Sweet Sixteen Reset: Big Ten Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 23rd, 2015

We’re now down to only two B1G teams left playing in the 2014-15 season, as Michigan State and Wisconsin are the only two teams that won both their games this weekend. This is one less team that made the Sweet 16 one season ago, as these two along with Michigan were still alive one year ago. Here are some other quick takeaways from the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament as it relates to the B1G.

Sam Dekker had 17 points to lead to Wisconsin past Oregon and into the Sweet 16 Sunday night. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker had 17 points to lead to Wisconsin past Oregon and into the Sweet 16 Sunday night. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

  • They are Who We Thought They Were: Having two teams left in the field sounds about right for a league that was down a bit this season. As ludicrous as it is to completely bemoan a conference for being overrated (Big 12), or underrated (Pac 12) based simply off the small sample size that is the Big Dance, the Big Ten generally did about as well as expected. They had five teams in the round of 32, which is about the same number of teams that were in or around the top 25 all year. Maryland got a tough break with being a bit underseeded, and paid the price in losing to West Virginia. Iowa and Ohio State played about to expectations, as they would have had to pull off outstanding performances to get the best of Gonzaga and Arizona respectively. Michigan State was a bit of a surprise, but anyone who has seen Coach Tom Izzo‘s March resume, or saw how Sparty played in the Big Ten Tournament knows that this team was geared up to potentially make another March run.

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What Are Big Ten Teams Seeking This Weekend?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 19th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

While it’s unlikely that all seven Big Ten teams will still be around at the end of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, each has something to gain from even just one win. None of the matchups on Thursday and Friday are overly imposing, and in actuality, many of them seem to be pretty equal. The Round of 32 could be a different story, but here’s what each team has on the line with a quality opening weekend performance:

Troy Williams will need to play well for IU to advance.   (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

Troy Williams will need to play well for Indiana to advance. (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

  • Indiana: This NCAA Tournament appearance is all about showing that the program hasn’t hit a wall under head coach Tom Crean and it’s about quieting the critics that have been out in full force this year. A win over a Wichita State squad with plenty of excellent experience in four starters who made the Final Four two seasons ago would be a nice victory for a team with no seniors and almost no size. Winning a second game against fellow blue-blood Kansas would give the Hoosiers valuable March experience to build upon with a great majority of the team scheduled to return next season.
  • Iowa: Iowa can regain some of the credibility it lost from last season’s nosedive. The Hawkeyes still have some problems with consistency although they’ve been slightly better in closing out the 2014-15 campaign. Fran McCaffery‘s team avoided the First Four this time around but it still has a difficult opener against the Atlantic 10 regular season champion, Davidson. Just being back in March Madness, though, isn’t good enough for Hawkeyes fans. Mostly the same cast of characters played significant minutes in last season’s opening round loss to Tennessee, so winning a game or two here will show that this talented crew didn’t underachieve during its time in Iowa City. McCaffery doesn’t have to face the same amount of pressure that someone like Crean does at Indiana, but losing early in March once again won’t exactly help him either.
  • Maryland: The Terrapins were ranked for most of the season, eventually making their way into the top 10 at the end of the year. Despite how Maryland fared in the polls, they ended up with only a #4 seed and have a challenging road to the Sweet Sixteen. This means that they need to get to the second weekend to show the committee and others that they were justifiably ranked where they were. They were the second best team in the conference for much of the season, but an early flame-out in March would give the critics of Big Ten basketball plenty of ammunition in saying that the league didn’t deserve seven bids. The Terps need to avoid the upset bug and make a solid run.

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Big Ten Player of the Year & Defensive Player of the Year

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 10th, 2015

After making appearances on the RTC First Team All-Big Ten squads, it should come as no surprise that two members of that team will receive additional individual honors here. Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky is our choice for Big Ten Player of the Year and Purdue’s AJ Hammons is our Defensive Player of the Year.

