Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part II

Posted by Patrick Engel on April 7th, 2016

Part one of our four-part review of each Big Ten team examined key questions for the league’s bottom three finishers: Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois. Part two tackles important offseason questions for Penn State, Nebraska and Northwestern. (note: Scout.com used for all player and class ranks).

Penn State (16-16, 7-11 Big Ten)

Pat Chambers signed the highest-rated recruiting class in Penn State history, but will it bring immediate results (AP Photo/Michael Conroy).

Pat Chambers signed the highest-rated recruiting class in Penn State history, but will it net immediate results? (AP Photo/Michael Conroy).

Can the best recruiting class in program history bring immediate results?

Penn State signed a top-20 recruiting class that includes top-40 overall point guard Tony Carr, top-75 overall wing Lamar Stevens, three-star wing Nazeer Bostick and three-star center Joe Hampton. It comes on the heels of a 2015 class that included four-star wing Josh Reaves – who showed great promise in 19 starts as a freshman — and big man Mike Watkins, who had to sit out the year with academic issues. How quickly can all these young players make an impact? Carr is a natural point guard, a good transition player and passer who can get into the paint and find quality shots. He’s not known for long-range shooting, but he’s good enough that head coach Pat Chambers could move Shep Garner off the ball. At 6’6″, Stevens is a hybrid forward in the mold of former Maryland star Dez Wells. He should fit well in the Brandon Taylor role for the Nittany Lions. Penn State’s post offense was a significant weakness this year, but with two of its three centers finishing their careers, Watkins and Hampton will have an opportunity to produce. A potential starting five of Carr, Garner, Reaves, Stevens and Watkins, Hampton or junior Julian Moore is a very good lineup on paper. But the young stars will need to adjust right away for Penn State to finish higher than 10th in the Big Ten for the first time under Chambers.

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Big Ten Tournament Storylines: Quarterfinal Friday

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 11th, 2016

We’re now down to eight teams remaining in the Big Ten Tournament after a wild Thursday resulted in significant upsets to Iowa and Wisconsin. Today the top four seeds will take the floor at Bankers Life Fieldhouse hoping to avoid the same fate that befell the #5 and #6 seeds. As we head into the quarterfinals, here are four storylines to watch during the tournament’s third day in Indianapolis.

Malcolm Hill and the Illini will have to hope that the slipper still fits against Purdue Purdue on Friday. (USA Today Images)

Malcolm Hill and his Illini will have to hope that the slipper still fits against Purdue Purdue on Friday. (USA Today Images)

  1. Can Illinois Keep It Going?: Even with Iowa finishing the season with a whimper, #12 Illinois’ win over the Hawkeyes on Thursday might be the biggest Big Ten upset since Rutgers beat Wisconsin last season. An impressive game from Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn along with continued strong play from freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands could get the Illini into the tournament semifinals. Remember that John Groce’s unit — thanks to 52 points from Hill and Dunn — has already beaten Purdue once this year.  Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Tournament Storylines: First and Second Rounds

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 9th, 2016

This year’s Big Ten Tournament could very well have something for everyone. There are two teams that seem to be peaking at just the right time (Indiana and Michigan State), two others that have won 20 of their last 26 games (Purdue and Wisconsin), and two more that hope to find their way after recent struggles (Iowa and Maryland). Old rivals Michigan and Ohio State are both stuck squarely on the bubble, while Northwestern and Penn State can secure bids in some of the lower-level tournaments with a win or two. Here are three quick storylines to focus on during the first two days of games in Indianapolis.

Michigan needs quality play from Zak Irvin to get the wins they need in the Big Ten Tournament. (Getty).

