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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Bryant McIntosh: Northwestern’s Unlikely All-Big Ten Player

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 14th, 2016

It was November 13, 2013, when the perennially woeful Northwestern basketball program and its up-and-coming coach, Chris Collins, inked the best class in the school’s history — a group that ESPN ranked 21st nationally. Vic Law was the crown jewel. The south Chicago suburb native was a 6’7″ wing with length, versatility, and high-major athleticism — the type of player who typically doesn’t find his way to Evanston. In fact, Law’s surprising commitment to the Wildcats — he had offers to more notable programs such as Colorado, Providence, and VCU — was seen by many as a leap of faith in Collins. Now, over two years later, Law is out for his sophomore season after undergoing surgery for shoulder injury following a so-so freshman season in which he averaged 7.0 PPG and 4.8 RPG. But while Law awaits his return to the floor next season, the 15-3 (3-2 Big Ten) Wildcats are being led by another commitment from that November day two years ago, a little-known point guard from Greensburg, Indiana, by the name of Bryant McIntosh.

Bryant McIntosh has emerged as one of the best guards in the Big Ten.

Bryant McIntosh has emerged as one of the best guards in the Big Ten. (Getty)

McIntosh had been off the radar of most major recruiting services and had committed to Indiana State before picking up interest from several high-major programs during the July recruiting period prior to his senior year. He then quickly rescinded his pledge to the Sycamores and chose Northwestern over Purdue. Like Law, McIntosh was swayed by the charisma of Collins as well as a promise of being the four-year point guard of a squad evolving into a legitimate Big Ten program. Unlike Law, McIntosh has outperformed all expectations in turning into the breakout star of the Wildcats’ 2014 recruiting class. In fact, he has been so good that in just his second season he has become a first team All-Big Ten caliber player. Take a look at his season numbers below. Read the rest of this entry »

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Levy’s B1G Layup Line: Week 1

Posted by Adam Levy on November 19th, 2015

Welcome to Rush the Court’s first ever edition of Levy’s B1G Layup Line, a weekly column set to give you all the water cooler material you need for all things Big Ten basketball. If you’re reading this, congratulations – you’re losing your virginity to this column, and so am I. We’re now linked together forever as eskimo brothers; if we’re going to embark on this season-long journey together, we may as well check ourselves into the EBDBBnB and enjoy it.

Before we do that, though, let’s break in the 2016 season by recapping what was a very interesting first week in the Big Ten.

REPORT CARD

Denzel Valentine Put on a Show in Chicago Tuesday Night

Denzel Valentine Put on a Show in Chicago Tuesday Night

A: Denzel Valentine

I could make this all about Michigan State’s incredible come-from-behind victory against a rock-solid Kansas team poised to win its 12th straight Big 12 title. But I won’t. Reason being: Denzel Valentine is a freak of nature. The captain of both a veteran Spartans’ team and the “How is He Still In College?” team made history on Tuesday night in front of 50+ NBA executives and scouts at the United Center, becoming the fourth player in Michigan State history to post a triple-double (Magic Johnson – 8; Draymond Green – 3; Charlie Bell – 1) with an absurd 29/12/12 stat line and earning himself a postgame phone call from Magic Johnson. Valentine scored or assisted on 22 straight points in the second half to dig his team out of an 11-point hole and give Sparty a permanent lead. Without him, Michigan State loses by over 20. You don’t usually see the best individual performance of the season happen in mid-November, but this very well may have been it.

B: Caleb Swanigan

Speaking of Michigan State, their favorite non-Spartan had himself a weeeek. He recorded a double-double in each of his first two collegiate games (12.5 points, 12.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game), earning his first Freshman of the Week honor in as many tries. With two massive seven-foot centers and no big to stretch the floor last season, Swanigan was the key missing variable to solving Purdue’s frontcourt equation. Now that AJ Hammons is back, it’s absolutely terrifying to think about what that frontcourt is capable of doing.

C: Maryland Terrapins

You’d be hard pressed to find a basketball fan out there who didn’t think Maryland was a top-five team nationally heading into the season. What those people need to be reminded of is that 60.0 percent of this team’s starting five is brand new (Rasheed Sulaimon; Robert Carter; Diamond Stone). It will take more than a week for Mark Turgeon to mold the clay and allow his team time to develop chemistry and learn to play together. It was no surprise to see Maryland struggle to put away a gritty Georgetown team in a game where Melo Trimble did not score until about five minutes left in the first half. And after all that talk about Maryland’s top notch frontcourt, it was the Terps’ small-ball lineup (Jake Layman at the four; Carter at the five) – the method that led to their 28 wins last season – that won out. Sure, a win’s a win. But this thing will take a little time. Patience, people.

