Big Ten Midseason Catchup: There is Wisconsin, and then there is everyone else

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source: AP
AP

College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

MORE: All of CBT’s Conference Catchups

Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Big Ten.

MIDSEASON BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

Frank the Tank keeps rolling in his senior season as the center is eighth in the league in scoring (16.5 points per game) and second in rebounding (7.9 rebounds per game). Even more importantly, though, is Kaminsky’s efficiency and improvement on the defensive end. Kaminsky has improved his field goal percentages to 53 percent shooting and 42 percent three-point shooting even though he’s taking more shots. The 7-footer also averages more blocks per game this season and has committed fewer fouls per game even though he’s seen an increase in his minutes. Kaminsky is the most complete big man in college basketball and a big reason why Wisconsin is once again a major threat to make a Final Four run.

THE ALL-BIG TEN FIRST TEAM

  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
  • Rayvonte Rice, Illinois: Rice is tied for fourth in the league in scoring (17.7 points per game), 12th in rebounding (6.5 per game), sixth in steals (1.9 per game) and sixth in 3-point percentage (47 percent). He’s already hit a game-winner against Missouri this season.
  • D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: The freshman is tied with Rice in scoring at 17.7 per game, but fourth in the league in assists (5.3 per game) — despite being the secondary ball handler to Shannon Scott — ninth in steals (1.8 per game) and seventh in 3-point percentage (46 percent). Cool, calm and collected for a freshman being asked to carry the primary scorer’s role.
  • D.J. Newbill, Penn State: The Big Ten’s leader in points (21.4 per game) and minutes (37.5 per game), Newbill has improved his shooting percentages in his senior season to respectable splits (47% FG, 39% 3PT, 78% FT) while leading the team to a 12-1 start. Also owns a buzzer-beater to win a game this season.
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland: Another freshman who has stepped in and played a huge role while shooting great percentages. The McDonald’s All-American is ninth in scoring (15.8 per game), 15th in assists (3.1 per game) and the best free-throw shooter in the conference at 90 percent. He’s also shot 49 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3-point range.

THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED

1. Wisconsin is worthy again of Final Four discussion: The Badgers didn’t shy away from legitimate competition before jumping into the Big Ten schedule, as they won the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis, played three true road games within its own state and hosted and lost to No. 2 Duke. We know what this team is capable of and it’s another run at a Final Four. By only losing Ben Brust, Wisconsin returns so much experience and this team plays so well together. They move the ball around the perimeter as well as any team in the country and can space at all five positions with legitimate perimeter threats. Bo Ryan’s team loves exploiting mismatches and inverting the floor.

2. The rest of the Big Ten is a question mark (and doesn’t appear very good): Outside of Wisconsin, there isn’t a team in the Big Ten that you can legitimately say would make it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament if given the choice today. There probably will be a few when the tournament does commence, but none of these teams are a guarantee. Maryland is off to a great start but still young and unproven in the conference. Ohio State, Penn State and Minnesota have played cupcake schedules and beaten nobody good. Illinois and Iowa have no-showed at too many random times. Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska already own bad home losses to lower conference teams. The race for second place — and all other spots in the league — appears to be incredibly wide open.

3. The league’s guards are superior to the front courts: I was having this discussion with some colleagues the other day and we couldn’t think of many legitimate front courts in the Big Ten outside of Madison. Purdue has the tough-to-defend center combination of A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas, but Hammons is inconsistent. But outside of that, the league doesn’t have many good and deep front-court units. It’s a league dominated by guards and we’ve even seen three freshmen emerge as legitimate all-conference candidates in James Blackmon Jr., D’Angelo Russell and Melo Trimble. Great guard play also might be the biggest way any team can compete with Wisconsin this season, but good luck matching the Badgers up front.

THREE STORY LINES TO FOLLOW

source: Getty Images
Melo Trimble (Getty Images)

1. Who is the second best team in the Big Ten?: If you had to make a pick today you might say Maryland because of its 12-1 start, even with injuries, but they’ve never played a Big Ten schedule before, so it’s definitely uncertain. Ohio State hasn’t beaten a legitimate team all year. Maybe one of the teams with early-season struggles like Michigan or Nebraska will turn things around during conference play? Who knows? It’s completely wide open and multiple teams own head-scratching losses.