Michigan needs quality play from Zak Irvin to get the wins it needs this postseason. (Getty)

  1. Bubble Boys: Michigan has a decent chance to make the field of 68 but it would be strongly advisable that the Wolverines avoid losing to Northwestern on Thursday afternoon. When the two teams played a couple weeks ago, the Wildcats were competitive throughout until Michigan pulled away at the very end. A Michigan loss here probably means John Beilein will punch his ticket to the NIT. Ohio State has a much more arduous task ahead with its first test against a Penn State team that has won five out of its final eight games, including victories over Indiana and Iowa. The Buckeyes are full of mercurial talents who don’t always play consistently, but if Thad Matta can get JaQuan Lyle, Marc Loving and Keita Bates-Diop clicking at the same time, Ohio State could make a run. Read the rest of this entry »
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Handing Out Big Ten Awards and Superlatives

Posted by Patrick Engel on March 8th, 2016

With the regular season complete, it’s time for our Big Ten postseason awards. Here are our three all-conference teams, all-rookie team and individual award winners as voted on by our microsite staff. Note that our ballots were submitted before the Big Ten released its official winners on Monday night.

Individual Awards

Tom Crean helped his Indiana team regroup and win the Big Ten after a poor nonconference showing. (Getty)

Tom Crean helped his Indiana team regroup and win the Big Ten after a poor nonconference showing. (Getty)

  • Player of the Year (unanimous): Denzel Valentine (G, Michigan State). The Wooden Award Candidate is the first player to lead the Big Ten in both scoring and assists per game since Iowa’s Andre Woolridge in 1996-97. He’s the Big Ten’s best passer (44.6 percent assist rate) and notched a sterling 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio this season. Valentine takes 30 percent of Michigan State’s shots (over half are three-pointers) and he still has a top-35 offensive rating (126.9) nationally.
  • Coach of the Year: Tom Crean (Indiana). The Hoosiers won the outright Big Ten title with a strong 15-3 record and significantly improved its defense during the Big Ten season. Despite losing one of its best offensive players with James Blackmon, Jr.’s injury in January, Indiana still boast the nation’s fourth-most efficient offense (119.6 points per 100 possessions).
  • Rookie of the Year: Ethan Happ (F, Wisconsin). Happ’s production and consistency on both ends of the floor gives him the edge here. He is tied for second in the conference with nine double-doubles and was an important part of Wisconsin’s resurgence after a 1-3 start to the Big Ten season.
  • Defensive Player of the Year: A.J. Hammons (C, Purdue). Hammons has tallied four more blocks (74) than fouls (70) this season, and he helps Purdue hold opponents to a difficult 42.7 two-point percentage. He also rebounds 23.4 percent of opponents’ misses.
  • Most Improved Player: Peter Jok (G, Iowa). Jok went from an inconsistent reserve as a sophomore to a consistently productive scorer as a junior. Iowa needed a complementary scorer to put alongside Jarrod Uthoff this season, and Jok became that guy.

All-Big Ten First Team

Denzel Valentine has become one of the nation's best players, if not the best, in his senior season. (AP)

Denzel Valentine has become one of the nation’s best players, if not the best, in his senior season. (AP)

  • Denzel Valentine (G, Michigan State): Valentine is the only player in the modern history of college basketball to average at least 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game (assists became an official statistic in 1983-84). He also logged two triple-doubles and shot 49.6 percent from beyond the arc in conference play.
  • Yogi Ferrell (G, Indiana): The Hoosiers’ senior point guard is the Big Ten’s fourth-leading scorer (17.1 PPG), fourth-leading distributor (5.5 APG), 10th-leading three-point shooter (42.1 %) and the conference champion’s best player.

