Big Ten Season Grades: Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on April 16th, 2014

With the end of the season comes a chance to look back at what happened and look ahead to next year. Here we have broken the conference into three corresponding tiers based on this year’s finish and will give each a final grade and look at a key question for 2014-15. Today we’ll examine four teams that are hoping they don’t replicate this year’s bottom four finish: Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.

Indiana

Yogi Ferrell had a great 2013-14 campaign and will need to replicate that for Indiana to be successful next year. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Yogi Ferrell had a great 2013-14 campaign and will need to replicate that for Indiana to be successful next year. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Grade: D. The Hoosiers lost so much with the departures of two lottery picks that maybe we all expected too much. Still, with Noah Vonleh (another likely lottery pick), Yogi Ferrell, Will Sheehey and “The Movement,” quite a bit more was expected from this group. Failure to make the NCAA Tournament (or even the bubble) and falling to the bottom tier of the Big Ten represents a very bad year for the Hoosiers. The program’s one bright spot was the emergence of Ferrell as not only the team’s best player but also one of the best in the conference.

Key 2014-15 Question: Who plays inside? Indiana will have plenty of guards on its roster next season. It brings back Ferrell and Stanford Robinson and its recruiting class includes McDonalds All-America shooting guard James Blackmon Jr. and shooting guard in Robert Johnson. With Vonleh and Jeremy Hollowell now gone, though, this team will lack an inside presence. Hanner Mosquera-Perea hasn’t really panned out and Troy Williams is a wing who doesn’t dominate inside the paint. Tom Crean is still recruiting in the hopes of filling this hole with a late commitment, but as of now, the Hoosiers could be looking at a four-guard lineup next year.

Northwestern

Grade: B. A “B” may seem high for a team at the bottom of league but this group of Wildcats was expected to do absolutely nothing in the Big Ten this season. Recall that at one point the question was if they could win a single Big Ten game. Chris Collins did plenty to change that notion quickly, as he made the team’s identity about defense and pushed it to win six games in conference play (and at one point had pundits wondering if it could make its way onto the NCAA bubble). It was a big and unexpected turnaround that has the Wildcats looking to break the NCAA drought sooner than later.

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Big Ten “Other” Postseason Recap: Minnesota Pushes for a Trip to NYC

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 25th, 2014

The Big Ten has three teams still playing in the Sweet Sixteen, and after Penn State’s loss to Siena on Monday night, it now has one team still alive to win one of the other three postseason tournaments. Here’s a brief rundown on what’s been going on with Illinois, Minnesota, and Penn State as they finished out their seasons in the NIT and the CBI over the course of the last week.

Despite not getting much production from leading scorer Andre Hollins, Minnesota has made it to the Final 8 of the NIT. (AP)

Despite not getting much production from leading scorer Andre Hollins, Minnesota has made it to the Final 8 of the NIT. (AP)

Illinois: The Illini got a raw deal in the fact that they had to play both of their NIT games on the road despite being a #2 seed. They started things out last week with an ugly win at Boston University, getting down 30-13 early but managing to go on a 53-32 run over the last 24 minutes to finish off a four-point win. Illinois shot 8-of-17 from three and were +12 on the boards in the victory. This did not carry over to Illinois’ second contest on Sunday against Clemson. In a defensive struggle, the Illini were outrebounded by seven and shot only 14 percent from behind the arc (3-of-21). Clemson is a strong defensive team, but this game summed up the Illinois season. They struggled to make any shots, didn’t have a good option on the low block, and despite forcing 15 turnovers, couldn’t close things out in the end in losing by one point, 50-49.

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Big Ten: NIT and CBI Analysis

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 18th, 2014

The Big Ten ended up getting seven NCAA Tournament bids for their 12 schools once the field of 68 was announced on Sunday night. This ended up bursting the bubble for Minnesota, who was really the only team that didn’t get in that had an outside chance of doing so. They did, however, manage to receive a #1 seed in the NIT. The Gophers will host High Point on Wednesday night. Illinois received a #2 seed and will travel to Boston to take on Boston University on Wednesday night. It’s also worth noting that Indiana did not get into the field due to the fact that their RPI was not high enough. Their season is done after they declined an invitation to the CBI while Penn State will continue on in the CBI.