AJ Hammons and his ability to alter and block shots makes him the RTC Defensive Player of the Year. (Darrell Hoemann, AP)

AJ Hammons’ ability to alter and block shots makes him the RTC Defensive Player of the Year. (Darrell Hoemann, AP)

Anyone who’s followed college basketball at all this season knows that Kaminsky has had an outstanding year. His breakout campaign last season resulted in the Badgers running all the way to the Final Four, but he’s elevated his game this season with even greater versatility. Mostly just a spot-up shooter during his first two seasons in Madison, the Illinois native has expanded his last season’s more developed post game to finish better at the rim and do so in a number of ways — he closed out the regular season shooting 60.0 percent on two-point shots. He’s also continued to shoot well from the outside, closing the year with marks of 41.0 percent from three and an effective field goal rate of 60.3 percent, best in the Big Ten. Two major gains in production this season that haven’t gotten as much attention are his improvements on the defensive boards and as a passer. He sports a 25.5 percent defensive rebounding rate, up from 18.4 percent a season ago, helping his team prevent extra possessions by holding its opponents to just one shot. His passing has also picked up by necessity in light of Traveon Jackson’s midseason injury, turning Kaminsky into a more willing passer adept at finding the open man out of a double-team. There aren’t too many other centers who can lead an offense at the top of the key, but Kaminsky has no problem doing just that. The NPOY candidate can beat teams in so many different ways that it makes him a logical selection for our top player honor in this season’s Big Ten.

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Previewing Ohio State vs. Purdue: Focus on the Supporting Casts

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 4th, 2015

If you were asked to pick the players who will be key performers in tonight’s battle between 6-3 teams Purdue and Ohio State, names like D’Angelo Russell, AJ Hammons, and Shannon Scott would probably be your first answers. Certainly those players will have an impact on the outcome of this important mid-conference season game, but there are also a few other names who will be important as well. Three players in tonight’s battle who log heavy minutes have been trending up over the last two weeks, and here’s who each is poised to make a meaningful impact.

Raphael Davis has carried his share of the weight this season for Purdue. (Mike Fenner, Indianapolis Star)

Raphael Davis has carried his share of the weight this season for Purdue. (Mike Fenner, Indianapolis Star)

  • Raphael Davis, Purdue: Davis has been Purdue’s defensive go-to-guy, as he’s able to guard the gamut from point guards to power forwards. He may face his biggest challenge of the season tonight, though, as he’ll likely have the primary responsibility in trying to shut down the Buckeyes’ Russell. He has proven capable of harassing Michigan’s Caris LeVert, among others, this season, but his focus shouldn’t necessarily be to completely shut the star freshman down. Russell is seemingly getting any shot he wants within the Ohio State offense, so if Davis can force him right and be physical with him without fouling, the Buckeyes will struggle to put points on the board.
  • Jae’Sean Tate, Ohio State: Tate should be mentioned on any list of the B1G’s top freshmen after his play since entering Ohio State’s starting lineup. He’s accounted for 12.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and 51.4 percent shooting from the field since becoming a starter. Much like Davis, Tate brings great energy and tenaciousness that will be vastly important tonight. He’ll likely have to bang with both Hammons and Isaac Haas at some point, and despite giving up considerable height, may be able to use his quickness to get to the rim and to create some second-chance opportunities.

