Levy’s B1G Layup Line: Week 6

Posted by Adam Levy on December 25th, 2015

Christmas is here, and I’m ecstatic to provide you the ever-popular gift of reading material in the form of the Week 6 Layup Line! It was an excellent week of college hoops with only four Big Ten teams recording a loss, thus (almost) concluding the non-conference slate. Next time you visit, conference play will have begun, and we’ll all be better for it. CAN’T WAIT.

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals… and a Happy Layup Line!

REPORT CARD

A: Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State Undressed Kentucky Last Saturday (USA Today Images)

Ohio State Undressed Kentucky Last Saturday (USA Today Images)

After getting blasted on the report card multiple times this season, Thad Matta decided he’d had enough and whipped his students into shape. The result? A convincing win over fourth-ranked Kentucky in Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon that featured everyone in the rotation scoring between six and 14 points. In a two-week span, Ohio State has jumped from 78th to 29th in defensive efficiency, thanks in part to its two shot-blocking machines, Trevor Thompson and Daniel Giddens. At least one of those two rim protectors have been on the court for 97.2% of the past five games. Opponents are beginning to be cautious as they work to get shots off inside the perimeter, as evidenced by Ohio State’s 40.6% opponent two-point field goal percentage (17th in country). What seemed like a lost cause for the first month of the season is now a borderline defensive juggernaut as it heads into conference play next Wednesday. This young Buckeyes team still has a lot of work to do, but beating Kentucky is a huge step in the right direction.

B: Indiana Hoosiers

It’s bizarro week this week, as another team that has gotten blasted in this space multiple times this season has finally earned itself some praise. Indiana was as desperate as any team, in the Big Ten or elsewhere, for a quality non-conference win, and Notre Dame was its only hope of getting one. By now, everyone is familiar with the Hoosiers’ defensive woes, but throughout the final 15 minutes, Indiana looked like Syracuse South as Tom Crean employed a shockingly stingy 2-3 zone that took Notre Dame out of its offensive rhythm. The Irish managed to score on only five of 16 possessions against the zone – good for a measly 10 points.

For the first time since the Victor Oladipo days, Indiana’s defense actually fueled its offense, pushing the Hoosiers over the hump in the gutsy 16-point comeback victory. Troy Williams, who has struggled with decision-making all season (four+ turnovers in seven games; 17 turnovers committed in past four games), actually played fantastic down the stretch. He finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and three steals. Whether a Tom Crean-coached team can take this kind of momentum — and defense — into Big Ten play remains to be seen, but there’s no doubting that this was the biggest win for the Hoosiers since their beat down of Maryland last January.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Purdue’s First Loss: To Panic or Not?

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 21st, 2015

After dropping a 74-68 game to Butler over the weekend, Purdue is no longer unbeaten. Even though the Boilermakers were thoroughly outplayed by the Bulldogs in the nightcap of the Champions Classic, they still sit with a record of 11-1 and aspirations for a Big Ten title and a protected seed on Selection Sunday. Are those dreams of glory well-founded? Is the loss to Butler a red flag or simply a one-game aberration for an efficiency darling still destined for a successful season? A legitimate case can be made for either option.

Despite Problems With Turnovers, Caleb Swanigan is a Budding Superstar. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

