Big Ten Tournament Takeaways: Friday Night

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2016

After Purdue’s blowout victory over Illinois in Friday’s afternoon session, Michigan State and Maryland followed suit with a pair of drubbings of their own. The Spartans used a 14-2 run early in the second half to ease past Ohio State, 81-54, while the Terrapins shot the lights out against Nebraska on their way to an 11-point victory in the late game. Here are four takeaways from quarterfinal Friday in the Big Ten Tournament.

Maryland took care of business against Nebraska on Friday (Kiichiro Sato, Lincoln Journal Star)

Maryland took care of business against Nebraska on Friday. (Kiichiro Sato, Lincoln Journal Star)

Michigan State: The Spartans won by 27 points despite shooting poorly for a large stretch of the contest – which probably says something about just how good they are right now. Denzel Valentine was his usual versatile self, scoring 19 points to go along with nine rebounds and eight assists, but it was the play of Deyonta Davis (12 points, seven rebounds), Matt Costello (10 points) and Eron Harris (13 points) – along with stellar defense from start to finish – that made the difference. Watching Iowa and Indiana go down early in the tournament may have also had something to do with the Spartans’ dominant victory: “We saw that those two teams didn’t come out with as much fire as they had throughout the season… we had to be ready to play today,” Costello said afterwards. Next up for Michigan State is a rematch of last season’s Big Ten semifinal against Maryland.

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Big Ten Tournament Storylines to Watch

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 9th, 2016

The postseason has started and that means we get to enjoy five days of nonstop tournament basketball in Indianapolis. There is always a lot of drama to dig into during the Big Ten Tournament — rubber matches; teams angling for at-large bids and seeding; games between old rivals. We’re likely to see all of that and more after the tournament tips off this afternoon at 4:30 PM ET. In the interest of breaking down the event into four key storylines, here is your crib sheet for the week to come.

Without Caris Lever, Derrick Walton Jr. will need to lead the Wolverines to a respectable showing in the Big Ten Tournament to escape the bubble. (credit: ap.org)

Without Caris Levert, Derrick Walton Jr. will need to lead the Wolverines to a respectable showing in the Big Ten Tournament to escape the bubble. (AP)

  1. All eyes on Michigan State. Indiana may have won the Big Ten title outright, but it is Tom Izzo‘s Spartans that are the heavy favorites to win this tournament. Why is Michigan State such a big favorite? Try this: Sparty has the best player in the country; Izzo already owns four tournament titles; it’s the hottest team in the league, having won 10 of their last 11 games. To put it simply, the Spartans have been in March form for a while now.
  2. Michigan is on the wrong side of the bubble. Oh, how the Wolverines have fallen. At the turn of league play, Michigan owned a 7-2 Big Ten record and was in serious contention for the conference title. The Wolverines then went 3-6 in the second half of conference play and are generally viewed as a team with quite a bit of work to do this week. A 3-9 record against the RPI top 50 means that John Beilein‘s team will likely need to make an appearance in Sunday’s championship game to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. That would require a win over Indiana as well as Purdue or Iowa, a tall order for a team that typically hasn’t fared well against top competition. Read the rest of this entry »
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Reflecting on Denzel Valentine’s Versatile Career

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 3rd, 2016

In Fall 2012 Denzel Valentine was an overlooked freshman guard in a class defined by top-25 recruit Gary Harris. Four years of growth later, Valentine leaves East Lansing with an impressive skill set and leadership skills that represents an excellent case study in player development. Since his freshman year, his scoring has nearly quadrupled (from 5.0 PPG to 19.6 PPG); his long-range shooting has significantly improved (from 28 percent to 45 percent); and his assists have tripled (from 2.4 APG to 7.2 APG). While his improvement in several major statistical categories over his career is impressive, his ability to do so without forcing his way into Tom Izzo’s system is worthy of discussion.

Denzel Valentine (right) had to carve his own identity after Keith Appling (left) graduated (AP Photo/D. Martin)

Denzel Valentine (right) had to carve his own identity after Keith Appling (left) graduated (AP Photo/D. Martin)

Being the third option in an offense that traditionally highlights only two guards in the backcourt isn’t easy, yet Valentine was that guy for two seasons behind Harris and Keith Appling. When he was on the floor, he had to learn how to both play off the ball and without screens because Appling controlled the offense and Harris was the designated three-point gunner. Despite the lack of offense run for him, he found other ways to actively contribute, such as grabbing six rebounds per game as a sophomore. Valentine’s first two seasons highlight his perseverance and efforts to impact the game despite not having an integral role within Michigan State’s offense.