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Big Ten M5: 01.28.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 28th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Since it was supposed to be played last night, people have probably figured out by now that the game featuring Michigan State and Rutgers was postponed due to the blizzard that decimated the northeastern part of the country over the last couple days. The game is being pushed to Thursday, which may give the Scarlet Knights some time to heal from a rash of injuries to their perimeter. Bishop Daniels is nursing a strained hip flexor, while freshman Mike Williams is dealing with a sprained ankle that will keep him out of action for up to two weeks. Whether or not Daniels plays or not, forward Junior Etou will be back in the lineup after missing a game due to a team disciplinary issue.
  2. Another freshman is dealing with an injury issue as well, although this one is a starter for a nationally ranked team. Indiana guard Robert Johnson suffered a knee injury in a rather unique fashion in Sunday’s tilt against Ohio State. Coach Tom Crean stated that the team’s fourth leading scorer still may play tonight when the Hoosiers travel to West Lafayette to face Purdue. Indiana has no chance against Purdue’s size, so it will have to bomb away from deep if they want to get a crucial road win. If Johnson can’t go, the onus will fall on Nick Zeisloft or Stanford Robinson to pick up the slack.
  3. The PurdueIndiana game will feature as big of a contrast in terms of size that will be seen this season. Purdue will try to bang away inside with behemoths Isaac Haas and AJ Hammons. Indiana will counter with a much quicker lineup featuring no player taller than 6’7″. This makes what usually is one of the better rivalries in the league even more interesting this time around. Neither team really has an answer for the strong spots of the other team. It’s worth watching as well because a Hoosier loss would give each team an identical 5-3 conference mark.
  4. The other game tonight features two desperate teams looking to string together some wins to jump up from the bottom of the league standings. Minnesota travels to Penn State, where they’ll need another effort like his 12-point, 13-rebound from Maurice Walker. He’s one of the best post players in the league, albeit in a league where there aren’t many who can punish teams offensively on the block. He doesn’t always play with the aggressiveness the Gophers need, which made his efforts Saturday a big reason why they were able to beat Illinois. Penn State has some depth on the block, but Walker has the advantage over the trio of Donovon Jack, Jordan Dickerson, and Julian Moore. If the senior can continue to dominate on the low block, Minnesota can still make some noise before March.
  5. Nebraska continued to struggle on the road, as they lost by double-digits to a depleted Michigan team Tuesday night. Coach Tim Miles was succinct in his analysis, stating that ” they outcompeted us, they outexecuted us and we didn’t show much heart.” Whether or not the team was overconfident in seeing that Derrick Walton Jr would miss the game, they simply didn’t get anything done offensively. The Cornhuskers struggle sometimes even when Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway are at their offensive peak, but when they combine to go 5-for-23 from the field it’s a wrap. This team has to prove it can win on the road, and needs to do it quickly. It looked like things were starting to trend upward after winning four out of five games, but this result really makes it difficult to imagine them making a repeat NCAA Tournament appearance.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 20th, 2015

Points were relatively easy to come by in the Big Ten’s third weekend of play, as only three teams of the 12 with games failed to crack the 1.00 point per possession plateau. There were also some outstanding individual scoring games on display, with Penn State’s DJ Newbill (37 points) and Minnesota’s Andre Hollins (31 points) leading the way in that regard. From a team perspective, Purdue and Indiana got crucial road wins to stay among the top half of the league standings, while Maryland continued its outstanding start by dismantling Michigan State in College Park. Elsewhere, Minnesota is no longer winless in conference action, and Penn State remains the only team still looking for a conference win. Well, at least their freshman guard brings a celebrity cousin to the table.

Melo Trimble torched Michigan State as they knocked off the Spartans by 15 on Saturday. (David J. Philip/AP)

Melo Trimble torched Michigan State as his team knocked off the Spartans by 15 Saturday. (David J. Philip/AP)

Player of the Weekend: Melo Trimble has had issues at times in knocking down perimeter shots, but he had no such problems against Michigan State on Saturday. The freshman combo guard simply went off, scoring 24 points on 8-on-16 shooting from the field. He also hit six threes, five of which came in the first half. Trimble not only should be considered a c0-favorite with Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but he’s also making a legitimate case for First Team all-Big Ten consideration. Usually he’s a menace for opposing defenses with his keen ability to get to the free throw line, but he only shot two freebies in this game. Instead, he made nearly every shot from behind the arc that he took in the opening stanza. With Jake Layman scoring 23 himself and with Dez Wells capable of going off in any given game, Maryland is one of the few league teams with three legitimate threats on offense. That’s what makes the Terrapins so dangerous. Nothing I’ve said here can top watching this clip, so take a look for yourself. Rest in peace, Tum Tum.

Super Sub of the Weekend: AJ Hammons might win this award multiple times if Purdue keeps winning weekend games. The junior posted his second double-double in the last four games (and his third on the season) with 21 points and 12 rebounds against Penn State on Saturday. While those numbers are nice and all, the biggest takeaway from his effort was that his hustle essentially gave Purdue the opportunity to win the game in overtime. During the game the broadcasters raved about the game-tying three that Kendall Stephens made in the final seconds, but it was Hammons who spun through two Penn State defenders to somehow tip the ball on a missed free throw out to him so he could take the shot in the first place. It’s not a play he would have made in his first two seasons as a Boilermaker, but it shows how far he’s come. You don’t see it all statistically, but if you watch Purdue extensively, you can see all of the subtle improvements he’s made in his productiveness.

