Sorting Through the Big Ten’s Murky Middle

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 17th, 2014

There have been 142 non-conference games involving Big Ten teams thus far, and yet it can be reasonably argued that we really don’t know much more than we did before the games tipped off on November 14. What we do know is that Wisconsin is still the clear-cut favorite and Rutgers will probably struggle to stay out of the league basement. That means that the other 12 teams are still clustered together into a large pack. Some have bigger wins than others; some have better offenses than others; while some have a marquee player who can get hot and carry them for a while. This exercise is meant to rank those other teams based on a number of different categories to see which is performing as the best and worst of the bunch right now . I’m no math major, so I simply took a look at twelve key categories and ranked each team accordingly. Some are subjective, some are objective, and it’s by no means perfect. But the categories on which I ranked each team are as follows:

Denzel Valentine is leading an efficient Michigan State offense in scoring so far. (Getty)

Denzel Valentine is leading an efficient Michigan State offense in scoring so far. (Getty)

  • Best Win
  • Worst Loss
  • Point Differential in home games against teams ranked #150 or above
  • Eye Test
  • Schedule Strength
  • Best Player
  • Offensive Efficiency
  • Defensive Efficiency
  • Assist Rate
  • Turnovers
  • Rebounding
  • Three Point Shooting

After crunching the numbers, here are the results.

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Big Ten M5: 12.17.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 17th, 2014

 

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan has struggled more than people thought coming off of a National Championship game appearance and an Elite Eight run in the last two seasons. One of the reasons for this season’s struggles has been the loss of key inside players Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. “Morford,” as the duo was nicknamed throughout Big Ten telecasts a year ago may have not been flashy, but they were consistent and did a good job defensively down low. The season is not a lost one yet for the Wolverines, but things will have to get much better on the defensive end of the floor with freshmen Marc Donnal and Ricky Doyle for this unit to even sniff the postseason success they have had recently.
  2. Michigan State plays four games in the next nine days, and they will look to avoid falling prey to an Eastern Michigan team that knocked off state-rival Michigan recently. How the Spartans attack Eastern’s 2-3 zone is just one of the interesting subplots to monitor in the coming days for Sparty. Freshman Javon Bess should make his debut tonight, which will give Tom Izzo some different looks as far as how he can set his rotation.
  3. Ohio State will get tested Saturday when they play North Carolina in Chicago. They have to play North Carolina A&T first on Wednesday, but playing on a neutral floor will be the last real test the team gets in non-conference play against a quality opponent. It will be worth noting whether the Buckeyes can handle a big team that makes its living on the offensive glass, especially since Marcus Paige has been struggling to shoot the ball. Amir Williams and Trey McDonald will have to have good days on the boards for Ohio State to prevail.
  4. Illinois already has more non-conference losses than they did last season, and Saturday’s loss to Oregon at the United Center in Chicago wasn’t exactly their best performance. Should Illini fans really be worried that this team might be destined for another NIT berth? Some disturbing trends from the loss to the Ducks were the fact that Rayvonte Rice had to resort to carrying the offense like he did for a good chunk of 2013-14, and the fact that Oregon was able to score in the paint seemingly at will. Losses to Villanova and Miami (Florida) weren’t bad losses from a resume perspective, but there were signs in those losses as well that this team might struggle later on. Illinois may need quite a few conference wins against Big Ten heavyweights to make the field of 68 for the second time in John Groce‘s tenure.
  5. Joe Lunardi hasn’t released anything yet, but Jerry Palm of CBS has seven Big Ten teams currently in his NCAA Tournament field. One surprise would have to be Penn State coming in as a number ten seed. Despite their 10-1 record, the Nittany Lions only win against a team projected to be in the field was against George Washington. It’s also worth noting that Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, and Purdue were left out of the field at this time. This saga will be an ongoing one all season, with the national perception of the league not nearly being as strong as it has been in recent seasons. The wins that would have carried more weight in the last couple of years might not mean as much as 2014 turns to 2015.
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Big Ten Sophomore Spotlight: Illinois’ Malcolm Hill

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 11th, 2014

Many sophomores in the Big Ten have a significantly greater role this season than they did as freshmen. That is to be expected, of course, as the second year is often when players make their biggest strides in development. Some highly-recruited guys, however, continue to disappoint, while others who may not have been so highly regarded have by now become viable contributors for their teams. This series of posts is meant to check in on a few of the different sophomores in the league to determine whether they’ve improved in their first year-plus and what it means for their teams going forward. First, here’s a look at Illinois sophomore Malcolm Hill.