2. How good is Penn State and Minnesota after easy non-conference schedules?: We’ve already read about the uncertainty of the Big Ten outside of Wisconsin. We also know that the Pac-12 outside of Arizona, the SEC outside of Kentucky and the entire AAC looks weaker this season. So there are potential tournament bids to be poached with high win totals and decent conference records if things go correctly for a few teams. That’s where Penn State and Minnesota become interesting. It’s hard to gauge whether either team is a credible Big Ten (or NCAA Tournament) threat, but they each have gaudy records to start the season. The Nittany Lions are 12-1 and D.J. Newbill is having a monster season while the Golden Gophers are quietly 11-2 and playing team-oriented ball. They lead the nation in assists per game (20.2) and have scored 84 or more points in seven straight games — all wins.

3. Will multiple freshmen make the All-Big Ten team?: It’s certainly looking possible. We’ve already talked about D’Angelo Russell and Melo Trimble as early-season all-league selections, but Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr. is actually the conference’s freshman leader in scoring at 17.9 per game. That’s good enough for third in the league and Indiana has a chance to make a run if Blackmon Jr. continues to play well.  These are three special underclass performers that are all stepping up in primary roles for NCAA Tournament contenders.

THREE PREDICTIONS

1. Wisconsin will win the league but won’t go unbeaten. And again make the Final Four: The Badgers look like the clear-cut favorite to win the Big Ten, but they’ll probably lose at some point during the conference schedule. Wisconsin will have an off-night and some team will get hot at home, especially as pressure might mount for the attention an unbeaten conference season. Closing with two consecutive road games at rival Minnesota and Ohio State might do the trick, if it isn’t done by then. As for the Final Four, this Wisconsin team is a matchup nightmare in a tournament setting because it’s hard to prepare for the Badgers’ ability to stretch the floor. Big Ten opponents who have seen Wisconsin multiple times might have better luck., but the Badgers should be able to get to Indianapolis this March.

2. Maryland will finish second in the Big Ten: There’s just something about the way this Maryland team has been playing. They play with confidence and have a lot of players who can score and they’ve played really well despite losing Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz to injury at different points this season. When fully healthy, the Terrapins could be pretty deep, with plenty of shooting options. It also doesn’t hurt Maryland that much of the Big Ten has weak front courts as well to test their unproven interior.

3. The Big Ten will get seven teams in the NCAA Tournament: This is more of a testament to how weak the other conference landscapes are then the strength of the Big Ten. Still, half of the league’s membership making the Big Dance would be a solid year, it just doesn’t seem like any other team is a strong Final Four contender outside of Wisconsin. If the Big Ten teams outside the Badgers don’t beat up on each other too badly I can see seven teams safely making the field, with the potential of even more depending on how bad the AAC, SEC and PAC-12 continue to look.

HOW THEY FINISH

NCAA: Wisconsin, Maryland, Ohio State, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Indiana

NIT: Penn State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan, Purdue

NO POSTSEASON: Northwestern, Rutgers

No. 1 goes down … again; Texas Tech upsets No. 1 Louisville

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NEW YORK — It was the fourth time it’s happened in the first five weeks of the season, the third time it’s happened against an unranked team and the second time that Madison Square Garden played host to the carnage.

The No. 1 team in the country lost.

On Tuesday night, in the opener of the Jimmy V Classic, No. 1 Louisville lost to the unranked Texas Tech, 70-57. That’s the same Texas Tech that arrived in New York City on a three-game losing streak — against Iowa, Creighton and DePaul — and who was forced to play with leading scorer Jahmi’us Ramsey, who missed his third straight game with a hamstring injury.

Davide Moretti led the way for the reigning national runners-up, finishing with 18 points, while freshman Terrence Shannon chipped in with 13 of his own and Chris Clarke added seven points, 12 boards and six assists.

Penn State upsets No. 4 Maryland

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Penn State used five double-figure scorers and played consistently hard on both ends of the floor as the Nittany Lions stunned previously-unbeaten No. 4 Maryland with a 76-69 Big Ten win on Tuesday night.

Losing by 30 on the road to Ohio State in their last conference game, Penn State displayed impressive intensity on the defensive end, limited turnovers on the offensive end and received plenty of help for star senior Lamar Stevens when he wasn’t having his best game. For the second straight season, Penn State upset a ranked Maryland team on its home floor as the Nittany Lions proved they’ll be a tough out at home all season.

