What We Learned From a Wild Week in the Big Ten

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 19th, 2018

From massive upsets to historic comebacks and some ridiculous individual performances in-between, it was one heck of a week in the Big Ten. Let’s examine a few key takeaways.

Purdue should be just fine, assuming Vincent Edwards returns to action. (John Terhune/Journal & Courier)

  • Purdue fans need not panic (unless, of course, Vincent Edwards’ injury lingers). Entering its game against Ohio State on February 7, Purdue had won 19 straight, sat undefeated in the Big Ten (12-0), and looked seemingly unbeatable — especially in Mackey Arena, where it had crushed its opponents by 27 points per game. Then the Boilermakers stumbled against the Buckeyes. Then they dropped a nail-biter at Michigan State, which was followed by a stunning defeat at Wisconsin on Thursday. Suddenly, there were deep concerns about Matt Painter‘s crew. “Something just feels different,” senior Vincent Edwards said of the team’s struggles last Thursday. Take a step back and examine the losses, though, and it’s clear that bad luck was partially at play. Were it not for a last second tip-in against Ohio State and a last second three-pointer versus Michigan State, perhaps the Boilermakers would have gone 3-1 in their last four games. Maybe even 4-0. Their close win over red-hot Penn State on Sunday shows just how fine the line is between a quality win and a “problematic” loss. If there is real cause for concern, it’s this: Edwards (14.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG) missed the game against the Nittany Lions with an injured ankle. Assuming he doesn’t miss extended time down the stretch, Purdue should still be considered a Final Four contender. If his injury lingers, then the Boilers can panic.

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The Drive for Five: What Lies Ahead for the Big Ten Bubble Dwellers

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 2nd, 2018

The Big Ten has put at least five teams in the NCAA Tournament in every season since 2008, four years before the league expanded to 12 schools and seven years before it expanded to 14. In fact, you’d have to go back to the pre-Rutgers era (2013-14) to reach the last time the conference sent fewer than seven teams to the Big Dance. That will almost certainly change this season. According to Bracket Matrix, only three of 68 recently-updated bracket projections have more than four Big Ten schools in the NCAA Tournament. The fact is, outside of Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan, the league’s bubble hopefuls still have considerable work to do before earning serious consideration. With February now upon us, let’s examine which teams still have a shot and what they’ll need to do in order to punch a ticket.

It’s been all smiles for Nebraska lately. But will the Huskers go dancing? (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Nebraska (17-8, 8-4) RPI: 57 | KenPom: 56. Nebraska turned a nine-point second-half deficit at Wisconsin on Monday into a runaway 11-point win, the type of season-saving — perhaps season-defining — win its fans won’t soon forget. The Huskers have no RPI sub-150 losses to their name, but also don’t have much to speak of in the “good win” category. Outside of its home win over Michigan, Nebraska is winless against the RPI top 50. With four of their final six games at home — including contests against fellow NCAA Tournament hopefuls Maryland and Penn State — the Huskers will probably need to hold court and avoid a road loss at Illinois on February 18. Even then, at least one quality Big Ten Tournament win (think Michigan or Ohio State) might be necessary for Tim Miles’ group to feel good heading into Selection Sunday. Considering how well James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland have played in recent weeks, that’s certainly within the realm of possibility.

  • RPI Top 50 Wins: vs. Michigan
  • RPI Sub 150 Losses: None
  • Opportunities Left: vs. Maryland (February 13); vs. Penn State (February 25)

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For Penn State to Contend, Balance and Depth Will be Key

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 12th, 2017

Penn State’s dismantling of George Washington on Saturday was Nittany Lion basketball at its finest: All five starters scored in double-figures; the defense wreaked havoc with its ¾ court press; and the team crashed the offensive glass with authority. Penn State led 48-19 at halftime and never looked back. “When we spread the ball and share the ball, we’re a really good basketball team,” head coach Pat Chambers said afterward. What Chambers’ team did not do on Saturday, though, was generate much contribution from its bench — especially on the offensive end. Nittany Lion reserves accounted for just seven of the team’s 74 points, which was actually an improvement from its previous two games combined. With its most talented lineup in years and a defense predicated on energy, Penn State’s ability to consistently distribute the wealth and develop quality bench depth may ultimately determine its ceiling. 