Malcolm Hill has shined in an expanded role for Illinois this season.(Mark Jones, Illinois Athletics)

Malcolm Hill has shined in an expanded role for Illinois this season.(Mark Jones, Illinois Athletics)

  • 2013-14: 4.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 38.3% FG, 34.1% 3FG, 77.0% FT, 14.1 MPG, 19.8% usage, 99.4 Offensive Rating
  • 2014-15: 14.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 54.8% FG, 43.8$ 3FG, 71.1% FT, 25.4 MPG, 26.3% usage, 120.1 Offensive Rating

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Battle of Unbeatens: Key Questions in Illinois vs. Miami

Posted by Brendan Brody and Lathan Wells on December 2nd, 2014

As the ACC and the Big Ten teams get together on the hardwood this week, the ACC and Big Ten microsites (Brendan Brody and Lathan Wells, specifically) have also decided to team up to break down some of the key questions for a few of the games. What follows is a look at tonight’s Top 25 battle between two unbeatens: the 6-0 Illini and the 7-0 Hurricanes.

Brendan Brody: After a mediocre 17-16 mark last year, Miami is back in the Top 25 with Big 12 transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) deservedly getting most of the credit. Let’s talk about how other key players like Tonyi Jekiri and Manu Lecomte have also had an impact, and how they will affect the outcome of this game.

Tonye Jekiri has been a defensive force so far for Miami. (Gerry Broome, AP)

Tonye Jekiri has been a defensive force so far for Miami. (Gerry Broome, AP)

Lathan Wells: Lecomte looks much more comfortable playing off the ball and allowing Rodriguez to run the show this season. The result is enormously efficient basketball, as he is averaging 13.3 PPG and shooting 56.7 percent from the field. If Rodriguez and McClellan are being stifled, he offers a third excellent perimeter scoring option. Jekiri, to his credit, has blossomed into a force around the basket, averaging just shy of 11 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. For a team relying on consistent guard and perimeter play, he has helped to keep the Hurricanes balanced. While it’s true Rodriguez and McClellan are driving Miami’s hot start, don’t be surprised if Lecomte comes up with a few key baskets or if Jekiri helps keep Miami on the plus-side of the rebounding margin. Illinois hangs its hat on defense first, but the Illini rank fifth in the country in averaging 90 points per game. How will they handle a lower scoring contest if Miami is able to slow things down?

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Big Ten M5: 12.01.14 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on December 1st, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Maryland lost Dez Wells to a fractured wrist in their win over Iowa State last week, leaving a major void in their starting lineup. The Terps struggled without Wells in their five-point victory over Monmouth, but were able to put a solid performance together on Sunday in a 95-77 victory over VMI. Graduate transfer Richaud Pack dropped 22 points and while junior Jake Layman and freshmen Dion Wiley and Melo Trimble picked up 19. The thing Maryland will miss the most from Wells is his leadership on the court – at one point in time, Maryland played a lineup entirely made up of players in their first year as Terrapins. Maryland’s youth will be tested soon as they’ve got a date with No. 8 Virginia on Wednesday, and the Cavaliers are a veteran-laden crew with their top five players being juniors or seniors.
  2. Michigan State fell to Kansas in the Orlando Classic title game on Sunday and their depth was tested as the Spartans ran into foul trouble very early on in the matchup. Head coach Tom Izzo was forced to insert a current walk-on and a former walk-on into his lineup, allowing Kansas’ Cliff Alexander to feast on the inexperienced Spartans in the post. Michigan State played 4 games in 6 days and Branden Dawson played with flu-like symptoms throughout the week, and the Spartan’s turn around quickly as they face Notre Dame on Wednesday.
  3. Illinois had a great Thanksgiving week, capping it off with a win over Baylor in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational on Saturday. Rayvonte Rice earned tournament MVP honors while Malcolm Hill and Nnanna Egwu joined Rice on the all-tournament team. The win over the Bears was huge for the confidence of Hill, who has made tremendous strides since his freshman season. Illinois faces stiffer competition this week in the form of No. 17 Miami (FL) and No. 12 Villanova.
  4. Indiana’s defense is a major concern for Tom Crean as the Hoosiers prepare for a tough December schedule that puts them against Pittsburgh, Louisville, Butler, and Georgetown. Indiana gave up 98 total points in the paint versus Eastern Washington and Lamar – not exactly college basketball powerhouses. Those types of interior issues should make their opponents mouths water, especially after Indiana struggled with UNC-Greensboro on Friday. The Hoosiers ranked 150th in Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency rating (98.6), and that number has to improve quickly before they start playing the big boys.
  5. Purdue closed its appearance at the Maui Invitational with a two-point victory over BYU by the hands of J. Hammons, who connected on a game-winning hook shot in overtime. The Boilermakers are 5-1 and are set to face undefeated N.C. State on Tuesday. Nathan Baird highlighted five early season trends that have led to Purdue’s successful start – including the Boilermaker’s impressive use of length and freshman Vince Edwards stellar play.
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Introducing the RTC All-Big Ten Third Team

Posted by Eric Clark on November 12th, 2014

College basketball makes its return on Friday, and the Big Ten microsite’s writing crew has come together and formally voted on their preseason All-Big Ten teams. Having already released our pick for Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, we’ll release the rest of our preseason projections later this week.

