BIG 12 (6): Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, TCU, Texas, Kansas State
Big East (5): Seton Hall, Marquette, St. John’s, Villanova, Creighton
American (4): Houston, Cincinnati, UCF, Temple
Pac 12 (2): Arizona State, Washington
Atlantic 10 (2): Saint Louis, VCU
Mountain West (1): Nevada
West Coast (1): Gonzaga
ONE BID LEAGUES:Southern Illinois (MVC), Niagara (MAAC), Old Dominion (C-USA), Texas State (SBELT), Penn (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Northern Kentucky (HORIZON), Abilene Christian (SLND), UNC-Greensboro (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Buffalo (MAC), Lipscomb (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), Charleston (CAA), Radford (BSO), Morgan State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Lehigh (PAT), St. Francis-NY (NEC), Texas Southern (SWAC)
College basketball’s non-conference season is finally coming to a close.
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 recaps to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.
Who has been the best player in the biggest leagues?
Who is on track to get an NCAA tournament bid?
What have we learned about the conference hierarchy?
What is still left for us to figure out?
We break it all down here.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Big Ten.
MIDSEASON BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
It’s not hard to draw a parallel to Happ’s success this season and Wisconsin’s return to form after the program’s first season without an NCAA tournament in two decades. Happ put up numbers last year – 17.9 points, 8 rebounds and 3.7 assists – but it was a grind and things never seem to come as easily to him as they appeared two in his first seasons in Madison. He and the Badgers didn’t seem to adapt well to a more usage-heavy role with a supporting cast that was unable to do much supporting.
Now, though, Happ is beasting and the Badgers are rolling. The 6-foot-10 throwback pivot has the look of a National Player of the year, averaging 19.2 points, 10.7 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.2 blocks per game while shooting 56.9 percent from the floor. He’s dominating the game by being excellent in nearly every one of its phases. It’s no accident Wisconsin is now 10-3 with a 2-0 headstart to B1G play. Happ’s game may not endear him to NBA scouts – he’s shot just three 3s this year – but he’s unquestionably one of the best players in college basketball right now.
THE ALL BIG TEN FIRST TEAM
ETHAN HAPP, WISCONSIN
CARSEN EDWARDS, PURDUE: The Boilermaker point guard has a decent argument for the top spot here given the season he’s having. Edwards leads the Big Ten in scoring with 25.8 points per game as he’s moved into a bigger role in West Lafayette and thrived. He’s shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point range and is dishing out 3.5 assists per game.
JAMES PALMER, NEBRASKA: Palmer’s efforts are a big reason the Cornhuskers look poised to snap a four-year NCAA tournament drought. The 6-foot-6 senior is picking up where he left off following his breakthrough season last year after transferring from Miami, averaging 19.6 points along with 3.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 2.8 assists per game.
CASSIUS WINSTON, MICHIGAN STATE: The Spartans’ floor general is having a superb season to help power Michigan State to an 11-2 record with a 2-0 B1G mark. He’s doing it all, averaging 17.5 points and 7.5 assists per game.
BRUNO FERNANDO, MARYLAND: The sophomore has shown a lot of growth this season, and his game is starting to match his for foreboding 6-foot-10, 240-pound frame. He’s averaging 14.5 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game while shooting 70.2 percent from the floor.
We anticipated the Wolverines would be pretty good this season coming off last year’s surprise NCAA tournament title game appearance. It’s never wise to bet against John Beilein, and Michigan, despite losses of Mo Wagner, Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, still had talent on the roster. What Michigan is doing now, though, well, that’s been a big of a surprise.
The Wolverines are absolutely red-hot, roasting opponents and establishing themselves as a no-doubt, no-argument national title contender. They more than hinted at that fact when they thrashed Villanova in November and then followed it up with wins against Providence, Northwestern, Purdue and North Carolina to head into 2019 with a perfect 13-0 record.
Michigan’s defense is about as good as it gets, with opponents shooting just 41.4 percent on 2-point shots with an effective field goal percentage of 43, good for 11th in the country. The Wolverines also keep opponents off the offensive glass and the free-throw line, a time-tested formula for defensive excellence. Offensively, they’re playing Beilein’s offense methodically, taking care of the ball and making shots. They may not be overloaded with talent ala Duke, but the Wolverines are stacked with the likes of Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole, Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and freshman sensation Ignas Brazdeikis.
