MAAR been at the lembas bread? [Patrick Barron]
- Rutgers is a bunch of Michael Currys. Wagner offense worked, Michigan took ton of open threes that missed. Free throw misses becoming a thing?
- TV Teddy had a dream where Michigan’s bench was too demonstrative. Big Ten really has to address Valentine. His crew may be worse.
- Don’t drift back onto the bubble.
- Free DJ on the offensive glass?
- Purdue matchups: Swanigan has no answer for “How is Michigan going to keep you from dominating this game?”
- Sam’s segue to Ole Miss. They went too hard too fast: Tunsil, Treadwell, etc., to put them under the microscope—may not be any different than how the rest of the SEC operates (nv). Brian outs the story behind my Stormtrooper cover last year to demonstrate how on the ball Michigan’s compliance department is. NCAA has to make it not be worth it.
- Best M hoops coach ever? Orr had fun/small teams. Frieder had a Romulus rule. Give Coach B that year with McGary or whatever and it’s a slam dunk.
- Old Man Craig remembers the good old days/bad old days. Mo gets a historically bad whistle.
You can catch the entire episode on Michigan Insider's podcast stream on Audioboom.
THE USUAL LINKS
Game on in-state
— Steve Wiltfong (@SWiltfong247) February 20, 2017
Hutchinson vs 5* 2019 MI OL Devontae Dobbs
Michigan of course picked up a commitment from MI DE Aidan Hutchinson a couple days ago. I was chatting off air with Sam Webb today and we settled on Ryan Van Bergen with a bit more edge rush as a comparable for Hutchinson, FWIW. As a bonus, Harbaugh story:
Harbaugh paid a visit to Divine Child last month and was greeted by school pastor James Bilot.
“The priest meets him when he walked in and Harbaugh said, ‘Give me your top three,’” Hutchinson said, laughing. “The priest didn’t know what he was talking about. ‘Give me your top three saints. You’ve got to have a top three!’ My son’s school was like, ‘Whaaat?’”
I hope Harbaugh has a board on which he has his top saints ranked that he regularly rearranges. Tough day for St. Francis of Assisi, but St. Thomas More is really picking it up lately, etc.
Hutchinson, the #4 player in Michigan per the composite, is a legacy widely expected to end up in Ann Arbor; the rest of the instate crop is far less locked in to any particular school. Of the top ten in state, two are committed to ND already and #8 Jason Whittaker is headed to Northwestern; aside from Hutchinson everyone else is open.
That includes Traverse City West OL Ryan Hayes, who just picked up a Michigan offer and plans a visit next month. Trieu describes him as "Jake Fisher 2.0," referring to the instate lineman who decommitted from Michigan after Rich Rodriguez was fired and went on to have a successful career at Oregon. Fisher was a second round draft pick a couple years back. Per Trieu, Greg Frey recruited both Fisher and Hayes's older brother Connor, who ended up at Pitt. The younger Hayes is up to the #2 player in the state after a significant bump from 24/7.
#1, OL Marquan McCall, was widely regarded a Michigan lean but recently Lorenz said he might not be as high on Michigan's board as that would imply and there might not be room for him in a tight class. #5, OL Tyrone Sampson, is a legit four star but there is one complicating factor. Trieu:
Strong, great balance and base and technically very sound. True center and a potentially elite one.
Michigan took #1 C Cesar Ruiz last year. One or the other could play guard but if Sampson believes his best spot is C Michigan is not likely to be the destination. They haven't offered yet in any case.
File under crootin
GA OL Jalil Irvin, who was briefly a commit, took an unofficial to Ann Arbor and returned saying very positive things:
“I love Michigan after today,” Irvin, a former Michigan commit, said. “Just the campus, coaches, academics, and everything.”
Meanwhile, IN OL Emil Ekiyor, who is currently a commit, has visited multiple schools recently. A trip to Indiana is decidedly unthreatening:
"My main priority right now is Michigan. I'll look at other schools, but I'm pretty focused on them."
