Rob Carr/Getty Images

Big Ten Conference Reset: Get caught up on all of the league’s offseason wheelings and dealings

3 Comments

The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close. The transfer market is slowly winding down.

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2017-18 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the Big Ten over the next six months.

OFFSEASON STORYLINES 

1. Michigan State is a national title contender: The Spartans received the surprising news that freshman star Miles Bridges wasn’t even testing the NBA Draft process and things got rolling for the Spartans from there. The promising freshman core of Cassius Winston, Jeremy Langford and Nick Ward are all back and five-star freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. looks like the real deal. The icing on the cake was the return of graduate transfer big man Ben Carter and senior Gavin Schilling as their experience gives the Spartans ridiculous frontcourt depth.

2. The NBA Draft hit Purdue, Michigan and Maryland hard among Big Ten contenders: The rest of the league behind Michigan State remains a jumbled mess with the departure of a lot of talented Big Ten stalwarts. Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan and Maryland guard Melo Trimble were arguably the league’s two best players while Michigan big man D.J. Wilson emerged late in the season as a two-way force for the Wolverines. Those departures have left a lot of question marks behind Michigan State atop the league’s preseason perception.

3. Minnesota and Northwestern are two of the best teams in the league. Wait, what?: Coming off of NCAA tournament appearances, Minnesota and Northwestern have a ton of momentum heading into this season. Both teams have potential All-Big Ten lead guards in Nate Mason (Minnesota) and Bryant McIntosh (Northwestern) and return most of the talent from last season. It’s crazy to think that these might be the second and third best teams in the Big Ten, but the NBA Draft hit a lot of top teams hard while there weren’t a lot of impact recruits this offseason.

4. Archie Miller’s Indiana tenure commences: We’ve been waiting for years for Archie Miller to find the right job to leave Dayton and he’s finally found his place to rise to the elite ranks in college coaching. With what Miller has done at Dayton over the past few seasons, winning NCAA tournament games and building a top 25 program at an Atlantic 10 program, he has to be salivating with the resources at his disposal at Indiana. During his tenure at Dayton, Miller recruited the Midwest very well and it’ll be interesting to see if Miller can recapture the state of Indiana as a recruiting stronghold.

5. Ohio State’s continued freefall: Things have not been getting any easier for Thad Matta at Ohio State and he was dealt another significant blow this offseason when guard JaQuan Lyle quit the team and was later arrested. The Buckeyes are desperate for scholarship players with only nine on the roster as they are counting on a lot of players who haven’t proven themselves in the Big Ten.

Northwestern coach Chris Collins (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS

  • Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State: The only real one-and-done threat that the Big Ten has entering this season, the 6-foot-10 stretch big man elevated to top-10 status by the end of his senior season. The scary thing about Jackson is that he doesn’t even turn 18 until this fall. He has a ton of upside and could be a matchup nightmare.
  • Mark Smith, Illinois: New head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini scored a major recruiting win by convincing this late-blooming guard and Mr. Basketball winner to stay home. Beating out some major contenders, Illinois landed itself a physical 6-foot-4 guard who should earn immediate minutes. Smith comes in with a winning reputation.
  • Jaaron Simmons, Michigan: If Simmons had stayed at Ohio then he could have been the preseason MAC Player of the Year. Instead, the graduate transfer who is eligible immediately will help Michigan cope with the loss of senior floor leader Derrick Walton. Defense might be a question mark with Simmons elevating to a new level but he should be able to score and distribute.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: It’s easy to see why a first-team All-American like Swanigan would want to go pro after such a monster sophomore season but he was on the fence until the final day so this one still hurts Purdue. With Swanigan back, Purdue was a huge contender to repeat its Big Ten regular-season title.
  • D.J. Wilson, Michigan: A huge presence on both ends for the Wolverines, Wilson was versatile enough at 6-foot-10 to leave early for the NBA Draft. Not many big men can knock down three-pointers and also protect the rim but Wilson moves really well for his size and gained a lot of confidence as the season went along.
  • JaQuan Lyle, Ohio State: The talented sophomore guard allegedly quit the team in April and it was only recently revealed after an arrest in May. Lyle’s loss hurts the Buckeyes in the short term as he’s one of their leading returning scorers and he’s also a playmaker for others.
  • Ed Morrow, Nebraska: Morrow is one of three transfers to leave Nebraska and go to other high-major programs but his loss stings the most. The bouncy sophomore forward was capable of double-double production and now has to sit out before finishing his career at Marquette.
Ethan Happ (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

