Big Ten Feast Week Primer: Part Three

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 24th, 2016

Eight of the 14 Big Ten teams have already started, finished or will play in early-season tournaments this week. The festivities began Monday afternoon with Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational, but continue for much of the week as turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce commingles with basketball in far-flung locales. Here’s the third of a three-part breakdown that discusses what each participating Big Ten team faces this week.

NIT Season Tip-Off

Malcolm Hill will need to display the form that made him a Preseason All Big-Ten player in New York City this weekend. (USA Today Sports)

Malcolm Hill will need to display the form that made him a Preseason All-Big Ten player in New York City this weekend. (USA Today Sports)

  • Teams: Illinois, West Virginia, Florida State, Temple
  • Capsule: Things were looking relatively good for Illinois as it got off to a 4-0 start… and then the Illini lost to Winthrop at home. In what might be a make-or-break season for John Groce, a couple of wins against quality teams in the Big Apple would definitely ease some stress. Illinois squares off today against the national leader in creating turnovers and steals when it plays West Virginia. Those same 22 turnovers against Winthrop will end this game quickly.
  • Key Player: Tracy Abrams will be the key here. The sixth -year senior not only needs to break the Mountaineers’ press, but unlike the offensively-challenged Jaylon Tate, he can also be a threat to score. Abrams needs to max out his experience and ability for Illinois to come away with two wins in New York this week.
  • Prediction: The West Virginia game will be an ugly loss, but expect the Illini to respond and beat Temple in the consolation game on Friday.

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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.

Best-Case Scenario: Winning Record Read the rest of this entry »

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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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The Big Ten’s Biggest Surprises, Improvements & Disappointments

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 16th, 2016

Iowa is atop the Big Ten after Valentine’s Day, Indiana is (mostly) better defensively and Minnesota still hasn’t won a conference game. Those are typical of the team surprises, improvements and disappointments that appear over the course of every Big Ten season. The same thing happens on an individual level: some players seem to come out of nowhere, others take impressive leaps in production, and still others regress or plateau. With conference play now two-thirds finished, here are some of the biggest surprises, improvements and disappointments among this season’s Big Ten players.

P.J. Thompson's ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

P.J. Thompson’s ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt. (Sandra Dukes/USA TODAY Sports)

Biggest Surprises

  • O.G. Anunoby, F, Indiana: The least-heralded member of Indiana’s freshman class is now a crucial part of its rotation. The Hoosiers found the freshman forward from Jefferson City, Missouri, while scouting another player, but he has been their best defender and owns the second-highest effective field goal percentage (64.8%) on the team (minimum 60 FGAs).
  • Nicholas Baer, G/F, Iowa: An unknown freshman walk-on in November, Baer gives Iowa productive minutes off the bench. He makes 43 percent of his threes and 52 percent of his twos, but is also second on the team with 18 blocks. That versatility means that he can play the three or the four positions.

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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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Nebraska’s Offense is Better Without Terran Petteway

Posted by Patrick Engel on December 11th, 2015

Folks in Nebraska are accustomed to seeing their Cornhuskers start the season slowly, and this year has been no exception as Tim Miles’ team is now 6-4 for the second straight December. Despite the identical record, the numbers show that this year’s team is better than the disappointing 13-18 group of a season ago, and the improvement centers on the absence of Terran Petteway. Yes, the Nebraska offense is actually better without the services of last year’s leading scorer.

Andrew White has replaced Terran Petteway as Nebraska's go-to scorer (Photo Credit: Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications)

Andrew White has replaced Terran Petteway as Nebraska’s go-to scorer (Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications)

Before the season, we touched on the possibility of Nebraska’s offense improving without Petteway in the lineup. The basis for such a prediction was that his high usage rate – he took 33.4 percent of the Cornhuskers’ shots when he was on the floor – and less-than-stellar shooting (39.6%) hurt Nebraska’s overall offensive efficiency. Sure enough, the absence of a high-volume, low-percentage scorer has helped Miles’ squad spread the ball around among a corps of talented newcomers and improved returnees. This increased sharing of opportunity has led to better ball movement, which has in kind also led to better shooting percentages and a more sustainable and efficient offensive operation. Last year, Petteway was one of three Nebraska players to take more than 20 percent of the team’s shots when he was on the floor. This year, Nebraska has five players at above 20 percent — proof positive of a Cornhuskers team dividing its allocation of shots better than it did a year ago. Read the rest of this entry »

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Starting Five: Five Big Ten Teams Feeling Good About Feast Week

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 30th, 2015

The non-conference portion of the schedule hasn’t been great to the Big Ten so far this season, but Feast Week gave some of the league’s teams positive feelings about the future. Here are five schools that can feel good about themselves after the week that was.

