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Posts Tagged ‘Purdue’

Big Ten Media Days: Word clouding the Big Ten coaches

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014


All 14 Big Ten coaches got 15 minutes apiece at the podium in front of the assembled media in the Hilton Chicago on Monday. Each delivered an opening statement and then fielded a few questions. Typically, there isn’t much news to come out of these sessions. It’s more of a time to drum up excitement about the upcoming season and tout all the things they’re excited about. Every coach has fantasies about Big Ten titles this time of year and doesn’t want to reveal too much, so to spice things up a bit we took an idea that we really liked from the SEC SB Nation blog Team Speed Kills and applied it to each of the Big Ten coaches’ speeches.

We used Wordle to spit out a word cloud for each coach based on the transcript from his 15 minutes at the podium. The bigger the word, the more often it was used, so you can get an idea of what each coach places the most emphasis on. As a Maize and Go Blue exclusive, we also scrubbed away the coach speak and translated what each coach was really saying.

Brady Hoke – Michigan

Hoke

There must be something wrong with this thing. “Tremendous” doesn’t fill the entire page. Neither does “Well…” or “Fergodsakes”. And contrary to popular belief in Columbus and East Lansing, although “think” was his most-used word today, Hoke does “think” about more than just donuts. He didn’t even mention them once in his 15 minutes. But I wouldn’t blame him if he did. There’s a great donut shop a short walk from the Hilton.

Urban Meyer – Ohio State

Urban

I THINK we’re GOING to be GOOD you GUYS. Good enough to have a grand total of zero Big Ten titles and zero bowl wins in my first two seasons. You know what else is good? This Chicago pizza. Have you guys ever had this stuff? It’s JUST so cheesy and…deep. So much better than that other stuff.

Mark Dantonio – Michigan State

Dantonio

You know, we had a GREAT season last YEAR and it was all because of that one GAME when we beat Michigan. The way THINGS are GOING, we’re number ONE in the state as far as FOOTBALL is concerned. Oh, we won the Rose Bowl? Well, we beat Michigan. Where’s the threat?

Bo Pelini – Nebraska

Pelini

I THINK my cat is enjoying himself up in the room. As soon as I’m done talking about FOOTBALL, I’m GOING to take him to see a LOT of Chicago THINGS. It will MAKE his day. You know, it’s LOOKING like he’s the secret ingredient to the TEAM’s success this season. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.

James Franklin – Penn State

Franklin

I’m REALLY EXCITED about this PROGRAM. I THINK it’s GOING to be much easier than it was in the SEC. THINGS aren’t really comparable as far as facilities are concerned, but hey, it’s an OPPORTUNITY and I can’t wait to meet Sandy Barbour woman.

Gary Andersen – Wisconsin

Andersen

I’m glad to begin my second YEAR at Wisconsin. We don’t hear much about Brigham YOUNG around here and that’s always a GOOD thing. These cheese-loving folks are about as GOOD as it GETs. You know, the Packers have that tradition where they let the KIDS give the PLAYERS bike rides, and with the YOUTH we have I THINK that’s a good POSITION to take with this TEAM.

Pat Fitzgerald – Northwestern

Fitzgerald

I THINK it’s so GREAT that you GUYS haven’t asked about unions yet. We just want to play FOOTBALL. I’m not GOING to talk about the WAY our former QUARTERBACK tried to hurt our PROGRAM last YEAR by trying to unionize. These guys are a TEAM, not employees. LOOK, I won’t talk about it at all.

Kirk Ferentz – Iowa

Ferentz

It’s CERTAINLY a GREAT YEAR for Big Ten Media Days with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland. I’ve been coming to this THING for 16 YEARS and it has gotten stale. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve GOT some GOOD coaches in this conference but I THINK Kyle and Randy have what it takes to spice things up a little bit, kind of like Greg Davis and Phil Parker did for me in Iowa City last season.