Here’s a little of what these teams have to look forward to as their seasons continue in the shadow of the bigger tournament:

Richard Pitino will look to build for the future as a number one seed in the NIT. (AP)

Richard Pitino will look to build for the future as a number one seed in the NIT. (AP)

  • Minnesota: The Gophers take on High Point in their first-round game. The Panthers went 16-14 in the Big South, and they are led by 6’8″ sophomore John Brown. They do not have anyone over 6’9″, so look for the Gophers to try and pound the ball inside and get plenty of points in the paint. If they win that one, they’ll play either St. Mary’s or Utah. St. Mary’s would be interesting because former Minnesota starting guard Joe Coleman transferred there in the after Tubby Smith was fired. Utah was on the bubble for a little while and they boast wins over UCLA, Colorado, and Arizona State. They could get a match-up with Missouri in the quarterfinals if they take care of their first two opponents, which would set up a great point guard battle between Deandre Mathieu and Jordan Clarkson. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Tournament X-Factors for Round One

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 13th, 2014

Without going into full-fledged preview mode for all four games set to tip off on Thursday in Indianapolis, here are some under-the-radar players to keep an eye on in round one. Some are more obscure than others, but all the players I’m highlighting were not named to any of the All-Conference teams on Monday. They all have a specific skill set, however, that can be used to exploit a weak spot on the team they are playing against in the first round.

Tracy Abrams' ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Tracy Abrams’ ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas/Lee News Service)

Illinois: Tracy Abrams — Indiana turns the ball over 21.7% of the time, and Abrams averages 1.2 pilfers a game. Abrams had 5 steals in the two teams previous games, and if he can be the defensive catalyst that leads to 23 Indiana turnovers — like what happened on December 31 when the Illini beat the Hoosiers in overtime — Illinois will move on to the second round.

Indiana: Devin Davis The Illini are only mediocre at getting their own misses (165th nationally), and Davis has been productive with increased minutes recently. He’s gotten 20 MPG in his last two games, and has a robust 21.6% defensive rebound rate in limited minutes for the season. That would be good for 6th in the conference had he played enough minutes to qualify, and if Crean gives him the playing time in this game, he’ll prevent Illinois from getting any second chance buckets. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 03.06.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 6th, 2014

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  1. The recent skid for Michigan State has plenty of people questioning if this team is still a top contender. First it was the defense, as the Spartans need to switch on screens without Branden Dawson was causing issues. With his return, though, a loss at Illinois still happened. That prompted the players to air their frustrations with each other in a “players-only” meeting this week. The interesting aspects are that the Spartans were blaming each other, showing a team divided instead of coming together. This late in the season that is never how a team wants to be interacting and playing. Tonight at home against Iowa provides a good chance to see if the issues really were put to bed or if what Tom Izzo calls “the biggest joke in athletics” is just that and the Spartans continue to struggle.
  2. It shouldn’t be news to anyone how big of a week is coming up for Nebraska. It certainly is known to head coach Tim Miles as he admitted he has been checking projections and RPI rankings the past three weeks as his team has began flirting with the bubble. Every game is important for the Cornhuskers right now as they need every possible win to get into the tournament. It certainly would help if they could push themselves up to fourth in the Big Ten as well. Miles may believe they are a tournament team, and now is the chance for them to prove it. Do that and they will have surprised everyone in the country by not just playing in March, but playing in the main event.
  3. Indiana‘s Will Sheehey won’t be a player that sits at the top of the Hoosier record books. Still, he did plenty for the program as he played his final home game last night against Nebraska. Sheehey hit the 1,000-point mark, but the biggest thing he will be remembered for is coming into the program along with Victor Oladipo and helping change the culture. He is a 4-year player that helped lead the transformation from desolation to its first Sweet 16 appearance in a decade (he hit the winning shot against VCU in 2012 to reach it). He helped set a work ethic for the change, and while his last campaign has had road bumps, Sheehey’s legacy will be part of leading the revival.
  4. Penn State has strong guard play this season, that’s no question, but its future may be in the frontcourt. Lately, Pat Chambers has been playing his big men together on the court in Jordan Dickerson and Donovon Jack. Chambers says he plans to use the line-up for the remainder of the season but it struggles with staying on the court due to endurance and match-up issues. It is still one we will likely see in the future and it will be quite the change from a guard-oriented team to one that pounds the ball down low.
  5. We always like to discuss players and All-American status. For coaches it is typically limited to individual conference coaches of the year and the overall national one. Well, Bleacher Report’s Jason King decided to expand his list and he has two Big Ten coaches on his “King’s Court Coaches All-American Team.” Michigan’s John Beilein made the second team and Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan made the third team. He also gave Tim Miles of Nebraska the “most-underrated” award. It’s tough to argue about the Big Ten coach positions, though Beilein could likely make a case for being on the First-Team after losing Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and then Mitch McGary midseason yet still winning an outright Big Ten title. Miles being omitted but listed as the “most underrated” also seems deserving and the right spot. Tom Izzo could make a case for an addition dealing with all the injuries, but for the most part, the Big Ten was represented accurately. This could also be seen as another nod for Beilein as the Big Ten Coach of the Year, which most have him or Miles winning it.
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Big Ten’s 2014-15 Schedule Brings Back the Rivalries