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Big Ten M5: 02.24.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 24th, 2016

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  1. The Big Ten on Monday awarded Indiana forward Troy Williams its conference Player of the Week honors for averaging 18.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assist and 2.5 steals per game in wins over Nebraska and Purdue last week. It was the second award of the year for a junior who has been instrumental in helping the Hoosiers move into contention for their second Big Ten title in four years. Williams may not have made the giant leap he had hoped — he averages fewer points and rebounds than last season — but he remains the team’s third-leading scorer and has improved on the defensive end. With his contributions leading the way, Tom Crean’s team hopes to win that regular season title as well as make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors went to Minnesota‘s Jordan Murphy for his 17 points and 11 rebounds against Maryland last Thursday. Although it wasn’t considered in the award, he forward followed up that performance with another terrific effort with 19 points and 14 rebounds in a win over Rutgers last night. His emergence is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season at Minnesota. He, along with classmate Nate Mason, gives Richard Pitino a glimmer of hope for Minnesota basketball going into the next season.
  3. Michigan State earned its sixth win in its last seven contests last night when Sparty handled Ohio State, 81-62. The Buckeyes prevented Denzel Valentine from scoring 20 points or dishing out 10 assists (he finished with “only” 17 points and eight assists), but they were unable to stop Bryn Forbes 27 points on 7-of-10 shooting from behind the three-point line. While a regular season title is still a long shot for a team two games back in the standings, Tom Izzo’s team is playing as well as any team in the country and is certainly in the mix for a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. As always, the Spartans appear to be peaking at just the right time.
  4. As Michigan makes a push to solidify its place in the NCAA Tournament with a game against Northwestern tonight, the Wolverines may again find themselves without the services of senior guard Caris Levert. In fact, the Wolverines’ two upperclassmen leaders, Levert and Spike Albrechthave been absent from John Beilein‘s lineup for a majority of the season. Despite those limitations, Michigan has managed to win enough games to remain competitive in the Big Ten race and appears poised to get back to the NCAA Tournament. It will come one step closer to that objective if it protects home court against the Wildcats this evening.
  5. The biggest conference game of the week will take place tonight when Wisconsin visits Iowa in a game that has major implications for both teams. The Hawkeyes need a victory to keep up with Indiana in the loss column in pursuit of a Big Ten title. The Badgers with a win could seal their place in the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin has steadily climbed back from a 2-5 Big Ten record to likely being a big win away from its 18th consecutive trip to March Madness. That would make quite the case for the administration to permanently hire Greg Gard and continue the Bo Ryan legacy in Madison for years to come.
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Big Ten M5: 02.15.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 15th, 2016

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  1. Indiana lost badly to Michigan State on Sunday afternoon, going to 6-6 on the season away from Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers are only one game off of the Big Ten lead, but in allowing Michigan State to put up 48 points in the second half and 1.28 points per possession for the game resuscitated old questions about the Hoosiers’ competence on the defensive end of the floor. The game also was notable for the disappearing act pulled by a scoreless Troy Williams. The junior had been the best player on the floor in the team’s earlier win over Iowa, but he needs to play up to his talent level if the Hoosiers want to make a deep run in March.
  2. It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops for Michigan State in the win over Indiana, though, as redshirt freshman Kenny Goins left the game in the first half with a knee injury. Tom Izzo fears that his post player will be out of action for the season. Goins had been playing well as a reserve big by taking minutes from Marvin Clark, but now it will be up to the sophomore to come in and produce in the same spots. Look for Gavin Schilling to also get more time, as depth is not a problem this year for Michigan State.
  3. Minnesota lost a close game to Iowa on Sunday night to move to 0-13 in Big Ten play, but there were several bright spots that could be taken away from the game. More specifically, the Gophers held the highly-efficient Hawkeyes to 42.1 percent shooting from the field, and the play of sophomore Bakary Konate. Konate led the team with nine rebounds and has shown increasingly frequent flashes of development. This team is clearly building for the future right now, so being able to hang with one of the best teams in the country shows that, despite a lack of victories, things could get better as early as next season with a core that is gaining experience and returning in 2016-17.
  4. Purdue has had a frightening propensity for blowing early leads this season, but its loss in the closing minutes to Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday may have set a new standard for late-game shoddy play. The Wolverines scored the final 11 points of the game after the Boilermakers had led by six with just a few minutes remaining. Purdue got a huge resume win earlier in the week in beating Michigan State, but the Boilermakers need to close strong with some damage in the Big Ten Tournament to move above the projected #4/#5 seed range they’ve been trapped in all the bracket projections.
  5. Things weren’t pretty earlier this season at Wisconsin. Slowly but surely, however, Greg Gard has kept his team’s focus and the Badgers have played their way back into NCAA Tournament contention with an 8-4 conference record. This gives athletic director Barry Alvarez an interesting decision to make with respect to Bo Ryan’s permanent successor. The Badgers have gone 9-4 since Gard took over, and has led some to believe that he should be named the permanent head coach going forward. It’s hard to argue against this notion considering how the team has turned things around and could very well make the NCAA Tournament in what was once appeared to be a lost season.
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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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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 12.11.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 11th, 2015

The college football championships are now in the books, which means basketball has center stage for a while. There are just under three weeks left in the non-conference portion of the schedule, so teams are still looking to notch a few resume-enhancing wins before conference play begins at the end of the month. Luckily for Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Nebraska this weekend, they will have those opportunities against top 100 teams this weekend. Here is your weekend preview of those four games.