Penn State (8-2, 1-1) received double-doubles from both Stevens (15 points, 10 rebounds) and big man Mike Watkins (15 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks) as the duo did a ton of damage on the interior. The Nittany Lions also had double-digit scoring efforts from Myreon Jones (14 points), Izaiah Brockington (14 points) and Myles Dread (10 points). With 19 assists and only eight turnovers, Penn State’s offense did an outstanding job of running clean sets and getting good looks from multiple players.

This is a quality win for the Nittany Lions early in the Big Ten portion of the schedule. It gives an unproven team a major boost of confidence — particularly beating a top-five team on a night where Stevens was only 5-for-13 from the floor. The Ohio State road loss shows Penn State still has a long way to go to be considered any kind of major threat. But Pat Chambers’ team is at least balanced and feisty enough to be a really tough out at home this season. A few more wins like this could put Penn State in the NCAA tournament picture with the kind of schedule they’ll play in the Big Ten this season.

But the major story here is the loss for Maryland. Because the Terps have some concerning trends they need to address.

Early in the season, Maryland (10-1, 1-1) has made a habit of falling behind early. It happened multiple times in an early-season tournament. And it’s now happened in back-to-back Big Ten games against Illinois and Penn State. While Maryland has been able to overcome slow starts all season with talent and comeback wins, a bad start came back to really bite them on Tuesday.

Trailing by 10 at halftime, Maryland tried to make second-half runs to stay with Penn State. Ultimately, the Terps were derailed by inconsistent offense, sloppy and careless turnovers (Penn State had 17 points off turnovers in the first half) and an inconsistent effort on the inside.

Maryland’s offense had 20 turnovers to only nine assists for the game as the Terps never seemed to figure out the proper way to run its offense. Alternating between senior Anthony Cowan Jr. (16 points) and sophomore Eric Ayala (15 points) initiating offense, both guards had too many bad passes and unforced errors for a team with Big Ten title aspirations.

It’s very clear that Maryland has the talent to compete with nearly any team in the country. Even on an off night, the Terps made this a one-possession game against a balanced Big Ten team with some veteran players. But Maryland can’t have these kinds of unforced errors if they see themselves making a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

That mainly falls on Cowan. A few of his turnovers were stunningly bad for a senior floor leader. Getting stripped 35 feet from the hoop and throwing lazy passes for interceptions and easy layups can’t happen for Cowan. There’s just too much talent on offense for Maryland to be giving away points in close games.

The good news for Maryland is that there is plenty of time to correct some of these mistakes. Cowan can limit the mistakes. The offense will likely play better and more together. But Maryland’s slow starts are a trend to keep an eye on as it has been a factor for them in multiple games this season.

Bracketology: Cardinals, Buckeyes sit atop latest bracket projection

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At the quarter-turn of our race to Selection Sunday, the Louisville Cardinals lead Ohio State by a nose for the No. 1 overall seed.  Close behind are Michigan, Kansas, Gonzaga and Maryland.  The Buckeyes and Wolverines are the surprise entries among that group, although both have earned their positions with impressive performances out of the gate.

While the first turn provides a quick glance at the Field, we still have three-quarters of the race to run – including a daunting backstretch and the turn for home known as conference play.  Those grueling furlongs tend to separate the pretenders and contenders.

Early brackets are notoriously fluid; margins between teams are thin. Early projections also tend to produce some quirkiness – especially related to conference balance.  Keep those things in mind.  By next month we could see a lot of changes.

UPDATED: December 10, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Iowa State vs. Arizona State
SOUTH REGION Georgetown vs. Oregon State
MIDWEST REGION  SACRED HEART vs. PRAIRIE VIEW AM
WEST REGION MONTANA vs. NC A&T