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 3rd, 2014

The Big Ten released its schedule of 2014-15 games late last week and it appears that the rivalries are back. The conference has said it won’t be protecting basketball rivalries in the long run, but at least next season all the major rivalries will have home-and-homes: Indiana-Purdue, Michigan-Ohio State, Michigan-Michigan State, Wisconsin-Minnesota, Iowa-Minnesota, Northwestern-Illinois, and it even gives newcomers Maryland and Rutgers a home-and-home against each other. Before we fully focus on March Madness, here are a few thoughts on next season’s Big Ten schedule.

John Beilein and Michigan are competing for a conference championship this season and appear to have an advantage next year with the release of the 2014-15 B1G schedule. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

John Beilein and Michigan are competing for a conference championship this season and appear to have an advantage next year with the release of the 2014-15 B1G schedule. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

  • It is great to see the return of home-and-home rivalries next season. Indiana-Purdue and Ohio State-Michigan should never only play once, so hopefully next year’s effort to have them play twice continues or we could be in for a series of bland regular seasons in the near future. Rivalry games add intrigue and excitement for the fans even when the teams aren’t all that great (a good case in point was Mackey Arena for Purdue-Indiana a few weeks ago).
  • While it may be foolhardy to argue which teams will benefit from next season’s schedule as of today, the early winners appear to be Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue and Rutgers. The Wolverines will certainly be happy to see two of its away games at Maryland and Penn State while avoiding trips to Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Wisconsin must feel a similar way by seeing its home-and-home includes Northwestern and Penn State with only away games to Maryland and Rutgers — the Badgers also avoid a trip to the state of Indiana entirely, as well as Michigan State and the Izzone. Purdue is ecstatic to see two of the worst home court advantages in the conference are on its away slate in Northwestern and Penn State. While Rutgers’ road games aren’t the friendliest, it could certainly be worse, and its home-and-home schedule with Maryland, Penn State and struggling Purdue and Indiana squads looks promising for an inaugural campaign.

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Whats Trending: Tom Izzo Dancing, Baylor Getting Baptized, Marcus Paige, and More…

Posted by Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) on February 28th, 2014

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) is your weekly host.

Tom Izzo… Pony… Ride It

So Tom Izzo apparently appears in a new Werner Ladders TV commercial. That’s clever and funny and all, but SB Nation‘s Brian Floyd already made the remix for us because that is how he rolls… just laying beats over video and hitting the “UPLOAD TO YOUTUBE” button.

Yes, that would be the renowned R&B hit “Pony” by Ginuwine.

Baylor Bears Get Baptized

No for real. This is not a euphemism for getting shown up on defense while your opponent throws one down in your face. A handful of Baylor Bears were actually baptized last week. Isaiah Austin captured it all.

Scottie Wilbekin Celebrates Like A Soccer Player

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Some Quick Thoughts on Nebraska’s Win Over Penn State

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 21st, 2014

Nebraska has become the talk of the Big Ten, as they have played their way into serious NCAA Tournament consideration by knocking off Michigan State on the road. The last time they won against a heavyweight, they came out and lost the next game to Penn State. This time around, they took care of any potential letdown by winning 80-67. Here are four quick takeaways from last night’s foul fest in Lincoln.

