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 »

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Shep Garner is Still Penn State’s Most Important Player

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 7th, 2016

Most of the headlines at Penn State coming into this season are centered around a trio of players from Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic High School. Head coach Pat Chambers‘ recruiting has been on the rise after landing two top 100 players last season (Josh Reaves and Michael Watkins) and prep teammates Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Nazeer Bostic this season. And while bringing in Big Ten-level talent certainly bodes well for the future of the Nittany Lions’ program, it will be up to junior guard Shep Garner to lead the school out of the B1G’s bottom tier.

Shep Garner is Penn State's leading returning scorer and most experienced player. (Mark Selders).

Shep Garner is Penn State’s leading returning scorer and most experienced player. (Mark Selders/Getty)

Garner has started 64 of his 66 games in a Penn State uniform, beginning his career in a point guard role while DJ Newbill led the way offensively. Last season, he acted as both the primary perimeter scoring threat and distributor. The addition of Carr this season will likely allow him to concentrate on scoring. His 36.6 percent shooting from three-point range last season belies his reputation as one of the streakiest shooters in the Big Ten, but he should get better looks (and a corresponding opportunity to improve his marksmanship) with a point guard locating him in his preferred spots. Where he needs some work are in the areas of getting to the free throw line and to the rim more often — his 33.1 percent free throw rate needs to improve, as does his 40.0 percent conversion rate on two-point field goals. Even with Brandon Taylor taking more than 30 percent of the team’s shots while on the floor, Garner managed to score more than 20 points seven times in Big Ten games last season. Read the rest of this entry »

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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.

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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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RTC Big Ten Preview: The Bottom Tier (#14-#8)

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 10th, 2015

It’s almost time to get rolling, as actual games begin in three days. That means that it’s time for us here at the Big Ten microsite to unleash our preseason predictions and superlatives for the upcoming season. Keep an eye out in the next few days for our preseason all-league teams and some other preview material before the first games tip off on Friday. After careful deliberation among our group of writers, here’s how we see the standings shaking out, starting with our projected bottom half of the conference.

It could be another long season for Eddie Jordan and Rutgers in their second Big Ten season (USATSI).

It could be another long season for Eddie Jordan and Rutgers in their second Big Ten season (USATSI).

  • 14. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights started last season 10-7 before proceeding to lose their last 15 games. That team lost three of their top four scorers and only returns two starters. Corey Sanders is a nice building block for the future, but Eddie Jordan needs his freshman point guard and some of the sophomores to really improve quickly in order to move out of the basement.
  • 13. Penn State: Pat Chambers is starting to get things going on the recruiting side of things, but losing DJ Newbill and Geno Thorpe means that his backcourt is going to be a question mark all season long. The Nittany Lions have the bodies with which to bang down low, but who scores for this team at the level of Newbill?

