Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part I

Posted by Patrick Engel on April 6th, 2016

The college basketball season concluded Monday night with Villanova as this year’s national champion, but the Big Ten’s season ended with North Carolina’s Sweet Sixteen trouncing of Indiana back on March 25. A lot has already happened among league teams in the interim, including a coaching hire at Rutgers and a great number of transfers. Over the next few days as we close out the 2015-16 season, we’ll review a key offseason question for each Big Ten team, starting at the bottom of the conference standings.

Rutgers (7-25, 1-17 Big Ten)

Among Steve Pickiell's many tasks as Rutgers head coach will be to gain recruiting appeal in New York and New Jersey (Photo: Julio Cortez — The Associated Press).

Among Steve Pickiell’s many tasks as Rutgers head coach will be to gain recruiting appeal in New York and New Jersey (Photo: Julio Cortez — The Associated Press).

How quickly can new head coach Steve Pickiell give Rutgers some local recruiting appeal?

Steve Pickiell, who led Stony Brook to the NCAA Tournament this season and won three America East regular season title in five years, is already a known name in the greater New York area. It’s no secret that New York/New Jersey has plenty of basketball talent, and Rutgers is located in the heart of the same recruiting territory. Pickiell didn’t waste any time in accomplishing what Eddie Jordan couldn’t in three years: earning a commitment from a New Jersey high school playerMatt Bullock from prep powerhouse Roselle Catholic will play for the Scarlet Knights next season.

Pickiell has already made a home run hire, luring away Karl Hobbs from Connecticut to become his new associate head coach. His staff would be wise to make offers to a number of the area’s best players in the classes of 2018 and 2019 right away. Rutgers needs to develop good working relationships and credibility with with the region’s top high school and AAU coaches, and getting the program’s name out there now is a key element to that strategy. The school’s local perception can drastically stand to improve, so if Pickiell can snag a couple of the area’s under-recruited but well-known players in the next class, it will pay dividends in future years. Bullock, while a recruit in this year’s senior class, is a good start who fits that description.

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The RTC Big Ten Podcast: Debut Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 2nd, 2016

Welcome to the first-ever Big Ten microsite podcast! Big Ten microsite writers Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) and Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) are here to give you a quickish overview of the league at the turn. In this episode, we analyze the two first-place teams in detail, select a few others that are poised to challenge for a regular season title, discuss whether any of the teams currently outside the bubble can get back on to it, consider a few Big Ten POY candidates, and finally talk about the few coaches on the hot seat. Let us know if you enjoyed the podcast and, if so, what topics we should cover next time, at @rushtheB1G. The complete rundown is below.

  • 1:06 – 8:35 — Indiana and Iowa
  • 8:36-17:39 — Maryland and Michigan’s regular season title hopes
  • 17:40-25:59 — Ohio State and Nebraska’s chances at an at-large bid
  • 26:00-31:41 — Jarrod Uthoff and A.J. Hammons as possible Big Ten POYs
  • 31:42-47:00 — Coaches on the hot seat
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Let’s Play Big Ten Secret Santa…

Posted by Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) on December 25th, 2015

Your class, company, or family probably plays Secret Santa during the holidays. To get in the giving spirit this Christmas, we’ll play Secret Santa with the Big Ten’s 14 teams and coaches. As much fun as it would be to give Richard Pitino more hair gel or Tom Izzo some stilts, we’ll stick to practical basketball-related gifts that each Big Ten coach would be thrilled to unwrap.