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Big Ten M5: 01.06.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 6th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan State seemed to get its mojo back in crushing Indiana on Monday night, holding the Hoosiers to just 20 percent shooting from long distance. Inside the Hall’s Ryan Corazza attributed Indiana’s loss to a poor first-half performance that amounted to a 19-point halftime deficit. The Spartans, six days removed from a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to Maryland, were able to stifle Tom Crean’s drive-and-dish offense by locking down the paint and effectively closing out on Indiana’s gunners. In fact, Yogi Ferrell and Emmitt Holt were the only Hoosiers to make a shot in the first half while the rest of the team went 0-of-19. This is the first time all season we’ve seen such a poor offensive performance from Indiana, but the loss certainly highlights the team’s dependence on long-distance shooting. As Big Ten Powerhouse’s Scott Manning put it, Indiana will live and die by the three this year.
  2. Purdue stumbled – or rather, fell face-first – into the opening week of Big Ten play, entering last week having dropped three straight games to Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and Gardner-Webb. The Boilermakers turned things around by winning home games against Minnesota and Michigan to start conference play, but they now travel to face arguably the two hottest teams in the league on the road this week in Wisconsin and Maryland. Purdue’s success in Madison will hinge heavily on its ability to defend Frank Kaminsky, who is currently ranked first in KenPom’s Player of the Year rankings. The Wisconsin center is noticeably more mobile this year, providing Matt Painter with the dubious task of deciding to defend him with either shot-blocker extraordinare AJ Hammons or leaving him on Wisconsin’s four to better defend the paint. KenPom predicts the Badgers will win by 17 points on Wednesday.
  3. Minnesota freshman Gaston Diedhiou could make his college basketball debut tonight in the Gophers’ home Big Ten opener versus Ohio State, writes Marcus Fuller of the Pioneer Press. Diedhou, a 6’9″, 230-pounder, could help solidify Minnesota’s depth at the forward positions. After Joey King, the Gophers have gotten little to no production from reserves Charles Buggs and Bakary Konate. Citing the Senegal native’s raw offensive game, head coach Richard Pitino said that he doubts Diedhiou will have an impact against the Buckeyes, but his athleticism and rebounding skill may force Pitino’s hand if the Gophers continue to struggle down low.
  4. Michigan does not look much like the outstanding John Beilein teams of the past few years, as evidenced by their disappointing 8-6 record. The head coach is doing his best to keep the team’s struggles in perspective, though, stressing patience to fans and praising the improvement of freshman big man Ricky Doyle. That improvement hasn’t been universal among all Wolverines’ freshmen, as Aubrey Dawkins and Kameron Chatman have been very inconsistent. As it stands, Michigan fans will have to bear with Beilein’s group this year, as he’s been very open and honest about it being a relative rebuilding year with the squad – but don’t expect the slump to last much longer than one season.
  5. Iowa is off to its best start in the Big Ten since the 2002-03 season, standing at 2-0 in conference play after topping Nebraska in Iowa City last night. In the win, Aaron White scored 23 points and became Iowa’s all-time leader in made free throws, a mark currently standing at 524. Scott Dochterman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette said White’s ability to get to the free throw line has made him an all-time Hawkeyes great, but the Strongsville, Ohio, native canned an uncharacteristic three-pointer to push Iowa’s lead to seven points in the waning minutes to seal last night’s victory. Fans and media alike had hoped White would develop a better perimeter game this season, but the senior is only shooting the ball from distance at a 22.7 percent clip. That statistic won’t matter, though, if gunners Peter Jok, Jarrod Uthoff and Josh Oglesby step their games up like they did on Monday night.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 5th, 2015

The opening weekend of Big Ten play resulted in three teams remaining undefeated in conference action, with the trio of Maryland, Purdue and Wisconsin sitting atop the standings. Indiana and Iowa are both 1-0, with games to come tonight to see if they can also keep their unblemished records. Conversely, Illinois, Minnesota, and Penn State are all off to shaky 0-2 starts. Even Rutgers notched its first-ever Big Ten win when it held on to beat a cold-shooting Penn State unit on Saturday night. Here’s the rest of the weekend lowdown from an interesting opening slate of games in the wildly unpredictable Big Ten.

