Big Ten Conference Preview: Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 11th, 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 last of three segments lists our top four teams (the bottom tier can be found here and the middle tier can be found here).

4. Purdue: The Boilermakers enjoyed their best season since 2010-11 by winning 26 games and finishing 12-6 in conference play. They lost two All-Defensive Team members, including the Defensive Player of the Year AJ Hammons, but expectations are still high in West Lafayette. This is mainly because there just aren’t many teams nationally that can unleash a frontcourt with a trio of players as talented as Vince Edwards, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. With this trio in place, Purdue can expect the defense and interior scoring to comparable to last season. If PJ Thompson and Dakota Mathias can also consistently knock down shots from the perimeter, Purdue should equal, or surpass last season’s success.

Caleb Swanigan leads a deadly Purude frontcourt that is one of the best in the nation. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Caleb Swanigan leads a deadly Purude frontcourt that is one of the best in the nation. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Best-Case Scenario: Elite Eight

3. Michigan State: A brutal early schedule and some nagging injuries on the interior makes Sparty’s preseason ranking a little fluid, but it’s difficult to not give Tom Izzo a well-earned benefit of the doubt. A star freshman crew of Miles Bridges, Josh Langford, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward will all have to contribute early, but they have the skill sets to do so. Bridges (26.5 PPG, 4.0 BPG) in particular dominated in Michigan State’s two exhibition wins and could be a First-Team Big Ten talent. Also keep an eye on Eron Harris and Matt McQuaid. They will have to make many of the shots that Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes took last season. If Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter can return well at some point from their injuries, this will be one of the best and deepest teams in college basketball.

Best-Case Scenario: Final Four Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part IV

Posted by Patrick Engel on April 11th, 2016

In three parts over the last week, we’ve examined a key offseason question for 10 of the 14 Big Ten teams. Part I reviewed Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois; Part II featured Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern; Part III examined Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa. The fourth and final part today examines the Big Ten’s top four teams from this season: Purdue, Maryland, Michigan State and Indiana. (Note: Scout.com used for all player and class ranks).

Purdue (26-9, 12-6 Big Ten)

Dakota Mathias (31) needs to be a productive three-point shooter again for Purdue. (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

Dakota Mathias (#31) needs to be a productive three-point shooter again for Purdue. (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

Can Purdue find consistent offensive production from its guards?

The Boilermakers this season possessed one of the most productive frontcourts but one of the least productive backcourts in college basketball. P.J. Thompson boasted a 4.8-to-1 assist-turnover ratio, but the group of Dakota Mathias, Ryan Cline and Kendall Stephens (if he returns) and himself are mainly three-point shooters, none of whom attempted more than 16 percent of his shots at the rim. This group of guards shouldn’t experience much turnover outside of senior Raphael Davis and possibly Stephens, if he transfers, meaning that freshman point guard Carsen Edwards should have every chance to become the starter from day one next year. He’s not very big (5’11”, 175 pounds), but he’s aggressive, mature and a good passer. If he can play well enough to earn major minutes, he’ll mitigate one of Purdue’s clear weaknesses. Matt Painter’s frontcourt should again be a strength, assuming Vince Edwards and Caleb Swanigan return to complement Isaac Haas, whose touches should increase substantially. This team’s Big Ten ceiling, though, might depend on the readiness of its lone freshman.

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Indiana Uses Different Approach to Pick Up Quality Win

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 20th, 2015

Things were looking bleak for Indiana at the Crossroads Classic, similar to how they looked in the Hoosiers’ three previous losses this season. Sloppy and ill-timed turnovers coupled with uninterested, passive defense had put the Hoosiers in a 56-40 hole with 15:11 left on Saturday against Notre Dame. But then something strange happened. Tom Crean’s squad held the Fighting Irish to 8-of-26 shooting for the rest of the contest, using contributions from throughout its roster to pull off an impressive 80-73 comeback win. A loss in Indianapolis — its fourth against a top-100 opponent this season — would have been catastrophic, but instead the Hoosiers found a new and different approach to earn the victory. Balanced scoring, crashing the boards, and — believe it or not — solid defense carried the day, showing that it’s far to early to give up on the Hoosiers making a deep run in March.

