Five Reasons Why Michigan is For Real

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 15th, 2018

After losing three of its top four scorers from last year’s Sweet Sixteen team — including point guard Derrick Walton, Jr. — Michigan was a mystery heading into this season. An NCAA tournament bid seemed likely but debatable; a Big Ten title seemed out of the question. After upsetting Michigan State in East Lansing on Saturday and nearly toppling Purdue earlier in the week, though, expectations have changed. Now 15-4 (4-2 Big Ten) with wins over the Spartans, Texas and UCLA, Michigan — ranked higher in KenPom now than it finished last season — is in position to compete for a conference championship and a favorable seed on Selection Sunday. The Wolverines have come a long way fast, and here’s why they’re legit.

Moritz Wagner shredded the Spartans on Saturday. (UM Hoops)

  • They play defense. Michigan is playing some of its best defense in years, ranking 15th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, which — if the season ended today — would be the second-best ever under head coach John Beilein. His stingiest team wound up as the 2013 National Runner-Up. Against the Spartans over the weekend, the Wolverines fought through ball screens, rotated consistently and limited Michigan State’s looks from the three-point line (especially Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford, who attempted just three triples). Down low, the Michigan big men prevented Nick Ward (four points) from catching the ball in the deep post, where he’s been nearly unstoppable this season. Perhaps most importantly, Beilein’s group limited transition buckets and forced the Spartans to work hard in the half-court. Even while Beilein’s offense is somewhat less efficient this season, the Wolverines’ improvement on the defensive end could ultimately make them more complete.
  • They finally found a point guard. If there was any question left as to who had won Michigan’s point guard battle, it was put to rest this week. After averaging just 18 minutes per game prior to January 2, Zavier Simpson saw 30-plus minutes of action for the fourth straight game on Saturday, scoring 16 points and dishing out five assists in the win over Michigan State. In Michigan’s near-miss against Purdue on Tuesday, the sophomore scored 15 points and secured a career-high six rebounds. In both games, Beilein’s offense was firing on all cylinders. “Zavier Simpson has been key for us,” the coach said on Saturday. “He’s been able to make plays. Especially in the second half.“ Not only is Simpson playing his best basketball of the season, but he’s doing so against the best teams in the conference — if not the country. What began as a dead-even three-man race between Simpson, Ohio transfer Jaaron Simmons and freshman Eli Brooks has now become Simpson’s job to lose. And Michigan’s the better for it.

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In Search of a Big Ten Darkhorse? Look No Further Than Nebraska…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 8th, 2018

Nebraska’s 15-point trouncing of Northwestern last week was a statement win for the Huskers, and not just because it marked their first road victory of the season. It was the confidence Tim Miles’ group played with — dominating the final eight minutes of the contest — that opened eyes in both Allstate Arena and beyond. Defensively, Nebraska held the Wildcats to 0.89 points per possession on just 29.2 percent shooting; offensively, the team’s go-to playmakers came through when it counted. “I think it… solidifies our vision of what we can be. Like, ‘You know what? This is possible,’” Miles said afterward. With a roster that’s deep, experienced and chock full of high-performing transfers, what Nebraska ‘can be’ is a surprise competitor in the Big Ten this season.

Nebraska was one of just three Big Ten teams to win a game in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. (James Wooldridge, Daily Nebraskan)

  • Playmakers. The most striking difference between this year’s Nebraska team and those of recent past is the number of athletic playmakers on its roster. The infusion of several key transfers — namely Isaac Copeland (Georgetown) and James Palmer, Jr. (Miami (FL)) — has given the Huskers multiple players capable of finishing at the rim. Palmer, who leads the team with 15.6 points per game, has emerged as the team’s most dynamic offensive weapon, adept at using his length to both attack the basket (53.4% FTRate) and shoot over smaller defenders (35% 3FG). The now-healthy Copeland (12.4 PPG, 6.5 RPG) — who averaged double-figures in the Big East as a sophomore — is showing flashes of what made him a five-star recruit coming out of high school. Meanwhile, point guard Glynn Watson, Jr. (12.1 PPG) remains one of the quickest players in the league, his ability to penetrate at will enabling the Huskers to pull away from Northwestern last week. Miles, discussing the importance of guys like Palmer, Copeland and Watson, put it simply: “We’ve got more guys that can make plays.”

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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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Five Key Big Ten Takeaways From a Dreadful ACC Challenge Week

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 1st, 2017

This year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge was a wake-up call for the Big Ten, as the conference dropped 11 of the 14 contests, including five losses by more than 10 points. Its 3-11 mark represents the league’s worst record, by far, in the event’s 19-year year history. And while it’s only fair to judge a conference so much based on a single set of match-ups in November, there’s still reason to worry. Let’s examine a few of the most glaring takeaways, both good and bad, from the four-day drubbing.