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Is This Finally the Year for Northwestern?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 4th, 2015

It’s legendary throughout the North Side of Chicago for its pure length of futility. It’s one of the longest streaks in sports, and dogged followers have hoped for decades that the drought would soon be over. Now, here in 2015, it appears that better days are finally coming. For the fans that have stuck around, the imminent snap of the curse will only be sweeter for their having endured decades of losing. And while the Chicago Cubs may soon end their 107-year World Series championship drought, we are not talking about the boys from Wrigley Field here. Rather, Northwestern hoops and its string of 77 seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance (the Wildcats are the only original Division I school in a power conference that has never made the field) could very well come to an end this season. They’ve been close before and there are some extremely positive signs appearing in Evanston as we approach tipoff. Here are three reasons why Northwestern — yes, those Wildcats — could indeed go dancing this March.

Tre Demps and fellow senior Alex Olah will be team leaders for Northwestern(Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

Tre Demps will be a key leader for Northwestern (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

  • Experienced Leadership: Two seniors who have been in Evanston through thick and thin over the last three seasons have steadily improved throughout their careers. Alex Olah and Tre Demps were both honorable mention all-B1G selections last season and are without question two of the league’s top returnees. Olah in particular has made leaps and bounds since his freshman season, improving his scoring from 6.1 PPG as a freshman to 11.7 PPG as a junior. His offensive rating went from 88.8 to 106.2 in the same period despite the fact that he is also using more possessions (21.8 to 24.1 percent). Notwithstanding the math, the eye test confirms that Olah has come a long way and it’s tough to find any player in the Big Ten who has improved as much over the same timeframe as he has. Demps has also become a more complete player, having evolved from a modest scoring option off the bench into a high-usage, heavy minutes offensive leader. He’s increased his assists every season and has also seen a spike in both his scoring (from 7.6 PPG as a freshman to 12.5 PPG last season), and offensive rating (94.3 to 102.6). Quality backups for Olah and Demps are also in place this season, with Virginia Tech transfer Joey van Zegeren prepared to spell the former and freshman combo guard Jordan Ash ready to supply good minutes for the latter. In general, Chris Collins has more talented depth at his disposal than he’s ever had in Evanston. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Storylines Heading Into Next Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 17th, 2015

There are still some dominoes to fall in terms of Big Ten roster turnover in coming weeks but we already have a pretty good idea of how the league will look next year. Here are a few things to ponder as Big Ten fans brace themselves for seven months without any games with which to occupy their time.

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

  • Return to Multiple Conference Championship Contenders: Wisconsin essentially went wire-to-wire this season, going from the unanimous preseason favorite to winning both the conference regular season and postseason titles. Next season should be a bit more like the 2013-14 campaign with several teams with a realistic shot to win the league. Maryland is rightfully getting a good deal of love in the preseason “way-to-early” top 25 lists. The Terps will return two of their top three players in Melo Trimble and Jake Layman and will add a bruiser down low in freshman Diamond Stone. Indiana (assuming both Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. return to Bloomington), and Michigan State could also very well start the season in the top 15 nationally. Thomas Bryant will give the Hoosiers someone to keep defenses honest inside, while Sparty adds Eron Harris, Devonta Davis, and Caleb Swanigan to a nucleus of eight players who were contributors on a Final Four squad. These three should all challenge for the top spot in Big Ten play next season.
  • Wisconsin Rebuild: It will be fun to observe how Bo Ryan replaces the multiple talented pieces that he is losing from a group that went to back-to-back Final Fours. He has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt so as to figure that players like Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter will break out with more playing time next season. Getting key starters Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig back is also a pretty decent starting point. How far will the Badgers actually fall, and how long will it take for the newcomers to make an impact?

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Northwestern and Michigan Show in Instant Classic the Future Appears Bright

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 4th, 2015

Given all the talk about the Big Ten’s bubble teams, there wasn’t much hype for a game between two squads with losing conference records. But Michigan and Northwestern played a double-overtime classic in Evanston on Tuesday night, exhibiting that both programs are clearly trending upward with young rosters and an eye on 2015-16. Here are some quick observations from last night’s game that echo the larger point.