Big Ten All-Freshman point guard Tony Carr has been nothing short of superb thus far, taking the “next step” in offensive production and efficiency many figured he would. The sophomore’s scoring average (20.0 PPG), offensive rating (119.4 ORtg), and three-point shooting (55% 3FG) are up substantially from a year ago, the result of an off-season commitment to improving his form. After a 31-point outpouring against Texas A&M, Aggies coach Billy Kennedy said of Carr, “I think he’s a pro; he’s good… he knows how to get to his spots anywhere.” And yet, outcomes like that one — a game in which Carr attempted 20 shots — might not be what’s best for Penn State, considering the complementary talent that surrounds him.

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Big Ten Preview Part III: Key Questions for Indiana and Penn State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 1st, 2017

With the season just a little over a week away, Rush the Court’s Big Ten preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we address Indiana and Penn State.

#10 Indiana – Will the Hoosiers buy in defensively?

Archie Miller is preaching defense in Bloomington. (Joe Ullrich, CNHI Sports Indiana)

Over Tom Crean’s last four seasons at Indiana, the Hoosiers ranked outside of the top 50 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency three times, including a 2014-15 campaign that set the program’s worst mark in the KenPom era (106.0). During that same span, Archie Miller-coached Dayton finished in the top 50 three times, reaching the NCAA Tournament all four years and twice advancing to the second weekend. The Flyers hung their hats on disciplined man-to-man defense and opportunistic aggression, principles Miller hopes to instill right away in Bloomington. If his new team fully commits, the ceiling on Indiana — projected by KenPom to go 8-10 in the Big Ten this season — should be higher than anticipated, even if it takes a step back offensively. The Hoosiers lose their three most dynamic weapons on that end of the court, with James Blackmon (17.0 PPG), Thomas Bryant (12.6 PPG), and OG Anunoby (11.1 PPG in 16 games) all leaving early. While Robert Johnson (12.8 PPG), forward Juwan Morgan, and point guard Josh Newkirk should keep the offense afloat, it’s hard to see Indiana scoring at the eye-popping rate it has in each of the past three seasons. Greater intrigue — and room for improvement — lies on defense, where frontcourt size will be an issue, but versatility will not. On the one hand, rim protection may be a concern: with the 6’10” Bryant no longer lurking the paint, only one returning player stands taller than 6’7″. On the other hand, Miller’s Dayton squads were often defined by their lack of size, great versatility and penchant for swarming the paint. With players who can defend multiple positions like Morgan, Colin Hartman, and a slimmed-down DeRon Davis, Indiana has the potential to make a vast, immediate improvement on the defensive end. That is, of course, if Miller can get can get his offensive-minded roster to fully buy in.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 7th, 2017

Chaos has been a commonality throughout this Big Ten season and it was on full display Saturday afternoon when all four road teams won games in opposing venues. Purdue earned possibly its biggest win of the season by coming back from a double-figure deficit in the second half to knock off Maryland. Rutgers won its first conference road game of the year by besting Penn State in Happy Valley. Fading Minnesota picked up a much needed road win at Illinois. Finally, Ohio State won a battle of two teams that have become increasingly difficult to figure out by beating Michigan in Ann Arbor. Things normalized a bit on Sunday with Wisconsin taking sole possession of first place in defeating Indiana at home, while Iowa likewise held serve in its own gym against Nebraska. There are now only four weekends left in the regular season, so look for more surprises as the pressure intensifies and the calendar flips to March. Here’s the best and worst of the Big Ten from the first weekend of February.

Corey Sanders led Rutgers to its second conference win in scoring 25 points as they knocked off Penn State (USA Today Images)

  • Player of the Weekend: Corey Sanders started off the 2016-17 campaign by figuring out how to adequately co-exist with Kansas State transfer Nigel Johnson in the Rutgers backcourt. Things have improved for the sophomore in recent weeks, however, as the dynamic point guard has scored in double figures in nine of his last 10 games. He’s taken over primary ball-handling duties, which has led to a more effective Rutgers offense. Sanders was dominant on Saturday, scoring 25 points and making 4-of-5 threes in leading Rutgers to its first ever Big Ten road victory. He also notched six rebounds, four assists and three steals. The Scarlet Knights are hoping that they can ride his enhanced scoring to a handful more wins to close out the regular season.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Iowa’s Nicholas Baer has drawn comparisons to Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ during a couple of Big Ten telecasts this season because he call fill up the stat sheet without providing the most beautiful of performances. The sophomore wing contributed seven points, six rebounds and three blocks against Nebraska on Sunday, cementing his status as Iowa’s second best player, regardless of whether he he starts or comes off the Hawkeyes’ bench.

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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.

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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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