Kevin Wilson – Indiana

Wilson

Wait, we can’t JUST PLAY offense in the Big Ten? Why didn’t you GUYS tell me that three YEARs ago? My boy Rich Rod told me that’s how you succeed in this conference. I’m starting to THINK he was just pulling my chain. I had to bring in a new defensive coordinator this offseason and he’s GOING to have to get the job done. Go big or go HOME, right?

Jerry Kill – Minnesota

Kill

I’ve GOT this program trending in the right direction, getting BETTER each YEAR, and I THINK that will continue. Have you guys seen that brown jug thing? My KIDS were asking about it, but I’ve GOTTA say, I don’t think that thing actually exists. If it does, our PLAYERS are going to GET it DONE this season. Oh, who am I kidding?

Randy Edsall – Maryland

Edsall

Crabcakes and football. That’s what MARYLAND does! We’re GOING to win the BIG East…I mean ACC…I mean American Athletic Conf…wait, what conference am I in now? Big TEN! That’s right. I THINK I’m gonna need Kirk to show me around.

Tim Beckman – Illinois

Beckman

FOOTBALL! We’ve got lots of PLAYERS, man. But with Scheelhaase gone we need a new QUARTERBACK, so this offseason I set up shop in Tallahassee when I heard Famous Jameis might be in trouble. I really WANT that guy. But it didn’t work out. Anyone else have sanctions going on this YEAR?

Kyle Flood – Rutgers

Flood

This is a cute city you midwestern folks have out here. I mean, REALLY, it’s cute, but it doesn’t compare to the BIG city we have in my part of the country. Chicago has one FOOTBALL team, New York have two, and you know what: they play in Jersey, home of RUTGERS, the school that started football.

Darrell Hazell – Purdue

Hazell

Alright you GUYS. THINGS are GOING just RIGHT for us this YEAR. Have you heard about our 6-foot-8, 400-pound PLAYER? We’ve got the biggest drum and now the biggest FOOTBALL player in the conference. That should guarantee us at least two wins this year.

Big Ten Media Days primer

Sunday, July 27th, 2014


B1G Media Days(@B1GFootball)

Big Ten Media Days are upon us, which means two days of speeches, interviews, roundtables, predictions, and more, and Maize and Go Blue will be there to cover it first hand. For those watching at home — or tuning in from work — we’ve got you covered with a full rundown of what to expect.

Overview

This year marks the 43rd year of Big Ten Media Days. The event will be held at the Hilton Chicago on Monday and Tuesday. In attendance will be 42 players — three from each team — and all 14 coaches, in addition to Big Ten personnel and other special guests. The two-day event will conclude with the annual Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon, which will feature an autograph session for all fans in attendance as well as more interviews and speeches. ESPN’s Rece Davis will emcee the Luncheon and Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah will deliver the keynote speech.

Big Ten Network and ESPNU will air coverage of the event. Beginning at 9:30 a.m. CT, BTN will air the opening media sessions with coaches (schedule below), as well as BTN president Mark Silverman, College Football Playoff COO Michael Kelly, and Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. Gerry DiNardo and Rick Pizzo will anchor the network’s coverage, which will also re-air at 6 p.m. CT. BTN will also air a Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon special at 6 p.m. CT on Wednesday.

ESPNU will air the 14 head coaches’ press conferences between noon and 3 p.m. on both Monday and Tuesday, as well as those by Kelly and Delany. Some Big Ten coaches will also appear on other ESPN shows, such as SportsCenter and College Football Live, throughout the day.