Tre Demps is one of the best late-game shooters in the B1G. (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

Tre Demps is one of the best late-game shooters in the Big Ten. (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

  • Alex Olah could be one of the most improved players in the league, as he has become a solid low post threat for the Wildcats. Other than Frank Kaminsky, he might have the best footwork in the conference. He is fundamentally sound with the ball, keeping it high when he makes the catch after establishing his position in the lane. Olah murdered Michigan on the low blocks last night and also displayed an ability to knock down an open 15-footer as well. He went for 25 points and 12 rebounds, his seventh double-double of the season.
  • Tre Demps has evolved into a much more complete player this season. Mainly just a bench option last season, he’s become a much better all-around offensive threat. He’s still a bit streaky, but he has the mentality to take and make big shots in late-clock situations. In Northwestern’s last six games, Demps has averaged 15.5 points along with 3.8 assists per contest. His ability to get into the lane makes the Wildcats’ offense much more diverse, as he’s shown that he can either finish at the rim or kick the ball out without turning it over.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 24th, 2015

We would hope that the games would improve heading into the Big Ten Tournament in a couple of weeks, but last weekend proved that this isn’t always the case — there was only one Big Ten game where the outcome wasn’t decided until the final minute. Teams at the bottom of the standings like Nebraska, Penn State and Rutgers are basically raging dumpster fires right now, which reveals one of the biggest differences between last season and this one. The notion that “any Big Ten team can beat another on any given night” doesn’t seem to have much to it this year. It’ll therefore be interesting to see if the divisions hold suit as we head into early March and postseason play. There were some positive performances from the weekend, however, and the awards for those follow below.

Aaron White posted a double-double in Iowa's win in Lincoln over Nebraska. (USA Today Images)

Aaron White posted a double-double in Iowa’s win in Lincoln over Nebraska. (USA Today Images)

  • Player of the Weekend: A probable First-Team All-Big Ten selection unless Iowa takes a severe nosedive in the final two weeks, Aaron White did all the things he normally does against Nebraska with the exception of one vital thing — he went 2-of-2 from behind the arc. For a shooter who is still only 11-of-41 from distance on the season, this area of his game is the only thing that could prevent him from becoming a bona fide NBA player. He’s athletic; he can rebound; and he averages 6.7 free throw attempts per game without being a ball-stopper. On Sunday the senior went for 18 points and 11 rebounds as Iowa blitzed Nebraska on its home court. He contributed an offensive rating of 165.0 and now ranks fourth in the conference in that metric on the season. If this game represents the start of White gaining confidence in his outside shot, then he could be well on his way to leading a deep Iowa postseason run where his stock as a prospect skyrockets.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Northwestern’s Vic Law became the second Chicago Catholic League alumnus to win this honor in the last two weeks. Following his classmate Scottie Lindsey’s efforts against Iowa, Law did him one better with an even stronger performance on Saturday as his 3-of-5 shooting from the perimeter and 11 rebounds made him the best player on the floor. In an uneven season where Bryant McIntosh has been the best of the five Northwestern freshmen, Law flashed what Wildcats fans imagined when he entered the school as the first top-100 recruit of the Chris Collins era. He is an elite athlete who can rebound and run. Northwestern is starting to show that it is poised to turn the corner, and the progress of Law is one of the main reasons why.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 17th, 2015

Valentine’s Day weekend in the Big Ten was dominated by love for the three-pointer. Indiana showed its affection for the trifecta by bombing away to the tune of a school-record 18 makes against Minnesota. Purdue was able to nail eight threes of its own in a key win against Nebraska, including four from a struggling Kendall Stephens. Northwestern hit on nine attempts from long distance in its surprising upset of Iowa. Finally, Michigan State’s aptly-named Denzel Valentine broke hearts all over the Buckeye State by hitting a game-winning three in the waning seconds of its win. Here are the rest of the highs and lows from an interesting weekend around the league.

