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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Rushed Reactions: #5 Indiana 73, #4 Kentucky 67

Posted by Walker Carey on March 19th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways: 

Thomas Bryant Led the Hoosiers to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Thomas Bryant Led the Hoosiers to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

  1. Thomas Bryant’s second half play was instrumental to the Indiana victory. Throughout the first half, it appeared the moment might have been too large for the Indiana freshman forward. Bryant picked up two early fouls that limited him to a minor role in the opening stanza. Bryant was a completely different player after halftime, however. The first-year workhorse finished the afternoon with 19 points (on 6-of-8 shooting) and grabbed five rebounds. He also displayed his affinity for the big moment by knocking down two clutch free throws with 10.4 seconds to play that gave the Hoosiers a four-point lead. When the final buzzer sounded, Bryant paraded off the floor, exclaiming, “This is why I’m here! This is why I’m here!”. You better believe the Indiana faithful are quite thrilled Bryant has been on their side all season long.
  2. Kentucky’s lack of a third scorer really hurt the Wildcats. Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray have been the guys for Kentucky all season. Ulis, the SEC Player of the Year, and Murray, a dynamic freshman with a penchant for knocking down big shots, are on the short list of players that can take over a game at any time. Perhaps as a result of the praise and accolades heaped on Ulis and Murray, Kentucky’s lack of a third scorer has largely been ignored. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, that absence took center stage this afternoon, as Ulis and Murray scored 43 of Kentucky’s 67 points. The next highest point man was freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe, who had just seven points. Time after time, it appeared the Kentucky offense was resigned to standing around and waiting on either Ulis or Murray to make a play. It is hard to know whether the result would have been different if Kentucky’s supporting cast had played a bigger role, but it seemed like a tall order to ask Ulis and Murray to shoulder such a large percentage of the offensive load.
  3. Yogi Ferrell deserves this in his senior season. There are not many seniors (if any) who have meant more to their teams than Yogi Ferrell has meant to Indiana. It is only fitting that his final hurrah in the NCAA Tournament is marked by a run deep into the bracket. Ferrell was, per usual, masterful in leading the Hoosiers past Kentucky, finishing with 18 points, five rebounds, and four assists. The Indiana floor general also took excellent care of the ball all afternoon, turning it over just once in 37 minutes. The Hoosiers will face a large test in their Sweet 16 team match-up in Philadelphia, but with Ferrell at the controls, the team will have great guidance and on-the-court leadership.

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Rushed Reactions: #5 Indiana 99, #12 Chattanooga 75

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Yogi Ferrell Was Dynamic Against Chattanooga (Photo: USAT Sports)

Yogi Ferrell Was Dynamic Against Chattanooga (Photo: USAT Sports)

  1. Indiana’s offense is a must-see when it is clicking on all cylinders. It is no secret that the biggest reason why the Hoosiers took home the outright Big Ten title was its strong offensive attack. Having said that, one must see the Hoosiers in person to fully understand just how good they are on that end of the court when things are clicking. Indiana’s offense performed masterfully throughout tonight’s victory, finishing the game shooting 64.9% from the field, 58.8% from three, and all while assisting on 23 baskets. A key facet of the Indiana offensive attack is its balanced scoring. There is rarely a game where one player dominates the stat sheet when it comes to points. In this evening’s win, the Hoosiers had seven players finish with at least eight points. Being able to count on that many guys to score for you is quite a luxury when looking to advance deep into the bracket.
  2. It is possible that Yogi Ferrell might be underrated. The main reason why Indiana’s offense is such a well-oiled machine is because of the man at its controls. That player is senior point guard Yogi Ferrell. The IU senior gets a lot of attention at the regional level, but it is quite possible he is underrated nationally. Ferrell does a little bit of everything for the Hoosiers: He facilitates, fires off jaw-dropping passes, hits shots from the perimeter, drives to the basket, and has developed into a very capable defender. There is no question that Yogi Ferrell is one of the most valuable players in the country, and it’s time for everyone to acknowledge it.
  3. You should buy stock in OG Anunoby right now. Forward Thomas Bryant is the Indiana freshman that has garnered much of the media attention this season (with good reason – Bryant is a very good player), but OG Anunoby showed tonight why there is another Hoosier freshman worth discussing. The freshman forward was outstanding against Chattanooga, finishing with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Beyond the productive scoring night, Anunoby oozed energy and athleticism the entire time he was on the court. It would be wise to keep an eye on Anunoby — chances are we will hear a lot about him before his collegiate career comes to an end.

