It’s Time to Give Northwestern Some Love

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 21st, 2014

After the non-conference season is over, most power conference teams usually come away with a record significantly over .500. So when you start off 7-6 before you even get into your conference, you’re usually going to be doomed to a season where you might win 11-12 games overall. This still might be the case for the 2013-14 Northwestern squad, but the Wildcats have turned things around quite significantly in their last three games. The team has become elite defensively, allowing opponents to score an average only 48 points in their last three games. So what are the catalysts for this impressive turn around where they’ve gone from the team that struggled to beat Brown at home, to beating Illinois and Indiana in consecutive weeks?

Alex Olah has turned into a defensive force for the improving Wildcats( Nam Y. Huh, AP).

Alex Olah has turned into a defensive force for the improving Wildcats. (Nam Y. Huh, AP)

  • Alex Olah: At the beginning of the season, Olah looked like an abnormally tall human being who was told to play basketball simply because of his size. There was no energy, no passion, and no coordination. If you fast forward and take a look at how he’s played from November 9 to the present, you can see a tremendous difference. This can seen without even using one statistic. He aggressively posts now and tries to seal his man, almost like he just woke up one day and realized that he’s 7-feet tall and weighs 265 pounds. He’ll occasionally take a three here and there that the team could do without, but he’s done a much better job being active both offensively and defensively. Part of the reason teams don’t get many points in the paint against Northwestern is because of the presence of Olah in the middle. He’s pushed his averages up to 10.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 2.0 BPG in conference games, compared to 8.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 1.8 BPG in non-conference games. More importantly, he’s gone up from 25.1 MPG to 32.0 in league play. His ability to stay on the floor and not pick up cheap fouls that seemingly plague almost every big man in college basketball has lead to the team defense staying strong throughout the game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Weekend in Review: Iowa Sparkles While Illinois Falters

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 14th, 2014

The second weekend of the B1G conference season was considerably more exciting than the first, featuring two of the biggest upsets of the early season schedule. Northwestern won a game well before anyone would have predicted, and Iowa got the quality road win that it needed down the line. Meanwhile, Indiana, Michigan State and Purdue all survived nail-biters. Here’s some other highlights from the second weekend in Big Ten play.

Roy Devyn Marble led his team in scoring with 22 points in their upset of Ohio State (Joe Camporeale-USA Today Sports).

Roy Devyn Marble led his team in scoring with 22 points in their upset of Ohio State (Joe Camporeale-USA Today Sports).

Player of the Weekend: Roy Devyn Marble: Noah Vonleh and Denzel Valentine were both worthy candidates here as well, but Marble had a tremendous game against the Buckeyes. The main takeaway from his effort on Sunday afternoon was that he didn’t force anything. In the other losses this season for Iowa, Marble tried a little too hard to take over the game. He scored 27 points in the loss against Wisconsin a week earlier, but needed 24 shots to do it. In this game, he only needed 13 attempts to get to 22 points. He also added four rebounds, three assists, three steals, and two blocks to his all-around floor game. His size was a problem for Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott all day, as he did most of his damage on cuts and drives into the lane. He also was disruptive defensively, using his long arms to get into the passing lanes for steals. When Marble plays within himself and lets the game come to him, Iowa is just that much more dangerous.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Tre Demps: No Dave Sobolewski meant more minutes for Northwestern’s Demps, and he more than took advantage of the opportunity. He was simply an assassin in the second half, hitting three huge three-pointers in the last 6:32 of the game that proved to be the difference in the Wildcats’ 49-43 upset win over Illinois. Demps also chipped in eight rebounds and five assists in 33 minutes of action. The Big Ten’s third leading scorer off the bench might have triggered a permanent move of JerShon Cobb to the point, freeing up more minutes for the sophomore to make more of an impact in future games.

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Northwestern Showing Signs of Life But Still Has Problems

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 22nd, 2013

On Wednesday night, Northwestern went into the UIC Pavilion and ran Illinois-Chicago out of its own building. They won by 35 points, outdoing their expected KenPom outcome by 30 points. It was a much-needed win, considering up until then the Wildcats had been the most disappointing team in the Big Ten. Along with the losses of Jared Swopshire and Reggie Hearn, the team is still adjusting to Chris Collins’ new system and has reverted to throwing up threes when their half-court sets have fallen apart. Up until that game, nearly 44 percent of their total shots have been from the three-point line — most in the conference — and when they drove the ball to the basket, they weren’t finishing the play either (42.5 percent). On Wednesday the Wildcats finally began to attack the rim and couldn’t miss – hitting 64.5 percent of their two-point field goals. However, Northwestern’s blowout was more a product of a vulnerable opponent rather than any long-term fix.