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Big Ten M5: 02.25.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 25th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Iowa lost a member of its deep roster earlier this week, as sophomore point guard Trey Dickerson decided to leave the program. The junior college transfer simply wasn’t seeing much time with Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons ahead of him in the rotation, playing in only 15 games (9.7 MPG). He did flash some athleticism and the ability to get to the rim in his brief cameos on the floor, but with those two upperclassmen ahead of him, he wasn’t likely to get much of a shot at substantial playing time in Iowa City.
  2. After a 12-1 start to the season inspired questions as to whether Penn State could make a “Nebraska-type run” to the postseason this year, things have since fallen apart for Pat Chambers’ squad. Perhaps rock bottom for the campaign took place in losing by 21 points to fellow bottom-dweller Northwestern on Saturday. Chambers is still on solid footing in terms of his job security, however, as athletic director Sandy Barbour recently said that the coach “deserves more opportunity than he’s gotten.” Penn State’s recruiting class for next year looks promising, so it makes sense to give the fourth-year coach at least another season to put things together. Another lost season in 2015-16 might make things a little dicier for him in State College, however.
  3. Wisconsin has a difficult final stretch to the season that was revealed in last night’s loss to Maryland in College Park. The Big Ten title seemed like a given for the Badgers up to this point, but things just got a bit more interesting. If Michigan State can win its game on Thursday against Minnesota and Purdue can beat a hapless Rutgers unit, there will be three teams within two games of the regular season crown. Bo Ryan‘s group still has road trips to Minnesota and Ohio State during the last week of the regular season, and they will have to beat Michigan State at home this weekend. The Badgers will still probably come away with the crown, but it won’t be easy.
  4. Containing Jarrod Uthoff, holding Iowa to under 64 points, and shaking off its dismal 2-of-16 performance from three against Michigan State are some of the keys for Illinois as the Illini take on Iowa in a bubble battle tonight in Iowa City. Illinois is currently listed as a “Last Four In” team, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, so obviously winning tonight’s game on the road against a team with similar RPI numbers would be a significant boost to their Tourney hopes.
  5. CBS’ Sam Vecenie broke down the Big Ten Player of the Year race, and his assessment is that Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky should get the nod over Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell. He lists Iowa’s Aaron White, Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Maryland’s Melo Trimble as the rest of his First Team. The argument is one that may not get settled until the very last game of the season when Kaminsky and Russell’s teams go head-to-head in Columbus. In almost any other year, Russell would probably be a shoe-in to win the honor — anyone who has seen him play knows what he brings to the table. But while his game is not necessarily flashy, the main point that Vecenie and many others make about Kaminsky is that he’s done everything this season. His defense has improved and he can beat teams offensively in a multitude of ways. It doesn’t hurt that Wisconsin is clearly the better team than Ohio State. That should matter to the extent of whether any ties need to be broken.
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Big Ten M5: 02.18.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 18th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. With injuries to Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, Michigan has gotten inexperienced very quickly. While the team’s freshmen and sophomores have shown signs that they could become heavy contributors at some point in the future, the young Wolverines are going through some growing pains right now. This mostly manifests itself on the defensive end of the floor and was quite evident in Michigan’s loss to Michigan State on Tuesday night. The Spartans shot 62.0 percent from the field and did so by seemingly scoring at will in the paint and through second-chance buckets. The Wolverines tried multiple defenses to slow down Sparty, but in the end they had no way of corralling the inside-outside combination of Branden Dawson and Travis Trice.
  2. It was mentioned in this space on Monday morning that Penn State head coach Pat Chambers wasn’t too happy with a late call against Jordan Dickerson in his team’s Saturday loss to Maryland. He’s now been publicly reprimanded for his comments on the game’s officiating and Penn State has been fined $10,000 as a result. Chambers was also frustrated with the fact that the Terps’ Melo Trimble managed to get to the free throw line 12 times in the game. The Nittany Lions have been plagued by foul trouble in many of their games this season — it’s obvious that Chambers doesn’t think his team is getting a fair shake.
  3. The Michigan State-Michigan game last night had some famous recent alumni in attendance due to this year’s extended NBA All-Star break. Draymond Green and Nik Stauskas were in Ann Arbor for the festivities and they had some entertaining social media discussion in advance of the rivalry game. It’s looking like Stauskas will be donning some green in the near future after his Wolverines lost to Sparty at home for the first time since 2010.
  4. Indiana added another player to the mix last week when football player Jordan Fuchs joined the roster. The 6’6″ tight end from New York City was good enough to have received a basketball scholarship offer from Iowa State, among other Division I programs, coming out of high school. Fuchs gives the Hoosiers some additional depth on the bench in anticipation of Purdue’s bulk in Thursday night’s game. He played two minutes in the Hoosiers’ win over Minnesota on Sunday, but he didn’t register any meaningful statistics. It will be worth noting whether this addition pans out for the team, as by all accounts the New York native was a legitimate high school prospect in both sports.
  5. ESPN’s latest bubble watch now only has two Big Ten teams listed as locks for the NCAA Tournament. Maryland joins Wisconsin as the two most probable entries with Indiana close to sewing things up. Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois, Iowa and Purdue fall into the category of “still having work left to do.” It’s looking right now like the league will get as many as seven teams into the tourney, which means that someone from the group with work to do could end up on the outside looking in. Purdue has the most non-conference damage for which to compensate while Iowa way be in the midst of another late-season collapse. The next three weeks of Big Ten action will definitely be worth monitoring.
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Big Ten M5: 02.16.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on February 16th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Iowa dropped its Sunday match-up with Northwestern in overtime, bringing its record in Big Ten conference games decided by single digits to 9-20 over the past two seasons. The Hawkeyes are falling into their annual February funk – they went 3-4 last February, and it nearly cost them an NCAA Tournament berth. They don’t have many chances to grab big wins over the four weeks of the season. If anything, Iowa will face plenty of opponents looking to play spoiler, including Rutgers, Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern. One loss to any of those teams, no matter if the Hawkeyes can clean up Illinois and Indiana, could be the final nail in the coffin for their NCAA dreams.