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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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The RTC Big Ten Podcast: And Your Big Ten Champion Is…

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 1st, 2016

The Big Ten microsite crew is back to chat the league as the regular season winds down. In the second RTC Big Ten PodcastAlex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso), Brendan Brody (@berndon4) and Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) discuss a slew of topics that include Iowa’s now-familiar late-season meltdown, Indiana clinching a share of the regular season title, Denzel Valentine’s dominance, John Groce’s grip on his team, Wisconsin’s resurgence back to relevance, the amazing group of rookies in the Big Ten, and whether adding Rutgers was worth it. The full rundown is below. Push play and enjoy the lively banter between three Big Ten basketball heads, and let us know if you want us to cover any new topics for the next episode at @rushtheB1G.

  • 0:45 – 6:30 — Iowa’s late season meltdown
  • 6:31 – 12:59 — Indiana as Big Ten champs
  • 13:00 – 28:53 — Denzel Valentine’s historic season (with some ranting about Illinois and John Groce in between)
  • 28:54 – 37:59 — Wisconsin’s resurgence
  • 38:00 – 53:15 — The league’s best rookies
  • 53:16 – 59:40 — Quick hits: Ohio State’s postseason and Rutger’s ineptitude
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Indiana’s Relying On Yogi Ferrell Too Much

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 17th, 2016

While it has been a sensational season for Yogi Ferrell (16.8 PPG, 5.7 APG), Indiana may need to find ways to beat teams without its point guard playing so prominent a role in the offense. In recent weeks opposing teams have been forcing Ferrell’s supporting cast to beat them by taking the senior guard out of the equation. Look no further than the Hoosiers’ last two games against Iowa and Michigan State, where Ferrell struggled mightily, shooting 2-of-12 from the field against the Hawkeyes and 3-of-10 against the Spartans. This may not necessarily represent a slump, but it could be a nice recipe for success for future opponents: limit Ferrell’s perimeter shots and force him to use his teammates in the half-court. Barring a monumental collapse during the last few weeks, the Hoosiers will be in the #4-#6 seed range in the NCAA Tournament. But their success once they get there will depend on how they answer two critical questions:

Opposing defenses will take Yogi Ferrell's three-point shot out of his game over the next few weeks.

Opposing defenses may try to take Yogi Ferrell’s three-point shot out of his game over the next few weeks. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

  • Can Ferrell continue to get to the free throw line? Against Iowa, a younger Ferrell would have doubled down on perimeter shooting when his long-range game was rendered ineffective (he shot 2-of-9 from beyond the arc). A more experienced Ferrell, however, showed tremendous maturity in attacking the paint to earn and nail all eight of his free throws. Rarely does he pick up his dribble off ball screens when he doesn’t have sufficient space to fire away from the perimeter, but his defenders will continue to shadow him closely until one of his teammates can consistently make a mid-range jumper. Indiana’s big men don’t have the best mid-range game or great ability to make the extra pass; as a result, most pick-and-roll sets involving Ferrell include Troy Williams or Thomas Bryant. Bryant is a true big man and has excellent footwork in the paint, but he isn’t comfortable driving to the basket. Williams, on the other hand, is nifty with his moves around the basket, but help defense dares him to shoot a jumper. Given that the bulk of Williams’ points come from dunks, tip-ins or layups, this scenario isn’t especially advantageous for Indiana. As a result of this and the other weaknesses of teammates, Ferrell has limited options off of screens and will often have no choice but to dribble around aimlessly and search for his own open look. At some point, his teammates’ lack of shot-making ability stymies the Indiana offense.

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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 02.13.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 13th, 2016

Finally! After two weekends of mediocre action, Big Ten fans are treated to a packed slate of games with the top six contenders playing against one another or facing teams nipping at their heels. These games will have tremendous implications on the regular season title race, Big Ten tournament seeding and NCAA Tournament at-large bids. So set up camp on that couch this weekend, because there’s plenty of ball to be watched. Here the top Big Ten games of the weekend.

Yogi Ferrell will try and keep his Hoosiers in the Big Ten title race with a win against the Spartans.

Yogi Ferrell will try and keep his Hoosiers in the Big Ten title race with a win against the Spartans.

#18 Purdue at Michigan (Saturday 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2): This is essentially a playoff game to remain in the race for the regular season title — although the winner would still be a considerable long shot. Michigan only has two top 50 KenPom wins this season (Texas and Maryland). Their poor performance against elite competition has typecast the Wolverines as a good-not-great team. If Caris Levert returns to the lineup today, he may provide a spark Michigan needs to get a win over a ranked team and garner some momentum going into the final few weeks of the regular season. The Boilermakers, on the other hand, are not only trying to compete for a Big Ten title but also vying for a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. This game will be decided by one metric: three-pointers made by Michigan. If the Wolverines don’t get hot from outside the Boilermakers’ front line will simply eat them up. If Purdue can bother the Michigan shooters enough, though, they’ll add another excellent road win on their resume.

