The Drive for Five: What Lies Ahead for the Big Ten Bubble Dwellers

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 2nd, 2018

The Big Ten has put at least five teams in the NCAA Tournament in every season since 2008, four years before the league expanded to 12 schools and seven years before it expanded to 14. In fact, you’d have to go back to the pre-Rutgers era (2013-14) to reach the last time the conference sent fewer than seven teams to the Big Dance. That will almost certainly change this season. According to Bracket Matrix, only three of 68 recently-updated bracket projections have more than four Big Ten schools in the NCAA Tournament. The fact is, outside of Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan, the league’s bubble hopefuls still have considerable work to do before earning serious consideration. With February now upon us, let’s examine which teams still have a shot and what they’ll need to do in order to punch a ticket.

It’s been all smiles for Nebraska lately. But will the Huskers go dancing? (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Nebraska (17-8, 8-4) RPI: 57 | KenPom: 56. Nebraska turned a nine-point second-half deficit at Wisconsin on Monday into a runaway 11-point win, the type of season-saving — perhaps season-defining — win its fans won’t soon forget. The Huskers have no RPI sub-150 losses to their name, but also don’t have much to speak of in the “good win” category. Outside of its home win over Michigan, Nebraska is winless against the RPI top 50. With four of their final six games at home — including contests against fellow NCAA Tournament hopefuls Maryland and Penn State — the Huskers will probably need to hold court and avoid a road loss at Illinois on February 18. Even then, at least one quality Big Ten Tournament win (think Michigan or Ohio State) might be necessary for Tim Miles’ group to feel good heading into Selection Sunday. Considering how well James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland have played in recent weeks, that’s certainly within the realm of possibility.

  • RPI Top 50 Wins: vs. Michigan
  • RPI Sub 150 Losses: None
  • Opportunities Left: vs. Maryland (February 13); vs. Penn State (February 25)

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For Penn State to Contend, Balance and Depth Will be Key

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 12th, 2017

Penn State’s dismantling of George Washington on Saturday was Nittany Lion basketball at its finest: All five starters scored in double-figures; the defense wreaked havoc with its ¾ court press; and the team crashed the offensive glass with authority. Penn State led 48-19 at halftime and never looked back. “When we spread the ball and share the ball, we’re a really good basketball team,” head coach Pat Chambers said afterward. What Chambers’ team did not do on Saturday, though, was generate much contribution from its bench — especially on the offensive end. Nittany Lion reserves accounted for just seven of the team’s 74 points, which was actually an improvement from its previous two games combined. With its most talented lineup in years and a defense predicated on energy, Penn State’s ability to consistently distribute the wealth and develop quality bench depth may ultimately determine its ceiling. 

Big Ten All-Freshman point guard Tony Carr has been nothing short of superb thus far, taking the “next step” in offensive production and efficiency many figured he would. The sophomore’s scoring average (20.0 PPG), offensive rating (119.4 ORtg), and three-point shooting (55% 3FG) are up substantially from a year ago, the result of an off-season commitment to improving his form. After a 31-point outpouring against Texas A&M, Aggies coach Billy Kennedy said of Carr, “I think he’s a pro; he’s good… he knows how to get to his spots anywhere.” And yet, outcomes like that one — a game in which Carr attempted 20 shots — might not be what’s best for Penn State, considering the complementary talent that surrounds him.

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Big Ten Preview Part III: Key Questions for Indiana and Penn State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 1st, 2017

With the season just a little over a week away, Rush the Court’s Big Ten preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we address Indiana and Penn State.

#10 Indiana – Will the Hoosiers buy in defensively?

Archie Miller is preaching defense in Bloomington. (Joe Ullrich, CNHI Sports Indiana)

