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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Big Ten Feast Week Winners and Losers

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 28th, 2016

After 10 days of games in eight different tournaments, the picture as to how things will play out in this season’s Big Ten has become clearer. It is still somewhat murky and disjointed, but Feast Week gave us some insights as to the ceilings and floors for each squad. Here’s a brief look at which teams helped their cause last week and those that came away looking like they still have considerable work to do.

Winners

  • Maryland: While not playing in the most prestigious of events, Maryland was able to pick up wins over Richmond and Kansas State in the Barclays Center Classic. Neither were huge resume boosters, but they should help come March rather than hurt. The Terps pounded the offensive backboards all weekend, snatching an average of 40 percent of their own misses in the two victories. The most significant aspect of Maryland’s performances was that Mark Turgeon’s freshmen trio of Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson all played heavy crunch time minutes in a pair of tight games. Their continued improvement will largely determine the arc of the Terrapins’ season.
Justin Jackson helped lead Maryland to two wins in Brooklyn last weekend. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports).

Justin Jackson helped lead Maryland to two wins in Brooklyn last weekend. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports).

  • Michigan: The shine from the Wolverines’ two wins at the beginning of Feast Week lost some of its luster when they lost at South Carolina last Wednesday. Concentrating solely on their play in the 2k Classic, however, Michigan looked like it could be a serious threat to finish in the top three of the Big Ten. DJ Wilson’s defensive versatility was on full display, as he successfully guarded almost every position on the floor. The Wolverines held both Marquette and SMU under 1.00 point per possession and under 39 percent shooting from the field. They also hit 22 three-pointers and paired stellar outside shooting with their typical runs that led to easy buckets. Overall, Feast Week was a net plus for John Beilein’s team.

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Big Ten Feast Week Primer: Part Three

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 24th, 2016

Eight of the 14 Big Ten teams have already started, finished or will play in early-season tournaments this week. The festivities began Monday afternoon with Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational, but continue for much of the week as turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce commingles with basketball in far-flung locales. Here’s the third of a three-part breakdown that discusses what each participating Big Ten team faces this week.

NIT Season Tip-Off

Malcolm Hill will need to display the form that made him a Preseason All Big-Ten player in New York City this weekend. (USA Today Sports)

Malcolm Hill will need to display the form that made him a Preseason All-Big Ten player in New York City this weekend. (USA Today Sports)

  • Teams: Illinois, West Virginia, Florida State, Temple
  • Capsule: Things were looking relatively good for Illinois as it got off to a 4-0 start… and then the Illini lost to Winthrop at home. In what might be a make-or-break season for John Groce, a couple of wins against quality teams in the Big Apple would definitely ease some stress. Illinois squares off today against the national leader in creating turnovers and steals when it plays West Virginia. Those same 22 turnovers against Winthrop will end this game quickly.
  • Key Player: Tracy Abrams will be the key here. The sixth -year senior not only needs to break the Mountaineers’ press, but unlike the offensively-challenged Jaylon Tate, he can also be a threat to score. Abrams needs to max out his experience and ability for Illinois to come away with two wins in New York this week.
  • Prediction: The West Virginia game will be an ugly loss, but expect the Illini to respond and beat Temple in the consolation game on Friday.

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Big Ten Conference Preview: Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 11th, 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 second of three segments lists our middle five teams (the bottom tier can be found here).

9. Iowa: The Hawkeyes arguably lost more than any other squad in the Big Ten, with four senior starters moving on from Iowa City. The good news, however, starts with guard Peter Jok staying put for his senior season. Jok will lead an inexperienced crew highlighted by freshman Tyler Cook, and jack-of-all-trades Dom Uhl. The point guard situation here is dicey, but if either Christian Williams or Jordan Bohannon can handle it, this team could still be in the mix for another NCAA Tournament bid. Jok needs to put up large numbers on the offensive end, though, and several secondary scorers need to emerge for this to happen.

Fran McCaffery and his Iowa Hawkeyes are predicted to finish in the middle of the Big Ten. (AP)

Fran McCaffery and his Iowa Hawkeyes are predicted to finish in the middle of the Big Ten. (AP).

Best-Case Scenario: NCAA Tournament Berth

8. Illinois: Things will be much better at Illinois this season if the Illini can simply keep their roster healthy for the first time in two years. The transfer of Kendrick Nunn will sting a bit, but six seniors make this the most experienced roster in the conference. Malcolm Hill is the team’s best player, but the key to the season will be the health of sixth- year seniors Tracy Abrams and Mike Thorne Jr. If that pair can stay on the floor, last season’s 135th ranked defense should be much better and that ugly 15-19 record should also improve.