A couple things should be worrisome for head coach Matt Painter as his team finishes non-conference play. Much like the Purdue teams of recent vintage, the Boilermakers struggled on the offensive end of the floor against Butler (0.94 points per possession). The opponent certainly deserves some credit for its poor first-half shooting (35.5%), but numerous easy shots were missed and overall shot selection was poor. Isaac Haas (four points) and AJ Hammons (12 points) got the ball more often down low in the second half, and this team needs to play inside-out in order to be successful.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten M5: 12.07.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 7th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Newcomers have made a huge impact this season for Ohio State. Freshmen have accounted for 37.9 percent of the team’s total minutes played and 29.4 percent of the team’s total scoring. One prominent freshman hasn’t yet made his way onto the court, though, as Mickey Mitchell is still waiting to be cleared by the NCAA. Mitchell is allowed to practice, but the Buckeyes are “just sort of waiting it out,” according to coach Thad Matta. Ohio State is off to a disappointing 3-4 start, and they could definitely use the services of another wing to complement Marc Loving and Keita Bates-Diop.
  2. Better communication and a more focused effort were two keys in Indiana’s defensive improvement in their win Saturday against Morehead State. After getting embarrassed by Duke last Wednesday, the Hoosiers were able to force 23 turnovers in winning 92-59. The question going forward is whether the defensive uptick is sustainable. Indiana stuck mostly to man-to-man is this game, and the aggressiveness could be seen in the fact that the team logged 62 deflections. Everyone knows that this team can score at will when they don’t turn the ball over, but if they can get things clicking on the other end of the floor, they have a chance to become the team many expected when the season started.
  3. On a day when Purdue’s high-scoring offense wasn’t at its best, senior graduate transfer Johnny Hill made an impact off the bench in Saturday’s win over New Mexico. The guard scored 13 points, but his biggest impact came on the defensive end of the floor. He ended up with three steals, but also caused two turnovers in the second half that went a long way toward swinging the momentum in the favor of the Boilermakers. Hill lost his starting job to PJ Thompson, but much like Jon Octeus last season, has come in and been a difference maker thus far in the beginning stages of the season.
  4. Wisconsin put together a nice week in beating Syracuse on Wednesday and Temple on Saturday. The Badgers have four freshmen in their rotation, and each came through in different ways against the Owls. Charlie Thomas and Alex Illikainen both were key parts of a 19-2 run in the first half that put the Badgers up by 18 points. Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson have both also had their moments as they get more comfortable. After not looking so great in losing to Oklahoma, the Badgers look to be improving as non-conference play is coming to an end. The improvement of the freshmen heading into Big Ten play will be crucial if the Badgers want to finish in the running for the conference title.
  5. With Derrick Walton Jr missing in action due to a sprained ankle, Spike Albrecht had to play a bit more than usual for Michigan on Saturday. The senior playmaker is still trying to get back to full strength after having hip surgery after last season. Albrecht is slowly rounding back into form, although it may take longer for him to return to the lineup. Both he and coach John Beilein are pointing to the start of Big Ten play as the marker. With Walton’s health always a concern, this would be a welcome development for the Wolverines.
Share this story

Levy’s B1G Layup Line: Week Two

Posted by Adam Levy on November 27th, 2015

We’re back for Week 2 of Levy’s B1G Layup Line and boy, what a week it was. A lot of tournaments, a lot of turkey, too much family and somehow too little basketball. If you feel you were cheated by a new, terrible stuffing recipe like I was, cheer up. At least you have all of the Big Ten stuffing you need right in front of you. Let’s get right to it and carve up the week that was.

REPORT CARD

A: Purdue Boilermakers

Matt Painter's Team Hasn't Gotten a Lot of Attention Yet (USAT Images)

Matt Painter’s Team Hasn’t Gotten a Lot of Attention Yet (USAT Images)

Purdue is good. Like really, really good. Coming into the season, everyone knew about their scary frontcourt and, thus far, it has probably exceeded expectations. It’s the performance of the backcourt, however, that is taking the college landscape by storm and led to a beat down of Florida in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off championship. Sophomore point guard P.J. Thompson took home the fictional MVP award after his 15-5-4-2 line in that game, boosting his offensive rating to 155.5 – good for 17th best in the country. Thompson also has yet to turn the ball over in any game this season and owns a 12-to-0 assist to turnover ratio so far – a crazy feat in its own right. P.J. Thompson: #RememberTheName.

Outside of a rare bad game against Old Dominion, reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Raphael Davis has been his usual great self, leading the way with unfathomable shooting splits (53.8% FG, 46.2% 3PT, 90.9% FT). Those numbers are clearly unsustainable, but it’s obvious that the senior leader is on a mission to prove something in his final season in West Lafayette. That something sure as hell could be shocking the world by winning a Big Ten title and making serious moves in March. This team is as balanced as any in the country. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

B: Bryant McIntosh

In three games against Columbia, North Carolina and Missouri this past week, McIntosh averaged 35.7 minutes, 19.7 points, and 5.7 assists while shooting 8-for-14 from distance and 13-for-15 from the charity stripe. It’s no coincidence that the underrated ‘Cats went 2-1 in those games and hung with one of the nation’s best in the Tar Heels for all of the first half before their athleticism simply took over. It may be a small sample size, but the sophomore point guard is looking like a legitimate All-Big Ten player with an incredibly bright future in purple. This Northwestern team has been as competitive as can be in the early going, and they’ll go as McIntosh goes. If he can continue to lead the offense by setting up his teammates (38.3% assist rate – 44th nationally) and getting to the free throw line at a consistent rate (88.2% from the line thus far), Northwestern will surprise a lot of people.

