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 VII: Key Questions for Minnesota & Michigan State

Posted by Chris Hatfield on November 10th, 2017

With the season almost here, Rush the Court’s Big Ten preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we address Minnesota and Michigan State.

#2 Minnesota – How will Richard Pitino handle elevated expectations?

Was Richard Pitino really on the hot seat last year? Maybe. After coming off an eight-win season the year prior, there was certainly pressure to be better. Just how much better is difficult to quantify, but it’s in the rear-view mirror now. The Gophers were improved, much improved last season, notching a 24-10 overall record (11-7 Big Ten) despite ending the season on a sour note with a First Round NCAA Tournament loss to Middle Tennessee State. Things are different now. Minnesota was picked to finish third in the Big Ten this preseason, is ranked 15th in the USA Today/Coaches Poll, and you would have to think making it past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is a reasonable expectation.

Amir Coffey has the chance to be special. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

Guard Amir Coffey — arguably the catalyst of the offense for the Gophers last year — could be the star. As a first-year starter, he ranked second on the team in scoring at 12.2 points per game while leading the team with a true shooting percentage of 55 percent. You would expect him to take another step forward this year. If that leap includes getting more shots right around the basket, that would be huge benefit for a Minnesota team that finished 77th in adjusted offensive efficiency last season. Freshman Isaiah Whitehead will join the fold and figures to impact things immediately as well. He’s a first-year talent the likes of which hasn’t been around Minneapolis for some time. Senior guard Nate Mason was voted preseason all Big-Ten along with inclusion on the Bob Cousy preseason watch list. All the pieces are in place for Pitino this season, but it will be for naught if Minnesota cannot adapt to the unfamiliar role of favorite. The head coach’s challenge will be ensuring that the Gophers are not overlooking teams and losing games they shouldn’t. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #12 Middle Tennessee 81, #5 Minnesota 72

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 16th, 2017

Middle Tennessee proved that last year was not a fluke in knocking off a higher-seeded Big Ten team for the second consecutive year. The Blue Raiders enjoyed a balanced attack with four players scoring in double-figures. Minnesota made a nice second half run to cut the lead to four points before Middle Tennessee eventually pulled away.

Middle Tennessee Beat a Big Ten Team in the First Round for the Second Year in a Row (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways. 

  1. Foul trouble and a lack of depth killed Minnesota. It’s apparent at this point for anyone that Minnesota center Reggie Lynch is an elite shot blocker who is the reason why this team performed so well in a multitude of defensive categories this year. If Lynch picks up quick early fouls, Gophers’ defense becomes merely adequate. Lynch, Jordan Murphy and Eric Curry all had three fouls, so multiply this effect threefold. There was little defensive aggressiveness on the Minnesota side for the rest of the game, and therefore no comeback.
  2. Middle Tennessee can make the Sweet Sixteen. This was not a fluke result by any stretch of the imagination. The Blue Raiders were athletic, smart and tough in a game against a power conference team that didn’t play that poorly. They aggressively attacked the rim and got mostly whatever they wanted over the last 17 minutes. They looked just as good if not better than Butler earlier today, which should make for a very interesting match-up on Saturday.
  3. Minnesota will be back next year. The Gophers’ core aside from Akeem Springs is expected to return next season. A First Round NCAA Tournament loss obviously hurts now, but Richard Pitino‘s club — assuming it stays together and makes a normal level of improvement —  should be just as good, if not much better, in 2017-18.

Star of the Game. Middle Tennesseee’s Brandon Walters saved the day for the Blue Raiders in the first half with eight points and six rebounds seemingly out of nowhere, but Reggie Upshaw was dominant in the second half en route to 19 points and nine rebounds. The senior saved his best work for when Minnesota had cut the Blue Raiders lead to four with about 6:30 remaining — Upshaw went on a personal 5-0 run, scoring seven points in a row for his team and basically cementing away the victory. He was bold and aggressive all night, setting the tone throughout the game with his clutch play.

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Rushed Reactions: Michigan 84, Minnesota 77

Posted by Chris Stone on March 11th, 2017

RTC’s Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) is providing on-site coverage of the Big Ten Tournament in Washington, DC.