Santa has a variety of interesting presents for Big Ten teams to unwrap

Santa has a variety of interesting presents for Big Ten teams to unwrap

Here are the gifts we gave each coach and team (in alphabetical order):

  • Illinois (John Groce): This is one of the easier teams to shop for: The injury bug has cursed Illinois, so it gets healthy players from Santa. The Fighting Illini are playing this season without their starting point guard (Tracy Abrams), power forward (Leron Black) and center (Mike Thorne, Jr.).
  • Indiana (Tom Crean): Another easy team to shop for. If you haven’t heard of Indiana’s horrific defensive efforts, you’ve been living under a rock. The Hoosiers gave up 70 points to Kennesaw State and 72 to Alcorn State, respectively. Those teams rank 322 and 349 in the KenPom ranks, and average 64.1 and 60.3 PPG, respectively. Crean needs to start thinking of new ways to get his players to play better defense. Santa gives him a “D-Fense” sign that he can throw at players after bad defensive efforts. Better loosen up your arm, Tom.
  • Iowa (Fran McCaffery): The Hawkeyes aren’t elite in any one area, but don’t have a lot of gaping holes. They do struggle to get to the foul line, with a 25.8 free throw rate, which ranks 337th in the nation, per KenPom. Santa gives Iowa more free throw chances, especially to Peter Jok. The junior wing is Iowa’s second-leading scorer, but has attempted just 23 free throws.
  • Maryland (Mark Turgeon): The one knock on the Terps has been turnovers. They turn it over on 20 percent of their possessions and have six players who turn the ball over at least 19 percent of their used possessions. Maryland finds sturdy handles under its tree this year.

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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.

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Big Ten M5: 12.14.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 14th, 2015

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  1. It’s hard to say that the number one team in the country is a work in progress, but Michigan State struggled in their 58-52 win over Florida on Saturday. The Spartans scored a season-low 58 points and only managed 0.95 points per possession on 37 percent shooting from the floor. Outrebounding the Gators by 11 caroms helped, but it’s worth watching whether the Spartans can win the Big Ten without getting additional scoring from other sources.
  2. Nebraska notched a hard-fought comeback win on Sunday afternoon, coming back from double-digits against a solid Rhode Island squad. The main catalyst in the rally was freshman point guard Glynn Watson, who ended the game with 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting. The Cornhuskers have three point guards that play a good amount. This makes one wonder if this game makes the “point guard of the future” crack the starting five.
  3. Minnesota stumbled for the third game in a row after losing to Oklahoma State on Saturday night. Curiously, part-time starter Charles Buggs never saw the court in the game. Coach Richard Pitino didn’t particularly clear things up after the game, saying that he “just played the guys that would help us win the game.” Buggs had been averaging 27.3 MPG so far this season. The Gophers have been struggling on the defensive end of the floor, so it could be that Pitino thinks the younger players on the roster have a higher upside on that end of the floor. Buggs has had some solid games however, so that rationale has to be called into question.
  4. One lingering question for Michigan this season has been the health of Spike Albrecht. After having two hip surgeries in the summer months, the senior struggled in his brief spells on the court this season. The health concerns became answered last Friday, as Albrecht ended his Michigan career ten games into his senior season. The guard had some tremendous moments in his first three seasons, including his memorable performance in the 2013 National Championship game against Louisville. Now the return of Derrick Walton Jr. becomes that much more important.
  5. Purdue fans got their wish on Saturday afternoon, as centers Isaac Haas and AJ Hammons played together for the first time all season. It turned out to be much ado about nothing, as the “twin towers” lineup was only on the court for a brief time. Coach Matt Painter tried the combo out briefly last season against Michigan State, but who knows if the duo will see the floor at the same time if situations call for it later on in the season.
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Minnesota’s To-Do List in Puerto Rico

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 19th, 2015

Minnesota started off its 2015-16 campaign with two home wins against UMKC and Louisiana-Monroe. In those first two victories, Richard Pitino‘s squad struggled to put together a complete effort. They led UMKC by only two at the half and allowed Louisiana-Monroe to cut a 13-point halftime lead to a single bucket before pulling away late. The competition will improve today when the Gophers begin their three-game participation in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, and it’s clear that Minnesota has some work to do in the islands. Here are three things that the team needs to figure out and improve upon during this weekend’s trip to San Juan.

