3. If Indiana didn’t completely offset the stench of its early season play in the Hoosiers’ blowout win over Ohio State on Sunday afternoon, they have certainly come close. Tom Crean’s squad stayed undefeated in league play behind big efforts from big men Thomas Bryant and Troy Williams. Williams was especially productive in scoring a team-high 23 points, but what was more important was that he didn’t commit any momentum-killing turnovers. Indiana held the Buckeyes to a paltry 0.86 points per possession, and if the Hoosiers’ defense continues to improve, Indiana will be a dangerous team going forward.
  4. Crean also added a fourth commitment to his 2016 class on Saturday when Devonte Green pledged to his program. The younger brother of former North Carolina standout Danny Green, the Long Island native is a 6’3″ combo guard whom 247sports rates as the sixth best player from New York. Green is the third guard slated to join the Hoosiers next season, joining other commitments Curtis Jones and Grant Gelon in the backcourt.
  5. Nebraska rolled to its biggest road win in 96 years on Saturday, beating Rutgers by 34 points while shooting 56.9 percent from the floor and logging 52 points in the paint. Rutgers is missing some key interior pieces, of course, but the Cornhuskers played arguably one of their best games of the season in getting contributions from everyone. Andrew White III continues to prove that he is one of the best and most efficient scorers in the league, scoring over 20 points (28) for the fifth time this season.
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Big Ten Observations: Ohio State at Northwestern

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 7th, 2016

Ohio State moved to 3-0 in Big Ten play in an ugly win over Northwestern last night. The Wildcats moved to 1-2 in dropping another important home game that could come back to bite them on Selection Sunday. Here are four quick observations from the Buckeyes’ convincing 65-56 win in Evanston.

Kam Williams was the spark Ohio State needed from the bench Wednesday night. (USAT Images)

Kam Williams was the spark Ohio State needed from the bench Wednesday night. (USAT Images)

  • Kam Williams Looms as a Potential Game-Changer: In a game where neither team could make perimeter shots (11-of-43 combined from three-point range), Williams knocked in five buckets from beyond the arc. The sophomore guard was off to a nondescript start to this season (6.3 PPG in 17.2 MPG during non-conference games), but on a team where the next best outside shooter hits only 34 percent from deep, Williams’ development as a scoring option could allow the Buckeyes to make a run at a top four finish.
  • Ohio State’s Defense Keeps Improving: Ohio State is currently ranked 19th in defensive efficiency and much of that success can be attributed to their size — the Buckeyes don’t have anyone smaller than 6’4″ in their starting five. That length allows Thad Matta‘s group to defend at an elite level, and this was on full display last night. The Buckeyes blocked eight shots, holding Northwestern to 0.82 points per possession and 35.7 percent from two-point range. And despite some offensive limitations, Trevor Thompson and Daniel Giddens are becoming defensive menaces.

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Big Ten M5: 01.06.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 6th, 2016