Troy Williams led Indiana in reboudning as they dominated the glass against Minnesota.  (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

Troy Williams led Indiana in reboudning as the Hoosiers dominated the glass against Minnesota. (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

  • Player of the Weekend: In a weekend full of great performances, Indiana’s Troy Williams gets this weekend’s nod in that he managed to do his usual work on the glass (nine boards) while also scoring 19 points on a very efficient 10 field goal attempts. The sophomore also tripled his three-point output for the season, hitting both of his attempts after entering the game only 1-of-6 on the year. If Williams can add a long-range shot to his offensive arsenal, he will be a certain first-round pick whenever he chooses to leave Bloomington for the professional ranks.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Chicago Catholic League alumnus and Northwestern freshman Scottie Lindsey has largely struggled to adapt to Big Ten play. Heralded as a knockdown outside shooter, the lanky swingman didn’t hurt Iowa over the weekend with his shooting prowess. Instead, Lindsey subbed for fellow freshman Vic Law (foul trouble) and played a season-high 38 minutes off the bench. He contributed seven points, six rebounds, a couple assists and three of his team’s 13 blocks as the Wildcats notched a win that they desperately needed.

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Even in Defeat, Northwestern Offers Hope for the Future

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 23rd, 2015

Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament drought will not be ending this season. It’s not as if inclusion in this March’s field of 68 was ever an expectation for this group of Wildcats (because it wasn’t), but Thursday night’s loss to Ohio State dropped Chicago’s Big Ten team to what will almost certainly be an insurmountable 1-5 in conference play (10-9 overall). D’Angelo Russell (33 points, seven rebounds, six assists) may have been superior to any player the ‘Cats have faced this season (head coach Chris Collins admitted as much afterwards), but the defeat was just another in a string of excruciatingly close Northwestern losses. In overtime at Michigan State. By five to intrastate rival Illinois. A two-point defeat at Michigan. And then Thursday night, where Ohio State needed every point of its best player’s career game to eke out a two-point victory. The Wildcats haven’t gotten over the hump yet, but they have been consistently close. Right now, that seems to be good enough for Collins.

Chris Collins Displeasure With The Officiating Thursday Night Did Not Stop Him From Appreciating His Wildcats' Efforts

Chris Collins Displeasure With The Officiating Thursday Night Did Not Stop Him From Appreciating His Team’s Effort (AP)

You wouldn’t expect the head coach of a team that has won just one of its first six conference games to be especially optimistic after a loss, but Collins exuded confidence. In the postgame presser he repeatedly talked about how hard his guys had played, even saying, “It was so tough that they are not getting the results they deserve.” It was the opposite of a woeful mentality; this was a coach who believes in his players and everything they put on the floor last night. In his mind, they wholeheartedly deserved to win, and maybe after another season of close calls, he feels that they will turn the corner. Even while complaining about a controversial (and incorrectly called) blocking foul in the final minutes, Collins aired his postgame grievances with a knowing, almost-cocky smile across his face. He wanted the win for his guys (if you need it, here’s proof, via his in-game reaction to that missed call), but that steady confidence from trusting the system he’s developing belied contentment with the final result. Close was okay on this night; his team had played well enough to win.

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State of the Conference: Big Ten Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 20th, 2015

Tonight, the leader of the free world will address Congress in his annual State of the Union. The President will describe the condition of the United States and his agenda for the year to the bicameral legislative body and millions of Americans watching at home. This got me thinking. What would the equivalent from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany sound like? Would he be happy with this season’s performance from the Big Ten? Is there any more conference expansion on the horizon? I decided to put on my speechwriter hat and give it a whirl. For the first time ever, a fictional Delany is ready to address millions of Big Ten fans across the country in his inaugural State of the Conference. Enjoy.

What Does Jim Delany's Latest Move Mean For The Big 12? (US Presswire)

Jim Delany has turned the Big Ten into a dominant conference in basketball for the long term. (US Presswire)

The transcript of Jim Delany’s fictional State of the Conference is below:

My fellow Big Ten fans, the state of the Big Ten is good. While good may be satisfactory for some, it falls short of the level of excellence this conference has come to expect. But I remain confident that, come Selection Sunday and the NCAA Tournament, the Big Ten will surprise many, and I would remind everyone that we have a team in Wisconsin that is still considered a top tier team capable of bringing home the Big Ten’s first national championship since 2000. Likewise, we also have a player who is on the short list for National Player of the Year in Frank Kaminsky. On the matter of Wisconsin, there’s been much talk about inequality in our conference. That there is one team above all, and the rest of the league is mediocre. But a little over a week ago, I saw this same squad lose to a team most expected to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten. Rutgers’ defeat of Wisconsin shows us that no game is a gimme. And as a result, we are getting high drama each and every week, which is generating some of the most exciting basketball in the country.