AJ Hammons notched a double-double in Purdue's home court win over Michigan on Saturday. (Purdue Exponent)

AJ Hammons notched a double-double in Purdue’s home win over Michigan on Saturday. (Purdue Exponent)

  • Player of the Weekend: Purdue’s AJ Hammons would have definitely been in the mix for Sixth Man of the Year when I listed my non-conference Big Ten superlatives a week ago, but he’s started more games than he’s come off the bench so he didn’t make the cut. On Saturday afternoon against Michigan, however, the junior center was a substitute for the seventh game in a row and it seems as if he’s getting the hang of it. With Isaac Haas in foul trouble, he played a season-high 31 minutes en route to his second double-double of the year. Aside from the fact that he led or tied for the team-high in rebounds, steals and blocks, one noticeable takeaway from the game was the fact that he seems to have really embraced his new role. He appeared more engaged in terms of talking to his teammates, showing emotion when making a play, and genuinely caring about his team and winning, than probably at any time during his first two seasons at Purdue. He won this weekend’s award because of his statistics, but if he can team with Raphael Davis to give this extremely young team some necessary veteran leadership, Purdue could easily turn things around and make a run at a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

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Big Ten M5: New Year’s Eve Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 31st, 2014

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  1. Purdue faces an important test in trying to right its crumbling season when the Boilermakers take on Minnesota today in West Lafayette. One of the major aspects of the game that the Boilermakers have to watch for is the Gophers’ keen ability to turn teams over. They lead the Big Ten in turnover margin, meaning that despite the fact that they play at a much faster tempo, they aren’t making too many miscues on the offensive end. Purdue would be wise to feed Isaac Haas and AJ Hammons repeatedly in order to slow things down, making this one a contest that’s instead decided in the half-court.
  2. Another one of the three games on the Big Ten slate today will also feature an extreme contrast in styles. Nebraska wants to play at a slow pace and take advantage of its ability to defend. Meanwhile, Indiana is averaging 86.4 points per game and would love nothing more than to turn things into a track meet. Despite the fact that Leslee Smith and Moses Abraham still aren’t ready to return from their injuries, Indiana doesn’t have anyone who can really punish the Cornhuskers on the interior. Whoever can control the tempo in this one will more than likely have a great chance at starting out 1-0 in conference play today.
  3. Rutgers senior forward Kadeem Jack was benched on Tuesday as the Scarlet Knights lost their Big Ten opener to Northwestern, 51-47. Jack missed a team breakfast, which caused head coach Eddie Jordan to give his starting spot to freshman DJ Foreman. After an 0-of-8 effort from the field, Jack stated that, “I think I was a big distraction,” in seemingly agreeing with Jordan’s decision to bench him. The coach has largely been positive with the media despite the uneven play of his team, but he seems to be losing patience with how things are going, especially on the offensive end. This was a must-win game for his team, and as the schedule progresses, it remains an open question how many Big Ten wins this team can muster in its first season in the league.
  4. Northwestern was dealing with some issues too coming into the game against Rutgers, but it was able to prevail despite several players dealing with the flu. Freshman stater Victor Law Jr. was one of those affected players, but Jershon Cobb returned to action and contributed six points and seven rebounds in the victory. This was a good start for the Wildcats, but they won’t have much time to celebrate a 1-0 start, as their next opponent is versus Wisconsin on Sunday in Evanston.
  5. Whether people really noticed or not in Ann Arbor after some guy named Jim Harbaugh stole all of the headlines, Michigan’s basketball team got off to a solid Big Ten start by knocking off Illinois on Tuesday. The unlikely hero in the contest was freshman Aubrey Dawkins, who canned six out of seven three-pointers on his way to 20 points. Coincidentally, Harbaugh and Dawkins are both alumni of Palo Alto High School in California. The son of Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins had by far his best game of the season, and Michigan way have just found their next formerly unheralded star to turn things around.
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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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AJ Hammons: RTC Big Ten’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 12th, 2014

AJ Hammons wasn’t supposed to still be playing basketball in West Lafayette this season — the junior was supposed to have taken his considerable size and skills to the NBA two seasons ago. And although he’s flashed snippets of what had NBA scouts drooling, uneven play and a questionable motor have been the more lasting images of his first two seasons at Purdue. Now with a deeper team surrounding him in what some are calling a make-or-break season for head coach Matt Painter, Hammons needs to produce at consistently high level. Still, even with the up-and-down nature to his play, Hammons managed to lead the Big Ten in blocks last season. We expect his development to result in greater maturity and drive this year, making him our Big Ten microsite Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.