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  1. On Monday, the Big Ten awarded both its Player and Freshman of the Week to the same person for the first time this season: Maryland’s Diamond Stone. The Milwaukee native shot a scorching 73.7 percent from the floor in two games last week, with his coming-out party (39 points and 12 rebounds) occurring last Wednesday in the Terps’ comeback win against Penn State. As Stone continues to improve, so too do the Terps’ Final Four prospects.
  2. Indiana received some devastating news hours before its tipoff against Wisconsin last night when it learned that James Blackmon, Jr. — the team’s second-leading scorer — would miss the remainder of the season after surgery on his right knee. The sophomore guard has been out since the start of conference play, and although it has not yet affected the Hoosiers record, Tom Crean’s team will miss his prolific scoring and elite defense.
  3. Despite the bad news, Indiana protected its home court and earned a tough 59-58 win over the Badgers to move to 3-0 in conference play. Yogi Ferrell led all players with 19 points as Indiana has now won eight straight games with two of their next three against teams outside of the KenPom top 100 (Illinois and Minnesota). This scheduling gift should allow Indiana some time to recalibrate its rotation now that the Hoosiers know Blackmon won’t be returning.
  4. In the late game on Tuesday night, Iowa comfortably beat Nebraska behind Jarrod Uthoff’s 25 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks. The Hawkeyes have put together the most impressive start to conference play at 3-0 with wins over Michigan State and at Purdue. Those performances have garnered Iowa a place back in the Top 25 and strong consideration as a legitimate contender for the Big Ten championship. Iowa will take this coming weekend off before it faces a hungry Michigan State squad that is expecting Denzel Valentine back in the lineup next Thursday.
  5. Finally, Indiana and Iowa aren’t the only Big Ten teams riding winning streaks. Ohio State has now won six straight games, including a victory against #9 Kentucky, that puts the Buckeyes at 10-5 on the season. The Buckeyes have played a weaker schedule to date — including conference wins over Illinois and Minnesota — but will be tested in the next couple weeks as four of their next five games are on the road (including trips to Maryland and Purdue). Then we’ll know whether Thad Matta’s team has really turned a corner this season or simply took advantage of a soft schedule to put some wins together. Their first exam will come tonight at Northwestern.
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Big Ten M5: 01.04.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 4th, 2016

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  1. Michigan State has started off 1-1 in Big Ten play and 2-1 overall since losing senior Player of the Year front-runner Denzel Valentine. The Spartans have especially struggled on the offensive end of the floor without Valentine’s scoring and play-making abilities. Sparty will only have to hold serve a bit longer however, as Valentine has targeted Michigan State’s January 10 game against Penn State for his return to action. According to ESPN.com, Valentine said that he’s just waiting on some of the swelling in his knee to go down. This means he will miss only one more game — on January 7 against Illinois.
  2. Iowa won at Purdue on Saturday for the first time since 2006, and it did so by erasing a 17-point halftime deficit. Senior leadership played a role as Jarrod Uthoff rallied the troops during a spirited halftime speech. The senior backed it up on the court as well, scoring 25 for the game. This means that Iowa will more than likely make their way into the Top 25 for the first time all season, and gives them two huge resume-enhancers for the week after they beat Michigan State earlier in the week as well.
  3. Marc Loving continues to lead a resurgence of sorts for Ohio State, as the Buckeyes held off Illinois on Sunday afternoon to go to 2-0 in league play. The junior wing went on a personal 6-0 run to help squelch an Illinois rally in the second half. Loving ended the game with 27 points, doing so by getting to the free throw line 19 times. The Buckeyes have needed someone to become their go-to-scorer, and Loving looks to be starting to emerge and take the offensive burden on his shoulders. Ohio State has now won six in a row, and look like they’ve turned a corner after their important non-conference win over Kentucky.
  4. Despite some uneven play during their first 14 games, Maryland is still a threat to cut the nets down in April as one of the most talented teams in all the land. They submitted one of their best performances of the season on Saturday when they beat Northwestern in Evanston. The Wildcats had been burning people with their perimeter shooting, but the Terrapins held them to a woeful 2-for-20 night from deep as Melo Trimble and Rasheed Suliamon harassed their shooters all night. After a shaky offensive effort against Penn State in their conference lid-lifter, the Terrapins won this one by displaying a stingy defense that if sustained, makes them one of the favorites to win the regular season crown in the Big Ten.
  5. In an assessment of Indiana’s two wins to start off Big Ten play, one of the major positives has been the play of the freshmen and of the bench at large. With James Blackmon Jr out of action, the likes of Nick Zeisloft, OG Anunoby, and Max Bielfeldt all have increased their production. This bodes well for if/when Blackmon Jr comes back into the lineup, as a deeper bench will allow the Hoosiers to more effectively play their uptempo offensive style without a drop off with the subs in the game. Bielfeldt and freshman Thomas Bryant have also done a nice job scoring in the post, giving the Hoosiers more ways to beat teams instead of always relying on jump shots.
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Evaluating Big Ten Resumes Through the Non-Conference Season