Moritz Wagner and Derrick Walton Jr. helped lead Michigan to the Big Ten title game. (AP)

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Good offense beats out good defense once again. With 12:17 remaining in the second half and the score tied 55-55, Michigan’s Duncan Robinson caught a pass in the left corner, took one shuffle dribble to his right, and rose up to drain a three-pointer over a pair of Minnesota defenders. Robinson’s three was significant not only because Minnesota was unable to close the gap again after it went down, but because it was the latest remainder that in college hoops, good offense beats good defense. The Gophers came into the game with a top 15 defense based on adjusted efficiency, but Michigan’s top 10 offense was simply too good in getting to its desired spots and knocking down shots when the ball got there.
  2. Derrick Walton, Jr. can help carry Michigan in March. If there’s one March mantra that always seems to come true, it’s that good guard play is imperative to a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Well, Walton could be the latest senior point guard to add his name to a long line of those who have carried their teams into the second weekend and perhaps beyond. Walton was methodical, frequently directing traffic while calling for ball screens to attack Minnesota’s defense, en route to 29 points. He made sure to let the Gophers know about it, too, by talking trash on his way back down the floor.
  3. The Wolverines’ interior defense may still prove to be a problem. For as good as Michigan’s offense can look, its defense does not. For the second straight day, the Wolverines struggled to stop a team inside the arc. Michigan frequently gave up dribble penetration that often resulted in layups or dump-off passes for easy baskets. Minnesota center Reggie Lynch also had a field day, scoring 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. Add in 15 offensive rebounds for the Gophers and it’s easy to find the thing that could doom the Wolverines in a single-elimination tournament. It just wasn’t enough today.

Star of the Game: This award pretty easily goes to Michigan’s Derrick Walton. In addition to 29 points, he added nine assists and five rebounds. As Walton shot a couple of free throws near the end of the game, one Michigan fan hollered, “That’s the best point guard in the Big Ten right there.” With Maryland at home, there was nobody left to dispute his claim.

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Amir Coffey is Leading Minnesota’s Early Resurgence

Posted by Jim Root on November 23rd, 2016

Entering this season Minnesota basketball appeared to be facing a tall task. After a dismal season in which the Gophers finished 8-23, fans were getting restless and whispers about Richard Pitino’s job security began to surface. Now, coming off their second straight win over a Power 6 school (yes, we are counting the Big East here), optimism reigns in Minneapolis. After all, Minnesota only won three games against Power 6 teams during the entirety of last year (and yes, that includes 19 Big Ten games)!  One of the biggest reasons for the Gophers’ resurgence is because of a silky-smooth lefty freshman, local boy Amir Coffey. A highly-rated recruit from Hopkins, Minnesota, Coffey has already shown the ability to score at a high level, and his performances against St. John’s and Arkansas – his best two games of the young year – indicate that he is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential.

Amir Coffey (USA Today Images)

Amir Coffey Has Already Driven Minnesota to Greater Success Than Last Year (USA Today Images)

Part of what makes Coffey’s game so impressive on the offensive end is his versatility. He has shown that he can score from all three areas of the floor (at the rim; from the midrange; from the three-point line), and it is that versatility and lethal shooting stroke that makes him such a tough individual match-up. He’s a legitimate 6’7” who can play shooting guard, which creates significant size mismatches on the perimeter. In the below frame, St. John’s Federico Mussini (just 6’2”, 170 pounds) desperately tries to front the much taller and longer Coffey, but he ends up gambling on the play and Coffey as a result finishes strong over a would-be shot-blocker:

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Big Ten Conference Preview: Rutgers, Nebraska, Minnesota, Penn State, Northwestern

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 10th, 2016

The ballots have been revealed and the results have been tabulated. Unlike another round of voting that took place this week, there isn’t as much shock value in seeing these results. We at the Big Ten microsite have voted and determined how the league will shake out this season. The first of three segments lists our bottom five teams.

14. Rutgers: There’s a new coach and correspondingly new enthusiasm at Rutgers. Eddie Jordan is gone and former Stony Brook head coach Steve Pickiell has taken over. There’s still some talent on this roster, with sophomore lead guard Corey Sanders returning along with Mike Williams on the wing. The Scarlet Knights’ biggest issue is that they need to shoot the ball much better all over the floor, ranking 282nd on three-point percentage and 311th on two-point field goals last season. Things weren’t much better defensively, but they added some size and versatility with graduate transfer CJ Gettys and the return of Deshawn Freeman. Pickiell has a great reputation for development, but this won’t be a quick rebuild in the Garden State.

Best Case Scenario: Double-figure wins

Corey Sanders is the leading returning scorer for Rutgers. (Getty).

Corey Sanders is the leading returning scorer for Rutgers. (Getty)

13. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers actually improved by three wins last season, but the program has still fallen sharply after making the NCAA Tournament in 2014. This team loses a second-team all-conference performer (Shavon Shields) as well as an honorable mention selection (Andrew White, transfer to Syracuse). They will replace some of that talent with Louisville transfer Anton Gill, but the majority of the roster aside from senior Tai Webster is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. Scoring is going to be a question mark for this team, but the defensive side doesn’t look much better (last year’s team dipped from 28th in defense efficiency in 2014-15 to 114th last season). It looks like another long season in Lincoln.

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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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