Baylor's Athletic Size and Length Confounded Northwestern (AP Photo/C. Cherney)

Dave Sobolewski went for a career high 25 points on Wednesday (AP Photo/C. Cherney)

UIC, a team expected to finish in the middle of the Horizon League, has also underperformed relative to their already mediocre expectations. The Flames started the preseason ranked 262nd in the country, according to KenPom, but has since fallen to 302nd. Their defense has been less than stellar (giving up 106.4 points per 100 possessions) and their weaknesses played right into the Wildcats’ hands: poor perimeter defense and a stark lack of rim protection. For the season, UIC has allowed teams to shoot 46.7 percent from deep (342nd in the country). The Flames didn’t fare any better on Wednesday when they allowed the Wildcats to make 55 percent of their three-point shots. UIC has also allowed its opponents a free pass when they’ve been beaten off the dribble by only blocking 3.2 percent of all possible shots. Once Northwestern cleared space in the lane by sinking some threes, they were able to get to the rim easily. So as it turns out, UIC was a perfect match for the Wildcats to get the team’s confidence going.

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Evaluating Four of the Top Big Ten Sixth Man Candidates

Posted by Max Jakubowski on November 6th, 2013

Ed. Note: this list isn’t meant to be inclusive. Every team will have at least one solid sixth man candidate. These are meant to highlight only four of them.

Last year’s Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Will Sheehey provided a huge spark to Indiana off the bench, averaging 9.5 points per game to go along with nearly 35 percent shooting from three. The Hoosiers lost four starters from last year, so that means not only will Sheehey need to start but also a new winner for for this award will be crowned. Here’s a look at some of the players who have a great shot to capture it this season.

Shannon Scott Leads a Strong Group of Big Ten Sixth Men This Season

Shannon Scott Leads a Strong Group of Big Ten Sixth Men This Season

  • Shannon Scott – Ohio State, junior point guard – Scott possess all the skills of a starting point guard in a big time conference, but due to Aaron Craft starting at the position, Scott begins the game on the bench. He still sees plenty of playing time, as his defensive guard skill set is a perfect complement to Craft’s. Both guards allow head coach Thad Matta to pressure the opponents’ guards up and down the floor, making even dribbling the ball past half-court a difficult test. Matta is also not afraid to use Scott on the offensive end with Craft playing off the ball. Last year the Buckeyes frequently enabled a lineup of Craft, Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Deshaun Thomas and Sam Thompson. That is a small lineup, but it creates match-up nightmares as all five players can score from the perimeter. Scott will need to pick up his scoring average (4.9 PPG) as well as his 33 percent three-point average to make him an even more valuable offensive player off the bench.
  • Denzel Valentine – Michigan State, sophomore small forward – Comparisons of Michigan State great Draymond Green have been made with Valentine’s all-purpose game. But Valentine has not shown he can be the type of inside-out post player Green was. Keith Appling will be backed up by Valentine, who is a very good ball-handler for his size. He has shown in flashes that he can contribute in a number of ways for Tom Izzo, like when he put up nine points, six rebounds and six assists against Memphis in the third round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Valentine’s 4.1 RPG and 2.4 APG should increase this season, but the main area he needs to develop is his three-point shot.  He shot a dismal 28 percent from deep last season and the Spartans really need someone to become a three-point threat other than Gary Harris. If Valentine can push his percentage up to around 35 percent, it will be hard for Izzo to keep him off the court.

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Who’s the Best 3-Point Shooter in the Big Ten? An Analytical Look…

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 5th, 2013

The title of this post asks a pretty straightforward question: Who is the best shooter from deep in the Big Ten? Seems simple enough. But how do you define the “best” three-point shooter? Is it the player who makes the most threes? Is it the player who makes the highest percentage of his threes? Is it the shooting specialist who contributes the most to his team’s wins?  The best approach, of course, is to appreciate all three characteristics. So let’s do exactly that and look into the numbers.

Andre Hollins lit it up from deep last year.

Andre Hollins lit it up from deep last year. (AP)

First, we need to create a list of players in the Big Ten who meet certain criteria. For the purpose of this analysis, we will only include returning Big Ten players and use last season’s statistics for measurement. While we recognize that freshmen can be highly effective from long range right out of the gate — look no further than Michigan sophomore Nik Stauskas last year — we have no set methodology for projecting freshman output from their high school performance. Therefore, in the interest of convenience, no freshmen are included in this list. The next criterion is that players must have attempted at least 100 3-pointers last season and shot at least 30 percent from deep. This filters out players with a high percentage from a small sample size of 3-point attempts and gunners who put up too many bricks to be considered top-tier shooters.