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Can Peter Jok Lead Iowa Back to the NCAAs?

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 24th, 2016

Last season Iowa boasted the Big Ten’s highest scoring duo with two players who finished among the top eight in points per game. One of those players is returning to Iowa City; the other (along with three other starters) has exhausted his eligibility. Wing Peter Jok has played in the NCAA Tournament in each of the three years of his career, but now in his senior season, his elevated play may be the only way for the Hawkeyes to reach the Field of 68 for the fourth consecutive time. Much of this determination will also hinge upon the improvements of holdovers who will be thrust into bigger roles, but Jok’s ability to carry Iowa’s scoring load will go a long way toward determining the fate of Fran McCaffery’s seventh season in Iowa City.

Peter Jok faces a big load as the only returning starter for Iowa in 2016-17. (Alyssa Hitchcock, The Daily Iowan)

Peter Jok faces a big load as the only returning starter for Iowa in 2016-17. (Alyssa Hitchcock/The Daily Iowan)

Jok enjoyed quite the breakout season last year as he more than doubled his scoring average (7.0 to 16.1 PPG), scored 20 or more points 11 times, and did so with the sixth best offensive rating in the Big Ten among those using over 24 percent of his team’s possessions. His effective field goal percentage (53.1%) and his true shooting percentage (57.3%) were also career-highs by a wide margin. The caveat with this, however, is that a certain lanky forward wearing jersey number 20 (Jarrod Uthoff) was the clear first option, meaning that Jok was able to get much better looks than he’s likely to get this season. He’ll be the Hawkeyes’ first option this year, and the lack of an experienced point guard like Mike Gesell or Anthony Clemmons to run the offense may also hinder his efficiency numbers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Handing Out Big Ten Awards and Superlatives

Posted by Patrick Engel on March 8th, 2016

With the regular season complete, it’s time for our Big Ten postseason awards. Here are our three all-conference teams, all-rookie team and individual award winners as voted on by our microsite staff. Note that our ballots were submitted before the Big Ten released its official winners on Monday night.

Individual Awards

Tom Crean helped his Indiana team regroup and win the Big Ten after a poor nonconference showing. (Getty)

Tom Crean helped his Indiana team regroup and win the Big Ten after a poor nonconference showing. (Getty)

  • Player of the Year (unanimous): Denzel Valentine (G, Michigan State). The Wooden Award Candidate is the first player to lead the Big Ten in both scoring and assists per game since Iowa’s Andre Woolridge in 1996-97. He’s the Big Ten’s best passer (44.6 percent assist rate) and notched a sterling 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio this season. Valentine takes 30 percent of Michigan State’s shots (over half are three-pointers) and he still has a top-35 offensive rating (126.9) nationally.
  • Coach of the Year: Tom Crean (Indiana). The Hoosiers won the outright Big Ten title with a strong 15-3 record and significantly improved its defense during the Big Ten season. Despite losing one of its best offensive players with James Blackmon, Jr.’s injury in January, Indiana still boast the nation’s fourth-most efficient offense (119.6 points per 100 possessions).
  • Rookie of the Year: Ethan Happ (F, Wisconsin). Happ’s production and consistency on both ends of the floor gives him the edge here. He is tied for second in the conference with nine double-doubles and was an important part of Wisconsin’s resurgence after a 1-3 start to the Big Ten season.
  • Defensive Player of the Year: A.J. Hammons (C, Purdue). Hammons has tallied four more blocks (74) than fouls (70) this season, and he helps Purdue hold opponents to a difficult 42.7 two-point percentage. He also rebounds 23.4 percent of opponents’ misses.
  • Most Improved Player: Peter Jok (G, Iowa). Jok went from an inconsistent reserve as a sophomore to a consistently productive scorer as a junior. Iowa needed a complementary scorer to put alongside Jarrod Uthoff this season, and Jok became that guy.

All-Big Ten First Team

Denzel Valentine has become one of the nation's best players, if not the best, in his senior season. (AP)

Denzel Valentine has become one of the nation’s best players, if not the best, in his senior season. (AP)

  • Denzel Valentine (G, Michigan State): Valentine is the only player in the modern history of college basketball to average at least 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game (assists became an official statistic in 1983-84). He also logged two triple-doubles and shot 49.6 percent from beyond the arc in conference play.
  • Yogi Ferrell (G, Indiana): The Hoosiers’ senior point guard is the Big Ten’s fourth-leading scorer (17.1 PPG), fourth-leading distributor (5.5 APG), 10th-leading three-point shooter (42.1 %) and the conference champion’s best player.