The Wolverines look to be very much in line for a third title game under Beilein, and this could be the time they’re the last team standing, atop a ladder with cut nets in hand.
2. IT DIDN’T TAKE ARCHIE MILLER LONG TO TURN INDIANA AROUND
It’s not hard to imagine that last year wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of fun for Archie Miller. In his first year as Indiana’s coach, the Hoosiers went 16-15 overall and 9-9 in the Big Ten after Miller spent the previous four years in the NCAA tournament at Dayton. There weren’t a long list of doubters about Miller’s long-term viability in Bloomington, but a difficult year that included Big Ten losing streaks of four and three games maybe made the timeline look a little extended.
Or the Hoosiers would figure it out immediately, like it appears they have.
Landing five-star homegrown talent Romeo Langford was obviously the key as the freshman is averaging 17.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game while shooting 50.3 percent from the floor (though a ghastly 21.3 percent on more than three attempts from 3-point range per game). He hasn’t been alone, though, as Juwan Morgan has been spectacular while the Hoosiers sport a top-20 defense.
3. THE B1G IS BACK
It’s been a couple of years in the wilderness for the Big Ten. The expansion to 14 teams may have been a boon to the league’s coffers, it hasn’t exactly been a success on the hardwood. Since the move in 2014-15, the Big Ten hasn’t ranked in the top-three in KenPom, and they’ve been fifth twice. They’ve averaged six NCAA tournament teams per year and haven’t had a one-seed since Wisconsin’s national runner-up season of 2015. They’ve only had five teams with a three-seed or better in that time frame, too. They’ve also played their conference tournament in Washington, D.C. and reworked the conference schedule into December to play in New York. So it’s been pretty nasty for a league that’s long prided itself on its basketball prowess.
This season looks to be a return to form.
The league currently has a pair of top-five KenPom teams (Michigan and Michigan State) while a whopping 11 programs are ranked in the top-50. Rutgers and Illinois look the only teams that are truly going to struggle while Minnesota is the third team outside the top-50 at 62 with wins against Washington and Nebraska on the resume.
The Big Ten is back in a big way.
THREE STORYLINES TO FOLLOW
1. ONE-SEED PURSUIT
The Big Ten hasn’t had a No. 1 seed in three seasons, but the conference now has a pair of teams that look squarely in the mix to secure one in Michigan and Michigan State. Can the Big Ten go from drought to deluge this season with a pair of top seeds?
It could be tough for the league to get two top seeds with Duke, Virginia, Gonzaga, Kansas, North Carolina and Nevada all building No. 1 seed resumes through two months, but it’s definitely not out of the realm of possibility. The Wolverines and Spartans will be bolstered by the fact the Big Ten is going to provide a plethora of quadrant-one wins this season, and the conference’s reputation appears to be on the upswing, which can sometimes matter as much as the numbers. If both teams can compile huge win totals – and perhaps split their season series with each other – it’s not hard to envision scenarios with them both on the one-line.
2. COACHING SITUATIONS
There didn’t appear to be any coaches whose seats were absolutely red-hot entering the season, but there were a few situations worth monitoring.
The first is Richard Pitino at Minnesota, where the son of the Hall of Famer has gone to just one NCAA tournament (featuring a first-round loss) in five seasons with an athletic director that didn’t hire him and a new university president on the way in. Pitino seems to have quieted much discussion about his job with a nice 11-2 start to the season, but it remains to be seen if a November loss to Boston College will be viewed as a hiccup or warning light.
Pat Chambers has gone 0-for-7 in his tenure in getting to the NCAA tournament during his tenure in University Park, though the Nittany Lions did take home the NIT title last season. Still, not many coaches can have that be the high-water mark over seven seasons and come to work for an eighth. Chambers has a win over Virginia Tech this season, but losses to DePaul and Bradley along with Ls courtesy of Maryland, Indiana, N.C. State and Alabama suggest trouble remains ahead.
Fran McCaffery has missed back-to-back NCAA tournaments in Iowa City, and the Hawkeyes’ best season during his tenure was a seven-seed and a first-weekend exit after being ranked in the top five at one point in 2015-16, but a new contract and huge buyout kept any questions about his job security to a whisper. Their 11-2 start to this season with wins against Oregon and Iowa State are having the same affect.