Minnesota needs Nate Mason to score a bit more consistently in Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Minnesota needs Nate Mason to score a bit more consistently in Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

  1. Find Another Offensive Threat or Two: Joey King was lights-out in the two wins, averaging 21.0 points per game and scoring from all over the floor. Nate Mason and Carlos Morris have started slowly, however, as they’ve combined to shoot just 5-of-17 from behind the arc. Both of these veterans need to be able to complement King’s offensive work with some production of their own. If their shots aren’t falling, they need to get more aggressive and find some ways to the charity stripe — the duo has shot only six combined free throws on the season. It’s safe to say that Pitino’s squad has settled far too often and taken too many perimeter shots. King needs some help in the scoring column. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Big Ten Preview: The Bottom Tier (#14-#8)

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 10th, 2015

It’s almost time to get rolling, as actual games begin in three days. That means that it’s time for us here at the Big Ten microsite to unleash our preseason predictions and superlatives for the upcoming season. Keep an eye out in the next few days for our preseason all-league teams and some other preview material before the first games tip off on Friday. After careful deliberation among our group of writers, here’s how we see the standings shaking out, starting with our projected bottom half of the conference.

It could be another long season for Eddie Jordan and Rutgers in their second Big Ten season (USATSI).

It could be another long season for Eddie Jordan and Rutgers in their second Big Ten season (USATSI).

  • 14. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights started last season 10-7 before proceeding to lose their last 15 games. That team lost three of their top four scorers and only returns two starters. Corey Sanders is a nice building block for the future, but Eddie Jordan needs his freshman point guard and some of the sophomores to really improve quickly in order to move out of the basement.
  • 13. Penn State: Pat Chambers is starting to get things going on the recruiting side of things, but losing DJ Newbill and Geno Thorpe means that his backcourt is going to be a question mark all season long. The Nittany Lions have the bodies with which to bang down low, but who scores for this team at the level of Newbill?

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Big Ten M5: 02.20.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 20th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. After a miserable 0-5 start in the Big Ten, Minnesota was always a long shot to make a run at an at-large bid. Despite the terrible start, Richard Pitino’s team managed to fight back and win five of its next seven games. But the Golden Gophers’ postseason dreams effectively came to an end on Wednesday night when they suffered their worst lost of the season to Northwestern at home. For the second straight game, Minnesota let a team get hot from the perimeter as the Wildcats hit 15 three-pointers in the game. Now, at 5-9 in the conference, the Gophers are likely headed for the NIT or worse. Pitino will need to figure out what went wrong during the offseason and fix it quick as he’ll enter year three in Minnesota with no NCAA Tournament appearances.
  2. On Thursday, Purdue got its best win of the season when the Boilermakers topped its intrastate rival, Indiana, by four points in Bloomington. A.J. Hammons was tremendous in the game on both sides of the court, evidenced by his 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting and four blocks. Purdue’s guards were able to aggressively blanket Indiana’s shooters because of the rim protection Hammons provided all night. The result was that the usually deadly-from-deep Hoosiers were held to 31 percent from the three-point line and one of the best offenses in the country only managed 0.96 points per possession. While the Boilermakers are still on bubble, they finally have a signature win to counter some bad losses from earlier in the season.
  3. With 14 teams and 18 games, unbalanced schedules are a part of life in the new and super-sized Big Ten. Because of this, and the fact that rivalries are not protected for basketball, we as fans miss out on some great home-and-home battles against historic foes. Matt Brown from SBNation makes the argument that the Big Ten should forego the rotating schedule and lock in key games each and every year. It would make sense from the Big Ten’s perspective too, as these games would bring in more impressive ratings and demand better TV slots. It’s tough to argue with the logic, but the greater expansion of leagues throughout the sport has made that just short of impossible in this framework.
  4. Don’t let anyone tell you bad decisions aren’t contagious. After Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott trotted out the idea of reinstating freshmen ineligibility, the Big Ten followed suit saying it’s gauging the interests of its members about the possibility of implementing the rule once again. On Thursday, Maryland’s president, Wallace Loh, said “If they do well because they spend more time, get more academic advising … their freshman year, they’re going to graduate”. That’s quite a lot of hypocrisy to choke down from the president of a university who left their historic (and geographically sensible) conference for a more lucrative one in the Midwest. Next time Maryland flies 1,200 miles to Nebraska on a school night to play a 9:00 PM ET game, they should ask themselves if that may be negative factor for the student-athletes’ academics.
  5. Finally, on Thursday ESPN released Joe Lunardi’s newest brackets, and seven Big Ten schools are projected to make the Big Dance. Wisconsin (#2 seed), Maryland (#5), Ohio State (#7), Indiana (#7), Michigan State (#8), Iowa (#10), and Illinois (#11). Purdue is missing from the field as of right now, but this projection does not include the Boilermakers’ big win at Indiana on Thursday night. By the next time Lunardi updates his brackets, there may be eight teams in the field, which would undoubtedly make this another successful season for the league.
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Minnesota Finds Itself in the Big Ten Cellar