RTC All-Big Ten Third Team

Shavon Shields, junior, Nebraska 6’7”, 221 lbs. (12.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 44.3% FG). Terran Petteway is the obvious catalyst for the Huskers, but Shields, a Big Ten honorable mention selection last year, will be his primary sidekick. Standing at 6’7”, Shields can pose significant match-up problems at the two-guard spot. The Olathe, Kansas, native ranked 11th in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding last season, pulling down over four caroms per game while leading Nebraska with 5.8 boards per game. His ability to get to the basket is what makes him truly indispensible, while all his work on the boards from the wing positions are gravy.

Shavon Shields Leads the RTC Big Ten Preseason Third Team  (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Shavon Shields Leads the RTC Big Ten Preseason Third Team (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Rayvonte Rice, senior, Illinois 6’4”, 230 lbs. (15.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.66 SPG). Rice made waves in his first season of play at Illinois (he redshirted the 2012-13 campaign due to NCAA transfer rules), leading the team in points and pulling down 210 rebounds, just one shy of the team high. Rice will be counted on even more this season after Tracy Abrams was lost for the season with a knee injury. If Rice can improve upon his three-point percentage (29.5%), he’ll be a far more dangerous player this season. Pairing a solid long-range game with his size, strength and overall toughness would serve the Illini well come postseason crunch time.

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Big Ten Season Grades: Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on April 18th, 2014

Continuing our season-ending analysis, we look at the performances of Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois. Earlier this week, we handed out grades for Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.

Ohio State

Grade: C-

This season (25-10, 10-8): What would be a successful season for most programs was a relative disappointment for the Buckeyes. Ohio State did not capture a Big Ten regular season or tournament title for the first time since 2008-09, and similar to that season, they were also bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in their first game. The issue for the Buckeyes – which was a clear problem area in the preseason – was generating offense without Deshaun Thomas in the lineup. Thomas’ replacement, LaQuinton Ross, almost doubled his scoring average, but the Buckeyes failed to find reliable offensive firepower anywhere else. In the end, Aaron Craft and Ohio State’s excellent showing on defense wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s offensive woes.

Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don't expect it to continue next season. (Gettyl)

Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don’t expect it to continue next season. (Getty)

Next season: The Buckeyes lose Craft, Amedeo Della Valle, Ross, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. They welcome in an elite recruiting class that includes D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, and Jae’Sean Tate; and they also will get graduate transfer Anthony Lee from Temple next year. These additions along with several talented players already on their roster should have no one worrying about the state of the program going forward. This season was merely a hiccup in the Thad Matta era.

Iowa: C

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Big Ten M5: 03.20.14 March Madness Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 20th, 2014