Indiana's Comeback Win Was Cause for Celebration in Indy (USA Today Images)

Indiana’s Comeback Win Was Cause for Celebration in Indy (USA Today Images)

One of the most important things to come from yesterday’s win was that Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. only combined for 19 of Indiana’s 80 points. All nine members of the rotation played at least seven minutes, and four players scored in double-figures. Robert Johnson, Collin Hartman, and Thomas Bryant all had their moments on the offensive end, scoring several key buckets in crunch time. Meanwhile, Troy Williams got to the rim at will. This type of offensive balance is important for the role players’ confidence as Big Ten play approaches. A nine-man rotation where each player is capable of making a difference is a great deal more formidable than an attack consisting primarily of Ferrell and Blackmon taking a high volume of shots.

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Defense is the Only Thing Holding Indiana Back

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 6th, 2015

There’s not many programs out there that will be more interesting to follow this season than Indiana. For starters, Hoosiers’ head coach Tom Crean is on the hot seat. Given his team’s lofty preseason ranking (#15 in AP preseason poll) and icy relationship with a sizable portion of the Indiana fan base, the 49-year old head coach could find himself in the unemployment line in April if he fails to lead his team to an NCAA Tournament run this year. Luckily for him, Indiana is a team more than capable of doing such a thing, thanks to a high-powered offense (116.7 adjusted efficiency, ninth in the nation) that will be led by one of the best point guards in the country (Yogi Ferrell). Now entering his senior season, the two-time all-Big Ten performer looks to lead the Hoosiers back to how he found the program when he was freshman — capable of winning the Big Ten and becoming legitimate national title contenders.

Yogi Ferrell will need to improve his defense and his teammates to make a run in his senior year. (Darron Cummings, AP).

Yogi Ferrell will need to lead the Hoosiers to play better defensively if he is to make a serious run in the NCAA Tournament in his final year. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Ferrell (16.3 PPG last season) is lucky to have talented players like James Blackmon, Jr. (15.7 PPG) and Troy Williams (13.0 PPG) on his wings. The trio fuels a frenetic uptempo offense (77.4 PPG) that can score in bunches against any team, but even with the addition of five-star center Thomas Bryant to man the post, the Hoosiers won’t go anywhere next March if they don’t improve their atrocious defense. There’s no nice way to put it: Last year’s defense — ranked 214th nationally, per KenPom — was an unmitigated disaster. It was an inexcusable display of ineptitude in almost every defensive area from a power conference team, as only four other NCAA Tournament teams had a worse defensive rating last season (all were #13 seeds or higher). The table below illustrates Indiana’s woeful play on the defensive end of the court. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 01.28.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 28th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Since it was supposed to be played last night, people have probably figured out by now that the game featuring Michigan State and Rutgers was postponed due to the blizzard that decimated the northeastern part of the country over the last couple days. The game is being pushed to Thursday, which may give the Scarlet Knights some time to heal from a rash of injuries to their perimeter. Bishop Daniels is nursing a strained hip flexor, while freshman Mike Williams is dealing with a sprained ankle that will keep him out of action for up to two weeks. Whether or not Daniels plays or not, forward Junior Etou will be back in the lineup after missing a game due to a team disciplinary issue.
  2. Another freshman is dealing with an injury issue as well, although this one is a starter for a nationally ranked team. Indiana guard Robert Johnson suffered a knee injury in a rather unique fashion in Sunday’s tilt against Ohio State. Coach Tom Crean stated that the team’s fourth leading scorer still may play tonight when the Hoosiers travel to West Lafayette to face Purdue. Indiana has no chance against Purdue’s size, so it will have to bomb away from deep if they want to get a crucial road win. If Johnson can’t go, the onus will fall on Nick Zeisloft or Stanford Robinson to pick up the slack.
  3. The PurdueIndiana game will feature as big of a contrast in terms of size that will be seen this season. Purdue will try to bang away inside with behemoths Isaac Haas and AJ Hammons. Indiana will counter with a much quicker lineup featuring no player taller than 6’7″. This makes what usually is one of the better rivalries in the league even more interesting this time around. Neither team really has an answer for the strong spots of the other team. It’s worth watching as well because a Hoosier loss would give each team an identical 5-3 conference mark.
  4. The other game tonight features two desperate teams looking to string together some wins to jump up from the bottom of the league standings. Minnesota travels to Penn State, where they’ll need another effort like his 12-point, 13-rebound from Maurice Walker. He’s one of the best post players in the league, albeit in a league where there aren’t many who can punish teams offensively on the block. He doesn’t always play with the aggressiveness the Gophers need, which made his efforts Saturday a big reason why they were able to beat Illinois. Penn State has some depth on the block, but Walker has the advantage over the trio of Donovon Jack, Jordan Dickerson, and Julian Moore. If the senior can continue to dominate on the low block, Minnesota can still make some noise before March.
  5. Nebraska continued to struggle on the road, as they lost by double-digits to a depleted Michigan team Tuesday night. Coach Tim Miles was succinct in his analysis, stating that ” they outcompeted us, they outexecuted us and we didn’t show much heart.” Whether or not the team was overconfident in seeing that Derrick Walton Jr would miss the game, they simply didn’t get anything done offensively. The Cornhuskers struggle sometimes even when Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway are at their offensive peak, but when they combine to go 5-for-23 from the field it’s a wrap. This team has to prove it can win on the road, and needs to do it quickly. It looked like things were starting to trend upward after winning four out of five games, but this result really makes it difficult to imagine them making a repeat NCAA Tournament appearance.
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Big Ten Sophomore Spotlight: Indiana’s Troy Williams