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 15th, 2015

Minnesota is in a bind. After a strong 11-2 showing in the non-conference schedule — with losses to only Louisville and St. John’s – the Gophers are now 0-5 in conference play after losing to Iowa on Tuesday night. In case you missed it, Minnesota came back from a 17-point deficit in the second half only to lose when DeAndre Mathieu’s game-tying layup came a tenth of a second too late. Now more than a quarter of the way through conference play, Minnesota is one of only two Big Ten teams (Penn State is the other) without a conference win; even lowly Rutgers already has two. To be fair, the rough start can partially be explained by an unfortunate schedule where three of the Gophers’ first four Big Ten games came on the road. This week’s home game against Iowa, however, marked the beginning of a seven-game series that includes five home games. Their hope was to start making up some of that lost ground during the friendly part of their schedule. That will get tougher now, as Minnesota’s offense has proved inefficient and fixing its scoring woes will need to be addressed immediately to find any hope left.

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

Minnesota needs the elite version of Andre Hollins to show up — and soon — if they want to turn their season around. (AP)

In Tuesday night’s game, Minnesota’s offense was a tale of two halves. In the first session, the Gophers were unable to find any rhythm and only managed to shoot 30 percent from the field. In the second half, however, they surged back by shooting over 62 percent from the field and putting together a 29-9 run that just fell short. But does a successful 20 minutes mean that the offense has started to click? The second-half outpouring was driven by two players – Nate Mason and Carlos Morris (37 points combined) — both of whom caught fire rather than the offense running any great sets. A major reason for the team’s offensive struggles has been inconsistency from their veteran leaders. Andre Hollins is not having an all-Big Ten senior season. He chipped in only seven points against Iowa and was a non-factor for the majority of the game. Mathieu has also been unreliable, witnessed by the fact that he went scoreless against Michigan State and only managed four points against Maryland. This duo’s scoring average has dropped by a combined 3.5 PPG from last season, and this decline in production and inconsistency from their veterans has severely and negatively impacted Minnesota’s offense. Richard Pitino, to his credit, is trying just about anything to fix the problem. He removed Morris from the starting lineup against Iowa and he responded by leading all scorers (20 points) in his first game as the sixth man. But time has run out for experimentation — if this offense can’t click during the next three weeks that are mostly at home, the Gophers will be permanently stuck in the Big Ten cellar. That’s something no one saw coming as recently as two short weeks ago.

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Minnesota Already in Rough Shape in the Big Ten Race

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 7th, 2015

Some might have considered the Ohio State vs. Minnesota game on Tuesday night an interesting match-up but not necessarily one with postseason implications. The new year has just begun. Teams have barely played 15 games, and the conference season is just picking up. So why would it matter? Well, for a Gophers’ team that hasn’t earned a quality win yet despite an 11-5 start to the season, an 0-3 beginning to Big Ten play doesn’t bode well for the future. A home win against Ohio State is exactly what the team needed, but the Gophers, despite a valiant second half comeback, just couldn’t finish it off. Here are three thoughts from the overtime thriller:

Richard Pitino's Gophers blew a golden opportunity at the Barn on Tuesday night.

Richard Pitino’s Gophers blew a golden opportunity at the Barn on Tuesday night.