The table below displays our initial list of candidates given those criteria, and their pertinent statistics from the 2012-13 season (from basketball-reference.com).

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Next Year Looking More and More Like “The Year” For Northwestern

Posted by KTrahan on December 18th, 2012

Every year, the question remains the same for a Northwestern team perpetually on the bubble: Can the Wildcats sneak into the NCAA Tournament? Last summer, it certainly seemed like this could be the year that NU would make the Big Dance for the first time in school history. Bill Carmody finally had two big men, an impressive recruiting class, a graduate transfer, and a solid group of returning stars including Drew Crawford, Dave Sobolewski, Reggie Hearn and JerShon Cobb.

The Loss of Drew Crawford Leaves Northwestern Searching For Answers

The Loss of Drew Crawford Leaves Northwestern Searching For Answers

However, things don’t always go as planned in college basketball, and NU certainly learned that quickly this year. Cobb was suspended for the season due to academic problems, the new players haven’t adjusted as quickly as fans had hoped, and Crawford wasn’t playing at all like himself. Now, we at least have an answer for the latter issue, as NU announced over the weekend that Crawford will miss the remainder of the season to have surgery on a torn labrum. Adding Crawford’s injury to the doubts following an inconsistent start to the season, it’s looking more and more like this won’t be “the year” for the Wildcats. But could that be a good thing for NU?

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Big Ten Team Previews: Northwestern Wildcats

Posted by KTrahan on October 18th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Northwestern Wildcats.

Where we left off: The NIT. Again. For yet another year, Northwestern inched closer to the NCAA Tournament — this year closer than ever — and the Wildcats fell short again. NU’s season was defined by close losses to Michigan (twice), Ohio State, Indiana and Illinois. Had the Cats won just one more of those games, they could have potentially made the Tournament. Heck, if they had just beaten Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament — another close loss — maybe they could have gotten there. Now, with a number of new faces, they begin this season firmly on the bubble once again.

Positives: I did an interview with coach Bill Carmody earlier in the offseason and he remarked that, with its new lineup, NU will “have some scoring inside.” That will be a much-needed addition after last year’s centers — Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti — struggled mightily. This year, 7’0″ freshman Alex Olah is expected to start at center and the Wildcats will also have 7’2″ freshman center Chier Ajou, who provides depth, even if he doesn’t play much initially. Additionally, senior Drew Crawford returns and Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire is expected to make a big impact right away. It will be a very big frontcourt for NU, something that has seemingly happened overnight and hasn’t occurred in Evanston for a long time.

Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire (ball) will be a key player to watch for Northwestern fans this season (Chicago Tribune)

Negatives: Can this team play defense? The Wildcats have added a lot of potential inside scoring with Swopshire and Olah, but the jury is out on whether the team can defend and grab rebounds, unlike last year’s squad. The perimeter defense is questionable, as well, as the team’s best perimeter defender — JerShon Cobb — was suspended for the year. And can this team find someone to take the last shot? Last year it was Crawford, and even though that didn’t work very well, this year it seems likely to be either Crawford or Swopshire. The Big Ten will be very strong again this year, meaning NU will be involved in a lot of close games. It must find a way to make big shots and play good defense in crunch time.

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RTC Conference Primers: #2 – Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2011

John Templon of Big Apple Buckets is an RTC contributor. You can find him on Twitter at @nybuckets.

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • Mid-Majors Newcomers Will Make Major Impact – Two graduate student transfers from mid-major schools are going to make an instant impact in the Big Ten. Brandon Wood could start in Michigan State’s backcourt after scoring 16.7 points per game last season for Valparaiso. Sam Maniscalco averaged 9.7 points per game for Bradley last season and might end up scoring even more for Illinois. Both players give their teams veteran pieces at positions that would’ve otherwise been dominated by youth.
  • Healthy Living – Robbie Hummel returns for Purdue and has the opportunity to make a big impact for the Boilermakers now that his former classmates have graduated. While Matt Painter couldn’t get Hummel on the court with JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, he does get the added bonus of having an All-America caliber forward to help shepherd this team into the postseason. Injuries also delivered a blow to Indiana, as Maurice Creek is going to miss the entire 2011-12 season. That’s after missing all but 18 games last season, and it’s a big blow to the Hoosiers’ NCAA hopes.
  • A New Head Coach In University Park – After leading Penn State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001, and falling to in-state rival Temple, Ed DeChellis saw the writing on the wall and left PSU for a more stable job at Navy. His replacement is former Boston University head coach Pat Chambers, who has a big rebuilding job on his hands after graduation of star guard Talor Battle.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Ohio State (16-2) 
  2. Wisconsin (12-6)
  3. Michigan (12-6)
  4. Michigan State (10-8)
  5. Purdue (10-8)
  6. Illinois (9-9)
  7. Minnesota (9-9)
  8. Northwestern (8-10)
  9. Indiana (8-10)
  10. Iowa (6-12)
  11. Nebraska (4-14)
  12. Penn State (3-15)