Going down to Tallahassee is considerably more alarming, especially considering his recent trip there was his second. That it's part of a southern swing through Georgia, Alabama, and the Noles is... not better, but not worse. Ekiyor, FWIW:
"Just exploring, making sure I am making the right decision," Ekiyor said. "But I am locked into Michigan right now. Nothing has changed with that. I'm just looking."
"I'm locked in ... I'm just looking" is a hefty slab of grade A crootin for you right there. Ekiyor decommit DEFCON is currently at 3, and will move up to 2 if he camps at FSU, like he told 24/7 he was "thinking about."
On the other hand, 4* GA LB Otis Reese seems totally solid. He's planning an April unofficial and Lorenz reports that Michigan has not let their pursuit flag despite the fact he is committed.
Large class complaints will be minimal this year
Per Lorenz, Michigan is currently done(!) at DE and LB with one guy at each spot (Hutchinson and GA LB Otis Reese), and there's some circumstantial evidence to back that up from 4* CA DE Jeremiah Martin, a weakside type:
“(I’m) not really (hearing from them),” said Martin. It just same with some other offers like offered then don't really communicate. I mean mail that's about it.”
Martin still wants to visit but feels like the interest is more on his end than theirs at the moment.
That seems a bit shortsighted to me since there's always attrition even when you don't want there to be attrition (see: Asiasi, Devin). But the depth chart is pretty stocked at both spots now, which was emphatically not the case a year ago.
Anyway: any class with just two guys at DE/LB is going to be pretty small. Especially if they're not going to push for FL DE Nik Bonnito as a result, as Lorenz asserts.
Obligatory Faalele section
FL OL Daniel Faalele checked in at 6'8", 400 pounds at the Orlando Nike Camp. Apparently Mike Onwenu convinced them to get bigger scales at these things. This news was the impetus for that rarest of birds: a Good Tweet.
— Henry Stark (@HRussellStark) February 19, 2017
Extremely grudging 2019 stuff
MI OL Devontae Dobbs is an early five star on 24/7 and continues tracking that direction after an impressive Elite Big Man camp:
— Allen Trieu (@AllenTrieu) February 14, 2017
Trieu asserts that he's "a blue chipper without a doubt."
FL LB Anthony Solomon took an unofficial last week and returned saying Michigan was his new leader, displacing Alabama. Solomon is at St. Thomas Aquinas, which is now Harbaugh's favorite saint. STA sends a lot of guys to ND and various northern schools, so it's not out of the question Michigan hangs on. Solomon told Sam Webb that he's very close with Devin Bush—"their family and my family grew up together"—and that can't hurt.
Another recent visitor who Michigan leads for is KY DE Stephon Herron Jr, per Lorenz. Here is the default sentence about vague leaders two years out.
Brice Marich reports that Michigan is keeping tabs on 3* MI OL Michael Furtney. 4* IL OL Verdis Brown was "super excited" to get a Michigan offer, has vague visit plan. 3* AL DT Timaje Porter very much wants a Michigan offer. Michigan offers GA ATH Quindarious Monday, and yes I just mentioned this because of the name.
Well that's a new one. pic.twitter.com/sudwY5dEl6
— Due# (@JDue51) February 23, 2017
Let's review the keys to the game:
Win the game. A bubble team playing Rutgers has but one goal.
Mission accomplished, at least.
Whether due to the soporific venue, their fourth game in 11 days, the proximity to Rutgers basketball players, or simple bad luck, Michigan couldn't get their shooting going all evening. Only Zak Irvin managed to hit 50% from the field among the starters, and the Wolverines went only 10-for-31 from beyond the arc. Free throw shooting was an issue down the stretch for the second straight game.
Other than Rutgers also shooting poorly, this game didn't follow the script. Michigan outrebounded the Scarlet Knights, which entered the game as the Big Ten's best offensive rebounding team. Rutgers outscored the Wolverines 15-7 off turnovers. Irvin was Michigan's most reliable scorer. Derrick Walton struggled with his shot.