  1. Credit Andre Hollins for his defense against D’Angelo Russell in the second half. Russell was on fire in the first half, scoring 25 points including 5-of-6 from beyond the arc and making Hollins look like a tired senior trying to keep up with a stud freshman. The second half, however, was a completely different story, as Hollins hit a big three-pointer in the first minute and showed that he was ready to lock down Russell by pressuring him full-court. His improved intensity allowed him to fight over the screens, bumping Russell off balance as he tried to turn the corner. This defensive tweak along with pushing him to the corners worked perfectly, as Russell was held scoreless during the rest of regulation (he finished with 27 points). If Hollins had played with half of his second half intensity from the start, the Gophers probably wouldn’t be left with with an 0-3 Big Ten record. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 01.06.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 6th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan State seemed to get its mojo back in crushing Indiana on Monday night, holding the Hoosiers to just 20 percent shooting from long distance. Inside the Hall’s Ryan Corazza attributed Indiana’s loss to a poor first-half performance that amounted to a 19-point halftime deficit. The Spartans, six days removed from a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to Maryland, were able to stifle Tom Crean’s drive-and-dish offense by locking down the paint and effectively closing out on Indiana’s gunners. In fact, Yogi Ferrell and Emmitt Holt were the only Hoosiers to make a shot in the first half while the rest of the team went 0-of-19. This is the first time all season we’ve seen such a poor offensive performance from Indiana, but the loss certainly highlights the team’s dependence on long-distance shooting. As Big Ten Powerhouse’s Scott Manning put it, Indiana will live and die by the three this year.
  2. Purdue stumbled – or rather, fell face-first – into the opening week of Big Ten play, entering last week having dropped three straight games to Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and Gardner-Webb. The Boilermakers turned things around by winning home games against Minnesota and Michigan to start conference play, but they now travel to face arguably the two hottest teams in the league on the road this week in Wisconsin and Maryland. Purdue’s success in Madison will hinge heavily on its ability to defend Frank Kaminsky, who is currently ranked first in KenPom’s Player of the Year rankings. The Wisconsin center is noticeably more mobile this year, providing Matt Painter with the dubious task of deciding to defend him with either shot-blocker extraordinare AJ Hammons or leaving him on Wisconsin’s four to better defend the paint. KenPom predicts the Badgers will win by 17 points on Wednesday.
  3. Minnesota freshman Gaston Diedhiou could make his college basketball debut tonight in the Gophers’ home Big Ten opener versus Ohio State, writes Marcus Fuller of the Pioneer Press. Diedhou, a 6’9″, 230-pounder, could help solidify Minnesota’s depth at the forward positions. After Joey King, the Gophers have gotten little to no production from reserves Charles Buggs and Bakary Konate. Citing the Senegal native’s raw offensive game, head coach Richard Pitino said that he doubts Diedhiou will have an impact against the Buckeyes, but his athleticism and rebounding skill may force Pitino’s hand if the Gophers continue to struggle down low.
  4. Michigan does not look much like the outstanding John Beilein teams of the past few years, as evidenced by their disappointing 8-6 record. The head coach is doing his best to keep the team’s struggles in perspective, though, stressing patience to fans and praising the improvement of freshman big man Ricky Doyle. That improvement hasn’t been universal among all Wolverines’ freshmen, as Aubrey Dawkins and Kameron Chatman have been very inconsistent. As it stands, Michigan fans will have to bear with Beilein’s group this year, as he’s been very open and honest about it being a relative rebuilding year with the squad – but don’t expect the slump to last much longer than one season.
  5. Iowa is off to its best start in the Big Ten since the 2002-03 season, standing at 2-0 in conference play after topping Nebraska in Iowa City last night. In the win, Aaron White scored 23 points and became Iowa’s all-time leader in made free throws, a mark currently standing at 524. Scott Dochterman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette said White’s ability to get to the free throw line has made him an all-time Hawkeyes great, but the Strongsville, Ohio, native canned an uncharacteristic three-pointer to push Iowa’s lead to seven points in the waning minutes to seal last night’s victory. Fans and media alike had hoped White would develop a better perimeter game this season, but the senior is only shooting the ball from distance at a 22.7 percent clip. That statistic won’t matter, though, if gunners Peter Jok, Jarrod Uthoff and Josh Oglesby step their games up like they did on Monday night.
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Big Ten M5: 12.29.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 29th, 2014