COACHING CHANGES

  • Archie Miller, Indiana: The Hoosiers finally convinced Miller to leave a great thing at Dayton as he gets a chance to turn around one of the best programs in the country. There isn’t much for Indiana to work with this season but Miller as done miracles with less-than-ideal rosters before.
  • Brad Underwood, Illinois: After only a year at Oklahoma State, Illinois was able to swoop in and get Underwood for a long-term deal. Underwood has been successful at both of his stops as a head coach at Stephen F. Austin and with the Cowboys and the Illini are dying for NCAA tournament success after a rough last decade.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

Miles Bridges, Michigan State (Player of the Year)
Nate Mason, Minnesota
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern
Vincent Edwards, Purdue

New Indiana coach Archie Miller (AP Photo/Tony Tribble)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

  1. Michigan State: The Spartans have star power, a core that has played together and a lot of returning depth and experience. After last season’s up-and-down ride, this is a title contender if they’re healthy.
  2. Minnesota: Most of last season’s team has returned as guard Nate Mason leads the charge. Akeem Springs exhausted his eligibility but most of the core rotation is back and top-100 guard Isaiah Washington is an intriguing addition.
  3. Northwestern: Finally getting over the NCAA tournament hump, the Wildcats get nearly everyone back from last season’s team that made the Round of 32. Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey is one of the league’s premier trios and the Wildcats have great role players.
  4. Purdue: Seeing this team without Swanigan will be fascinating since so much of last season’s roster returns. Isaac Haas and Vincent Edwards should still be a load on the interior and P.J. Thompson, Dakota Mathias and Ryan Cline turned into a respectable perimeter group. Can this team play with athletic teams though?
  5. Maryland: Losing Melo Trimble effectively changes the identity of this program but the Terps still have plenty of promising players. Sophomores Anthony Cowan, Justin Jackson and Kevin Huerter all have a chance to be double-figure scorers. The key could be interior health and the play of inconsistent seniors like Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens.
  6. Michigan: Two transfers might be the key to this team as Jaaron Simmons and Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews could both be starters. If those two acclimate well to replace Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin then the Wolverines should be fine. Replacing D.J. Wilson will be tough but Moritz Wagner and Duncan Robinson are both veterans.
  7. Iowa: Arguably the Big Ten’s most intriguing team entering next season, the Hawkeyes have nearly everyone back from a team that defied expectations last season. Replacing Peter Jok will be tough but the rest of this team is balanced and capable of making a postseason run.
  8. Wisconsin: The core of Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown is gone, so the Badgers will have a lot of new faces in the starting lineup next season. The good news is the return of forward Ethan Happ but can Wisconsin’s system sustain such heavy losses?
  9. Illinois: The frontcourt is thin and the Illini are relying a lot on some new perimeter players, but they do have some backcourt talent. Freshman Te’Jon Lucas should grow in his second season and guards like Trent Frazier, Mark Smith and Mark Alstork are potentially solid additions who could start as well. Interior defense and rebounding will be a major question mark.
  10. Penn State: There were times last season that Penn State looked intriguing and most of the talent is back from that team. Tony Carr and Shep Garner are talented as a backcourt and Lamar Stevens, Josh Reaves and Mike Watkins also return.
  11. Indiana: The star power mostly left Bloomington with departures of O.G. Anunoby, Thomas Bryant and James Blackmon this offseason. Robert Johnson and Juwan Morgan will have to elevate their play while Indiana has a lot of unproven players.
  12. Ohio State:  Continuing a recent tailspin, Ohio State could add more pieces for next season, but the roster has been gutted. Thad Matta’s five-man 2015 recruiting class is now fully gone after only two seasons and only two freshman are entering the program.
  13. Nebraska: Getting hit once again by transfers, the Cornhuskers have to hope that junior point guard Glynn Watson takes another leap and that he has more talent emerge around him. Landing Thomas Allen was a nice recruiting grab that could help.
  14. Rutgers: It is slowly getting better at Rutgers but they still have to prove that they can win. Corey Sanders and Deshawn Freeman have both been with the program three seasons now and need to help get this program out of the Big Ten basement.