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 19th, 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. Next up in the series is Indiana forward Troy Williams. 

Troy Williams has played well after returning from a two-game suspension at the beginning of the season. (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

Troy Williams has played well after returning from a two-game suspension at the beginning of the season. (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

  • 2013-14: 7.3 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 50.9% FG, 67.5 % FT, 21.5 MPG, 19.4% Usage, 100.1 Offensive Rating
  • 2014-15:  12.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 57.6 % FG, 72.4 % FT, 23.9 MPG, 23.3% Usage, 119.0 Offensive Rating

Williams really hasn’t been mentioned much since his suspension for the first two games of the season along with fellow sophomore Stanford Robinson. As a result, his improved play has gone mostly unnoticed due to the hype surrounding freshmen James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson. His numbers are up across the board, though, and he’s been especially effective as this year’s team incorporates a good deal of their transition offense without the scourge of last season’s turnovers. Williams has also been really consistent, reaching double-figure scoring in all eight of his games and pulling down four rebounds or more in every game but one (the Hoosiers’ Jimmy V Classic loss to Louisville). He’s also cut the long jumpers out of his game in favor of more shots at the rim after making only 20.7 percent of his three-point attempts last season. This is the root cause of his significant jump in field goal percentage. He’s still flying around and making a lot of plays based on his athleticism, but this season he is doing so in a much more efficient manner.

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Could Indiana Upset SMU Tonight?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 20th, 2014

Indiana was routinely called to task last season (mainly by Dan Dakich) for playing an underwhelming non-conference schedule. There was some evidence that loading up on cupcakes seemed to hurt the Hoosiers, as they clearly weren’t ready for the arduous nature of the Big Ten slate once conference play started. This season Tom Crean’s team is challenging itself by taking on SMU tonight in Assembly Hall. The Mustangs are coming off a beatdown at the hands of Gonzaga in Spokane, but bring excellent size and experience to Bloomington.