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RTC Summer Updates: Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 8th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Big Ten correspondent, Will Green.

Readers’ Take

Summer Storylines 

  • Sully’s Back, But With Demands – In the year 2011, in the age of ‘now,’ in a profit-first educate-yourself-later society, amidst a flittering of teenage NBA draft picks, ferocious freshman phenomenon Jared Sullinger decided to stay in school. How quaint. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing quaint about Sullinger, his (rightly) assumed sense of on-court leadership, his brutally physical style of play, or that Ja Ruleesque snarl that makes him look like a squirrel who just ate a questionable nut. But seriously, it’s highly unlikely that anyone other than Jordan Taylor will stand in the way of Sullinger winning the Big Ten Player of the Year Award, and rightfully so. He has spent the better part of the off-season slimming down and getting faster. The best player on the best team in the conference simply can’t suffer a slump; he’s worked too hard and has clearly made a commitment to improving his game before leaving for the pros. The question is less about what Sullinger’s level of performance will be than it is about the effect his performance will have on other members of his team. Last year, his 17 /10 were a reflection of consistent contribution that was also part of a greater team-wide cohesion. Jon Diebler, David Lighty and even Dallas Lauderdale each had pronounced and vital roles on last year’s team. They’re all gone now. While some of the supporting cast and several new stars-in-the-making will join Sullinger, will increased reliance upon him make OSU more of a one-man show? Or will the Buckeyes continue to roll out a team-focused squad with four scorers in double figures and a core group of five guys who notch 30 minutes a game? Whatever happens, Sullinger will be back and he will be better than last year. Consider yourself warned.
  • Welcome, Nebraska – On July 1, Nebraska officially joined the B1G, an acronym whose ludicrousness we continue to subconsciously validate by pronouncing it ‘Bih-one-ggg’. If you’re scoring at home, UNL’s entry makes for 12 teams in the Big Ten, a conference that shouldn’t be confused with the Big 12, which only has ten teams now since Nebraska left it. Now that we’ve all scratched our heads for second, we should pause to consider how massive the amount of potential football revenue must have been to persuade the intransigent Big Ten to alter its ranks. The Cornhuskers’ inclusion marks only the second change in league makeup since the 1950s. So how will the other 11 schools adjust to the adjustment? Football-wise, they should all watch their backs. On the basketball court, though, it probably won’t have a big (or should we say, a ‘B1G’) impact. Sadly for Husker fans, their roundball team loses two of their top three scorers and has some major offensive issues to solve in a league whose tempo of play limits even the country’s very best offenses. Head coach Doc Sadler continues to recruit a healthy mix of transfers and high school players, but over his five-year tenure nine of them have left due to reasons other than matriculation or the NBA. Nebraska has had some encouraging moments in recent years, including a five game improvement in Big 12 play from 2009 to 2010 (from 2-14 to 7-9). The team’s defensive efficiency would’ve finished fourth and it’s adjusted tempo would’ve finished fourth slowest in last year’s Big Ten. In some respects, Nebraska feels like a perfect match for the conference. And yet, for many of those same reasons, it might be a little out-matched in its first few years.
  • Ed DeChellis Leaves For Navy – Nowadays, stories like these are rarer than that bloody slice of carpaccio you once had at a fancy restaurant: a coach leaving a higher paying, higher-infrastructure, higher strength-of-schedule situation for a middle of the pack team in a unambiguously low-major conference. Make no mistake: Ed DeChellis didn’t become the new head coach at Navy. He stopped being the head coach at Penn State. Unless they’re ousted via scandal or especially egregious results you simply don’t hear about power six coaches voluntarily leaving for a “lesser” job. And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Or is it? The answer to that question centers around just how much “less” of a job the Navy coaching position really is, and if anything DeChellis might have done warranted the move. The wink-wink nudge-nudge consensus is that while DeChellis didn’t necessarily knock anyone’s socks off, the school refuses to take basketball seriously. Some have lambasted the athletic department’s commitment to DeChellis and the program overall at a school that’s known best for intense linebackers and an 84 year-old Italian-American man. It will be interesting to observe new head coach Patrick Chambersin his first few seasons and see whether or not he runs into a similar set of struggles as DeChellis did during his tenure. If the holistic drawbacks of coaching in University Park really outweigh the benefits to the extent that someone would walk away from the position, then PSU has bigger problems to fix than figuring out how to win in the Big Ten this season. But if anyone can overcome whatever said “drawbacks” may or may not be, it’s Chambers.