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Big Ten M5: 03.04.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on March 4th, 2016

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  1. When Bo Ryan retired as Wisconsin’s head coach in December, many thought he wanted to give his longtime assistant, Greg Gard, a trial period so that athletic director Barry Alvarez would seriously consider him for the full-time position. If that was Ryan’s intent, the move appears to have worked. On Thursday, The Milwaukee (Wisc.) Journal-Sentinel reported that Wisconsin is prepared to offer Gard a long-term contract. Gard has led the Badgers to a 12-5 Big Ten record, which includes 11 wins in their last 12 games.
  2. Two Big Ten players were named to the College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-America team on Thursday: Nebraska’s Shavon Shields and Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff. Shields, who owns a 3.72 GPA in biological sciences, made the team for the second straight year. Uthoff had a 4.0 GPA in the fall semester while pursuing his graduate degree and has a 3.42 overall GPA and with a bachelor’s degree in economics from Iowa.
  3. Northwestern will be a frontcourt player short for the rest of the season. Head coach Chris Collins announced Wednesday that graduate transfer Joey van Zegeren will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury suffered in Monday’s practice. The Netherlands native was averaging 3.6 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. Collins said that sophomore forward Gavin Skelly could play center if primary centers Alex Olah and Dererk Pardon get into foul trouble.
  4. Although conference tournament season hasn’t even begun for the Big Ten, non-conference tournaments for next fall are already announcing participants. On Wednesday, The Cancun Challenge announced a Big Ten team as one of its eight participants. Purdue will play in the Challenge’s Riviera Division, where they will join Texas Tech, Utah State and Auburn. The tournament will be played Nov. 22 and 23.
  5. On Tuesday, Richard Pitino decided to make the one-game suspension of guards Nate Mason, Kevin Dorsey and Dupree McBrayer a season-long one. Pitino did not comment on the reason for the suspension, but a sexually explicit video posted on Dorsey’s Twitter account is the believed cause. Dorsey’s family says that cannot the case. In a statement faxed to the Twin Cities (Minn.) Pioneer Press, Dorsey’s family said he could not have posted the video because his phone was stolen at Minnesota’s Mall of America two days before the video surfaced. Bloomington (Minn.) police said they are investigating a phone theft at the mall and that there is video evidence of it being taken from a store there.
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Big Ten M5: 02.26.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) on February 26th, 2016

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  1. Nebraska’s Shavon Shields played for the first time since a February 6 game against Rutgers when he suffered a serious concussion on a nasty fall. As if nothing had ever happened, the senior returned to the lineup last night against Penn State and scored a game-high 25 points. It was not enough for the Cornhuskers to win the game, however, as Shields’ off-balance 15-footer at the buzzer misfired, giving the Nittany Lions a 56-55 win.
  2. Bracketology becomes increasingly popular as the calendar inches ever closer to March. ESPN’s February 25 NCAA Tournament bracket projections from Joe Lunardi lists seven Big Ten teams among his field of 68: Michigan State is a #2 seed; Iowa #3; Maryland #3; Indiana #5; Purdue #5; Wisconsin #7; and Michigan #9. CBS SportsJerry Palm’s latest projections differ only slightly: Iowa is a seed line lower at #4, while Wisconsin comes in as a #9 seed and Michigan a #10 seed.
  3. Michigan’s Duncan Robinson started the season as one of the nation’s best shooters, but his prolonged slump in Big Ten play is a growing concern. He is converting only 31 percent of his three-pointers in the second half of conference play, prompting head coach John Beilein to consider shortening his minutes. Fortunately for Michigan, sophomore Aubrey Dawkins has picked up the slack in knocking down a conference-best 51 percent of three-pointers in Big Ten play.
  4. Michigan State has used a deep bench all season and the latest player to get an extended look in the wake of Kenny Goins’ knee injury is sophomore forward Marvin Clark Jr. He was a useful reserve during Sparty’s run to the Final Four a year ago and is finding his confidence in an expanded role. Clark played 19 minutes against Ohio State on Tuesday and made both his three-point attempts for a total of six points. His shooting (35.3% 3FG) has kept him head of Javon Bess in the rotation.
  5. During Wisconsin’s admittedly slow start to the season, some believed that mediocre recruiting was a key reason for the team’s lack of quality depth this season. Now, however, with Wisconsin sitting at 10-5 in the Big Ten, that notion has dissipated. The Wisconsin State Journal reviewed Bo Ryan’s class of 2011, finding that it had considerable talent from top to bottom. Frank Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson led the program to consecutive Final Fours but played their final seasons in 2014-15. Jarrod Uthoff became a star after transferring to Iowa, and George Marshall, now at South Dakota State, is leading the 22-7 Jackrabbits in scoring.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 23rd, 2016