Yogi Ferrell has to run the show and score frequently for Indiana to improve this season. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Yogi Ferrell needs to get the better of SMU’s Nic Moore in the point guard battle on tonight. (Getty)

Here’s how the Hoosiers can get a quality non-conference win tonight:

  • Keep up the Hot Three-Point Shooting: The Hoosiers have started the season shooting the deep ball at an insane 21-of-38 clip (55.3%). Gonzaga overwhelmed SMU on Monday night with size in its 72-56 win, but the Zags also hit 10 three-pointers to create some distance. Indiana has similar weaponry on the perimeter with its trio of Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr., and Robert Johnson, and will have to get by with what they’ve been doing in their first two wins– primarily spreading the floor with shooters, using the drive-and-kick game, and getting out in transition. As always with Indiana, turnovers will be a key. If the Hoosiers get too sloppy, SMU has the ability to take advantage of those opportunities.

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Big Ten M5: 11.19.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 19th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan will have an advantage on the perimeter with the trio of Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, and Derrick Walton Jr in many of the games it plays this season. The question marks mainly lie with the Wolverines’ inside play, but overlooked forward Max Bielfeldt could provide some answers. Bielfeldt only had 38 career points before Michigan’s game against Bucknell on Monday night, but after not even making an appearance in the team’s opening game, he went off for 18 points. Bielfeldt has never had much of a chance other than some spot cameos throughout his career, but if he can continue to consistently provide scoring in the post, then the Wolverines’ prospects for another deep NCAA Tournament run just got much better.
  2. Anthony Clemmons became something of a forgotten man last season, as the sophomore struggled to find court time even with Iowa playing a bunch of players. He has cracked this year’s starting lineup for the 2-0 Hawkeyes, however, by bringing a newfound confidence in his outside shot. After going only 6-of-16 through all of last season, Clemmons has already hit 5-of-6 from behind the arc and is averaging 11.5 points per game. His hustle plays are what’s keeping him in the lineup, though, as Fran McCaffery noted that “it’s infectious to the rest of the team.” Iowa and Clemmons will be tested going up against Texas and standout guard Isaiah Taylor on Thursday night in Madison Square Garden.
  3. Maryland has gotten off to a 2-0 start in its first season in the B1G, and the Terrapins are doing so with heavy contributions from their freshmen class. In their Monday night win over Central Connecticut State, Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley, and Michel Cekovsky all performed well. Trimble surprisingly led the team in rebounds with eight; Cekovsky had three blocks in 18 minutes; and Wiley managed to score 10 points and snag five rebounds in 19 minutes of action. Many freshmen in the league have come in and made an impact, but Maryland is a team that definitely needs big support from their first-year players if they hope to remain competitive with the mid-tier of the league in their first B1G season.
  4. Among the takeaways from Indiana‘s win over Texas Southern on Monday night was the fact that certain players are stepping into bigger roles and contributing in a number of different ways. Freshman Robert Johnson is at the top of that list, as he’s played with a level of maturity that belies his first-year status. Johnson is a year older than the typical college freshman due to a reclassification during his junior year of high school. While it’s doubtful he’ll sustain a stat line of 18.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 5.5 APG all season, he’s shown that Tom Crean did valuable work in getting Johnson and fellow freshman James Blackmon Jr. into an Indiana uniform.
  5. Fresh off of a disappointing loss in its season opener against Louisville, Minnesota has the chance to get a needed confidence boost in the form of three home games in five days. These contests are all against teams that the Gophers should beat, but the quick turnaround between them could really test their depth. Minnesota passed its first test on Tuesday night against Western Kentucky, and head coach Richard Pitino should have a chance over the next few nights to give his newcomers a great chance to get comfortable in his defensive system.
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First Weekend Observations From the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 17th, 2014

The Big Ten tipped things off along with the rest of the country this weekend in the form of a whopping 18 games in three days. Minnesota and Rutgers were the only two conference teams that lost, but they also played two teams in Louisville and George Washington, respectively, that should make some noise nationally. While it would be next to impossible to have seen all 18 games in some capacity, here’s some of what we observed on this end.