  2. Northwestern obviously won’t be making the NCAA Tournament this year, but there is plenty of reason to be positive following the Wildcats’ win over Iowa. Chris Collins young team fought through six single-digit losses in January before losing its three previous games this month by double-digits. It was apparent that those close losses had a major effect on the young team’s psyche, but they may have turned a corner on Sunday. The Wildcats bench players played a huge role in the win, with Gavin Skelly menacing Aaron White and Dave Sobolewski sinking two crucial free throws in overtime. The Wildcats needed the win to give it a boost heading into the final four weeks of the season and beyond, and they got a ugly, yet massive one.
  3. Illinois endured a drubbing via the hands of #5 Wisconsin on Sunday but there are quite a few positives one could take from the game. Malcolm Hill continued his hot streak even with Rayvonte Rice back in the lineup, shooting 55.5 percent from the field and pouring in 15 points. Illini faithful should have two more years to watch Hill blossom into an elite talent, writes Jim Vainisi of The Champaign Room. According to Vainisi, Hill is a lock for Third Team All-Big Ten, but if he continues his torrid pace, he could find himself as high as second team.
  4. Penn State dropped a heartbreaker to Maryland at home on Saturday, and head coach Pat Chambers lost his mind (with good reason) in regards to an offensive foul call that very likely cost the Nittany Lions their fourth Big Ten win. Chambers’ outburst is almost certainly going to warrant a fine from the Big Ten, but standing up for his players undoubtedly his its benefits. Penn State’s recent history suggests that they’re perpetually mediocre, but they are improving. The Nittany Lions final stretch is absolutely brutal with match-ups against Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State and Minnesota, but even one upset win over any of those teams (coupled with a win over Northwestern) would put them in a good position heading into next season.
  5. Frank Kaminsky bolstered his already strong candidacy for Naismith Player of the Year with another double-double in Sunday’s win over Illinois, pouring in 23 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Kaminsky leads KenPom’s player of the year ratings, and has undoubtedly cemented himself as the Badger’s most important player. Their only Big Ten loss came in his absence against Rutgers. Wisconsin hasn’t skipped a beat with the loss of Traevon Jackson, and they could probably withstand another injury to one of their starters. But without Kaminsky, they have proven that their prone to struggle. With them, though, they’re a serious national title contender.
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Big Ten M5: 12.22.14 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on December 22nd, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye narrowed his list of potential schools to six on Sunday, tabbing Big Ten schools Wisconsin and Illinois as possible destinations. The former four-star recruit also listed Creighton, Washington, SMU and Oregon as potential landing spots. The Ottawa, Kansas, native saw little playing time as a true freshman in 2013-14, averaging only 1.6 points and 0.9 rebounds per game while appearing in 17 contests. This year, Ojeleye averaged 10.5 minutes per game while tallying 3.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, but he found his playing time slipping as freshman Justise Winslow serving as the second power forward behind Amile Jefferson. Ojeleye’s athleticism is off the charts and he’s got a solid long-range game. A 6’7 stretch forward with those kind of abilities would fit in well at Illinois or Wisconsin – or any other Big Ten squad, for that matter.
  2. Iowa took another one on the chin this weekend, dropping a game to Northern Iowa by a score of 56-44. Losing to an in-state rival is tough enough, but the Hawkeyes’ shooting and guard play has been lackluster at best. Iowa shot 27.5 percent from the floor and they currently rank 220nd and 272nd in two and three-point field goal percentage, respectively. Head coach Fran McCaffery has been very calm in his response to the players’ struggles. He told the media that he knows his players are good shooters and he’ll continue to have confidence in them. Anthony Clemmons is shooting a less-than-impressive 35.7 percent from the field – the best from all guards playing significant minutes. The Hawkeyes are already hurting without departed Roy Devyn Marble’s playmaking ability, and they’re going to have to make up for the team’s lack of athleticism with more jump shots. If they continue to be off the mark, then Big Ten play and 2015 won’t be kind to them.
  3. Michigan State’s overtime loss to Texas Southern was surprising, but it helped identify exactly how important Branden Dawson is to this Spartan squad. Michigan State doesn’t have a go-to player to create shots and take the reigns in late-game possessions, writes Graham Couch. And even with Dawson in the lineup, the Spartans still lack a spark on the wing. No Keith Appling, no Kalin Lucas, and no Drew Neitzel (a blast from the past, for certain). Michigan State ranks 318th n the country in free throw efficiency according to KenPom, a prime effect of having no go-to rim runner. The loss to lowly Texas Southern may have come at the right time, Couch added, as it showed that Michigan State can’t beat anyone without giving it all they’ve got – with or without Dawson. One thing is certain, though – the Spartans are in the market for a playmaking guard.
  4. Michigan head coach handed the starting center job to true freshman Ricky Doyle, removing redshirt freshman Mark Donnal from the starting lineup. Beilein made the move a day before the Wolverines dropped their fourth consecutive game in a loss to SMU. The offensive results were good for both Doyle and Donnal, as the two held the highest offensive ratings of any Michigan player. Defense was a different story. SMU’s Yanick Moreira led the Mustangs with 19 points, and Michigan was outrebounded 44-27. The Wolverines have been struggling to find consistency from their big men and there’s no doubt that they miss Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan. Michigan is experiencing some excruciating growing pains right now, but they should be able to get back on track against 1-9 Coppin State tonight, barring a repeat of the NJIT debacle.
  5. Penn State closes up its non-conference schedule tonight against Dartmouth as it eyes the program record for most non-conference wins. The Nittany Lions are 11-1, tied for tops in the conference. Those 11 wins aren’t exactly against the cream of the college basketball crop, though. As Ben Jones of statecollege.com found, Penn State only plays one team with a sub-100 KenPom ranking in its non-conference slate. The one-loss record sure looks good on paper, but few pundits trust that the success will last in conference play. Penn State opens with Wisconsin on New Year’s Eve – and KenPom is predicting a 17-point loss for Pat Chambers’ squad.
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Is Penn State A Pretender Or Contender?