C:  AP Voters

Things that really tick me off: losing a sock during every single laundry cycle, receiving a “Call me back” voicemail, people texting “K” in response to something I’ve said, and the AP Top 25. It truly is the dumbest ranking of all time. Maryland barely held off a struggling Georgetown team at home, then needed six free throws in the last minute to beat Rider three days later? What the hell, let’s move them up a couple spots to #2 in the polls just because some other, better teams (Duke, Kansas) lost to some other, better teams (Kentucky, Michigan State). The Terps then followed up that poop fest with a crappy showing against Illinois State in the first round of the Cancun Challenge that saw them down 5 at the seven minute mark before pulling away late. I don’t care how good people think this team could be. The polls should be about who the best basketball teams are right now and, right now, outside of Rhode Island (who already lost their best player for the season), Maryland is struggling to beat every decent team they play. Sorry voters, but as I sit here stuffing my face with turkey in November, I feel comfortable saying that this is just not a top two team.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten M5: 03.11.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 11th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. After a junior season that saw him dip from a first-team all B1G performer to a third-team selection this season, Terran Petteway still has a decision to make about whether or not to declare for the NBA Draft after the season is over. Nebraska is on Spring Break March 22-30, and with him on pace to graduate in May, look for a decision after the break is over. An argument could be made that he probably should have left after last season when his stock was at its highest. But with what the Huskers were returning this season, one can’t blame the wing for wanting to come back and take Nebraska even further.
  2. Illinois has a great deal to accomplish in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, as they are essentially trying to play their way off of the bubble in trying to avoid a second consecutive season in the NIT. The Chicago Tribune’s Shannon Ryan took a look at five keys for the Illini in advance their opening game Thursday against Michigan, and to keep winning in the tournament at large. Some of the things listed included getting more out of sophomore guards Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate, and simply making shots. The Illini have a tough road ahead of them, and may need to upset Wisconsin. A win over Michigan in the second round simple might not be enough.
  3. Another looming NBA Draft decision could happen at Indiana, as junior first-team All Big Ten point guard Yogi Ferrell might have a decision to make as well. His father said that Yogi is leaning towards coming back, but some factors that could play a role in whether he does so include getting some size added to the roster in the offseason, and whether or not Tom Crean remains the coach. The Ferrell family remain some of Crean’s biggest supporters, so that’s an added variable to all the drama in Bloomington right now. Right now, the Hoosiers need to concentrate on taking care of Northwestern on Thursday, because losing that one will make their NCAA Tournament hopes faint.
  4. It’s been a game of musical chairs at the backup point guard position for Purdue this season. PJ Thompson and Bryson Scott have seemingly fallen in and out of favor with Coach Matt Painter. It was Thompson’s turn on Saturday against Illinois, and the freshman didn’t disappoint. He sparked a rally at the end of the first half with a steal and a basket, and ended things with a crucial three-pointer near the end of the proceedings. Octeus will get most of the minutes from here on out this season, but whether it’s Thompson or Scott that emerges as a starter next season is going to be one of the biggest stories that plays itself out before 2015-16.
  5. Minnesota has not had quite the season that it hoped for after finishing with a 6-12 record in conference play. Despite the fact that they’re 61st on KenPom- which is within striking distance of Big Ten bubble squads like Purdue (48), Illinois (53), and Indiana (55)- the Gophers would need a miracle finish to get into the NCAA Tournament. While bad luck played a role, the Gophers really didn’t get the production they needed from their senior class this season. Coming off of the momentum from winning the NIT last year, the senior class just simply didn’t perform many times as they lost multiple close games.
Share this story

