The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Big Ten Running Out of Non-Conference Chances

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 15th, 2017

Michigan’s 59-52 win at Texas on Tuesday was important for the Big Ten, and not just because it could use some respect after taking a beating in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Rather, the road victory was big because it helps provide some much-needed heft to the league’s overall non-conference resume. With several bad losses under its belt and an underachieving middle tier, the Big Ten needs every quality win it can get before for turning on itself in conference play.

Iowa, like several Big Ten teams, has struggled during non-conference play. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

The Good. As of Thursday, the Big Ten has eight teams ranked in both the KenPom and Sagarin top 50, which suggests there is some depth of quality in the league. In fact, Michigan State and Purdue rank second and third overall in the latter ranking system. Although the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) remains the most widely-referenced metric, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee has been increasingly influenced by advanced metrics in recent years. The more teams viewed favorably by advanced analytical tools, the more opportunities for quality intra-conference wins in the committee’s view. What’s more, the league does have a few quality non-conference true road wins to its name. Minnesota beat Providence (KenPom #52) by double-figures in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Purdue pounded Marquette (KenPom #52). Michigan topped them both by upending Texas this week (KenPom #31). According to reports last summer, the committee will be “placing greater emphasis on winning road games.” Victories like these — on the road against NCAA Tournament-caliber opponents — will go a long way towards boosting the the Big Ten’s overall profile.

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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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Five Key Storylines in This Week’s Big Ten Tournament

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 8th, 2017

The Big Ten Tournament begins this afternoon in Washington, D.C., when Penn State takes on Nebraska. It will end Sunday afternoon presumably with a postseason picture looking much closer to clarity. In anticipation of the proceedings, here are a handful of quick potential storylines to keep an eye on over the next five days.

Whether or not Malcolm Hill can lead Illinois to a couple of Big Ten victories is one of many questions heading into the B1G Tournament. (Getty)

Bubble Teams: Two of the more fascinating games in the early portion of the Big Ten Tournament will be Illinois vs. Michigan and Iowa vs. Indiana. With late-season surges, both the Illini and the Hawkeyes have moved into bubble consideration. Illinois has improved defensively over the past month but will be tested by Michigan’s sixth-most efficient offense in the country. Iowa has won four in a row (including a win over the Hoosiers) on the strength of 10.5 made three-pointers per game at a 46.7 percent clip. If both teams lose early this week, the number of Big Ten teams heading to the NCAA Tournament will essentially be set. Two wins, however, will keep the debate alive.

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Big Ten Tournament Mission Sheet: What Can Each Team Get From the Event?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 8th, 2017

There are 14 teams in the Big Ten and although each team is ultimately playing to win a conference championship on Sunday afternoon, there are smaller, somewhat more realistic goals for each school involved in the five-day hoops extravaganza. Here’s a closer look at what each Big Ten team should look to gain from the event.

  • Illinois: The goal for the Illini is fairly obvious. After losing its regular season finale to Rutgers, Illinois likely has to get to Saturday’s semifinals in order to feel truly confident about its chances.
  • Indiana: Indiana needs to find a way to bottle its offense during the first 10 minutes — wherein the Hoosiers scored 32 points — of last weekend’s win over Ohio State. If Tom Crean’s offense can play at that level in Washington, DC, this weekend, Indiana can legitimately win the Big Ten Tournament.
  • Iowa: The Hawkeyes have the same goal as Illinois but with less urgency because of the youth of their roster. The longer Iowa stays in this weekend’s tournament, the more quality experience their underclassmen will have heading into next season.
  • Maryland: Maryland has taken a whopping 24 three-pointers per contest over its last nine games, making only 33.8 percent of those attempts. The key for the Terrapins is to return to attacking the rim for easy looks and foul shots. Continued over-reliance on the three-ball from a team that requires greater balance could spell an early postseason exit in DC and beyond.

Derrick Walton Jr. will look to lift Michigan to multiple wins in the Big Ten Tournament. (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

  • Michigan: The metrics suggest that Michigan is better than its 20-11 overall record. This means that the Wolverines have a golden opportunity to win the Big Ten tournament and jump a couple of seed lines prior to Sunday’s bracket release.

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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 Middle Tier Stock Watch

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 27th, 2017

Nine of the 14 Big Tens currently have conference records of either 4-4 or 3-5. It was expected to be a wide open year in the middle of the standings and we have gotten exactly that this season. With 10 regular season games remaining for each of these nine squads, let’s review which teams are trending toward a finish in the upper half of the league standings and a corresponding NCAA Tournament bid (Buy), which teams are still difficult to figure (Hold), and which teams are going to falter down the home stretch of the regular season (Sell).

Buy: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State

Michigan State has been inconsistent, but it would be foolish to bet against a Tom Izzo coached team making the NCAA Tournament. (Getty Images).