Maryland gets Duke graduate transfer big man Sean Obi

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Maryland bolstered its interior depth on Thursday with the addition of Duke graduate transfer big man Sean Obi, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-9 Obi spent the past three years at Duke as he barely came off the bench in the two seasons that he was eligible after transferring from Rice. Obi averaged 11.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game with the Owls as a freshman but he was never able to gain minutes with the Blue Devils as the school consistently recruited over him with McDonald’s All-American caliber freshmen big men.

It will be interesting to see if Obi can regularly contribute for the Terps in the Big Ten because the Duke coaching staff didn’t exactly trust Obi on the floor during a lot of game situations the last two years. Maryland has to replace senior Damonte Dodd’s production, so they’re hoping that Obi can help fill some of that void.

March Madness 2017: Big Ten Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Big Ten Player of the Year: Caleb Swanigan, Purdue

A no-brainer for this award, Swanigan posted a ridiculous 25 double-doubles this season while averaging 18.7 points and 12.7 rebounds per game. Nearly unguardable in the post without a double team at the college level, Swanigan has expanded his offensive game as he hurts defenses from every level of the floor. A 44 percent three-point shooter who also makes 79 percent of his free throws, Swanigan has rare touch for a player his size.

Big Ten Coach of the Year: Richard Pitino, Minnesota

Minnesota looked like they might be in serious trouble entering this season but Pitino has done a remarkable job of helping turn things around while saving his job. After only eight Big Ten wins the last two seasons, the Golden Gophers finished with 11 Big Ten wins this season as they finished in fourth place. Mixing veterans, transfers and true freshmen, Minnesota has a top-15 defense and the future looks solid.

First-Team All-Big Ten:

  • Caleb Swanigan, Purdue (POY)
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland: The Terps lost four starters but Trimble (16.9 ppg, 3.7 apg, 3.4 rpg) was once again one of the nation’s most clutch players. Trimble scored Maryland’s game-winning points five times in the final 30 seconds this season.
  • Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: Happ clearly emerged as Wisconsin’s best player this season, putting up 13.9 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. Defensively, Happ is perhaps the Big Ten’s best player.
  • Peter Jok, Iowa: One of the nation’s best offensive players, Jok scored in bunches (2o.2 ppg) but also improved his all-around game (5.7 rpg, 2.7 apg) while leading the Big Ten in free-throw percentage at 92 percent.
  • Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan: Finally healthy for a full season, Walton was brilliant in his senior season as he gets a slight nod over Nate Mason. Walton had good numbers (14.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.5 apg) and was very efficient (43% FG, 41% 3PT, 85% FT)

Second Team All-Big Ten:

  • Nate Mason, Minnesota
  • Miles Bridges, Michigan State
  • Tai Webster, Nebraska
  • Malcolm Hill, Illinois
  • Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern

RELATED: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | NBC Sports All-Americans

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

The Big Ten Tournament moves east to Washington D.C. for the first time this season as it will be very intriguing to see which fanbases travel to catch this event.