MIDWEST Indianapolis EAST – New York                       
St. Louis Cleveland
1) LOUISVILLE 1) OHIO STATE
16) NC-AT / SACRED HEART 16) RADFORD
8) West Virginia 8) VCU
9) Penn State 9) Texas
Sacramento Sacramento
5) Arizona 5) SAN DIEGO STATE
12) WESTERN KENTUCKY 12) UNC-GREENSBORO
4) Kentucky 4) Washington
13) LIBERTY 13) YALE
St. Louis Greensboro
6) MEMPHIS 6) Villanova
11) Saint Mary’s 11) Iowa St / Arizona St
3) DAYTON 3) TENNESSEE
14) WRIGHT STATE 14) VERMONT
Albany Greensboro
7) Florida 7) Seton Hall
10) DePaul 10) Indiana
2) Maryland 2) Duke
15) HOFSTRA 15) COLGATE
WEST – Los Angeles SOUTH – Houston
Omaha Cleveland
1) KANSAS 1) Michigan
16) MONTANA / PV-AM 16) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
8) Stanford 8) LSU
9) Marquette 9) Colorado
Albany Omaha
5) Michigan State 5) North Carolina
12) BOWLING GREEN 12) NORTHERN IOWA
4) Virginia 4) Baylor
13) BELMONT 13) S.F. AUSTIN
Tampa Tampa
6) Purdue 6) Auburn
11) Oklahoma 11) Georgetown / Oregon St
3) BUTLER 3) Florida State
14) RIDER 14) GEORGIA STATE
Spokane Spokane
7) Utah State 7) Xavier
10) Creighton 10) Connecticut
2) GONZAGA 2) OREGON
15) UC-SANTA BARBARA 15) NEW MEXICO STATE

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Creighton Georgetown Iowa Arkansas
Connecticut Arizona State Wichita State Virginia Tech
Saint Mary’s Oregon State NC State Houston
Oklahoma Iowa State Richmond Oklahoma State

Top Seed Line
Louisville, Ohio State, Michigan, Kansas

Breakdown by Conference …
Big East (8)
Big Ten (7)
Pac 12 (7)
BIG 12 (6)
SEC (5)
ACC (5)
West Coast (2)
American (2)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (2)

N.C. State forward Jericole Hellems released from hospital

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State says sophomore forward Jericole Hellems has been released from a hospital and is in “good spirits” after an injury in Saturday’s win at Wake Forest.

The team announced the news Sunday on Twitter. Hellems had fallen on a rebound attempt and banged the back of his head on the court with 28 seconds left. He was alert but had to be carried from the court on a stretcher. Then he was taken to a hospital for precautionary reasons to rule out a possible lower back injury as well as to be evaluated for a possible concussion.

The team says Hellems will meet with NC State doctors in the coming days, while coach Kevin Keatts will address his status later in the week.

NC State travels to UNC Greensboro next Sunday.

AP Poll: Louisville remains No. 1, Ohio State jumps to No. 3

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Louisville and Kansas finally provided some consistency to what has been a volatile Top 25 poll this season, while perennial bluebloods Michigan State and North Carolina continued to tumble after another wave of defeats.

The Cardinals solidified thier place at No. 1 in the AP Top 25 released Monday by routing then-No. 4 Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and breezing past Pittsburgh over the past week. The Jayhawks stayed at No. 2 after returning from their Maui Invitaitonal title to thump former Big 12 member Colorado.

“I think it’s two games in a row, where we got stops,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “We didn’t allow second shots. We ran the clock on offense. We got great looks. We got layups, and that’s a killer.”

Ohio State jumped from sixth to third following its 74-49 rout of then-No. 7 North Carolina and a Big Ten blowout of Penn State. Maryland dropped one spot to fourth despite continuing to pile up wins, while Michigan slid one spot to round out the top five after Juwan Howard’s bunch ran into the Louisville buzzsaw for their first loss of the season.

The Spartans continued their fall from preseason No. 1 after losing to Duke, this time dropping from 11th to No. 16. The Tar Heels tumbled 10 spots to No. 17 after getting crushed by Ohio State and losing to No. 9 Virginia.

San Diego State joined the rankings at No. 25.

1. Louisville (55)

2. Kansas (4)

3. Ohio St. (5)

4. Maryland

5. Michigan

6. Gonzaga

7. Duke

8. Kentucky

9. Virginia

10. Oregon

11. Baylor

12. Auburn

13. Memphis

14. Dayton

15. Arizona

16. Michigan St.

17. North Carolina

18. Butler

19. Tennessee

20. Villanova

21. Florida St.

22. Seton Hall

23. Xavier

24. Colorado

25. San Diego St.

Others receiving votes: Utah St. 160, Washington 144, Purdue 130, Indiana 13, Marquette 11, Liberty 9, Saint Mary’s (Cal) 8, Texas 6, Florida 5, Penn St. 5, Georgetown 4, West Virginia 3, Richmond 3, LSU 2, Duquesne 1, DePaul 1, VCU 1.