If the injury to Walter Pitchford is serious, Nebraska might have to cancel potential NCAA Tournament plans. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

If the injury to Walter Pitchford is serious, Nebraska might have to cancel potential NCAA Tournament plans. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

  1. How serious is the Walter Pitchford injury? Pitchford went down with about 8:00 left to play in the game to a left leg injury. It looked as though Penn State’s Donovon Jack hit the leg with his shoulder. He wasn’t able to put any weight on it, and had to be helped off the court by his teammates. If he misses a significant amount of time, the Huskers will be stretched a little thin on the offensive end. Backup Leslee Smith will be able to provide rebounds and gives them a better defensive presence in the middle, but he can’t come close to matching Pitchford’s offensive abilities. Ray Gallegos would really have to step his game up to become a third scorer with Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields if Pitchford can’t play. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Valentine’s Day Candy Heart Messages

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on February 14th, 2014

It’s the day celebrating romance and love. It also marks the final home stretch of the regular season. In honor of this day, it felt appropriate (or just fun) to take aim at each Big Ten team and the thing they most want — in the form of a candy heart message. So, in alphabetical order, I give you the simple message each conference team would want most to come on a candy heart. Enjoy Valentine’s Day everyone.

Can Tom Crean's Hoosiers end the Badgers' winning streak? (AP).

Tom Crean and company would love to start winning the games its supposed to. (AP)

Illinois: “Not Last In My Heart” - Oh what once was for the Illini this season. The great non-conference play has fallen apart and Illinois is sitting in last place in the Big Ten. Getting out of the cellar would be great for the team.

Indiana: “Your Love Overcomes a Bad Team” - The Hoosiers are quite the fickle team this year. Beating Wisconsin and Michigan but losing at home to Northwestern and Penn State? This team would love to win the games it should the rest of the way and pull off a few more upsets to find itself back on the NCAA bubble.

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Big Ten Postseason Watch: 02.08.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on February 8th, 2014

Conference play has hit the midway point. The top of the Big Ten is already a two team contest contained to the state of Michigan, but the middle of the conference is as muddled as ever with 10th place a mere game and a half back of fourth. With that in mind we examine where the conference’s teams are at in terms of postseason play. All teams currently have a shot of playing somewhere after the conference tournament concludes and RTC’s Daniel Evans currently lists six Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament (as does ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, who adds Indiana in his first four out). The teams will be put into tiers depending on where they currently stand, and we will give you a look at what’s coming up in terms of importance along with the KenPom rankings and RPI according to ESPN. Feel free to tell us how wrong we are in the comments and through social media or how your team’s fortunes will change in the final five weeks of the season.

Fighting for a No. 1 seed

Adreian Payne's return is huge for a Michigan State team wanting to claim a No. 1 seed in March (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

Adreian Payne’s return is huge for a Michigan State team wanting to claim a No. 1 seed in March (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

  • Michigan State (KenPom #12, RPI #10): The injuries to Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson have put the Spartans in a bind inside, but it also has let other players develop their games. Payne’s return comes at the perfect time for the team as it makes the final push for a Big Ten championship and a top seed in March. This team can’t afford to lose many more if it hopes to take a top spot, but with everyone back, even a No. 2 or 3 seed would work just fine for a healthy squad that can contend for the national title.
  • Michigan (KenPom #14, RPI #15): This team is far from dead after the injury to Mitch McGary. The development of freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. has been instrumental to the Wolverines becoming stronger in conference play. The potential for John Beilein’s team to grab a No. 1 seed could be decided this week with two massive tests at Iowa and at Ohio State. Win both and it looks reasonable; lose either and it will be battling for a top four protected seed.

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Big Ten M5: 02.06.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on February 6th, 2014