There’s been just one NCAA tournament in six seasons for Tim Miles at Nebraska, and that came in 2014. With a brand-new arena, the expectations in Lincoln are for more. But after narrowly missing the tournament last year thanks largely to the B1G being down across the board and this year’s strong start, things look to be pointed in the right direction.
3. HOW GOOD IS OHIO STATE
The Buckeyes have just one loss on the season, a home setback to Syracuse, and a bunch of nice-but-not-great wins on their resume with Ws against the likes of Cincinnati, Creighton, Minnesota and UCLA (whose blahness just got their coach canned).
Chris Holtmann’s team’s statistical profile is strong with KenPom rankings in the top-40 in both offense (35) and defense (22) while sophomore Kaleb Wesson is budding into one of the conference’s hardest-to-guard players.
How it all comes together when the schedule ramps up – starting with Michigan State on Saturday – will be one of the more interesting things to watch unfold in the Big Ten.The five game stretch of at Iowa, vs. Maryland, vs. Purdue, at Nebraska and at Mcihigan to finish January is going to tell a lot.
1. ETHAN HAPP IS A FIRST-TEAM ALL-AMERICAN
The Badgers big man will have stiff competition around the country, but if he keeps putting up numbers like he is now – and his entire career suggests he will – while Wisconsin continues its resurgence, it’s going to be impossible to keep him off a list of the country’s five best players.
2. AT LEAST EIGHT GO DANCING
Just a year removed from having four teams in the NCAA tournament – a 10-year low – the Big Ten is going to get at least eight teams into the Big Dance. Even with the expanded membership, that would be a historic achievement for one of the country’s most storied conferences.
3. THERE WILL BE A SURPRISE TOURNEY CHAMPION
We’re going to spend a ton of the next two-plus months talking about Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin as the premier Big Ten teams, but it’ll be another team from the deep league – here’s looking at Ohio State, Indiana or Nebraska – that will cut down the nets at the United Center in the conference tournament.
Dupree McBrayer thanks fans for support after mother’s death
Minnesota guard Dupree McBrayer and his family released a statement on Monday thanking fans for their support after a GoFundMe was established to help pay for the funeral of Tayra McFarlane-Shannon, Dupree’s mother.
“The Shannon family would like to thank the University of Minnesota, staff, faculty, as well as fans, for all the love and support for Dupree,” the family said in a statement. “We thank Coach Richard Pitino, his staff and the basketball team players for attending Tayra’s funeral in support of Dupree. We kindly thank Caitlin Mahoney for her tremendous help for raising donations helping with funeral expenses. We appreciate each and every one at The University of Minnesota (fans as well) for supporting our family and Dupree at this difficult time. Thank you all and God Bless.”
Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino and his family donated $5,000, while football coach P.J. Fleck donated $800. In total, the GoFundMe raised $15,000.
McBrayer’s mother, who worked for decades at Riker’s Island, died earlier this month. McBrayer was in tears after an emotional win over Nebraska days after she passed away.
The men’s basketball team traveled to New York City for the funeral.
Dupree McBrayer leads Minnesota to big win days after mom’s death
Minnesota landed a come-from-behind win over No. 24 Nebraska in The Barn on Wednesday night, erasing a 13-point second half deficit to beat the Huskers 85-78.
The win was particularly emotional for Minnesota’s senior point guard Dupree McBrayer. After a months-long battle with cancer, his mother, Tayra McFarlane, passed away on Monday. She was 58 years old.
“Heartbroken to say the least,” he tweeted on Tuesday. “Woke up thinking yesterday was a dream but it finally hit me. Reality sets in and my mother is gone. RIP Momma and I hope to make you proud everyday.”
The Nebraska program wore t-shirts emblazoned with RIP Tayra to warm-up in on Wednesday:
Honoring the mother of Minnesota’s Dupree McBrayer with our warmups tonight.
“In 2014-15, we had a couple players lose [parents],” Nebraska head coach Tim Miles said after the game. “It felt like the right thing to do.”
McBrayer didn’t just play on Wednesday night, he played well. He had four first half assists and buried a three in the second half that helped cap the comeback and seal the win.