    The Buckeyes, led by big man Jared Sullinger, are easy favorites in the Big Ten.

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Conference Report Card: Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 13th, 2011


John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten conference. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • Coming into the season, the Big Ten was considered the best conference in America. Michigan State was expected to be in the Final Four again and Purdue, Ohio State, and Illinois were expected to be among the nation’s elite. Then the season started and the conference slipped a bit. The Big Ten didn’t live up to its lofty billing, with the exception of Ohio State, which sat at #1 in the polls for a large part of the season. Of course, Robbie Hummel’s knee injury didn’t help Purdue. Illinois wilted under the weight of too much talent and not enough leadership, whereas Michigan State just never seemed to find its footing against a difficult schedule.
  • As conference play went on, all the teams beat up on each other, creating a mess in the middle and leading to four teams (Michigan, Illinois, Michigan State and Penn State) receiving seeds between 8-10 in the NCAA Tournament. The conference went 2-2 in those games. But the disappointment in the NCAA Tournament came from the top seeds that failed to live up to expectations. Ohio State, the #1 overall seed, was dispatched by Kentucky in the Sweet 16 in Newark. Then again, that was better than Purdue managed to do, as the Boilermakers fell to VCU in Chicago. Wisconsin made it to New Orleans, but Brad Stevens outcoached Bo Ryan and the Badgers lost to a lower-seeded team once again.
  • Those losses meant the Big Ten finished a season of much promise with zero teams in the Elite Eight. Much like the conference’s well-publicized bowl game problems, the postseason left a sour taste after many teams played good basketball during the regular season.

The postseason was a struggle for everyone in the Big Ten, even Final Four regular Tom Izzo and his Spartans, which had to make a late run to even crack the field.

Team-by-Team Grades

A’s:

  • Michigan (A): Before the season the Wolverines were expected to compete with Iowa and Indiana to avoid the basement in the Big Ten standings. By the end of it, they were scaring #1 seed Duke in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. It was a remarkable job by JohnBeilein to get a young team ready to play. Darius Morris was the engine of the turnaround. The sophomore point guard scored 15.0 points per game and dished out 6.7 assists per game while leading a team composed of mostly freshman and sophomores. Tim HardawayJr., a freshman, was the team’s only other double-digit scorer at 13.9 points per game. Michigan didn’t have a single senior on its roster this season and, with two more talented backcourt recruits in CarltonBrundidge and TreyBurke coming in, it appears to be ready to be a big player in the conference moving forward although they are still waiting on Morris to officially decide on whether he will enter the NBA Draft.
  • Ohio State (A-): The Buckeyes didn’t get it done in the NCAA Tournament, but they were the #1 team in the polls for most of the season and had the best freshman in the country in Jared Sullinger. The loss to Kentucky certainly put a damper on the season. Still, Ohio State went 34-3 with its only two regular season losses being at Purdue and Wisconsin in conference play. David Lighty, DallasLauderdale, and JonDiebler all graduate, but if Sullinger is serious about sticking around the Buckeyes will be a national title favorite again next season. Especially considering they have two McDonald’s All-Americans in point guard ShannonScott and center AmirWilliams coming in along with small forwards SamThompson and LaQuintonRoss. It’s Thad Matta’s typical reload instead of rebuild plan.
  • Penn State (A-): Qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade makes the Nittany Lions’ season a success. Even though they lost to in-state rival Temple in the second round, 66-64, it was a thrilling game to end a satisfying season that included victories over Wisconsin (twice), Illinois, and Michigan State (twice). Oh, and a loss to Maine. Talor Battle finally got his chance to go to the NCAA Tournament and finished his career with 2,213 points, 624 rebounds, and 517 assists. He’ll certainly be missed next season along with frontcourt veterans David Jackson and JeffBrooks. Thus, Penn State has some size coming in with two 6’11 centers in PatAckerman and PeterAlexis, but the program is probably due for a bit of a backslide.

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