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Evaluating Iowa’s Recent Slump

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 25th, 2016

In a home loss to surging Wisconsin last night, Iowa again refused to control its own destiny on the way to a Big Ten title. Every time Indiana or Maryland slips up and leaves the Hawkeyes with a big opening, Fran McCaffery’s team just can’t seem to string together a consistent 40 minutes. The loss to the Badgers is Iowa’s third in its last four outings, with the only win coming against cellar-dwelling Minnesota. The perplexing part of the Hawkeyes’ recent slide is that there hasn’t been a clear statistical reason for it — rebounding and turnovers, for example, have been within normal ranges. Rather, a consistent theme in the losses seems to be a relative lack of leadership and a diverse offensive tool kit which doesn’t expand much beyond the three-point shot. Let’s evaluate both of these concerns.

McCaffery's Hawkeyes need to prove they can win out-score their opponents in the half-court. (AP/C. Neibergall)

McCaffery’s Hawkeyes need to prove they can win out-score their opponents in the half-court. (AP/C. Neibergall)

  • Limited offensive game plan. A three-point percentage of 27.8 percent last night from a team that relies so heavily on the three-point shot is a troubling sign, but the bigger concern is limited shot selection from its sharp-shooters, Jared Uthoff and Peter Jok. While Jok prefers to be set up for this threes, Uthoff likes to create his own shot in isolation. Both of these maneuvers have become too predictable. The formula for defensive success here includes initially cutting off the corners and the trailing Hawkeye during transition. Once Iowa settles into the half-court, Mike Gesell usually tries to take his defender off the dribble, but smart defenders give him space to shoot a long two. Gesell is reluctant to shoot the three, so limiting his options to a shot at the top of the key is a much better strategy than letting him draw and dish to Jok or Uthoff in the corners. Putting Uthoff in isolation is another worthy defensive gamble because it typically extends the length of the offensive possession. Iowa’s average offensive possession length is 16.3 seconds, but isolation tends to slow down activity for everyone else without the ball. Uthoff shot a paltry 6-of-23 from beyond the arc during the recent three losses so he needs to be more mindful of defenses challenging him to put the ball on the floor rather than allowing him to line up open jump shots.

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The Big Ten’s Biggest Surprises, Improvements & Disappointments

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 16th, 2016

Iowa is atop the Big Ten after Valentine’s Day, Indiana is (mostly) better defensively and Minnesota still hasn’t won a conference game. Those are typical of the team surprises, improvements and disappointments that appear over the course of every Big Ten season. The same thing happens on an individual level: some players seem to come out of nowhere, others take impressive leaps in production, and still others regress or plateau. With conference play now two-thirds finished, here are some of the biggest surprises, improvements and disappointments among this season’s Big Ten players.

P.J. Thompson's ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

P.J. Thompson’s ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt. (Sandra Dukes/USA TODAY Sports)

Biggest Surprises

  • O.G. Anunoby, F, Indiana: The least-heralded member of Indiana’s freshman class is now a crucial part of its rotation. The Hoosiers found the freshman forward from Jefferson City, Missouri, while scouting another player, but he has been their best defender and owns the second-highest effective field goal percentage (64.8%) on the team (minimum 60 FGAs).
  • Nicholas Baer, G/F, Iowa: An unknown freshman walk-on in November, Baer gives Iowa productive minutes off the bench. He makes 43 percent of his threes and 52 percent of his twos, but is also second on the team with 18 blocks. That versatility means that he can play the three or the four positions.

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RTC Top 25: Week Ten Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on January 25th, 2016

When the season began, #6 Maryland and #12 Michigan State were seen as the Big Ten favorites. While it is still possible for those squads to take home the conference title, those are not the two teams who sit at 7-0 and atop the current Big Ten standings. #3 Iowa moved its league record to 7-0 this past week with wins over Rutgers and #22 Purdue. The win over the Boilermakers was especially impressive as it clinched a season sweep for the Hawkeyes. It is only late January, yet Iowa already owns season sweeps over both Michigan State and Purdue. #18 Indiana was seen as an afterthought after a tough start to the season, but the Hoosiers haven’t lost since Dec. 2. Tom Crean’s squad moved to 7-0 in the Big Ten this past week with dominating home victories over Illinois and Northwestern. Indiana has a good chance to move its league record to 9-0 this week, as it figures to be solid favorites in a visit to Wisconsin on Tuesday and when Minnesota comes to Bloomington on Saturday. While the hot starts by Iowa and Indiana are certainly noteworthy, we know by now that league titles are not won in January. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

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Big Ten M5: 01.20.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 20th, 2016

morning5_bigten

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