The final Rutgers possession was sufficiently Rutgers—an airballed three, a missed putback, and a Michigan rebound—for the Wolverines to survive. It's a conference road win, so the ugly nature of this game won't hurt Michigan in the eyes of the tournament committee. The Wolverines will get one last chance at a statement win on Saturday in the home finale against Purdue. Let's hope their shots are a little more homed in at the friendly confines of Crisler.
#29 Michigan (17-10, 7-7 B1G) at
#127 Rutgers (13-15, 2-13)
Piscataway, New Jersey
|WHEN||6:30 pm ET, Wednesday|
Michigan -6 (KenPom)
Michigan -8.5 (Vegas)
PBP: Brandon Gaudin
Analyst: Shon Morris
Right: Everything about this picture makes me laugh. [Patrick Barron/MGoBlog]
Michigan is still in good position to make the tournament; they're on all 116 projected brackets that comprise the current matrix. This, unfortunately, is a game that can do much more harm than good; a win keeps them in relatively the same position, while a loss would be a disaster.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.
|G||3||Corey Sanders||So.||6'2, 181||75||28||90||Yes|
|Huge-usage, shoot-first PG tasked with carrying offense, does so inefficiently.|
|G||5||Mike Williams||Jr.||6'2, 198||65||18||110||Yes|
|Surprisingly effective offensive rebounder, very ineffective shooter.|
|G||35||Issa Thiam||Fr.||6'9, 190||40||13||89||Kinda|
|Just A Shooter™ type... who makes 30% of his threes with a 20% turnover rate.|
|F||33||Deshawn Freeman||Jr.||6'7, 225||66||24||98||Very|
|RU's best rebounder, disruptive defender, gets to line, awful FT shooter.|
|C||34||CJ Gettys||Jr.||7'0, 280||54||20||104||Very|
|Burly grad transfer rebounds well, blocks some shots. Turnover-prone.|
|G||0||Nigel Johnson||Jr.||6'1, 186||64||23||100||Kinda|
|At 32% on a healthy number of attempts, RU's most reliable three-point shooter.|
|F||11||Eugene Omoruyi||Fr.||6'6, 230||31||18||80||Very|
|Seeing increased role despite bad shooting and a 30% turnover rate.|
|C||2||Shaquille Doorson||So.||7'0, 270||20||11||92||Very|
|Decent offensive rebounder and shot-blocker, rarely shoots.|
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
Friday, February 17, 2017
#20 Wisconsin 5, Michigan 2
UW 1 UM 0 EV 10:53 Assists: Linhart & Tischke
Tischke passes to Linhart and gets the defense moving from the goalie’s left to right.
Linhart executes an exaggerated step to his left, which pulls the defense further outside his shooting lane. From there, he sees an opening and shoots it off the boards behind the goal.
Michigan’s about to get beat by a Lidstrom. This may be called something else by others, but those people are wrong. Aside from steering everyone under the sun harmlessly into the corner for, like, two decades, this was his signature move. The puck hits the boards and bounces right to Frederic. He just has to throw the puck at the open net, as there’s no way LaFontaine can get over fast enough to square to the shot.
As for the unnerving openness of Frederic, this could have been prevented had De Jong and Cecconi not doubled the skater in the slot. This is especially frustrating considering how often Michigan has left guys unchecked in the same area.
[After THE JUMP: turnovers of the nonfood variety]
photo does not fit with theme of bullet [Patrick Barron]
Pretty grim. Mark Titus on the state of Big Ten basketball:
We’re only four years removed from the Big Ten’s incredible 2012–13 campaign, when six different teams cracked the top 10 of the AP poll and the regular-season title came down to the final shot on the final day of conference play. A Big Ten national title seemed imminent then, if not in the 2013 tournament then certainly in the immediate years to come. Now, coming off a tourney in which the league’s champion got blasted in the Sweet 16 and its best team lost to a no. 15 seed, the Big Ten could fare even worse in 2016–17; its only hope of remaining in title contention by the end of the tournament’s opening weekend could hinge on Purdue, a team that blew a 14-point lead with five minutes to play against Arkansas–Little Rock in the first round of the 2016 tournament.