Big Ten M5: 12.10.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 10th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan did it again Tuesday night, as the Wolverines once again fell victim to an unheralded foe at home. Eastern Michigan knocked off John Beilein’s team, 45-42, and offensive woes were the culprit in this one after issues on the defensive end caused the loss to NJIT on Saturday. Michigan shot 4-of-21 from the three-point line against EMU’s zone, and put up a pedestrian 0.70 points per possession as a result. They also turned the ball over 13 times, and now, after notching good wins against Oregon and Syracuse, Michigans has two pretty bad losses on its resume that could burn it come NCAA Tournament time.
  2. Speaking of tournaments, it was announced earlier this week that the Big Ten will hold its conference tournament in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 2018. After firmly planting its flag on the East Coast with the additions of Maryland and Rutgers this season, the league’s new foothold along the coast got much stronger with plans to hold its postseason showcase at the Mecca of college basketball. One interesting note about how things will play out is that the tourney will be held a week early to accommodate a pre-existing agreement that MSG has with the Big East. That means conference play will need to start a week earlier during the 2017-18 season in order to have the postseason tournament a week before the rest of the other power conferences.
  3. Want to find a holiday gift for the Michigan hater in your life? Look no further than the NJIT bookstore. Management of the retail outlet says that the bookstore has been “flooded” with calls from fans of Michigan State, Ohio State, and Indiana looking for some NJIT gear to poke fun at the Michigan fans in their lives. “Typically on a Monday morning we’ll come in and have four or five orders, if that many, and this Monday we had 90,” said manager Pete Maranzano. No word yet on what will happen at the Eastern Michigan bookstore on Wednesday morning.
  4. Purdue made a lineup change on Monday night by putting freshmen Isaac Haas and PJ Thompson in the starting five in place of AJ Hammons and Kendall Stephens. The move seemed to work well, as both Hammons and Stephens had productive games with the change. Hammons put up a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Stephens also produced 13 points from the bench. It remains to be seen whether head coach Matt Painter will stick with that lineup, but given Purdue’s depth, tweaking the lineup to get more out of his players remains an option should he choose to tinker for right combinations.
  5. Minnesota is down to just nine scholarship players after freshman forward Josh Martin decided to leave the program, as the athletic freshman struggled to earn minutes behind Joey King and Charles Buggs at the power forward spot. Martin was only averaging 5.4 MPG through seven games, contributing 1.3 PPG and 1.0 RPG in his little time on the floor. As Minnesota presses more than it did last season, the loss of Martin could harm its depth should King and Buggs get into foul trouble. The team has to hope that freshman Gaston Diedhiou is cleared to return in January after experiencing some problems gaining admission to the school.
Share this story

Big Ten M5: 11.05.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 5th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. By now, everyone who follows college basketball on a regular basis has probably heard about all the off-the-court chaos at Indiana. This was already going to be a challenging season in Bloomington for head coach Tom Crean, but now with these other issues plaguing his team, it could turn out to be the most difficult season of his career. The only thing right now that will likely make all the noise go away is if the Hoosiers figure out a way to overachieve on the court — Crean may need a 20-win season and an NCAA Tournament berth to keep his job. With the overall parity in this season’s Big Ten, however, this could be a significant uphill battle.
  2. Isaac Haas is the biggest name of the five-man class that Purdue brought in this season, but 5’10” point guard PJ Thompson showed in the Boilermakers’ scrimmage on Sunday that he may be ready to contribute as well. The freshman led the team in assists and steals in Purdue’s 89-52 victory over California (PA). Thompson has plenty of competition at the point guard spot with Jon Octeus and Bryson Scott also on board, but his contributions will only make the team’s depth that much stronger.
  3. Defensive intensity has long been the hallmark of Tom Izzo-coached teams, with Michigan State often playing a rugged, bruising style that led to numerous Final Four trips with him at the helm. This offseason he focused more on the offensive end of the floor, and it showed in the Spartans’ first exhibition game. His team put up 97 points in a win over The Masters — whatever that is — but it also gave up 19 points in the first eight minutes of the game, leaving the veteran coach less than impressed with his team’s effort on that end of the floor. The loss of Gary Harris to the NBA leaves Izzo without one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, so Bryn Forbes or Alvin Ellis III will have to show that they can learn to lock down the perimeter as the head coach tries to figure out his rotation.
  4. Former Iowa great Roy Marble received devastating news in August when he learned that he has terminal cancer. Marble at the time lived in Iowa, where he was seen at many Hawkeyes’ home games cheering on his son Devyn Marble over the last few years. He’s now relocated back to his hometown of Flint, Michigan, to be closer to his family. His youngest son Carlo Marble — a potential Division I football and basketball recruit — has enrolled at Sexton High School in Flint. His basketball coach there is Carlton Valentine, the father of Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Marble family and Iowa as they deal with this horrible ordeal.
  5. ESPN has been unveiling its top 100 player rankings, and their latest edition (players #11-#19) had a distinct B1G flavor to it as Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell (#17), Nebraska’s Terran Petteway (#16), Michigan State’s Branden Dawson (#15), and Michigan’s Caris LeVert (#13) made the list. Each of these players is likely to make an appearance on our own all-league teams that will be coming out in the next week. Twelve Big Ten players have been named on the countdown so far, and it’s highly likely that Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky will land in the top 10 soon.
Share this story