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 17th, 2014

Last Sunday, Penn State got its best win of the season when it soundly defeated a talented George Washington team at the Bryce Jordan Center. The victory pushed the Nittany Lions’ record to 10-1, which is tied for best in the Big Ten — the lone loss a double-overtime bout with Charlotte. While the number of wins is impressive, a deeper look into the record reveals the absence of any other resume-enhancing wins. Even last weekend’s win against the Colonials, while no easy task, represents a victory over a team that hovers around the top 50 in both the KenPom and Sagarin ratings. Also concerning is the fact that Penn State has not exactly been blowing out its inferior opponents (they won by fewer than five points against Virginia Tech, Marshall, and Duquesne, but they still won). This presents something of a paradox between their on-court performance and their record, leaving Big Ten fans to guess how good Penn State really is. In this post, I’ll explore both sides of whether Pat Chambers’ squad is really a contender or pretender as he pushes forward toward what could possibly be his first NCAA Tournament bid as the head coach.

Shep Garner has been able to emerge as a secondary scorer for Penn State in his freshman year.

Shep Garner has been able to emerge as a secondary scorer for Penn State in his freshman year (Mark Selders/GoPSUSports.com).

  • Penn State is a pretender. Look no further than the Sagarin ratings to show the true discrepancy between the Nittany Lions’ record and performance. Specifically note the Elo rating component, which is a formula that solely considers wins, losses and who they’re against, and compare it with the Golden Mean and Pure Points ratings, two metrics that take into account point differential. Based on the Elo rating, Penn State is ranked 49th in the country; his Golden Mean and Pure Points ratings list the Nittany Lions at 128th and 119th, respectively. That’s an approximate gap of 70-80 teams, with the difference accounting for actual on-court performance. KenPom makes a similar case in his ratings, as he ranks the team 89th but notes that it is among the top 40 in luck, a metric that measures how much a team’s record has been above its expected play on the court. So if you’re looking at these metrics alone, it’s undeniable that the 10-1 record is somewhat misleading.

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