There are now two weeks to go before the close of the 2015-16 Big Ten season. Senior night ceremonies and the conference tournament are on the horizon, and the NCAA Tournament not too far beyond them. It’s unfair to jump to the conclusion that the long season has taken its toll on Big Ten teams, but there was some flat out ugly offense in the league last weekend. Four teams were held under 1.00 point per possession, and three of the five teams that came away with victories failed to crack 50 percent eFG shooting. On the brighter side, Indiana was able to fight off a late Purdue rally, and Maryland held serve at home against Michigan. This means that the regular season tournament is still a three team race at the moment (with Ohio State and Michigan State lingering a couple games back). Here are some of the noteworthy and not-so-noteworthy performances from the weekend before the final sprint.

Ethan Happ controlled the paint as Wisconsin rallied to beat Illinois Sunday night. (Nick Lisi, AP)

Ethan Happ controlled the paint as Wisconsin rallied to beat Illinois Sunday night. (Nick Lisi, AP)

Player of the Weekend: Ethan Happ isn’t always the prettiest or most graceful post player in the Big Ten, but the Wisconsin freshman is having a sensational first go of it in the Big Ten. After going up against the likes of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker in practices last season, Happ has played with a veteran edge that his former practice combatants would be proud of. He doesn’t shoot from the outside, nor does he dominate physically, but the “old guy at the YMCA” element to his game has proven valuable. He’s seemingly always in the right spot on the floor, and flashes a unique creativity in the shots he both attempts and makes in the post. Illinois had the Badgers in danger of enduring another bad resume loss at home, but Happ was there to notch his fourth double-double since conference play began. He also added a career-high six steals, bringing his average to 2.5 SPG in conference games. In a season where four other freshmen big men — all with much higher profiles than Happ — have also made large contributions to probable Big Ten NCAA Tournament teams, Happ could be the best freshman in the league.

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Big Ten M5: 02.19.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 19th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. Illinois ended its long athletic director search when it formally introduced Josh Whitman as its next AD on Thursday morning (the news of his hire first broke on Wednesday). Whitman, 37, has been the athletic director at Division III Washington University in St. Louis since 2014. He also previously served as athletic director at Division III Wisconsin-La Crosse before that. His first full day on the job will be March 21, but that didn’t stop him from writing an immediate letter to Illinois donors.
  2. The “0-14 Game” won’t happen in the Big Ten after all. Many had been hyping up next Tuesday’s Rutgers at Minnesota matchup as a battle between the winless since both teams appeared headed into that game with zeros in the win column. Not anymore, as Minnesota stunned Maryland last night for its first Big Ten win of the season. The Terps were playing without freshman center Diamond Stone, who was suspended for the game after a technical foul on Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown last weekend. The win was the Gophers’ first of any kind since December 13 against Chicago State.
  3. Minnesota also played a man short on Thursday night, and it will do so for the rest of the season. Gophers head coach Richard Pitino announced on Wednesday that guard Carlos Morris had been dismissed from the program for conduct detrimental to the team. That conduct was later identified as a heated exchange between Morris and Pitino last Sunday. The senior was in his second season for Minnesota after transferring over from Chipola College (FL) and was averaging 9.8 PPG, the fourth-best mark on the team.
  4. Purdue point guard P.J. Thompson’s foot issues have persisted for more than a week, and while he has not yet missed any games, his practice routine is also not back to normal. He was in a walking boot for Thursday’s practice even though he still expects to play against Indiana this weekend. Thompson has committed just 11 turnovers in 585 minutes this season, and for a team that has had turnover issues in road games, he will need to be healthy and in the lineup on Saturday at Assembly Hall.
  5. Nebraska‘s Shavon Shields missed his third straight game after suffering a concussion against Rutgers two weeks ago, and the Huskers’ record dropped to 1-2 without their second-leading scorer in the lineup against Indiana. Nebraska misses his production as well as his leadership, as Robin Washunt of Rivals.com notes. Head coach Tim Miles had no update for Shields’ status for Saturday’s game vs. Ohio State, but suffice it to say that he’s needed back in the line up very soon.
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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 01.29.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 29th, 2016