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Big Ten M5: 01.13.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 13th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. Northwestern kept its NCAA Tournament hopes alive last night when the Wildcats edged Wisconsin at home, 70-65, its best win of the season so far. They were led by Bryant McIntosh, who scored 28 points, dished out five assists and is emerging as one of the best guards in the league. The sophomore is averaging 15.4 PPG (10th in B1G) and 7.2 APG (first) this year. As for Northwestern’s at-large prospects, the Wildcats have yet to register a win against another likely NCAA Tournament team, so there’s still work ahead. A win at College Park next Tuesday would be a great place to start.
  2. Michigan delivered Maryland its first conference loss of the season when the Wolverines squeaked out a 70-67 victory at home with star Caris Levert still sidelined by a leg injury. Zak Irvin stepped up in Levert’s absence by scoring 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting. This game could represent a season turning point for the Wolverines, a team that had previously been blown out by elite competition. Michigan’s guards were able to stymie the Terrapins’ perimeter offense, as Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon combined to score only 10 points. If John Beilein can get his guys to play that level of defense for the rest of the season, the 3-1 team will become contenders for a Big Ten championship.
  3. On Monday, the Big Ten awarded Iowa‘s Mike Gesell its Player of the Week honors. The senior point guard registered the first double-double of his career in scoring 22 points and dishing 10 assists in a last week’s win over Nebraska. Gesell is playing the best basketball of his life right now — he is averaging 2.5 PPG and 3.0 APG more than last season while also improving his true shooting percentage by 11 percent. There’s no question that Jarrod Uthoff is Iowa’s most important player, but Gesell has emerged as the team’s Robin.
  4. Indiana‘s Thomas Bryant was awarded Freshman of the Week for the second time this season after dominating Ohio State’s frontcourt on Sunday — scoring 18 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in the blowout win. Perhaps the biggest improvement the young center has made during the season is with his defense. During Indiana’s loss to Wake Forest at the Maui Invitational, Bryant was consistently exposed on the pick-and-roll by the Demon Deacons’ Devin Thomas. In Big Ten play, the young Hoosier has gotten better off those screens with the proof being his 93.1 defensive rating during conference games. Indiana’s defense, once thought to be a major liability hindering the team’s success, is now being anchored by one of its youngest players.
  5. One of the most perplexing results of the season to this point is Purdue’s disappointing Sunday loss to Illinois. The Boilermakers were not able to take advantage of the Illini’s thin frontcourt and their top-ranked defense allowed Illinois to shoot 52.9 percent from the three-point line. Juan Crespo from SBNation identifies part of the problem, which is that they don’t have a lineup of five players whom Matt Painter can completely trust. Painter may still need to work on different lineups to prevent some of the offensive stalls that still arise too frequently for the Boilermakers. He’ll have a chance to straighten things out on Thursday night against Penn State.
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Big Ten M5: 01.11.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 11th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. Purdue dropped to 14-3 (2-2) on the year after losing to Illinois, 84-70, on Sunday night, and a familiar formula has emerged in each its three losses this season. Turnovers and shoddy offensive play have doomed this team, as AJ Hammons and Isaac Haas combined for only 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting. The defense that has been a constant positive all season failed miserably, as Illinois became the first team to shoot over 50 percent from the field against the Boilermakers in 37 games. Is there trouble in West Lafayette?
  2. The return of Michigan State‘s Denzel Valentine from a four-game injury hiatus did not bring a triple-double or a spectacular stat line. Rather, the senior looked a bit rusty early before scoring 10 second-half points as the Spartans blasted Penn State, 92-65, Sunday afternoon. One key takeaway from this game was that Tom Izzo’s squad might have become even better in its All-American’s absence. Eron Harris and Bryn Forbes have emerged as serious offensive threats, while post play has also improved significantly. If Valentine gets back to the productivity he displayed in the first 12 games of the season, Sparty is definitely on the short list of national championship contenders.
  3. If Indiana didn’t completely offset the stench of its early season play in the Hoosiers’ blowout win over Ohio State on Sunday afternoon, they have certainly come close. Tom Crean’s squad stayed undefeated in league play behind big efforts from big men Thomas Bryant and Troy Williams. Williams was especially productive in scoring a team-high 23 points, but what was more important was that he didn’t commit any momentum-killing turnovers. Indiana held the Buckeyes to a paltry 0.86 points per possession, and if the Hoosiers’ defense continues to improve, Indiana will be a dangerous team going forward.
  4. Crean also added a fourth commitment to his 2016 class on Saturday when Devonte Green pledged to his program. The younger brother of former North Carolina standout Danny Green, the Long Island native is a 6’3″ combo guard whom 247sports rates as the sixth best player from New York. Green is the third guard slated to join the Hoosiers next season, joining other commitments Curtis Jones and Grant Gelon in the backcourt.
  5. Nebraska rolled to its biggest road win in 96 years on Saturday, beating Rutgers by 34 points while shooting 56.9 percent from the floor and logging 52 points in the paint. Rutgers is missing some key interior pieces, of course, but the Cornhuskers played arguably one of their best games of the season in getting contributions from everyone. Andrew White III continues to prove that he is one of the best and most efficient scorers in the league, scoring over 20 points (28) for the fifth time this season.
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Big Ten M5: 01.04.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 4th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan State has started off 1-1 in Big Ten play and 2-1 overall since losing senior Player of the Year front-runner Denzel Valentine. The Spartans have especially struggled on the offensive end of the floor without Valentine’s scoring and play-making abilities. Sparty will only have to hold serve a bit longer however, as Valentine has targeted Michigan State’s January 10 game against Penn State for his return to action. According to ESPN.com, Valentine said that he’s just waiting on some of the swelling in his knee to go down. This means he will miss only one more game — on January 7 against Illinois.
  2. Iowa won at Purdue on Saturday for the first time since 2006, and it did so by erasing a 17-point halftime deficit. Senior leadership played a role as Jarrod Uthoff rallied the troops during a spirited halftime speech. The senior backed it up on the court as well, scoring 25 for the game. This means that Iowa will more than likely make their way into the Top 25 for the first time all season, and gives them two huge resume-enhancers for the week after they beat Michigan State earlier in the week as well.
  3. Marc Loving continues to lead a resurgence of sorts for Ohio State, as the Buckeyes held off Illinois on Sunday afternoon to go to 2-0 in league play. The junior wing went on a personal 6-0 run to help squelch an Illinois rally in the second half. Loving ended the game with 27 points, doing so by getting to the free throw line 19 times. The Buckeyes have needed someone to become their go-to-scorer, and Loving looks to be starting to emerge and take the offensive burden on his shoulders. Ohio State has now won six in a row, and look like they’ve turned a corner after their important non-conference win over Kentucky.
  4. Despite some uneven play during their first 14 games, Maryland is still a threat to cut the nets down in April as one of the most talented teams in all the land. They submitted one of their best performances of the season on Saturday when they beat Northwestern in Evanston. The Wildcats had been burning people with their perimeter shooting, but the Terrapins held them to a woeful 2-for-20 night from deep as Melo Trimble and Rasheed Suliamon harassed their shooters all night. After a shaky offensive effort against Penn State in their conference lid-lifter, the Terrapins won this one by displaying a stingy defense that if sustained, makes them one of the favorites to win the regular season crown in the Big Ten.
  5. In an assessment of Indiana’s two wins to start off Big Ten play, one of the major positives has been the play of the freshmen and of the bench at large. With James Blackmon Jr out of action, the likes of Nick Zeisloft, OG Anunoby, and Max Bielfeldt all have increased their production. This bodes well for if/when Blackmon Jr comes back into the lineup, as a deeper bench will allow the Hoosiers to more effectively play their uptempo offensive style without a drop off with the subs in the game. Bielfeldt and freshman Thomas Bryant have also done a nice job scoring in the post, giving the Hoosiers more ways to beat teams instead of always relying on jump shots.
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Big Men Standing Out Among Big Ten Freshmen