It's not great, Bob. Simultaneous collapses by OSU, MSU, Indiana, and (to a slightly lesser extent) Michigan have sapped the top of the conference. A few years ago there were 6 or 7 teams as good as any of the top end contenders this year and one to three teams who were legitimately elite.
Injuries play a role, but Matta seems to have hit a wall; Izzo and Beilein are 62 and 64, respectively, and may be slowing down as they near the end of their careers. Crean may be gone after this year.
Donnal departure is already agreed to, apparently. It's not like it's a huge surprise but Mark Donnal taking a grad transfer next year has migrated past "open secret" and reached "fait accompli":
Donnal is not being offered a fifth year at Michigan.
"There have been a lot of ups and downs," he said. "I really think my career here shaped me as a better person. Now I'm moving on."
Michigan has three recruits coming in and Donnal is the third senior. Without attrition they'd be full next year, but attrition is always a possibility. [CORRECTION: Michigan still has an open slot.]
Today in Big Ten refs. How did Iowa-Indiana go last night?
God, shucks, there were a lot of those, huh? 57 (!!) total in this game, with four Indiana players fouling out — something that likely cost a thin Indiana team this contest, ultimately.
Both sides of this game have reps on my twitter feed and both sides were incredulous at what they were watching. An explanation is not forthcoming.
Seriously, MLive asked after the Minnesota debacle and got this response from the league:
MLive requested a comment or clarification regarding the technical. Via a Minnesota spokesman, the Big Ten stated that the technical was a judgment call and, thus, the night's head official, Rob Riley, would not be made available for comment.
"We question the judgment of your officials."
"The judgment of our officials is not in question, the end."
This is gaslighting, right? Did I do that correctly? I'm not good with words and stuff.
The last unicorn. Indiana RB coach Deland McCullough is off to USC. With that move, Indiana has now lost the entirety of Kevin Wilson's braintrust. Almost everybody moved up. Greg Frey ended up at Michigan, McCullough at USC, Wilson himself ended up as OSU's OC, etc., etc.
Indiana responded by bringing in Mike Debord. While that's going to be bad for anyone who liked #chaosteam—and as a fan of a Big Ten team that managed not to lose to them—it's going to be great for anyone who wants to see what happens when you put a sloth in a NASCAR race. Let's gooooooo (not very fast).
The nation's foremost water-carrier. Tony Barnhart has always been a reliable mouthpiece for any rich guy involved in college athletics but this takes the cake. He writes an article about the spate of post-Signing Day coaching moves, which are cynically delayed until players are locked in to a LOI. He lists several examples, and then:
I did some calling around and the feedback I got essentially was this: “If this bothers you, then you’re being pretty naïve. Coaches leaving, or being asked to leave, right after signing day is just a fact of life in college football.”
Who did he talk to? Mack Brown and Rick Neuheisel. Both those guys—shock—think it's no big deal. This is like asking the head of Big Ten officials whether he sucks at his job. It's the full Greenstein right here.
As targeting ejections have doubled over three years, the NCAA Football Rules Committee is looking at changing the replay standards so a targeting ejection only occurs if the penalty is confirmed. Currently, if replay doesn’t have enough evidence to confirm targeting but can’t rule it’s not targeting, the call on the field stands and the player gets ejected.
There could be three different outcomes to targeting reviews:
- Confirmed: ejection, 15 yards.
- Stands: no ejection, 15 yards.
- Overturned: no penalty.
I'm not sure how many targeting penalties fall into that gray area in the middle, but we're about to find out. I guess a way to get calls like that Penn State targeting ejection less wrong is good?