The Big Ten season is about halfway done and it looks like the top six schools–Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Purdue, and Michigan State – are putting some distance between themselves and the rest of the conference. While there are no head-to-head matchups between any of these teams this weekend, there are still a handful of consequential games. Here are the three most important of them:

Shavon Shields faces a huge frontline this weekend when they face Purdue. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Shavon Shields will take on a huge frontline this weekend when the Cornhuskers battle Purdue. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Nebraska at #21 Purdue (Saturday 4:30 pm ET, BTN). Time is running out for the Cornhuskers’ hopes for an at-large bid. While they have a nice win at Michigan State, they’ll need another win over a highly-ranked team to make up for some of the questionable losses of late 2015. They will get a great opportunity to do so this weekend when they travel to West Lafayette. The Boilermakers are still ranked in the Top 25 and sit 27th in RPI. But Purdue has also recently had some shaky performances, most notably a loss at Illinois and a near-defeat at Minnesota. If the Boilermakers look past Nebraska towards a matchup with Maryland next week, they could easily be upset. Look for Shavon Shields to try to find some open lanes against the massive Purdue frontcourt; if he’s successful, the Cornhuskers will have a shot at a critically important victory.

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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 01.22.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 22nd, 2016

After a three-week hiatus, the Weekend Look Ahead is back! The return is well timed: there are four top-notch games that may have lasting impact on both the Big Ten title race and NCAA Tournament seeding. Here are the games to watch in the B1G this weekend:

Denzel Valentine is will try to stop the Spartan's free fall when they host Maryland at home. (Getty)

Denzel Valentine will try to help stop the Spartans’ losing streak when they host Maryland at home Saturday. (Getty)

Northwestern at #25 Indiana (Saturday 12 pm ET, ESPNU). On Tuesday, the Wildcats almost got the marquee win their resume so desperately needs, ultimately losing in overtime at Maryland. Northwestern gets another shot to upset a ranked team on the road when they head to Bloomington on Saturday, while Indiana tries to keep up with Iowa as the only remaining teams undefeated in conference play. In addition to conference race ramifications, this game also treats us to a matchup between Bryant McIntosh and Yogi Ferrell – two of the best point guards in the Big Ten. The Wildcats competed with Maryland largely due to their defense stifling the Terps’ offense (only 0.91 points per possession for Maryland). They’ll have their hands full with an Indiana attack that has been on fire; most recently, it put on a clinic against Illinois in scoring an amazing 1.45 points per possession.

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Big Ten M5: 01.22.15 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on January 22nd, 2016