AJ Hammons will once again hold the Boilermakers NCAA Tournament hopes in his hands this season. (Purdue Exponent)

AJ Hammons will once again hold the Boilermakers’ NCAA Tournament hopes in his hands. (Purdue Exponent)

Hammons has averaged 2.5 blocks per game in his two seasons in West Lafayette, including a whopping 3.1 rejections per contest despite only playing 25 MPG last season. Among power conference players, only St. John’s Chris Obekpa and UConn’s Amida Brimah logged a better block rate than Hammons’ 13.31 percent. He also finished fifth in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding rate, doing so at a 22.7 percent clip. He was able to manage these numbers without a capable backup, meaning that in many situations he had to worry about foul trouble inhibiting his aggressiveness. With another year of maturity and a security blanket behind him in the name of 7’2″ freshman reserve Isaac Haas, Hammons can finally play aggressively when he’s on the court. This will enable the burly center to contest even more shots at the rim and to hit the glass even harder. Even with his shot-blocking prowess inside, Purdue ranked 101st in defensive two-point field goal percentage at 46.6 percent a season ago. Look for this number to decrease quite a bit this year. Barring injury, Hammons should become the 17th member of the 200-block club within the non-conference part of the schedule, and he only needs 67 blocks to crack the Big Ten’s all-time top 1o.

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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #14 to #10

Posted by Eric Clark on November 11th, 2014

With college basketball’s regular season finally tipping off on Friday, the time has come for the Big Ten microsite writers to make their predictions public. We’ll begin by showcasing the five projected bottom-feeders of the Big Ten, the teams we forecast to finish from 14th to 10th.

14. Rutgers

  • What they do well: There won’t be many positives for Rutgers in its inaugural Big Ten season — especially after three would-be seniors transferred during the offseason – but it looks like head coach Eddie Jordan brought in a solid recruiting class. His prized recruit is junior Bishop Daniels, a transfer from ASA College in New York City. Daniels, a former Miami player, will help solidify Rutgers’ backcourt with last year’s leading scorer, Myles Mack.
  • What they don’t do well: Rebound. The Scarlet Knights only had two players average more than six rebounds per game last season (Kadeem Jack and Wally Judge), and Judge is no longer with the team. Rutgers was eighth in the AAC last season in rebounding margin, averaging 1.8 fewer rebounds per game than their opponents. Ten of the 12 Big Ten teams, on the other hand, had positive margins.
Myles Mack will be one of the lone bright spots in Rutgers' inaugural Big Ten season.

Myles Mack will be one of the lone bright spots in Rutgers’ inaugural Big Ten season.

  • Get to know: Kadeem Jack. Jack is Rutgers’ lone established presence in the post on an otherwise young and inexperienced roster. The 6’9″ senior grabbed almost seven rebounds per game last year and shot 50 percent from the field. He’s likely the only Big Ten-caliber forward on the team.
  • Why they’ll finish 14th: Rutgers lost three senior players via transfer and has only two players, Mack and Jack, who have proven that they’re ready for Big Ten basketball. Defenses will key on those two, leaving an inexperienced cast to do – or rather, try to do – most of the heavy lifting. Eddie Jordan will overuse the phrase “growing pains” this season.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: Bishop Daniels has no problem adjusting back to Division I basketball, and freshman Mike Williams establishes himself as one of the best long-range shooters in the conference. Kadeem Jack thrives down low with the outside presence of Jack, Daniels and Williams.

13. Northwestern

  • What they do well: Defend – at least, better than the Wildcats used to. Head coach Chris Collins made a concerted effort to move away from the “open door policy” defense that plagued Northwestern in Bill Carmody’s final years at the helm. Collins’ team held opponents to a 41.1 percent field goal shooting last year, good enough for third in the conference.
  • What they don’t do well: Score. The Wildcats ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring last season, averaging 59.5 points per game. Illinois, which ranked second-to-last, averaged almost five more points per game. The Wildcats also were last in the Big Ten in field goal percentage.

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