As for the tournament action itself, this has been a strange year for the Big Ten.

Since the committee didn’t give the Big Ten a top-four seed during February’s early bracket reveal, we know that the conference likely has work to do to get even one top-four seed. With the way Purdue has played lately, they have the best chance to win this event and gain a respectable seed, but the Big Ten is going to have to prove itself in March with some pretty undesirable seeds.

The Bracket 

When: March 8-12

Where: Verizon Center, Washington D.C.

Final: Sunday, March 12, 3 p.m. EST

Favorite: Purdue

The Boilermakers are the easy favorite for this event as they won the Big Ten regular season by two full games and enter this week as winners of eight of their last nine games. With the Big Ten’s best player in Caleb Swanigan and a great supporting cast that was built to play around Swanigan’s unique skillset, the Boilers are motivated to earn a better NCAA tournament seed by winning this event. Matt Painter made that clear in the postgame interview following the Northwestern win.

And if they lose?: Wisconsin

Based solely on recent play, Wisconsin has no business being in the title conversation this week. The Badgers had lost five of six games before Sunday’s win over Minnesota as they went into a freefall. But the rest of the Big Ten is still very mediocre and Wisconsin has a veteran group that knows how to win in tournament settings. The win over the Golden Gophers was convincing enough that Wisconsin might have figured things out just in time.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 21: Reggie Lynch #22 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers fouls Ethan Happ #22 of the Wisconsin Badgers while shooting the ball during the second half of the game on January 21, 2017 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Ethan Happ (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Other Contenders:

  • Maryland: As long as Melo Trimble is on the floor, you can’t count out Maryland. One of the nation’s elite guards is still great in close games and he has plenty of talent around him.
  • Minnesota: The Big Ten’s biggest surprise has an elite defense anchored by Reggie Lynch, one of the nation’s best shot blockers, and an offense led by breakout guard Nate Mason.

Sleeper: Iowa

The Hawkeyes have quietly crept into the bubble picture by winning four straight — including impressive road wins at Wisconsin and Maryland. The Big Ten Tournament draw also happens to lay out very nicely for Iowa. Potential matchups in the first three rounds come against Indiana, Wisconsin and Maryland — three of the four teams Iowa just beat. With something to play for, a potent star senior scorer in Peter Jok and a favorable draw, Iowa could be a team to watch in D.C.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Illinois: A shocking road loss to Rutgers might leave Illinois out either way. A win over Michigan in the first round has to happen at the very least and Illinois might even have to beat No. 1 seed Purdue to get in.
  • Iowa: If Iowa beats Indiana and gets the best of the Badgers again in the quarterfinals then they might be dancing.

Defining moment of the season: The Big Ten didn’t have a lot of great moments this season but Purdue clinching the Big Ten title against rival Indiana on Senior Day was pretty cool.

CBT Prediction: Purdue over Wisconsin

Maryland big man Michal Cekovsky out for the season

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
1 Comment

Maryland big man Michal Cekovsky will be out for the rest of the season with a fractured ankle, the school announced on Monday.

The 7-foot-1 junior went down with the injury late in the second half of Sunday’s loss to Wisconsin. He had recently rejoined the Terps’ rotation and had started to get more comfortable, scoring 10 points against the Badgers before leaving the game.

Cekovsky appeared in 17 games this season and averaged 7.6 points and 2.8 rebounds per game

“I feel badly for Ceko as he has endured a number of injuries throughout the season,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said in the release. “It felt like he was really starting to turn the corner and his best basketball was ahead of him. We anticipate a full recovery for next season and we will be there to support him through the rehabilitation process.”

Without Cekovsky in the lineup, more pressure will be put on Damonte Dodd to stay out of foul trouble while staying productive. Sophomore Ivan Bender also figures to see more minutes now as he has already seen double-figure minutes off the bench for the Terps the last three games.