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Big Ten M5: 01.14.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 14th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Northwestern has gotten off to a decent 10-6 start overall with an extremely young lineup. Vic Law came from Chicago’s famed Catholic League as what Wildcat fans hoped would be the beginning of a beautiful relationship between Chris Collins and the Windy City’s best high school players. Fellow freshman Bryant McIntosh has shined, while Law has struggled to adapt to the physicality of Big Ten basketball.  It’s too early to write him off as a bust, but Law needs to produce more than the 2.7 PPG and 4.0 RPG he has contributed in his first three B1G games.
  2. While things haven’t been great this season for Michigan, they have something to look forward to on January 24. Consensus top five wing Jaylen Brown will make an official campus visit on that Saturday when the team takes on Wisconsin at the Crisler Center. Brown would obviously be an enormous coup for the Wolverines. The team they have this season is mainly made up of underclassmen. Even if Caris LeVert were to leave early, having Brown to go along with most of the pieces that should return to Ann Arbor could make the 2015-16 Michigan unit one to be reckoned with in the league next season.
  3. Hanner Mosquera-Perea suffered a knee injury on Monday in practice, leaving Indiana and their already undersized frontline even smaller. The junior from Columbia is averaging 7.5 PPG and 5 RPG this season in a little under 21 minutes of court time. He had been in Tom Crean’s doghouse for getting into early foul trouble in recent games, and now it looks as though Emmitt Holt and Collin Hartman will get most of his minutes inside for the Hoosiers. Hartman played 23 minutes with Holt logging 13 in their win over Penn State last night, but it’s worth monitoring the situation to see how Indiana survives after going from very little size to no size at all.
  4. Frank Kaminsky will be back in the Wisconsin lineup Thursday night when they take on Nebraska in Madison. The senior who leads the team in four major categories (points, rebounds, steals, and blocks), missed the loss against Rutgers after suffering a concussion in the Purdue game last week. The Badgers will still be shorthanded as they will be missing Traveon Jackson due to injury, but with Nebraska playing better with their whole team now healthy, the return of Kaminsky is needed.
  5. Illinois faces a critical test when they travel to Evanston to face their in-state rivals tonight. Despite losing Sunday night against Nebraska, their defensive effort was pretty solid. The problem they’re having without Rayvonte Rice is that they simply can’t shoot the ball. Loren Tate of the Champaign News-Gazette broke down just how pedestrian the shooting numbers have been as of late. Two specifics he mentioned were the fact that Nebraska played off of Jaylon Tate, daring him to shoot from deep. He also mentioned the fact that Nnanna Egwu simply can’t score in the post when he isn’t facing up. If Aaron Cosby and/or Ahmad Starks can break out of their collective year-round slumps, then things might change. Otherwise this team will be buried before Rice returns to the lineup.
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Big Ten Feast Week Primer

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 24th, 2014

Seven Big Ten teams will be competing in tournaments during Feast Week. Some are expected to do well, while others are looking to pick up some quality wins and defy preseason expectations. Here’s a primer for those hoops-obsessed fans who want to schedule some Big Ten basketball watching around their annoying relatives. The fun gets started later today in Maui, New York and Kansas City.

Progressive Legends Classic: (Monday and Tuesday)

Caris LeVert needs to continue to fill up the stat sheet if Michigan wants to win the Legends Classic. (Getty)

Caris LeVert needs to continue to fill up the stat sheet if Michigan wants to win the Legends Classic. (Getty)

  • Teams: Michigan, Oregon, VCU, Villanova
  • Favorite: Villanova
  • TV: ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU
  • Outlook: Michigan will face its first big-name opponents of the season when the Wolverines take on Oregon in the first game. Should they win, they’ll face off against the winner of the VCU-Villanova game after that. The perimeter trio of Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert will have to continue to score at a high level, as the trio is producing a robust 67.5 percent of Michigan’s points thus far this season.
  • Predicted Finish: First if they play Villanova; second if they play VCU.

CBE Hall of Fame Classic: (Monday and Tuesday)

  • Teams: Maryland, Arizona State, Iowa State, Alabama
  • Favorite: Iowa State
  • TV: ESPNU, ESPN2

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