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  1. Former Boilermaker Robbie Hummel is out for the rest of the season after a mid-December labrum tear while playing overseas in Italy. Upon hearing of his injury, Purdue head coach Matt Painter quickly offered his former star player the chance to rehab at his alma mater and help the current Boilermakers squad as an adviser and mentor. He accepted the offer and will travel with the team and hang around the players as much as possible, while also living with Painter and rehabbing. Hummel considers it an internship of sorts to give him a taste of coaching as a post-playing career possibility.
  2. Michigan is holding its own without injured guard Caris LeVert, but John Beilein said Wednesday the senior is making “encouraging” progress with his lower left leg injury and is “doing more and more” on and off the court. The on-court work is still only light ball-handling and shooting, but he just recently has been able to walk without pain. Beilein said he still is not sure of a return date. In LeVert’s absence, Zak Irvin has found his shooting touch after a bad start: he has made 15 of his last 32 three-point attempts (47 percent).
  3. Rutgers hit a new low Monday, losing to Purdue at home by 50 and furthering the team’s perception as a colossal mess with no improvement in sight. But the school is launching a $100 million athletic facilities project called “R B1G Build,” a move designed to help improve the messy state of Rutgers athletics. The school released a video Wednesday that said athletic director Patrick Hobbs, head basketball coach Eddie Jordan and head football coach Chris Ash will each pledge $50,000 toward the effort. The video came a day after New Jersey governor Chris Christie signed a bill that will allow Rutgers to use $25 million in tax credits toward the project.
  4. Nebraska’s surprising 72-71 road win over Michigan State on Wednesday may say more about the reeling Spartans than the Cornhuskers, but it also revealed a Nebraska offense that has improved significantly from last season. Through seven conference games, Nebraska leads the Big Ten in field goal percentage, shooting 49 percent in conference play. Brian Rosenthal of the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star writes that the new freedom of movement rules have contributed to the more efficient offense. Shavon Shields scored 28 points in Wednesday’s win, but foul-prone Michigan State gave him plenty of space to score, perhaps in fear of fouling too much.
  5. Indiana is back in the top 25 and riding an 11-game winning streak, including five in a row to open Big Ten play. The team’s second-leading scorer, James Blackmon Jr., hasn’t played since Dec. 22 and will not play for the rest of the season due to injury. The Hoosiers’ hot streak has caused some fans and media to wonder if Indiana is better without Blackmon. The Indianapolis Star’s Zach Osterman considers the idea ridiculous. Instead, he asks the question, is Indiana better because it had to confront and deal with losing Blackmon? He points to its defensive improvement and determination to play better defense as a big reason why the answer is yes.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 5th, 2016

After a non-conference season that seemingly flew by, we’ve now moved into Big Ten play. Saturday’s action in particular featured a number of games that allowed anyone who hadn’t checked out much of the Big Ten a chance to catch up on what they’ve missed. All 14 team played over the weekend, so what follows are a few of the highlights from the first slate of weekend action.

Melo Trimble did a little bit of everything for Maryland as they knocked off Northwestern on Saturday night. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Melo Trimble did a little bit of everything for Maryland as they knocked off Northwestern on Saturday night. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Player of the Weekend: Yogi Ferrell (Indiana) and Jarrod Uthoff (Iowa) played well in their teams’ wins, but Maryland’s Melo Trimble gets the nod here for his play on both ends of the floor. He and Rasheed Suliamon made things miserable for Northwestern’s shooters, holding Tre Demps to 4-of-16 shooting and the Wildcats to 2-of-20 from behind the three-point line. While Trimble’s perimeter defense was outstanding, his play on the offensive end was also noteworthy. Seven of his eight assists came in the first half when his shot wasn’t falling, but he came alive for 17 points in the second half with timely long-range bombing every time Northwestern started to make a run. Trimble’s assist rate jump from his freshman season (21.2%) to this year (34.9%) is partially a function of a more talented cast, but his passing has really improved this season. He ended up with 24 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists as the Terrapins notched a quality road win in Evanston.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Indiana’s Troy Williams hasn’t started conference play very well and James Blackmon, Jr. is out indefinitely. Luckily for the Hoosiers, OG Anunoby has emerged as a legitimate playmaker with the extra minutes — a stat line of 11 points in 11 minutes on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting against Nebraska should surely earn him some additional court time in the future. His key steal in the late stages of Saturday’s game when the Cornhuskers were still within striking distance allowed Indiana to close it out. Tom Crean is not afraid to play a deep bench, so look for Anunoby to see extended minutes as Big Ten play progresses.

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