Good ol' boys. It's still 1975 in Louisiana:
Ed Orgeron was just presented with a key to the local jail.
Just in case, the sheriff says, an #LSU player finds his way into there.
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) February 18, 2017
After FSU and Baylor and Tennessee you'd think these kinds of wink-wink nudge-nudge events would be frowned upon. There are clear costs that have resulted in far worse things than the occasional drunken escapade on a stolen moped.
Indiana parallels. In depth piece on Indiana basketball finding its footing in a world where it's no longer the 1970s at the Crimson Quarry:
The factors that made Indiana a great job 30 years ago simply don’t hold as much water today. We live in a world that is now smaller due to cheaper travel, social media, national AAU programs and circuits, prep schools. Indiana is far less cordoned off than it once was, and college basketball in the state and nationally is far deeper than it was in the peak of the Bob Knight era. Bloomington isn’t an NBA market like Los Angeles. Indianapolis is known for quality, not necessarily quantity, in producing top-level recruits that power programs to titles.
The comparisons between Indiana basketball and Michigan football over the past 40 or so years aren't dead on but there are some parallel tracks:
- Bo and Bob Knight are both cantankerous program legends who cast a long shadow for anyone who follows.
- Immediate successors are assistants promoted to the head job. Gary Moeller is the hand-picked successor; Mike Davis is an interim after Knight goes off the rails late who eventually gets the head job. Both have decent teams that aren't good enough to keep people from yelling for their heads and don't last.
- Controversial outsiders Rich Rodriguez and Kelvin Sampson are brought in, have short, tumultuous reigns featuring NCAA trouble. (Sampson's are much worse, resulting in a five-year show cause penalty.) Both last just three years.
- Dorfy-looking head coaches with somewhat questionable credentials are next. Major difference here is that Crean inherited a disaster zone and Hoke inherited Denard Robinson, so Hoke's tenure looks like a man careening downhill on moguls he doesn't know how to ski and Crean had an upward trajectory until recently. Still: dorfy.
It's rough when you've done things one way for a million years and then have to adapt.
Etc.: More croot profiles: J'Marick Woods, Kwity Paye, Luiji Vilain, Deron Irving-Bey, Ambry Thomas. Nevermind on Michael Johnson, who took a WR job at Oregon because he is terribly unqualified. What if Michigan never returned to the Big Ten?
Sorry to bump down Hutchinson but this is bigger news.
This one hurts. After rumors he hadn’t returned all semester, and that Michigan was apparently doing everything short of moving California to get him back, sophomore tight end Devin Asiasi is transferring to a school closer to home for personal reasons. Apparently now it’s official, via Harbaugh, via Baumgardner.
Harbaugh says Devin Asiasi is transferring.
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) February 22, 2017
As just a true freshman Asiasi was one of the best blocking tight ends at Michigan in recent memory, and showed plenty of receiving ability to make him a major dual threat. There are plenty of other tight ends on the roster, and RS sophomore TJ Wheatley can fulfill much the same role. Still, this is still a major, major bummer. This is a player on the verge of stardom who was a perfect fit for the Michigan offense, and given the youth all over that side of the ball we were really looking forward to having at least this weapon at Harbaugh’s disposal.
As an additional knife, likely destinations for Asiasi include UCLA, where he would rejoin Jedd Fisch and best friend Boss Tagaloa (Jim Mora Jr.’s program has been a weird thorn in Michigan’s side lately despite going 8-5 and 4-8 the last two seasons). Asiasi also could wind up at USC, Cal, Stanford, or anywhere else that’s not here.
The word "lanky" comes to mind. [Isaiah Hole/247]
Michigan added a legacy to the 2018 class this evening when four-star Dearborn (MI) Divine Child DE Aidan Hutchinson, son of All-American defensive lineman Chris Hutchinson, committed to the Wolverines over the likes of Louisville, LSU, and Michigan State.