John Groce got his lineup back in full, and his squad looked much better. (USAT Images)

John Groce got his full lineup back and his squad looked much better as a result. (USAT Images)

  1. Illinois: The Illini have a lot of extra dead weight to shed from their 3-4 start to the season, but anyone who watched their win against UAB and the first 30 minutes against Iowa State saw that this is a different and better team with a full complement of players. Kendrick Nunn looked rusty but he averaged 18.5 PPG in the two games — a healthy Nunn, Leron Black and Jaylon Tate showed the potential that exists here. The knee injury to Mike Thorne, Jr., however, is a real downer.
  2. Maryland: After struggling with teams that they shouldn’t have struggled with, the Terps finally put it all together against Rhode Island on Wednesday night in the championship game of the Cancun Classic. It appears as though Maryland’s on-court chemistry and offensive movement are improving with the realization that they any member of the starting unit can carry them for stretches — Rasheed Suliamon and Robert Carter Jr., for example, had moments where they looked like the best players on the floor. Read the rest of this entry »
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Nebraska’s Loss to Rhode Island Exhibits Some Danger Signs

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 24th, 2014

It’s not as though Nebraska was going to waltz through the season undefeated or anything. The Cornhuskers cracked the preseason Top 25 because of the finishing run they went on last season and because they brought back pretty much every significant player in the rotation other than Ray Gallegos. That said, Saturday’s overtime loss to an unranked Rhode Island team exhibited several potential trouble spots for the Cornhuskers if they don’t immediately fix some things. We outline three of those problem areas below.

Walter Pitchford is off to a slow start this season for Nebraska. (AP)

Walter Pitchford is off to a slow start this season for Nebraska. (AP)

  • Walter Pitchford is Struggling: The former Florida forward emerged as a quality deep shooting big man last season, hitting 41.0 percent on nearly 50 makes from three. He’s off to a 1-of-11 start from behind the arc this season. One of the most difficult things to do if you’re a good shooter whose shots are not falling is to find other ways to contribute. It’s clear that he’s struggling in other facets of his game, but Pitchford could work through his slump by becoming a better presence on the boards and staying out of foul trouble. Right now the offense is pretty much limited to the Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields show, but last year’s team really took off when the secondary options improved. Rhode Island outrebounded Nebraska by 16, and Pitchford’s lack of activity inside is a big part of the reason why. Read the rest of this entry »
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Can Nebraska Handle the Hype?

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 27th, 2014

Nebraska essentially came out of nowhere last season, going from a 9-9 start to closing out the season on a 10-4 finish and making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. Terran Petteway became a household name in the Big Ten and head coach Tim Miles put himself on the map as one of the brightest young coaches in the land. The team brings back most of its roster from last season and has started this year ranked #21 in the USA Today/Coaches Preseason Poll. Will the Cornhuskers drop back to mediocrity with these expectations or will they continue to take leap forward? Here are some arguments for and against each scenario.

Terran Petteway will once again lead a Nebraska team that won't sneak up on anybody this season. (AP)

Terran Petteway will once again lead a Nebraska team that won’t sneak up on anybody this season. (AP)

Why They Will Be Even Better

Nebraska’s non-conference schedule is more forgiving in some ways than it was last year, but it will give the Cornhuskers several chances to pick up quality wins against teams that could very well be in the NCAA Tournament. The Huskers have rematches against Cincinnati and Creighton at home, and both of those teams look to be down a bit meaning that the home team should have the advantage. Nebraska also plays two true road games against Rhode Island and Florida State. Rhode Island has a really good guard in EC Matthews and Florida State will test them inside with a trio of 7-footers. If they make it through their first nine games with a record of 8-1 or 9-0, they will get tested again in Honolulu’s Diamond Head Classic, where they could play Wichita State in the second round and potentially Colorado in the championship game. Read the rest of this entry »

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B1G Award Spotlight: Terran Petteway

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 30th, 2014

With the season now turning toward the home stretch, it’s time to start contemplating and discussing which players are most worthy and likely to see their names on the Big Ten all-league teams. As an example, Nebraska’s Terran Petteway has seemingly come out of nowhere to lead the Cornhuskers in scoring in his first season on the active roster, one of a number of first-year players who have helped Tim Miles’ rebuilding efforts. While Tai Webster, Walter Pitchford, Leslee Smith and the now-exiled Deverell Biggs have all contributed in various ways, none have had the impact of Petteway. He’s already become one of the best go-to scorers in the league, checking in at third on the league leaders list at 18.2 PPG. The question to be answered here is where does he deserve to be placed in terms of all-league consideration?

Terran Petteway has been Nebraska's best player, but is that enough to make him first-team all B1G? (AP)

Terran Petteway has been Nebraska’s best player, but is that enough to make him first-team all B1G? (AP)

The usual theory that coincides with how these all-league teams are picked is “to the victor goes the spoils.” Fair or not, given the concentration of talent among 12 teams, a player normally needs to be on team that finishes in the top third of the standings to make the first team. In the last three seasons, only two first-team selections have come from teams that didn’t finish in the top four of that season’s standings (Robbie Hummel and John Shurna in 2011-12). Sitting at 10th right now at 2-5 in Big Ten play, this likely takes Petteway out of first-team consideration unless Nebraska goes on an epic hot streak over its last 11 games. That does not mean, however, that he’s precluded from placement on either the second- or third-team all-conference squads.

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