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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Three Takeaways from Nebraska’s Win Over Miami

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on December 5th, 2013

Heading into the late set of games on Wednesday night, the B1G was down 5-4 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and had to win at least two out of the three remaining games to force a tie. Even though Nebraska was favored by 4.5 points at home against Miami (FL), few expected the Cornhuskers to dominate the game – which ultimately resulted in a 60-49 win that, given Michigan State’s upset loss, saved the conference’s fate. At the end of the day, Nebraska beat a team that’s only 5-3 on the young season, but it is an important win in the Tim Miles’ era. Expectations within the program, albeit still fairly low, need to be met in order for players to gain confidence heading into the conference season. The fact that the Cornhuskers showed that they belong against a team that is a potential mid-pack ACC team is a big deal for Miles and Nebraska basketball. This win won’t put the Huskers on the map, so to speak, but Miles and his squad are making small statements that they will compete on both ends of the floor, and especially at home.

The following are three takeaways from this game and what they mean for Nebraska going forward:

Tim Miles' Huskers make a solid statement by beating Miami at home. (Getty)

Tim Miles’ Huskers make a solid statement by beating Miami at home. (Getty)

  1. It doesn’t hurt to have four players on the court who can handle the ball. Almost every team in college hoops plays a three-guard lineup with a forward who is a “stretch four” and a true big man. But only a few teams have four guys who can handle the ball effectively in the half-court and Nebraska is one of them. Any of the Huskers’ three guards – Tai Webster, Deverell Biggs, and Ray Gallegos – can handle the ball and set up the offense. Terran Petteway at the forward position is just as comfortable moving the ball horizontally in the half-court. Miami played zone for most of last night’s game but Miles’ team was perfectly comfortable running its motion offense because they had at least four guys who could put the ball on the floor and penetrate the gaps. Consistent dribble penetration and kick-out passes forced the Hurricanes’ defense to fall apart, resulting in numerous mismatches. Playing four guards could hurt this team down the road in terms of rebounding, but it’ll keep the offense active and prevent them from getting into major scoring slumps. The offense also doesn’t appear to be too complex, which enables the players to focus on moving the ball around consistently and attacking the basket. A simple but active offense helps a young team gain some confidence against good competition. Read the rest of this entry »
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Previewing the Holiday Tournaments: A Big Ten Perspective

Posted by Max Jakubowski on November 21st, 2013

The holiday tournaments tip off today and college coaches are huge fans of their teams participating in these events. With the quick turnarounds and neutral court sites, the events give players a glimpse of what their conference and postseason tournaments will feel like. From the prestigious eight-team Maui Invitational to the four-team Barclays Center Classic, each tournament provides valuable experience for teams and coaches alike to prepare for a postseason atmosphere. Along with gaining that precious experience, teams can also improve their non-conference resumes just by showing up. A couple of good performances or a holiday tournament championship looks pretty attractive to the selection committee in March. This year, the Big Ten has nearly the entire league competing in some sort of holiday tournament (Illinois and Ohio State are the two absentees). Let’s break down each of them, starting with the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Charleston Classic and 2kSports Classic, beginning today.

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational-Butler vs Illinois

Illinois Jump Started its NCAA Tournament Season A Year Ago in Maui

Puerto Rico Tip off: November 21-24

  • Teams: Michigan vs. Long Beach State, VCU vs. Florida State, Georgetown vs. Northeastern, Charlotte vs. Kansas State
  • Favorite: VCU
  • Projected Michigan Finish: 3rd
  • Michigan Player to WatchDerrick Walton Jr.
  • The Skinny: In the eight-team field, Georgetown, VCU, and the Wolverines are the clear front-runners. Georgetown lucked out as they are on the opposite side of the bracket of both Michigan and VCU. This means that a match-up of last year’s NCAA Tournament third round game between the two schools is likely in the semifinals. Last year, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. shredded Shaka Smart’s “Havoc” defense on its way to a huge victory. Now, Walton is set to run the offense for Michigan and go up against a veteran VCU backcourt. This game could spell major trouble for John Beilein and his staff, but could also be an important teaching moment.

Charleston Classic: November 21-24

  • TeamsNebraska vs. UMass, UAB vs. New Mexico, Georgia vs. Davidson, Clemson vs. Temple
  • Favorite: New Mexico
  • Projected Nebraska Finish: 5th
  • Nebraska Player to WatchTai Webster
  • The Skinny:  The Cornhuskers play UMass and then either New Mexico or UTEP in the next round. New Mexico is a top 20 team while UMass is expected to compete for a NCAA bid out of the Atlantic 10. Chaz Williams for UMass is an explosively fast guard who can distribute the ball well and shoot lights out from three. Tim Miles will have his work cut out to try and stop Williams, and the freshman Webster will get a nice welcoming from the “Chaz Master.”

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