“I thought that shot he hit late was quite a moment,” Miles said. “I couldn’t help but think for a brief moment what that was about.”
“It was heartbreaking to see,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said after the game, tears in his eyes. “One of my favorite moms. She was a cool lady and raised a great kid. I don’t care about basketball. She raised a really, really good kid.”
McFarlane worked at Rikers Island in New York City for three decades while raising Dupree and his two older brothers. She had recently retired, Pitino said, so that she would have more free time to travel the country and watch her youngest’s senior season.
After the game, McBrayer, clearly emotional, got hugs from everyone on both teams.
Everyone came together – including Nebraska head coach Tim Miles – to support Dupree McBrayer following @GopherMBB's comeback win over Nebraska.
“The gas was off and the electric was off,” McBrayer told the Minneapolis Star Tribune earlier this season. “But she would try to earn enough to get it back on. She did the best she could to put me through the best life. I couldn’t be more thankful to her.”
Wednesday’s Things To Know: Texas drops third straight, Amir Coffey shines for Minnesota and Fran Dunphy faces Villanova for final time
Texas lost its third-consecutive game Wednesday, the second-straight at home to a mid-major, with Smart’s former program, VCU, outlasting the Longhorns 54-53 at the Erwin Center. The Longhorns lost to Michigan State, no shame there, to start this slide, but after a loss to Radford and now the Rams, both of whom ranked outside the KenPom top-100, there is a bit of reason for alarm.
The Longhorns’ shooting is abysmal with a 28.9 percent mark from 3-point range and an effective field goal percentage of 47. They’re giving up a ton of offensive rebounds with opponents grabbing 31.7 percent of their misses, a rather astounding number for a team giving Osetkowski, Sims and Jaxon Hayes big minutes in the frontcourt. It also seems like some frustration may be setting in:
An angry Matt Coleman on what needs to change: "Our mentality. More sense of urgency, compassion. We lose three now, you don’t want to lose four. Urgency is there."
Texas is playing good defense – KenPom has them at 11th in adjusted D – and there is plenty of time to get things right, but Purdue is looming Saturday so things may get uglier before they get better. And both Texas and Smart have to hope things do eventually get better.
AMIR COFFEY SHINES IN GOPHERS WIN ON EMOTIONAL NIGHT
Amir Coffey looked like a star in the making for Minnesota after a freshman season in which the 6-foot-8 Hopkins, Minn. native and son of a former Gopher averaged 12.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game. However, a shoulder injury robbed him of the second half of his sophomore season, the second major injury of his career after he broke his leg and tore his ACL in high school. Given that, it was probably fair to wonder what type of player would return to Williams Arena.
The junior looked like a superstar Wednesday as he scored a career-high 32 points while tallying six rebounds and six assists as the Gophers erased a double-digit second-half deficit to beat No. 24 Nebraska, 85-78, in Minneapolis.
It was unquestionably a breakout game for Coffey, who had played well for much of the season to this point, but had produced nothing like this, topping a personal-best in the scoring department that he set as a freshman.
It was a major win for the Gophers, who were on the cusp of losing for the third time in four games and starting the Big Ten slate 0-2. It was especially important – and poignant – as Gopher guard Dupree McBrayer played while mourning the death of his mother, Tayra, who died Monday after a battle with cancer.
"I'm proud of him."
– Richard Pitino got emotional Wednesday as he reflected on Dupree McBrayer's performance two days after his mom passed away: pic.twitter.com/f4oVvOQut0
Temple has a full season to go, but there was a sort of finale Wednesday for coach Fran Dunphy, who is retiring at the end of the season. He coached his final game against Villanova, a 69-59 loss to rival Philadelphia school and reigning national champions.
The Owls haven’t beaten Jay Wright’s program since 2012, but neither has any other Big 5 team. Temple was the last to do it, exactly six years ago to the day.
Villanova seems to have righted the ship after a rocky couple days in November in which Michigan blasted them by 26 and Furman beat them by eight in OT with both games coming at home. SInce, they’ve won five-straight, including wins against Oklahoma State and Florida State on neutral courts. They’ve got St. Joe’s and Penn before a big showdown with Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse on Dec. 15.