James Blackmon Jr lead the way offensively in Indiana's huge opening win. (Matt Detrich, Indy Star)

James Blackmon Jr lead the way offensively in Indiana’s huge opening win. (Matt Detrich, Indy Star)

  • Indiana Could be Fun to Watch: A team effective field goal percentage of 75.4 percent will not be duplicated for the whole season, but the Hoosiers played a really fun brand of offensive basketball in their throttling of Mississippi Valley State, 116-65, on Friday night. Freshman James Blackmon, Jr looks to be the real deal, and Robert Johnson (15 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals) might not be far behind. Max Hoetzel also was impressive, displaying the versatility at times to serve as a point forward. The Hoosiers did a really nice job moving without the ball and creating offensive spacing, which lead to many of their 23 three-point attempts being wide-open looks. They will get tested playing SMU at home on Thursday night (after tonight’s Mike Davis reunion with Texas Southern), but the contrast in styles and the return of Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson to the lineup will make it worth watching.
  • Michigan State Needs to Find a Post Presence: Michigan State seemed to be sleepwalking through a good chunk of its five-point win over Navy on Friday night, and it wasn’t just from turning the ball over 18 times. The Spartans allowed Navy to score way too easily inside the paint, causing the game to be much closer than it should have been given the size and talent differential on display. With Jahlil Okafor and Duke looming for Tom Izzo’s team on Tuesday night, Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling will have to be much bigger factors on the defensive end of the floor. Denzel Valentine won’t play as poorly as he did that night, but the Spartans’ offense looked disjointed other than the times when Travis Trice got open looks (5-of-6 from three). Michigan State will eventually get things right and still be a factor in the B1G race, but it might take some time if they can’t prevent those easy inside looks.

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Indiana Needs Yogi Ferrell Now More Than Ever

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 5th, 2014

Yogi Ferrell’s basketball career has been one of big expectations, beginning a decade ago when he was ranked as the best player in his class as a 4th grader. He’s been the starting point guard since arriving in Bloomington, when he debuted on a team that spent a good portion of the season as the top-ranked squad in the country and featured two future lottery picks in Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. As a sophomore he was asked to carry the offense on an underwhelming squad that finished 17-15 and didn’t sniff the postseason. Turnovers plagued the Hoosiers last season (21.8% of all possessions), and miscues off the floor are threatening to derail this season. Turmoil in the wake of two players involved in a serious accident and two others now suspended for failing a summer drug test have brought out the vultures. The Hoosier fan base is losing patience with Tom Crean, but criticism has a way of petering out when a team starts winning. Now as a junior, Ferrell’s role has become even more important on a team littered with underclassmen and under fire from various sources.

Yogi Ferrell has to run the show and score frequently for Indiana to improve this season. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Yogi Ferrell has to run the show and score frequently for Indiana to improve this season. (Darron Cummings, AP)

The Hoosiers owned the 33oth worst turnover percentage in the country last season, and it would be easy to blame their point guard for those numbers. But in reality, Ferrell possessed an 18.0 percent turnover rate on 25.0 percent usage. To put that into context, other lead guards around the conference, such as Derrick Walton, Keith Appling, Aaron Craft and Traveon Jackson, turned the ball over at a higher rate than Ferrell despite a lower usage rate. He also led the team in scoring (17.3 PPG) and assists (3.9 APG) last season. His shooting numbers weren’t great around the rim, but he drilled 40.0 percent of his shots from behind the arc and converted 82.4 percent from the foul line. One could reasonably argue that he should have done a better job getting another lottery pick, Noah Vonleh, involved in the offense, but there were also times when the big man simply wasn’t assertive enough or in foul trouble. With shooters on the wing this year like freshmen James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson, Ferrell shouldn’t have to feel like he has to score quite so much. The Hoosiers appear to be thin in the post on the defensive end, so Ferrell and the wings like Stanford Robinson and Troy Williams will have to fly around the perimeter to hassle opposing ball-handlers. This team should strive to play up-tempo on both ends of the court to counteract its relative lack of size in the pivot. Read the rest of this entry »

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