It's great to be a Michigan Wolverine pic.twitter.com/WS4UzDddUb
— Aidan Hutchinson (@aidanhutch28) February 22, 2017
Hutchinson is Michigan's third commit in the class, joining IN OG Emil Ekiyor and GA S/OLB Otis Reese.
4*, #16 DE,
4*, 83, #11 DE,
4*, 93, #5 SDE,
4*, #9 SDE,
It's still early in the 2018 evaluation process and Hutchinson is a prospect who requires quite a bit of projecting from a physical standpoint, so it's not a big surprise to see a significant split in his rankings. ESPN and 247 both consider him a fringe top-100 prospect; Scout has him as an early four-star; Rivals considers him the #14 prospect in the state—in a down year compared to 2017, at that. Rivals' Josh Helmholdt had a positive evaluation of Hutchinson after yesterday's Best of the Midwest Combine, so we could see these rankings tighten up before long.
Hutchinson is listed anywhere between 6'4", 227 (Rivals) and 6'6", 245 (Scout). He told The Wolverine's Brandon Brown this week that he's at the high end of that range and may still be growing. When he fills out, he should land at strongside defensive end, though if he gets much taller he may merit a look at offensive tackle.
[Hit THE JUMP for scouting, video, and more.]
Irvin or Robinson?
Choosing between defense and offense. [Left: Campredon; right: Barron]
I put out a call for hoops mailbag questions over the weekend. A theme emerged:
@AceAnbender why doesn't Duncan Robinson start/play Irvin's minutes? Irvin is broken and it's not like the D can get substantially worse
— RIP D (@affluenzaQB) February 21, 2017
— Bob Dively (@bobdively) February 20, 2017
With Duncan Robinson's semi-emergence on defense (feels weird saying that), why is Coach Beilein not inserting him into the clutch-time lineup for Zak Irvin? I live in constant fear of Irvin hero-ball and I just don't trust him to make shot these days, let alone the right decision.
I'd feel much more comfortable with a Walton-MAAR-Robinson-Wilson-Wagner lineup offensively at the end of the game, and if the defense only takes a small step back isn't it worth it?
The first two questions are slightly different from the third. To address those first: Zak Irvin is going to remain in the starting lineup. I agree with that choice because of the difference Irvin makes on defense. I disagree with the premise in the first question; the defense can get substantially worse—we all saw as much in January—and Irvin is a big reason why Michigan has improved on that end.
Irvin's versatility on defense is more important than people seem to think. He can do everything from stay in front of two-guards to play passable post defense; did we already forget about this? (And this? And this too?) Michigan doesn't have another wing (DJ Wilson, if you're inclined to count him, excluded) with anything resembling Irvin's combination of strength and quickness; his presence allows M to switch on defense without creating too many mismatches. He's one of Michigan's better on-the-ball defenders, too.
Robinson has made strides on defense; he's still far from a good defender. SI posted anonymous coach quotes today on several potential tourney teams. From the Michigan section, which was critical but fair:
If [senior guard Duncan] Robinson is in the game you want to attack him defensively. Everybody knows that.
Robinson hasn't been caught out of position as often as he was earlier in the season. He's still susceptible to being attacked off the dribble by quicker guards/wings and he doesn't have Irvin's strength to hold up when he's switched onto a post player. Yes, Robinson is the superior offensive player; Irvin, in my opinion, has as much of an edge on defense.
A straight-up comparison between the two isn't sufficient; this is, after all, a team sport. You can gameplan to hide a struggling offensive player, especially when the rest of the offense is clicking like Michigan's. Irvin, in fact, is playing a decreased role in the offense over the course of this slump. This mathematical approach isn't perfect, but Irvin averaged a 27% usage rate over M's first seven conference games, with a high mark of 32% (Maryland) and a low of 21% (Illinois). That average is down to 17% over M's last seven games, in which he's surpassed the 20% only three times, topping out at 24% in the Wisconsin win; he's gone as low at 8% in that span, using only five possessions in the MSU win. Walton and MAAR have been able to pick up the slack.