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  1. Michigan certainly responded well to its first Big Ten loss last night by simply crushing Nebraska. The Wolverines have come back well from adversity in general since conference play started, and a lot of that has to do with Derrick Walton Jr.‘s progression. The freshman point guard started the season slowly, but since Big Ten play began he has seen his scoring rise by nearly three points per game while reducing his turnovers. His jumper and decision-making have also improved dramatically as he has grown more accustomed to the college game. His play down the stretch needs to continue this way, and if it does, Michigan will remain in contention for the Big Ten title against bitter rival Michigan State.
  2. The dark horse status that many gave to Penn State coming into this season didn’t start out so well. The Nittany Lions are now on a three-game winning streak, however, thanks to plenty of impressive numbers. Some of the most notable statistics include that of Brandon Taylor, who in the winning streak has averaged 15 points per game and 46.7 percent from three-point range, and 20.0 PPG for DJ Newbill. With a tough test at Michigan State coming tonight, Penn State will need both players to continue their recent strong play. The Lions are unlikely to win in East Lansing, of course, but if Penn State stays close with Sparty it sends a message to the rest of a muddled Big Ten that this team will compete the rest of the way.
  3. There were multiple reasons for Wisconsin‘s recent skid. One prominent reason was Sam Dekker struggling offensively, but he seems to have came out of his slump after hitting 4-of-7 three-pointers against Illinois. While Wisconsin has plenty of players who can score and take over the game when needed, Dekker’s impact as a versatile forward is extremely important. The Badgers are much more effective when Dekker can exploit the match-up issues he causes by bombing away from the outside. For a team relying so much more on its offense this season, Bo Ryan’s team needs its star to make sure his struggles are completely done.
  4. If you wanted 55 minutes of, well, uninspiring basketball, then Purdue‘s triple-overtime win over Minnesota last night was a real treat. The Boilermakers got the victory despite nearly giving it away with multiple missed free throws in regulation and the first two overtimes. Part of this problem is the Boilermakers’ stark lack of leadership and that its best leader, Travis Carroll, rarely sees action. Carroll does his job well, working against AJ Hammons in practice and playing hard when called upon. But even if Purdue lacks a more productive on-court senior leader, there has been time for some of the underclassmen to mature and take over those duties. Plenty of teams rely on young talent to not only be competitive but win conference and national titles. Matt Painter needs to find his on-court leadership somewhere or there will be more games like last night where the Boilermakers nearly blow what appeared to be an assured win.
  5. Ohio State certainly needed things to start going well again. With a pair of wins against Wisconsin and Iowa this week, it appears the Buckeyes got the morale boost and confidence that they desired. It came at a critical time for Ohio State, too. With a few more losses, what seemed like a team competing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament could have quickly found itself on the bubble. The players’ comments after beating Iowa seems to bear out that they believe they will win the close games coming down the stretch. For a team that relies so heavily on its defense, the confidence to believe it will score late in close games is absolutely crucial.
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Big Ten M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 31st, 2014

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  1. Michigan State sophomore Matt Costello has seen his role become much more important with Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson sidelined. He posted a double-double in the Spartans’ win against Iowa on Tuesday night, which led to Tom Izzo calling it “ the best game of his life.” Costello has done a great job blocking shots all season long, but it seems as though he’s getting more comfortable playing extended minutes. His rebounding will be sorely needed until the Spartans are back at full strength. It will be interesting to see if the former top-100 recruit can develop a back-to-the-basket game in his next two years in East Lansing.
  2. The B1G season went from strange to borderline wacky Wednesday night when supposed cellar dwellers (at least according to preseason rankings) Penn State and Northwestern won on the road against Ohio State and Wisconsin, respectively. Both of these teams were ranked in the top five nationally a mere three weeks ago. More on Ohio State in a moment, but Wisconsin’s issues can be traced to how well it’s letting other teams shoot the ball, and how poorly it’s shooting from behind the arc. Teams have been living in the paint in all four recent losses, and until the Badgers get that fixed, they’ll continue to hover around .500 in conference play.
  3. Ohio State also looked like a potential Final Four contender until recently, but they’ve arguably looked even worse than Wisconsin in the last couple of weeks. It’s disturbing that senior Lenzelle Smith Jr. was quoted as saying that the team “doesn’t care enough.” Maybe these quotes will spark something in the Buckeyes and they’ll play with more emotion going forward. But Smith and fellow senior Aaron Craft, who both started in the Final Four as sophomores, need to do more on the court in terms of providing senior leadership. Smith needs to shoot better and Craft — despite the free pass the national media seemingly gives him — needs to stop turning the ball over at what has been an alarming rate during their recent struggles.
  4. In happier news, Minnesota is one of the teams in the league that has outperformed against expectations so far. Everyone knows that the team has missed the inside presence and rebounding of the graduated Trevor Mbakwe, but that doesn’t mean that Oto Osenieks hasn’t played well as a stretch-four during his junior season. Osenieks isn’t ever going to average 10 rebounds a game, but he’s improved quite a bit since his last season under former coach Tubby Smith. This can mainly be viewed in his three-point shooting, as the lanky junior has gone from only hitting 2-of-26 as a sophomore, to 12-of-37 during the 2013-14 campaign.
  5. When Penn State jumped out to a 47-40 lead at halftime in its first league game against Michigan State, you could see that this team had the potential to jump up and bite some of the Big Ten heavyweights this season. And after an 0-6 start, the Nittany Lions have won their last two after Wednesday night’s victory in Columbus. They got this win despite many setbacks that should have doomed them to defeat, overcoming a huge free throw disparity and some questionable calls that went against them. After failing to close out the game in numerous close contests, it will be interesting to see whether getting this win can be a springboard for Penn State going forward.
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