Maryland’s loss at Syracuse was one of many for the Big Ten. (Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)

  • The “best of the rest” might not be so great. Michigan State and Purdue were pegged #1 and #2 in the Big Ten preseason media poll, and both took care of business this week. The Spartans knocked off their second-straight top-10 ACC opponent, while the Boilermakers used a crowd-fueled second-half surge to defeat #17 Louisville. As for the remaining “upper echelon” squads? The ACC/Big Ten Challenge did not go very well. Preseason #3 Minnesotashorthanded, to be sure — lost at home to Miami (FL), unable to keep big man Dewan Huell (23 points) and the Hurricane guards from carving them up on the pick-and-roll. Northwestern, picked fourth, mustered just 0.88 points per possession in a buzzer-beating loss at Georgia Tech. Michigan and Wisconsin were soundly defeated on the road against North Carolina and Virginia, respectively, while Maryland — just three days after losing to St. Bonaventure — fell at Syracuse. While one could simply blame the bulk of these losses on bad match-ups, that would be ignoring the fact that several of these programs were unknown quantities heading into the season. The Terps lost Melo Trimble to the pros; Wisconsin and Michigan each lost three of their top four scorers to graduation; Northwestern hasn’t finished among the top four of the Big Ten since 1968. This week’s results may be nothing more than a few bad match-ups playing out in the ACC’s favor; then again, they may also be indicative of Big Ten that is not quite as deep — or simply as good — as some expected. At the very least, the one-sided outcome could do lasting damage to the conference’s seeding profile come Selection Sunday.

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Preaching Patience With Louisville and David Padgett

Posted by Chris Hatfield on November 30th, 2017

In the blink of an eye — 48 hours, can be a long blink, right?– David Padgett went from the “tall guy” on the coaching staff to the head coach of one of the premier jobs in all of college basketball. The quickness with which Padgett was thrown into the role perhaps became most apparent on Tuesday night this week, when Louisville lost at Purdue, 66-57, in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It was apparent in the sense that Louisville was bound to fail in the defining moments of the game — or maybe Padgett was. It represented the first time he was forced to make decisions in a hostile road environment. It was the first time he had to deal with significant foul trouble from his players. It was the first time he had to truly own the role of the head coach at the University of Louisville. He handled it all very well. There were things that could have gone differently, too. Still, an opportunity to learn on the fly needed to happen and a scenario where that learning ended in victory seemed impossible. This is life for the Louisville program after Rick Pitino: plenty of talent to make some noise this season with an equal number of reasons to fail to capitalize on it.

Louisville Fought Hard at Purdue But Came Up Just Short (USA Today Images)

Full disclosure: I walked into Mackey Arena expecting Louisville to get blown off the floor. That feeling was compounded when Padgett played a host of disoriented-looking freshmen during critical stretches. Instead, a few different bounces could have put the Cards in position to win the game. Still, the notion that Louisville is an above-average team with a sky-high ceiling wouldn’t dissipate. Its schedule to date has been weak (254th nationally), and Padgett’s team has failed to put together a full 40 minutes in all but one game (Southern Illinois). Luckily there is enough talent for the Cardinals to make expansive strides from now to March. Their performance at Purdue has already shown that they will be prepared in hostile environments, but the next step in that process will be about execution. Forthcoming match-ups against Seton Hall, Memphis and Kentucky in December will provide further evidence on how far Louisville has to go. Padgett welcomes the pressure and thinks those strides will be made. “It’s going to hurt. It should hurt. But I told our guys if you give me that kind of intensity and effort every night, we have a chance to be a special team.”

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The 2017-18 RTC16: Week One

Posted by Walker Carey on November 20th, 2017

The first few weeks of the college basketball season are normally characterized by quality teams distinguishing themselves as teams to watch the rest of the season. #13 Texas A&M acquitted itself as just such a a team with its dominating opening night victory over West Virginia. The most impressive aspect of the Aggies’ big win was it came without the services of standout sophomore Robert Williams — suspended for the first two games of the season. With Williams set to return for today’s game against Oklahoma State, it is safe to assume A&M’s hot start is poised to continue. #8 Purdue proved it deserves some early season attention by securing an impressive road victory last Tuesday against a solid Marquette squad. The Boilermakers will have a chance to further distinguish themselves this week, as they are in the same Battle 4 Atlantis field as both #2 Arizona and #5 Villanova. With Feast Week now upon us, you can expect more teams will begin to showcase the traits necessary to become a team to watch for the balance of the season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty analysis is after the jump…

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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Big Ten First Impressions: Purdue Very Much a Title Contender; Indiana, Not So Much…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 17th, 2017

With a full week of Big Ten basketball already under our belts, let’s assess some of the strongest first impressions from around the league — for better or worse.