This loss will hurt Maryland’s frontcourt depth but they should still be able to withstand this injury with the firepower they have on the perimeter. Junior Melo Trimble is still playing fantastic ball while the team’s freshmen have also been solid for most of the season.

Maryland finishes the regular season with three out of four games at home as the one road game comes at Rutgers.

No. 11 Wisconsin takes down No. 23 Maryland

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Wisconsin snapped a two-game losing streak with a 71-60 Big Ten home win over No. 23 Maryland on Sunday. With senior guard Bronson Koenig returning to the rotation after missing the Michigan loss with injury, the No. 11 Badgers looked more like themselves for the first time in the last few games.

Here are some takeaways from this one.

1. This was an ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly game (just the way Wisconsin wanted)

Sorry to make you read the word “ugly” four times but I felt it was completely necessary to hammer home the point that this basketball game was not a pleasant viewing experience (and this has nothing to do with pace or style of play).

Wisconsin only shot 41 percent from the field, 16 percent from three-point range and 54 percent from the free-throw line and still won by double digits because they were the older and more physical team. While the Terps were able to hang in the game until the final five minutes or so because of junior guard Melo Trimble’s scoring punch, a younger Maryland team was physically dominated by Wisconsin for most of the game.

The Badgers owned the glass (44 to 27), got to the free-throw line 37 times and did a nice job of getting Maryland’s bigs into foul trouble.

Even though Wisconsin couldn’t generate a lot of consistent offense, they had enough from guys like Nigel Hayes (19 points) and Ethan Happ (20 points) to feel comfortable once they built a bit of a cushion. Wisconsin winning ugly isn’t any sort of new phenomenon, but it does bode well for the Badgers that they handled Maryland this easily despite such a poor shooting game.

2. Maryland needs even more help for Melo to be elite

Maryland has been able to stay in the top 25 this season because junior Melo Trimble has had a lot of help from a talented freshman class. Anthony Cowan has given the Terps another attacking guard, Kevin Huerter is one of the Big Ten’s better all-around freshmen and Justin Jackson has given Maryland a nice dose of athleticism.

Those three freshmen had a game to forget in Madison on Sunday. While Trimble went for 27 points, those three freshmen went a combined 3-for-15 from the field as they just didn’t show up to play during a very important game for conference implications.

Freshmen are going to have off games but this was the biggest game of Maryland’s season and they didn’t look ready to play.

Looking to fire up his team in the second half, head coach Mark Turgeon even went on the floor during a Wisconsin possession and basically forced the officials to whistle him for a technical foul. Even after trying to rally his team with that tech, the Terps didn’t fair much better.

It is also concerning that center Michael Cekovsky went down with an ankle injury in the second half. Cekovsky grabbed his ankle and left the game — looking noticeably frustrated on the bench — and that could be something to watch for Maryland in these final few weeks. Although Cekovsky is only a reserve big man, his 10-point showing on Sunday was one of his best games since returning from injury as he was just starting to look more comfortable.

Losing Cekovsky could hurt, but thankfully for Maryland, the remaining schedule isn’t too daunting. Three of four games come at home and the only road game comes at Rutgers. Even with Sunday’s lackluster effort, Maryland can stay in the Big Ten race if they continue to win.

No. 23 Purdue earns critical road win at No. 17 Maryland

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
1 Comment

The afternoon started off strong in the Big Ten on Saturday as No. 23 Purdue closed out a huge road win to beat No. 17 Maryland, 73-72.

Big man Caleb Swanigan shook off a slow start as the sophomore had 26 points and 10 rebounds to pace the Boilermakers. Even though junior guard Melo Trimble did everything he could to win Maryland this game the Terps didn’t have enough help for him in the end.

Maryland, who falls a game behind No. 10 Wisconsin in the Big Ten standings, is 20-3 on the season but still without a win over a ranked team this year.