It's much more difficult to hide a weak defender; you don't get to choose what set the opposing team runs. Robinson has been such an effective offensive player this season in part because John Beilein can cherry-pick his matchup on both ends. Robinson wasn't nearly as efficient as a starter last year (107.7 ORating in B1G games) compared to what he's done as the sixth man this year (122.8 ORating in B1G); while correlation doesn't equal causation, I don't believe that's a coincidence.
If Irvin continues to take on big late-game possessions—I'll admit I cringed when he waved off Derrick Walton in a second-half late-clock situation at Minnesota—then I wouldn't mind seeing Beilein use Robinson over Irvin in certain late-game situations, as Christian suggests, especially if he can go offense-defense with his substitutions. Benching Irvin is a step too far; Michigan still has the best offensive efficiency in the conference with him playing 89% of the available minutes, and he's played a major role in the defensive improvement of the last month. Another stat of note: Robinson averages 22.3 minutes per game in Michigan's seven conference losses; he's at 17.6 in their seven conference wins.
[Hit THE JUMP for the path to the tourney, Minnesota technical explanation, and more.]
With just four games remaining for most Big Ten teams, it’s pretty safe to say at this point: the Big Ten just isn’t that good this season. Of the seven teams with positive efficiency margins in conference play, only three – Purdue, Wisconsin, and Maryland – are locks to make it into the NCAA Tournament; the other four (Northwestern, Minnesota, Michigan State, Michigan) will probably total three or four bids, but none are safe with three weeks remaining in the season.
While the top three aren’t likely to receive impressive seeds in the NCAA Tournament (mostly due to a lack of significant non-conference wins and the general mediocrity of their conference opponents), there could be some surprises in March. As of right now, the Bracket Matrix has Purdue as a 4, Wisconsin as a 5, and Maryland as a 6.
- PURDUE: Feature National Player of the Year candidate and likely 1st-team All-American PF/C Caleb Swanigan (as well as 7’2 gargantuan Isaac Haas), one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country, in the top 20 nationally on offense and defense.
- WISCONSIN: Veteran team with five multi-year starters, have one of the most unique big men in college hoops in Ethan Happ (a defensive menace) as well as two key seniors in guard Bronson Koenig and wing Nigel Hayes, have a top 10 defense nationally.
- MARYLAND: Rank much lower than the other two in computer metrics, but have won a lot of close games throughout the season, start three impressive freshmen in Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter, and Justin Jackson, offense and defense are outside top 40 nationally.
Maryland is a year ahead of schedule and quite unlikely to make it to the Sweet 16, in my opinion, although Melo Trimble’s record in tight games over his three seasons in College Park have indicated that the Terps possess perhaps more late-game chops than the conventional statistical wisdom of “results of coin flips are random” would suggest. The Cowan / Huerter / Jackson trio is the best young nucleus in the conference, but tournament success will be difficult for such a young team. I’ve been mostly wrong about UMD since they’ve joined the Big Ten though, so who knows.
Wisconsin and Purdue are better equipped to do some damage as part of March Madness: the Badgers made a surprise run to the Sweet 16 last season and the Boilermakers were felled in a 4/13 first round upset. Recent offensive struggles and a hobbled Koenig make me a little more leery of Wisconsin’s prospects, but their experience and the presence of Happ make them a relatively safe bet.
Purdue is probably the best team in the Big Ten; a frontcourt of Swanigan and Haas is a formidable matchup for any team, and Matt Painter has surrounded them with a cast of sharpshooters who enable them to operate effectively inside. Teams with strong offense and defense (as opposed to one or the other) as well as one of the best players in the country are always threats to make a deep run and the Boilermakers could be a Final Four team if things break right – though their guard play is still suspect.
[More on the Big Ten – including the bubble – after the JUMP]