  • Michigan leads the list in the Buy category for a number of different reasons. Not only do the Wolverines already have three top-100 KenPom wins — two of which are looking better by the day (SMU and Marquette) — but they also have the best record (4-2) against the other middle-tier teams. John Beilien has coached in a National Championship game and two of his starters have played as far as the Elite Eight. Clear buy.
  • Michigan State is only 12-9 to this point in the season but it would be unwise the count this team out. How many times have we seen Michigan State struggle during the regular season only for Tom Izzo to have Sparty firing on all cylinders by mid-March?  Keep a close eye on the progression of Miles Bridges, who is starting to play like a legitimate superstar and can carry the Spartans through rough patches. Sell at your peril.
  • Ohio State started conference play 0-4 but the Buckeyes have won three of their last four to creep back into bubble consideration. Thad Matta does not have a long history of his teams tanking in Big Ten play, while Trevor Thompson has possibly become the best post player in the league not outside of Caleb Swanigan and Ethan Happ. Buy the Bucks.

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Big Ten Week in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 18th, 2017

The standings in the Big Ten continue to be a jumbled mess, with 10 teams within two games of the top spot. All but Rutgers has won a conference game, and aside from Wisconsin, is there another Final Four contender among the bunch? Here’s the best and worst of the last week of Big Ten action.

Jaquan Lyle led Ohio State in both points and assists as the Buckeyes won their first conference game over Michigan State. (Jim Davidson)

  • Player of the Week: Ohio State’sJaquan Lyle had one of the most efficient outings of his career as the Buckeyes picked up their most significant win off the season over Michigan State. Lyle used his size to bully Sparty’s point guard tandem of Cassius Winston and Tum Tum Nairn, but his primary contributions to the victory were twofold: 5-of-7 shooting from three-point range and six assists along with only one turnover. Lyle, who was shooting a poor 28.2 percent on the season from deep just three games ago, has improved to 36.4 percent after making nine of his last 14 attempts. The sophomore has had a maddening tendency to make a couple head-scratching mistakes per game, but if he is finally becoming one of the best point guards in the league, Ohio State should be in good position to turn things around after a slow Big Ten start.

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Three Biggest Surprises & Disappointments in the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 3rd, 2017

Each and every season people like myself who cover college basketball make predictions as to how the season will go. Each and every season people like myself are wrong. What follows are three of the biggest surprises and disappointments in the Big Ten so far this season. Whether they will hold true over the next two months is anybody’s guess.

Three Surprises

  1. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: That the Purdue sophomore is having a massive impact this season isn’t the surprise — the surprise, rather, is in the level of dominance he has displayed 14 games into the season. Swanigan is averaging 18.5 PPG, 13.0 RPG and 2.9 APG in high-possession usage, while shooting 41 percent from the three-point line, 59 percent inside the arc and converting 77 percent of his free throws. He has already notched four 20/20 games in points and rebounds, including a few flirtations with a triple-double. Swanigan made the preseason All-Big Ten team with good reason after a freshman campaign where he led the conference in rebounds, but his play to this point makes him the early frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year.

    Caleb Swanigan has played like a potential All-American so far this season. . (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

    Caleb Swanigan has played like a potential All-American so far this season. . (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

  2. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights were 44-84 over the last four seasons and that’s why little was expected of them despite adding a new coach (Steve Pikiell) and some impact newcomers this year. An 11-2 non-conference record has ceded to an 0-2 start in the Big Ten (losses at Wisconsin and vs. Penn State), but Rutgers should be commended on the defensive end for protecting the rim (ranking among the nation’s best 25 teams in two-point field goal percentage defense and block percentage). Someone on this microsite mentioned that the Scarlet Knights’ goal this season should be to win 10 games and a 15-win season seems reasonable on this trajectory. In a position that requires a certain kind of coach, Pikiell appears to be the right person to eventually turn this program around. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Feast Week Primer: Part One

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 18th, 2016

Ten of the 14 Big Ten teams will play in early-season tournaments over the next 10 days. Most of the action will occur in the heart of Feast Week between November 21-28, but a pair of teams will get things started this weekend. Michigan is already in New York City for the 2K Classic while Penn State will travel to Connecticut on Saturday to play in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. Here’s a quick guide to this weekend’s festivities.

Zak Irvin will try to lead Michigan to a 4-0 start in the 2K Classic this weekend. (Getty).

Zak Irvin will try to lead Michigan to a 4-0 start in the 2K Classic this weekend. (Getty).

2K Classic Benefiting Wounded Warrior Project

  • Teams: Michigan, Marquette, SMU, Pittsburgh
  • Capsule: Michigan beat Marquette convincingly last night and has started the year 3-0. The Wolverines are getting excellent balance in scoring across its starting lineup, with four players averaging double figures but only one instance of an individual breaking 20 points (Derrick Walton hit for exactly 20 against Howard). Michigan advances to play SMU, also 3-0 after a surprising win over Pittsburgh, in the 2K Classic championship game tonight.
  • Key Player: Duncan Robinson: Robinson needed to find his shooting stroke and a 3-of-4 performance from three-point range last night could set him on his way. As a whole Michigan hasn’t shot the ball all that well yet from the perimeter (36.8 percent from three), but expect this team of excellent shooters to eventually push that number toward 40 percent.
  • Prediction: The Wolverines will win this event. SMU notched a nice win over Pitt, but Michigan utterly dismantled a Marquette team that looked great last week against Vanderbilt.

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