Mark Loving (left) leads a very mediocre Buckeyes unit into Stoors on Saturday.

Mark Loving (left) leads a mediocre Buckeyes unit into Storrs on Saturday.

  • Ohio State at Connecticut (Saturday, 12:00 PM ET, CBS). The Huskies are coming off a tough loss at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, possibly because their coach, Kevin Ollie, received an ill-timed technical in the latter stages of the game. They’ll get another shot against a Big Ten team when the Buckeyes visit Gampel Pavilion on Saturday afternoon. Thad Matta’s young squad has looked its age as the Buckeyes commit a turnover in one out of every five possessions so far this season. If Ohio State can’t protect the ball against a very good Connecticut defense, they’ll slip below .500 with a record of 4-5, something that hasn’t happened this late in the season during the Matta era.
  • Marquette at Wisconsin (Saturday, 1:30 PM ET, ESPN2). If you haven’t yet heard, this version of Wisconsin isn’t your typical Bo Ryan team. Rather, this team, to the consternation of its head coach, shies away from three-pointers in favor of mid-range jumpers. Therefore, this rivalry game may rely on which player wins the battle in the paint between the Badgers’ Nigel Hayes and the Golden Eagles’ Henry Ellenson. While the freshman is bigger and more naturally gifted, the upperclassman knows how to take over a game — Hayes scored 32 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a recent loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Look for whoever wins this individual battle to set the tone for the rest of his team.

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The Big Green Machine: In Praise of Tom Izzo and the Steadiest Program in America

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 11th, 2015

If asked to list the best programs in recent college basketball history, most people would start with Duke and Kentucky, then move on to schools like North Carolina, Connecticut and Kansas. That quintet is a fine place to start. But how far down that list is Michigan State? At what point do Tom Izzo‘s Spartans find their way into that elite tier? Perhaps the now 15 full seasons since Michigan State last won the national championship contributes to the problem. Or maybe the issue is one of consistency rather than dominance. To that possible point, Michigan State finds itself atop the AP Poll this week for only the second time in the last 15 years.

Tom Izzo

Tom Izzo has had a lot to smile about this season. (Getty)

In those 15 seasons, Izzo’s teams have been as steady and as impressive as nearly any other program in the nation. The program’s five Final Four appearances is one more than Duke, Kentucky and Connecticut over the same span. It’s two more than UNC and Kansas. What’s more, Michigan State has been included in the AP Poll’s top 15 at some point in all but one season since 2000. More of these impressive achievements could be listed, but they don’t truly tell the story until placed into proper context. And that context is that Michigan State has achieved all of these things without dominating the all-important recruiting scene. ESPN.com’s team recruiting rankings extend back to 2007, and in those years Izzo’s classes have only cracked the top 10 twice (ninth in 2012; 10th in 2010), with an average ranking of 22nd. And that’s an estimated average, since Michigan State twice failed to make those rankings (outside the top 40 in 2013 and outside the top 25 in 2009). Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 12.02.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 2nd, 2015

