Is Northwestern Finally Breaking Through?

Posted by Jim Root on November 30th, 2016

It’s nearly impossible to talk about Northwestern basketball without mentioning its ignominious streak of missing the NCAA Tournament in every year since the event’s inception. While that dishonor receives nowhere near the public interest that north side of Chicago neighbor Cubs’ 107-year World Series drought gets, it’s a similar marker of futility. Wait — what’s that? The Cubs did what this year? Well, I’ll be darned… so can another long Windy City sports dry spell be snapped this year? Early indicators look good.

Bryant McIntosh looks like an all-conference lead guard, both scoring and distributing the basketball. (AP)

Bryant McIntosh looks like an all-conference lead guard, both scoring and distributing the basketball. (AP)

The outlook at this point is relatively positive, as head coach Chris Collins did an excellent job of fixing last year’s primary problem — an incredibly weak non-conference schedule (334th nationally, per both KenPom’s ranking system and ESPN’s RPI formula). The Wildcats have already played a road game at Butler (L), neutral site games against Texas (W) and Notre Dame (L), and beat Wake Forest at home in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge earlier this week. A win at Butler or against the Irish would have been massively helpful for Northwestern’s at-large cause, but a vastly improved non-conference strength of schedule already puts Collins’ team ahead of last year’s resume. As it’s not even December yet, there’s still work to do. Northwestern cannot afford a loss in its five remaining non-conference home games against shaky-to-very-bad foes, and a December 17 date with Dayton at the United Center in Chicago looms as the team’s last chance to provide substance to its ledger. That game against the Flyers will present the Wildcats with the odd situation of having an interior advantage, something that they are unlikely to experience during the Big Ten grinder. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Feast Week Primer: Part Two

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 21st, 2016

Eight of the 14 Big Ten teams will play in early-season tournaments over the next seven days. The festivities begin this afternoon with Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational, but continue for much of the next week as turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce commingles with basketball in far-flung locales. Here’s the first of a two part-breakdown that discusses what each participating Big Ten team faces this week.

Nigel Hayes needs to have a productive stretch of games in Maui for Wisconsin to win it. (Getty).

Nigel Hayes needs to have a productive stretch of games in Maui for Wisconsin to win the event. (Getty).

Maui Jim Maui Invitational

  • Teams: Wisconsin, Tennessee, Georgetown, Oregon, Oklahoma State, UConn, North Carolina, Chaminade
  • Capsule: Wisconsin is 2-1 and looking to gain some momentum after losing a road game to Creighton and not playing well in a win over Chicago State. The Badgers’ offense is attempting a robust 29 three-pointers per game, so establishing Ethan Happ in the paint should help. Top 10 teams like Oregon and North Carolina potentially await later in the week if Wisconsin can get past Tennessee.
  • Key Player: Nigel Hayes hasn’t shot the ball well this season (38.7% FG), only scoring three points in 16 minutes of action against Chicago State. The preseason Big Ten Player of the Year needs to start producing for Wisconsin to earn some big wins on the islands.
  • Prediction: Wisconsin will go 2-1 in Maui. They will win their first game against Tennessee; lose to an Oregon squad that expects to have Dillon Brooks back; and then beat either UConn or Oklahoma State on Wednesday.

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Big Ten Conference Preview: Rutgers, Nebraska, Minnesota, Penn State, Northwestern

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 10th, 2016

The ballots have been revealed and the results have been tabulated. Unlike another round of voting that took place this week, there isn’t as much shock value in seeing these results. We at the Big Ten microsite have voted and determined how the league will shake out this season. The first of three segments lists our bottom five teams.

14. Rutgers: There’s a new coach and correspondingly new enthusiasm at Rutgers. Eddie Jordan is gone and former Stony Brook head coach Steve Pickiell has taken over. There’s still some talent on this roster, with sophomore lead guard Corey Sanders returning along with Mike Williams on the wing. The Scarlet Knights’ biggest issue is that they need to shoot the ball much better all over the floor, ranking 282nd on three-point percentage and 311th on two-point field goals last season. Things weren’t much better defensively, but they added some size and versatility with graduate transfer CJ Gettys and the return of Deshawn Freeman. Pickiell has a great reputation for development, but this won’t be a quick rebuild in the Garden State.

Best Case Scenario: Double-figure wins

Corey Sanders is the leading returning scorer for Rutgers. (Getty).

Corey Sanders is the leading returning scorer for Rutgers. (Getty)

13. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers actually improved by three wins last season, but the program has still fallen sharply after making the NCAA Tournament in 2014. This team loses a second-team all-conference performer (Shavon Shields) as well as an honorable mention selection (Andrew White, transfer to Syracuse). They will replace some of that talent with Louisville transfer Anton Gill, but the majority of the roster aside from senior Tai Webster is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. Scoring is going to be a question mark for this team, but the defensive side doesn’t look much better (last year’s team dipped from 28th in defense efficiency in 2014-15 to 114th last season). It looks like another long season in Lincoln.

Best-Case Scenario: Winning Record 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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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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