Issac Haas and the Boilermakers have looked excellent in the earlygoing. (AP)

  • It’s not a “hot take” to suggest Purdue can win the league. Michigan State was the unanimous pick to win the Big Ten this season, and for good reason — the Spartans are loaded, and Miles Bridges might be the best player in college hoops. But Purdue is also very good, and early returns suggest it may have been seriously undervalued in the preseason polls. After scoring 1.38 and 1.42 points per possessions against SIU-Edwardsville and Chicago State, respectively, last week, the Boilermakers handled Marquette in Milwaukee on Wednesday night, 86-71, as part of the Gavitt Tip-Off Games. The most impressive aspect of the win wasn’t so much the 15-point margin as it was Purdue’s ability to shrug off the Golden Eagles’ patented three-point surges, time and again answering the home team’s offensive spurts with flawless execution of its own. Matt Painter’s group was especially great in the half-court, working much of its offense through center Isaac Haas; the senior finished with 22 points in 20 minutes, using a whopping 44 percent of the possessions while he was on the floor. What’s more, the emergence of 7’3″ Dutch freshman Matt Haarms — who is averaging 19 minutes, nine points, and nearly three blocks per game — suggest that Painter has someone who can consistently (and productively) spell Haas when he sits. The scariest part? Purdue’s usually-excellent three-point shooting was lackluster against Marquette (4-of-12 3FG). Instead, the Boilers thrived on key defensive stops (like this Carsen Edwards’ chase-down block) and outstanding interior ball movement. On nights when Vincent Edwards, Carsen Edwards, Dakota Mathias and PJ Thompson make it rain from the perimeter — like they did in the team’s first two games (combined 19-of-36 3FG) — Purdue will be nearly impossible to beat. Experienced, balanced, and offensively dominant when Haas plays like he did on Wednesday, Purdue has all the pieces to compete neck and neck with Michigan State in the Big Ten this season.

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Big Ten Preview Part VI: Key Questions For Northwestern & Purdue

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 8th, 2017

With the season just a few days 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 Wisconsin and Michigan.

#4 Northwestern – Can the Wildcats’ offense take another step forward?

Chris Collins hopes to improve on last season’s historic campaign. (Getty Images)

Here’s what we know about Northwestern heading into 2017-18: it’s experienced, well-coached and should be darn stingy on defense. What we don’t know is whether the Wildcats, fresh off their first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history, can improve enough offensively to become the top-tier Big Ten contender everyone expects them to be. But there is reason to expect an upswing in production. Already one of the least turnover-prone units in the country (16% TO rate), Northwestern welcomes back the Big Ten’s most experienced — and productive — starting backcourt in Bryant McIntosh (14.8 PPG, 5.2 APG) and Scottie Lindsey (14.1 PPG), a pair of preseason all-conference honorees. While neither is a great outside shooter, both players are very effective from inside the arc and at the free throw line (87% FT and 84% FT, respectively). What’s more, 6’8″ forward Aaron Falzon returns this season after missing most of 2016-17 to knee surgery. His three-point shooting ability (35.5% 3FG) alongside Vic Law (12.3 PPG) — the team’s best returning perimeter shooter, defender and overall athlete — should give head coach Chris Collins plenty of depth and versatility at the wing position. Throw in one of the league’s top offensive rebounders in Dererk Pardon (12.1% OReb rate) and you’re suddenly looking at a roster that can stretch the floor, limits miscues, maximizes its opportunities to score, and makes the most of its trips to the free throw line. In other words, you’re looking at all the makings of an efficient offense. After scoring less than a point per possession in eight of their 12 losses a year ago, the Wildcats need to realize that potential this year if they’re to truly compete for a league title.

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Where 2017-18 Happens: Reason #28 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 14th, 2017

As RTC heads into its 11th season covering college hoops, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish the games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Friday, November 10. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#28 – Where Biggie Smalls Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 preseasons.

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Four Big Ten Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 27th, 2017

Now that the 2016-17 college basketball season has been put to bed, it’s time for hoopheads to peer into the future and prepare for the 2017-18 season. There is a fair amount of intrigue attached to how the Big Ten will look next season, so here’s a quick look at the biggest stories to consider within the league over the next several months.

The draft decision of Miles Bridges set the bar for the 2017-18 Big Ten championship. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • The Return of Miles Bridges: Michigan State’s uber-talented forward decided to stay in school for his sophomore season, making the Spartans the clear favorite to win the Big Ten and enter next season ranked among the nation’s top five. Plenty of solid pieces were already slated to return to East Lansing next season — sophomores Nick Ward, Cassius Winston, and Joshua Langford — but having the future lottery pick back means Tom Izzo is smiling this offseason.

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