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  1. I’ve grown numb to feelings of empathy for John Groce and Illinois. No man or program who has undergone so much bad fortune in such a short period of time can be innocent of prior wrongdoing. The Basketball Gods have proven angry with the Illini and they’ve recently claimed yet another soul with the likely season-ending injury of Mike Thorne. The graduate senior tore his meniscus in the Iowa State game on Saturday and subsequent surgery has left him out of the lineup indefinitely. Look for Leron Black and maybe even Malcolm Hill to fill in for his time spent at the four, while Michael Finke and Maverick Morgan try to replace his big shoes at center.
  2. Scoring is up this season, which was the goal of this year’s rule changes designed to create a more free-flowing game. But not everyone is happy with these changes. After Michigan State’s Sunday night victory against Providence at the Wooden Classic — a game in which the two main stars, Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — ran into early foul trouble, Tom Izzo criticized both the officiating and the new rules. It’s not a total surprise that Izzo would react unfavorably to this shift since his style of play isn’t frenetic, but Sparty seems to be adjusting just fine with a 7-0 record and a #3 ranking in the latest AP Poll.
  3. Speaking of the Spartans, Denzel Valentine has erupted onto the national stage with his incredible early performances against Kansas and Providence. Through a couple weeks, he has jumped out in front as the early favorite for National Player of the Year by averaging 19.9 PPG, 8.6 APG, and 8.9 RPG. Yahoo Sports‘ Jeff Eisenberg writes about how the Lansing native has gone from begging Izzo for a scholarship to a legitimate NPOY candidate. The way it’s looking now, Valentine will join a couple of other famous Michigan natives in Mateen Cleaves and Draymond Green who also rose to national prominence under Izzo’s tutelage.
  4. We’re in the midst of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge this week and the leagues are deadlocked at 4-4 with six games remaining. One of the nicer Big Ten wins last night was Michigan notching a 66-59 victory at NC State. The road victory represents a potential resume-enhancing win, but an ankle injury suffered by guard Derrick Walton may be the most lasting outcome from the game. If the junior needs to miss any significant time, it could spell trouble for the Wolverines as Spike Albrecht, the backup point guard, is coming off a hip injury of his own and is not thought to be fully healthy (although he did play some minutes last night).
  5. Finally, Purdue had the most impressive win of the night when it went into the Pete and defeated Pittsburgh by 13 points. The star of the evening was senior center A.J. Hammons, who recorded a double-double (24 points and 12 rebounds) and came up with several key buckets in the second half to help the Boilermakers close out a tight game. The big man has been coming off the bench since he missed the first few games this year because of an off-court issue. It’s no guarantee that Matt Painter will give him a starting spot back — his replacement Isaac Haas has been outstanding — but it also doesn’t much matter because he will get the bulk of the available minutes. Hammons is so integral to the success of this team that whether he’s technically starting is irrelevant.
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Morning Five: 11.20.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 20th, 2015

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  1. Much of the debate around college athletics on the macro level recently has focused in on how to allow student-athletes to share in the profits that they help generate. As we have mentioned in this space on several occasions the discussions are rather myopic as they ignore the potential implications of what a true free market would do to most of the athletes on scholarships in both revenue and non-revenue sports. Many others have also noted that most athletic programs do not generate a profit, but we didn’t realize how big that probably was until we read a report by The Chronicle that estimated that nearly $10.3 billion have been provided to athletic departments over the past five years via student fees and other subsidies. It is a long article, but it is an extremely interesting read if you want to consider the other side of the equation. There are obviously externalities involve that limit the ability to take away too much from this analysis, but hopefully it will make some of you reconsider the role that college athletics play within the college experience.
  2. It has been quite a week so far for John Calipari. Not only did Kentucky beat Duke rather easily on Tuesday night, but he also picked up a commitment from Malik Monk, the #5 ranked recruit in the country. Monk, an Arkansas native, ended up picking Kentucky over Arkansas leading to the inevitable backlash by Razorback fans as well as former Razorback star Bobby Portis. Monk’s commitment moves Kentucky’s class to the top of the recruiting rankings for the time being, but as we said when Edrie Adebayo committed there are still a lot of uncommitted players remaining on the board.
  3. Miami might not be the dominant force it once was in football, but their basketball team is increasingly becoming a more significant player in the ACC and national landscape. Outside of being much more competitive in the ACC than many expected them to be, the Hurricanes are also starting to make waves on the recruiting trail with Wednesday probably being the biggest day in the program’s history in terms of recruiting as they added two top-30 commitments in Dewan Huell and Bruce Brown. Huell, a 6’9″ power forward who goes to school near Coral Gables, picked Miami over South Carolina while Brown, a shooting guard from Massachusetts, picked Miami over Indiana. While the decision of a player to stay at home over going to South Carolina is not that big of a surprise, an out-of-state player choosing to go to Miami over Indiana certainly is.
  4. With college football season winding down and college basketball season picking up steam the dynamics within athletic departments can be interesting as the two sides compete for attention in resources. Few schools have the success in both sports that Michigan State enjoys, which makes the relationship between Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo even more interesting. We aren’t privy to the relationship between most basketball and football coaches at major colleges, but most of the stories we have heard are about jealousy and how the coaches fight for resources so it seems like this relationship is somewhat unique although that may be affected by the fact that both of them are successful to a level that few in their respective sports are.
  5. New Mexico forward Devon Williams has decided to stop playing basketball after a medical exam demonstrated that he had cervical spinal stenosis. Williams who underwent the exam on Wednesday after a fall on Sunday led him to lose feeling in his extremities for ten minutes. The on-court loss of Williams, who started 30 games last season, is a significant blow to the Lobos, but he will stay involved with the team acting as another coach.
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