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 29th, 2015

The Big Ten non-conference schedule ended on Sunday and conference play begins this evening when Purdue ventures into the Kohl Center and battles a Bo Ryan-less Wisconsin team at 6:00 PM CT. Now that we’re at this natural evaluation point, the Big Ten microsite has rank-ordered the 14 Big Ten resumes using KenPom rankings instead of RPI — which the selection committee uses — because the RPI does not become a reliable metric until later. The table below displays each resume from best to worst and illustrates each team’s KenPom current ranking, strength of schedule, record against different groups of rankings, best win (and whether it was home, away, or neutral game), and worst loss. Below that we provide a few notes of interest on each resume.

b1g resume 2015

Resume Notes

  • Michigan State: The obvious top pick. Not only are the Spartans undefeated but they have three wins against the KenPom top 25: Kansas (KP#2), Louisville (KP#6), and Florida (KP#22). Tom Izzo usually challenges his teams with difficult non-conference schedules, a tactic which usually leads to a handful of early losses. This year, however, Sparty escaped unscathed. If Michigan State can simply manage to tread water while Denzel Valentine is out of the lineup for two weeks, it will be in the running for the overall #1 NCAA Tournament seed in two months.
  • Purdue: The Boilermakers were surprisingly routed by Butler (KP#20) in last week’s Crossroads Classic, but they still have three top 30 wins against Vanderbilt (KP#18), Florida (KP#22), and at Pittsburgh (KP#27). The rest of Purdue’s schedule is generally unremarkable except in that it has dominated its opponents, winning by an average margin of over 20 points per game. Right now, Purdue is headed toward a top-four protected seed in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Maryland: While the Terrapins didn’t play the most challenging non-conference schedule, they did enough with wins against Connecticut (KP#31), Rhode Island (KP#63), and Georgetown (KP#75) to carry a top-three resume. Their only game against an elite team was at North Carolina, where they put up a valiant fight but eventually succumbed to their only loss. Despite the missed opportunity, Maryland is also in line for a top-four protected seed.

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A Brief Look at the Most and Least Difficult Big Ten Schedules

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 28th, 2015

Now that the non-conference part of the Big Ten season is finished, we can enthusiastically look ahead at the conference schedule. Because of an unbalanced league schedule that requires 14 teams to play 18 games, some teams are going to get railroaded while others find an easier road to March. Every team will get tested in one way or another, of course, but some unlucky teams will be tested more than others. Here’s a look at three schedules that appear excessively tough and two others that could be a bit more manageable this year.

Shep Garner and Penn State will have one of the most difficult league schedules in the Big Ten(Mark Selders)

Shep Garner and Penn State will have one of the most difficult league schedules in the Big Ten. (Mark Selders Photography)

Most Difficult

  • Penn State: The Nittany Lions are the only team that really didn’t catch a break with either their home or road slates. They play each of the league’s top three teams (Michigan State, Maryland and Purdue) on the road and also will visit three other potential NCAA Tournament teams (Iowa, Michigan, and Northwestern) this season. They also lost a home game by playing the return game with Michigan in New York City, and their other home-and-homes include Michigan State, Iowa, and Northwestern. The only silver linings here are avoiding Purdue and Maryland twice and an opportunity to sneak into NIT consideration with a few unexpected wins.
  • Maryland: The Terrapins have to play Purdue twice and will face Michigan State in East Lansing. Their other home-and-homes include Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State and Wisconsin. This schedule will certainly boost Maryland’s RPI and overall resume, but avoiding rematches with any of the bottom tier could make its road to a conference regular season title appear a bit taxing. Winning the majority of these games will do nothing but give Mark Turgeon’s group a bit of an edge when it comes to seeding for the Big Dance.
  • Ohio State: The Buckeyes are still one of the biggest question marks in the Big Ten, but their win against Kentucky leaves them with much more realistic bubble expectations than previously. They will have the chance to undo some rough home losses by getting two cracks at Maryland and Michigan State along with road games against Indiana, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin. Win three of those six contests and take care of business against the others and Ohio State could punch its dance card for the eight consecutive season.

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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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