Posted by Patrick Engel on December 24th, 2015

Fall semesters have wrapped up across Big Ten campuses, and that means that league freshmen have now played 11 to 13 games and put a full semester of the collegiate experience behind them. As usual, their contributions run the gamut. Some have become invaluable parts of their teams; others are playing well but still going under-appreciated in fan circles; while a number of others haven’t yet cracked their teams’ rotations. As we enter the holiday break and look forward to league play starting on Tuesday next week, here is a look at how some of the Big Ten’s freshmen have performed so far this season.

Caleb Swanigan's addition to Purdue has taken this team to new heights in the early season. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Caleb Swanigan has been one of the Big Ten’s best freshmen and has helped make Purdue’s interior defense among the nation’s best. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Five Freshman Stars

(Note: Scout.com used for player ratings)

  • Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: This former five-star recruit has made Purdue’s front line even tougher than it already was. Purdue likes to play the 6’9″, 260-pounder alongside A.J. Hammons or Isaac Haas, which creates a special circle of hell for opposing teams and allows for more big-to-big passing on offense. Swanigan is averaging 11.2 PPG, 2.5 APG and a league-best 9.3 RPG, but he has exhibited a bit of a turnover problem (3.4 miscues per game).
  • Diamond Stone, Maryland: The No. 6 overall prospect in the class of 2015, Stone hasn’t been quite as good as fast as many thought he would be. Nevertheless, he has still put together a fine young season, averaging 10.7 PPG and 4.6 RPG as top-10 Maryland’s starting center. His 18.0 percent offensive rebounding percentage ranks ninth in the country, per KenPom.

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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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