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  1. On Saturday, Indiana lost its final non-conference match-up to Georgetown in Madison Square Garden. In the second half, the game became a duel between two former teammates and Indianapolis natives, the Hoosiers’ Yogi Ferrell and the Hoyas’ D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Ferrell scored a team-high 27 points, including two three-pointers that helped the Hoosiers tie the game and send it to overtime. As Zach Osterman explains, there is no shame in losing to Georgetown on a neutral site — the disappointment stems from what would have been gained with a win. A win over a good Big East team would not only have given Indiana a big boost going into its conference schedule, but also earned them their first resume win and mitigated some of the stain from their bad loss to Eastern Washington. Now, the Hoosiers will have to overperform in Big Ten play in order to earn an NCAA bid.
  2. This weekend we also saw the return of Dez Wells when Maryland defeated Oakland. After missing five games with a wrist injury, Wells did not get the start but played 22 minutes, chipping in 10 points and four assists. The senior’s return adds to the momentum the Terrapins have built after going 12-1 in non-conference play. In Wells’ absence, Jake Layman has stepped up his production, emerging as a legitimate scoring option for Maryland; combine that with the standout play of freshman stud Melo Trimble and a healthy Wells and Evan Smotrycz, and Mark Turgeon now has a wealth of talent with which to develop his new rotation, shaping up Maryland to be a force in its first season in the Big Ten.
  3. The slate of Saturday games also included Minnesota’s convincing win against UNC-Wilmington. This was the Golden Gophers’ eighth victory in a row, and it caps off a nice finish to their non-conference schedule after starting 3-2 — they’re now 11-2 with losses only to Louisville and St. John’s (both in KenPom’s top 20). Richard Pitino’s pressure defense has once again been a big part of their success (defensive turnover rate of 28.0 percent, third in the country), but it’s their ability to share the ball that has really boosted the offense and overall play, as evidenced by the 66.2 percent of field goals made that come off of assists (fifth nationally). Minnesota will see if its collegial philosophy on offense will translate to a step up in competition when it starts Big Ten play Wednesday at Purdue.
  4. Now that the non-conference schedule season has wrapped up, it’s worth reviewing what has happened in the season thus far. We will have some look-back posts coming up here on the microsite, but the MaizeNBrew blog from SB Nation has compiled a pretty comprehensive version of its non-conference awards. Wisconsin was honored as the Best Team, while Northwestern shamefully beat out Rutgers to be named the Worst Team. Additionally, the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky was awarded midseason MVP, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell was Best Freshman, Maryland’s Jake Layman was Most Improved, Wisconsin/Duke was the best game of the non-conference season, Iowa over North Carolina was deemed the Best Win, and Michigan’s infamous defeat to NJIT was identified as the Worst Loss. There are many, many more awards in the article, and it serves as a good recap of the early part of the season for the Big Ten.
  5. Finally, fans have been grasping at straws to make sense of the “mushy middle”of this year’s Big Ten. It seems as if there is not much daylight between teams unless your name is Wisconsin (for good reason) or Northwestern and Rutgers (for not-so-good reasons). If you’re looking for some clarity, Jeff from the BasketballPredictions blog has updated his bracketology predictions to include Saturday’s results. His predictions and seedings reflect what he expects to occur by the end of the season. In it, he has eight Big Ten teams making the Dance: Wisconsin (#1 seed), Ohio State (#4), Maryland (#7), Illinois (#7), Iowa (#8), Michigan State (#9), Michigan (#11), and Minnesota (#12). This leaves out bubble-hopefuls Penn State (and their 12-1 record), Indiana, Nebraska and Purdue. These predictions seem to highlight how much uncertainty there is with any team’s record and/or performance in the non-conference, and that we’ll likely have a slugfest in the conference all season long for those precious NCAA Tournament bids. There are two exciting months of Big Ten play coming our way that will sort all of this out. Get excited!
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