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  1. It is finally here. Not counting the play-in games (sorry Iowa), the NCAA Tournament is here and the Big Ten sees plenty of action. Four Big Ten teams are in action in the NCAA Tournament today. With this in mind the predictions are final and play begins, and Michigan State got a huge supporter on its already overflowing bandwagon. President Barack Obama made his picks and had the Spartans as the last team standing. With how the Spartans have played lately they have become a hot team to pick as the favorite to make it to the Final Four from its regional. The big question is if this team has finally gelled with everyone healthy. If it has, Obama and plenty of others will have made the correct pick on national champs.
  2. The Selection Committee had plenty of juicy second round (seriously, can we drop this first/second round game stuff already?) games and one certainly is Ohio State against Dayton. The instate match-up of little brother versus big brother with more than a few compelling storylines. There is the obvious state match-up implications of the major conference foe against the mid-major as Ohio State rarely schedules fellow Ohio schools (its last game against Dayton came in 2008 in the NIT). Then there is Thad Matta going against a former assistant coach in Archie Miller. Let’s also add in Dayton’s Jordan Sibert, who transferred from Ohio State. Not to mention this could be Aaron Craft‘s last collegiate basketball game. With all of this surrounding the opening game of the second round, it is plenty enough of a reason to take an extended lunch break.
  3. Bo Ryan is used to the NCAA Tournament. He’s been there plenty of times, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand its significance for Wisconsin‘s players. He makes sure to allow his guys to enjoy the moment and not just focus on the “business at hand” when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. It’s an interesting approach to hear, but also refreshing because Ryan is right. While he may go year after year, most of these players have at most four chances to make it here, so it means more to them to enjoy the atmosphere and chance to be there. Still, with its opening game against American the Badgers are focused on a team that plays a methodical style and pace. It likely helps Wisconsin having played Northwestern this year (who uses the same Princeton style offense as American), so don’t be surprised if the Badgers don’t struggle too much with this slower pace and get to enjoy the NCAA Tournament for at least one more game.
  4. Michigan certainly would love to make it back to the National Championship Game again this season. That chance starts by having to avoid the upset to a No. 15 seed in its opening round game, the same No. 15 seeds that have sprung three upsets in the past two tournaments. This is something the Wolverines are certainly aware of as they take on Wofford. It likely helps Michigan that it knows what it takes to make it back to the final and that it can’t overlook a single opponent on the way. Still, the most interesting perspective may be that the Wolverines are preaching not overlooking Wofford while using the belief they are being overlooked to the make the NCAA as motivation.
  5. While the future certainly looks bright for Illinois, that doesn’t mean the seniors want to see their careers end yet. The Fightin’ Illini got a huge game from Rayvonte Rice as they won their first round NIT game last night by coming back against Boston University. Rice dropped 28 points as he said after the game he wanted to make sure he extended seniors John and Joseph Bertrand’s careers. For a game that started terribly for Illinois as it trailed 30-13, Rice helped them respond and comeback. This extends the season at least one more game with the second round NIT date TBA against Clemson.
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Big Ten Tournament: The Future Looks Bright For Illinois

Posted by Walker Carey on March 13th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday’s first round Big Ten Tournament game between Illinois and Indiana in Indianapolis.

Both Illinois and Indiana entered Thursday afternoon’s match-up with winning the conference tournament as their only hope of earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament, so Illinois’ 64-54 victory might be viewed as a ticket to play top-seeded Michigan in the quarterfinals on Friday. While true at some level, it’s misleading at another — Illinois showed in today’s win through a variety of signs that it will once again be a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten as soon as next season. The player of the game for the Illini on Thursday afternoon was junior guard Tracy Abrams. Abrams, who entered the game averaging 10.5 points per contest, exploded for a game-high 25 points (17 of which came in the second half). The Chicago native also showcased his ability to hit big shots by nailing a huge three-pointer with 2:06 to play that increased the Illini’s lead to four and all but secured the victory, as Indiana scored just two more points over the remainder of the game.

Abrams and the Illini Appear to Have a Bright Future (B.Tse)

Abrams and the Illini Appear to Have a Bright Future (B.Tse)

While Abrams led the charge in the scoring column for Illinois, John Groce’s squad also received contributions from several other underclassmen. Junior big man Nnanna Egwu was limited offensively – he managed just two points on 1-of-8 shooting – but he found a way to impact the game in other facets by collecting seven rebounds and blocking five shots. Redshirt junior guard Rayvonte Rice added 13 points and helped key the defensive effort that forced Indiana into an 0-of-10 performance from behind the arc in the second half. Freshmen guards Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn showed a bit of why John Groce felt comfortable inserting them into the starting lineup back in early February. Hill finished Thursday’s win with eight points and four rebounds, while showcasing his outside shooting prowess by knocking down both of his three-point attempts. Nunn added 10 points to the winning effort and was primarily responsible for the outstanding defensive effort on Indiana star guard Yogi Ferrell. Ferrell finished the afternoon just 3-of-13 from the field and 2-of-9 from three.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review: Injuries Catch Up with Contenders

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 27th, 2014

It’s been enough of an ordeal for Michigan State to try to win B1G games and stay in the top five of the national polls without injured superstar Adreian Payne. The combination of Payne and Branden Dawson (broken hand) out of the lineup, coupled with a scorching hot Michigan team, led to the Spartans’ first conference loss on Saturday evening. Meanwhile Nebraska proved that it is going to be a tough out any time teams have to travel to Lincoln this season. The Cornhuskers moved to 9-1 at home with their Sunday night win over a Minnesota squad playing its first game without an injured Andre Hollins (ankle). Despite the loss, Malik Smith stepped in for Hollins and put up 29 points on 8-of-12 shooting from behind the arc. Here arethe rest of the peaks and valleys from weekend number four of Big Ten play.