Here are four takeaways from this one:

1. This is the road win Purdue needed to be considered a Big Ten contender

Entering Saturday’s game at Maryland, Purdue had lost eight consecutive road games against ranked opponents. Even though the Boilermakers didn’t have great interior play outside of Caleb Swanigan, they were able to hit some big shots and fight back for its biggest win of the season.

With a favorable schedule the rest of Big Ten play, Purdue has to have a lot of confidence after knocking off two top-25 opponents in one week. The win over Northwestern was just okay since it came without Scottie Lindsey but beating Maryland on the road is legitimate.

Indiana has a lot of issues right now and that is Purdue’s next road game. After that Purdue only travels to Penn State, Michigan and Northwestern on the road. That isn’t the toughest draw, and as long as Purdue and can stay healthy and knock down some perimeter looks (more on that below), they should be right in the race.

2. Melo Trimble remains college basketball’s best closer (but he needs help)

Maryland was able to almost beat Purdue because Melo Trimble willed himself to the free throw line time-after-time during the last six minutes of the win. In a tight game and both teams already in the double bonus, Trimble realized that Purdue’s guards couldn’t defend him, so he went into full attack mode going to the basket.

The junior finished with 22 points and five assists as he was 14-for-15 from the free-throw line.

This often resulted in Trimble getting calls as it he so good at changing speeds and getting defenders to hit his body in one way or another. Trimble’s movements force refs to make a call and it can result in two points for the Terps. In the instance of one foul on Isaac Haas while he was called for a block, he was also whistled for a tech and Trimble was able to add another point onto the possession.

Over the last three years Maryland has been outstanding in close games because Trimble loves the pressure of big games and he isn’t afraid to get to the free-throw line. This team still needs to get better at executing crunch-time offense when opposing teams adjust to their offense over the course of a game but they at least have Trimble to help get them over the hump in a lot of close games.

They couldn’t get over the hump in this one, however, because Trimble didn’t have enough help. Freshman Kevin Huerter had 11 points but he was 4-for-11 from the field. Maryland doesn’t have anyone who can consistently create a shot except for Trimble and it came back to bite them in this one.

3. Purdue needs its perimeter shooters to reach full potential

Since Purdue’s frontcourt outside of Caleb Swanigan was off on Saturday, they needed perimeter shooters to step up and make up for the lack of scoring. The Boilers have to be encouraged by what they saw out of certain perimeter options.

Getting two three-pointers each from Dakota Mathias (12 points), P.J. Thompson and Ryan Cline was huge as the perimeter shooting got Purdue back in the game with 10 minutes left when it looked like Maryland could run away with the game.

Freshman guard Carsen Edwards also had 12 points on Saturday. He wasn’t able to knock anything down from the perimeter but he hit the two critical go-ahead free throws with 2.1 seconds left after he confidently attacked the basket and drew a foul.

If Purdue can consistently make shots and free up space for Swanigan and the other big men to operate, it helps out Purdue’s offense so much. Swanigan’s ability to stretch the floor (he was 3-for-6 from three-point range) also helps when he has to play with other players who need space inside.

Purdue hitting shots means the difference between losing early and making the second weekend.

4. Maryland’s post defense is solid

Usually the discussion around Maryland hovers around perimeter threats like Melo Trimble and the new freshmen contributors like Justin Jackson, Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan. In other words, big men like Michal Cekovsky and Damonte Dodd don’t get a lot of love. The duo combined for 10 blocks and also scored 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting as they had a solid day on both ends.

The duo deserves a lot of credit for slowing down Purdue’s front court in which they limited the Boiler big men for much of the game. Caleb Swanigan still had 26 points and 10 rebounds but he was 8-for-18 from the floor and Maryland made him work for everything. Forward Vince Edwards went 0-for-7 from the field and was held scoreless while center Isaac Haas was held to nine points on 3-for-10 shooting.

Maryland’s post play wasn’t the issue on Saturday and they need more help from some perimeter shooting outside of Melo Trimble.