Over Tom Crean’s last four seasons at Indiana, the Hoosiers ranked outside of the top 50 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency three times, including a 2014-15 campaign that set the program’s worst mark in the KenPom era (106.0). During that same span, Archie Miller-coached Dayton finished in the top 50 three times, reaching the NCAA Tournament all four years and twice advancing to the second weekend. The Flyers hung their hats on disciplined man-to-man defense and opportunistic aggression, principles Miller hopes to instill right away in Bloomington. If his new team fully commits, the ceiling on Indiana — projected by KenPom to go 8-10 in the Big Ten this season — should be higher than anticipated, even if it takes a step back offensively. The Hoosiers lose their three most dynamic weapons on that end of the court, with James Blackmon (17.0 PPG), Thomas Bryant (12.6 PPG), and OG Anunoby (11.1 PPG in 16 games) all leaving early. While Robert Johnson (12.8 PPG), forward Juwan Morgan, and point guard Josh Newkirk should keep the offense afloat, it’s hard to see Indiana scoring at the eye-popping rate it has in each of the past three seasons. Greater intrigue — and room for improvement — lies on defense, where frontcourt size will be an issue, but versatility will not. On the one hand, rim protection may be a concern: with the 6’10” Bryant no longer lurking the paint, only one returning player stands taller than 6’7″. On the other hand, Miller’s Dayton squads were often defined by their lack of size, great versatility and penchant for swarming the paint. With players who can defend multiple positions like Morgan, Colin Hartman, and a slimmed-down DeRon Davis, Indiana has the potential to make a vast, immediate improvement on the defensive end. That is, of course, if Miller can get can get his offensive-minded roster to fully buy in.

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Big Ten Feast Week Primer: Part One

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 18th, 2016

Ten of the 14 Big Ten teams will play in early-season tournaments over the next 10 days. Most of the action will occur in the heart of Feast Week between November 21-28, but a pair of teams will get things started this weekend. Michigan is already in New York City for the 2K Classic while Penn State will travel to Connecticut on Saturday to play in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. Here’s a quick guide to this weekend’s festivities.

Zak Irvin will try to lead Michigan to a 4-0 start in the 2K Classic this weekend. (Getty).

Zak Irvin will try to lead Michigan to a 4-0 start in the 2K Classic this weekend. (Getty).

2K Classic Benefiting Wounded Warrior Project

  • Teams: Michigan, Marquette, SMU, Pittsburgh
  • Capsule: Michigan beat Marquette convincingly last night and has started the year 3-0. The Wolverines are getting excellent balance in scoring across its starting lineup, with four players averaging double figures but only one instance of an individual breaking 20 points (Derrick Walton hit for exactly 20 against Howard). Michigan advances to play SMU, also 3-0 after a surprising win over Pittsburgh, in the 2K Classic championship game tonight.
  • Key Player: Duncan Robinson: Robinson needed to find his shooting stroke and a 3-of-4 performance from three-point range last night could set him on his way. As a whole Michigan hasn’t shot the ball all that well yet from the perimeter (36.8 percent from three), but expect this team of excellent shooters to eventually push that number toward 40 percent.
  • Prediction: The Wolverines will win this event. SMU notched a nice win over Pitt, but Michigan utterly dismantled a Marquette team that looked great last week against Vanderbilt.

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Shep Garner is Still Penn State’s Most Important Player

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 7th, 2016

Most of the headlines at Penn State coming into this season are centered around a trio of players from Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic High School. Head coach Pat Chambers‘ recruiting has been on the rise after landing two top 100 players last season (Josh Reaves and Michael Watkins) and prep teammates Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Nazeer Bostic this season. And while bringing in Big Ten-level talent certainly bodes well for the future of the Nittany Lions’ program, it will be up to junior guard Shep Garner to lead the school out of the B1G’s bottom tier.

Shep Garner is Penn State's leading returning scorer and most experienced player. (Mark Selders).

Shep Garner is Penn State’s leading returning scorer and most experienced player. (Mark Selders/Getty)

Garner has started 64 of his 66 games in a Penn State uniform, beginning his career in a point guard role while DJ Newbill led the way offensively. Last season, he acted as both the primary perimeter scoring threat and distributor. The addition of Carr this season will likely allow him to concentrate on scoring. His 36.6 percent shooting from three-point range last season belies his reputation as one of the streakiest shooters in the Big Ten, but he should get better looks (and a corresponding opportunity to improve his marksmanship) with a point guard locating him in his preferred spots. Where he needs some work are in the areas of getting to the free throw line and to the rim more often — his 33.1 percent free throw rate needs to improve, as does his 40.0 percent conversion rate on two-point field goals. Even with Brandon Taylor taking more than 30 percent of the team’s shots while on the floor, Garner managed to score more than 20 points seven times in Big Ten games last season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part II

Posted by Patrick Engel on April 7th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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