Terran Petteway put up 35 points in Nebraska's upset win over Minnesota Sunday night. (AP)

Terran Petteway put up 35 points in Nebraska’s upset win over Minnesota Sunday night. (AP)

Player of the Weekend: Terran Petteway: The season Petteway is getting greatly overlooked due to Nebraska’s mediocre record. The transfer from Texas Tech has been getting buckets in a variety of ways all season long, and this was fully evident over the weekend against the Gophers. He went for a career-high 35 points, shooting 10-of-15 from the field, including 4-of-6 from three, six boards, three assists, a steal and a block. Minnesota had no answer for him, as he continually burned the Gophers from deep and by getting into the lane whenever he wanted. Nebraska has a nice core to build around for future years, and Petteway has the chance to be at the forefront of this renaissance.

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Illinois Will Continue to Slump Without More Consistent Offense

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 26th, 2014

After a 12-2 non-conference record and a 2-0 start to the conference season, Illinois was considered a likely candidate to make the postseason. However, with an offense that has sputtered to average just 0.95 points per possession in Big Ten play, it appears that the Illini don’t stand a chance against the rest of the conference. Opposing defenses have figured out John Groce’s predictable offense this season and have exposed the team’s biggest weaknesses – a lack of consistent three-point shooting and a play-maker who can create offense in the half-court. An inside scoring presence wouldn’t hurt as well, as Nnanna Egwu has regressed after a decent sophomore season.

Big Ten defenses may have figured out Rice's offensive game. (John Dixon/The News-Gazette)

Big Ten defenses may have figured out Rice’s offensive game. (John Dixon/The News-Gazette)

During the first two months of the season, Rayvonte Rice appeared to be what Illinois fans wanted Brandon Paul to become during his four years in Champaign – a freak athlete who could punish defenses in the paint with his body. In order to understand their offensive issues, let’s review Rice’s slide during the recent four-game losing streak. Against Ohio State, he couldn’t buy a shot and finished without a single point in what was a must-win game. He is good at what he does — penetrate the paint off of screens going to his right — but the same play has become predictable. Egwu and Jon Ekey have the ability to hit an open jumper, but neither is very effective in setting screens to free the ball-handler. In fact, most of the time their screening technique is so flawed that it could be considered an illegal pick. Even without an effective screen, Rice is quick enough to get around most defenders but he needs to have the option to kick out a pass to the corner if the opposing big man bites. The scouting reports have forced teams to back off and simply wait for Rice to barrel through the lane, often forcing him to put up an off-balance and low percentage floater.

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Deja Vu: John Groce’s Illini Slumping in Early January Again

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 15th, 2014

Illinois’ loss to Northwestern on Sunday night was eerily similar to a horrible stretch for the Illini last season. On January 12, 2013, John Groce’s squad was thumped in Madison by the Badgers — a 23-point loss where its offense had no answers for Bo Ryan’s defensive schemes. That was followed up by a home loss to an injury-plagued Northwestern squad, which along with a previous home loss to Minnesota, represented an early three-game losing streak in conference play. On Wednesday of last week, Groce’s offense again could not find a decent shot in Madison, losing 95-70 to the Badgers, and the team looked completely off in scoring just 15 points in the first 24 minutes of the game in Evanston. Losing to an unimpressive Wildcats squad puts the Illini in a tough spot because they are about to enter a tough seven-game stretch where they will be favored to win just one of those games — a home contest against Purdue. The Illini really needed to enter that stretch with at least three Big Ten wins and the most recent loss very well could put a dent in their ultimate postseason plans.

John Groce's Team is Slumping in Early January Again This Season (AP)

John Groce’s Team is Slumping in Early January Again This Season (AP)

According to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, the Illini have a 73 percent chance of beating Purdue tonight. But the next few games include match-ups against Michigan State, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin. And their “winnable” game after that stretch is a road game against Penn State in Happy Valley — not necessarily a guaranteed win, either. Extrapolating over the next few weeks, the Illini could easily end up with 3-7 league record by February 9, with a must-win game coming against the Nittany Lions to salvage their season. They were in a similar spot a year ago, but were able to dig themselves out with a home buzzer-beater against Indiana and a tough win over Minnesota on the road (thanks largely to D.J. Richardson’s scorching shot). Is there a reason to panic yet in Champaign? Absolutely. It is troubling that Rice felt no sense of urgency over the first 20 minutes of the game in Evanston, as he was held to zero shots from the field. When he was able to eventually find his offense, he forgot to play defense by letting the Wildcats’ Tre Demps hit a couple of wide-open shots from beyond the arc. Not to pick on Rice, but as the best offensive player on the team, he needs to set the tone by driving to the basket and assuming a leadership role over the next few weeks if the Illini hope to win road games at Indiana or Penn State.

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