Big Ten M5: 10.29.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 29th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Northwestern surprised many people last season with the transformation it made halfway through conference play, leading to road wins against Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Drew Crawford was the most important player on that team, so it should be shocking to no one that head coach Chris Collins is still trying to figure out how the Wildcats are going to replace him. Two likely candidates are JerShon Cobb and freshman Vic Law. Cobb topped 20 or more points four times as a junior, while Law is one of the most gifted players coming into the program in quite a while. Northwestern has more depth than last season, but whether the Wildcats can collectively replace one of the best players in the Big Ten is worth watching.
  2. Purdue received its first Class of 2016 pledge on Tuesday, as Indianapolis Tech point guard CJ Walker chose the Boilermakers over Butler and Cincinnati. Walker won a class 4A championship as a sophomore, where he shot 51 percent from the field and averaged 3.2 assists per game. Walker should join Bryson Scott and fellow Indianapolis native PJ Thompson at the point guard spot for the 2016-17 campaign.
  3. Illinois and head coach John Groce have gotten some highly-rated players from Chicago and elsewhere in the state of Illinois. Kendrick Nunn, Jaylon Tate and Malcom Hill are three that come to mind, for example, from his first recruiting class. But one former Illini great thinks that Groce has more work to do. Deon Thomas — the school’s all-time leading scorer and the state’s Mr. Basketball in 1989 from Chicago’s Simeon High School — says that talents like Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander would have stayed home and played for Illinois in the past. He cites AAU culture as a leading factor for Chicago kids choosing to play outside the state. Groce has made some nice headway with in-state kids, but it will take a top-15 type of player from Chicago staying close to home for many Illini fans to truly believe in his recruiting abilities.
  4. Ken Pomeroy released his preseason rankings to the masses on Sunday night and the Big Ten put 13 of its 14 teams among the top 80 in the country. One theme in the ratings is how balanced and equal teams #2 through #11 in the standings could be this season. As an example of how tight things are, Michigan State comes in at second in the league and 12th nationally while Purdue is 11th in the conference but 40th nationally. Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, Minnesota and Illinois are all ranked between #32-#38 in the nation. The equality of the teams in the middle of the pack makes predicting the Big Ten race largely a guessing game, and the first set of Pomeroy numbers seem to show that, outside of Wisconsin, he feels that the rest of the league is wide open.
  5. Tis the season for lists and preseason superlatives, and the Big Ten was well represented in SBNation‘s list of the top 100 college basketball players. Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky (#8) and Michigan’s Caris LeVert (#9) both cracked the top 10 nationally, while Nebraska’s Terran Petteway (#15) and Michigan State’s Branden Dawson (#26) made it into the top 30. All told, 15 B1G players made the cut, which left the league tied for second among power conferences with the Big 12. The SEC had the most players on this list with 16, six of whom play for Kentucky alone. The post also listed 50 more players who just missed the cut, which included Penn State senior guard DJ Newbill and Wisconsin sophomore Nigel Hayes.
Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story