The schedule - Monday, July 28

Opening media session with coaches
Time Name School
9:30 a.m. – 9:45 a.m. Pat Fitzgerald Northwestern
9:45 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. Darrell Hazell Purdue
10:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. Gary Andersen Wisconsin
10:15 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Tim Beckman Illinois
10:30 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. Brady Hoke Michigan
11:00 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. Kyle Flood Rutgers
11:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Jerry Kill Minnesota
11:30 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. Mark Dantonio Michigan State
12:00 p.m. – 12:15 p.m. Bo Pelini Nebraska
12:15 p.m. – 12:30 p.m. Randy Edsall Maryland
12:30 p.m. – 12:45 p.m. Urban Meyer Ohio State
1:00 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. James Franklin Penn State
1:15 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Kevin Wilson Indiana
1:30 p.m. – 1:45 p.m. Kirk Ferentz Iowa
Media session for BTN, College Football Playoff, and Big Ten
Time Name Affiliation
1:45 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. Mark Silverman BTN President
2:00 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. Michael Kelly College Football Playoff
2:15 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. Jim Delany Big Ten Commissioner
One-on-one podium interviews
Time Name School
10:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Pat Fitzgerald, Ibraheim Campbell, Collin Ellis, Trevor Siemian Northwestern
10:15 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. Darrell Hazell, Raheem Mostert, Sean Robinson, Ryan Russell Purdue
10:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Gary Andersen, Melvin Gordon, Rob Havenstein, Warren Herring Wisconsin
10:45 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. Tim Beckman, Simon Cvijanovic, Jon Davis, Austin Teitsma Illinois
11:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Brady Hoke, Devin Gardner, Jake Ryan, Frank Clark Michigan
11:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Kyle Flood, Michael Burton, Darius Hamilton, Lorenzo Waters Rutgers
11:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Jerry Kill, David Cobb, Mitch Leidner, Cedric Thompson Minnesota
12:00 p.m. – 12:30 p.m. Mark Dantonio, Shilique Calhoun, Connor Cook, Kurtis Drummond Michigan State
12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. Bo Pelini, Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell, Corey Cooper Nebraska
12:45 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. Randy Edsall, C.J. Brown, Stefon Diggs, Jeremiah Johnson Maryland
1:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller, Michael Bennett, Jeff Heuermann Ohio State
1:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. James Franklin, Bill Belton, Sam Ficken, Mike Hull Penn State
1:45 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. Kevin Wilson, David Cooper, Nate Sudfeld, Shane Wynn Indiana
2:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Kirk Ferentz, Carl Davis, Brandon Scherff, Mark Weisman Iowa

As you can see, the Michigan coach and player interviews will happen between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. and we will have news and reactions from this sessions afterward. You can watch Hoke’s session live at 10:30 on BTN.

The schedule - Tuesday, July 29

One-on-One Round Table Interviews
8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. All coaches and players available
Autograph session
10:00 a.m. – 10:50 a.m. Coaches and former players sign autographs with fans attending the Luncheon
43rd Annual Kickoff Luncheon
11:30 a.m. Interviews and keynote speech, emceed by ESPN’s Rece Davis

Follow @maizeandgoblue on Twitter for live Michigan-related updates throughout the day and check back here for more coverage. You can also follow @B1GFootball for updates about every team in the conference and other happenings.

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Tight ends (part one)

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014


Big Ten position rankings header-TE

This is the fourth installment of Maize and Go Blue’s series that ranks the best Big Ten football players at each position for the upcoming season. Each week until Michigan’s opener, one position will be previewed, looking at the players who will excel in 2014, not necessarily the ones who did so in previous seasons. The analysis provided is thorough and in-depth, so each position preview will be split into two parts. I have already covered who will be the best Big Ten quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers. This week, I rank the last offensive skill position: tight end. Here is Part One:

Previously
Quarterbacks: Part One, Part Two.
Running Backs: Part One, Part Two.
Wide Receivers: Part One, Part Two.

10. Matt LaCosse, Illinois | Senior – 6’6”, 245 lbs
Receptions Receiving Yds Rec TDs YPC Long YPG
2013 20 237 3 11.9 45 19.8
2012 3 32 0 10.7 12 2.9
2011 1 11 0 11.0 11 1.1
Career Totals 24 280 3 11.7 45 8.5
(Chris Howell, Herald-Times)

(Chris Howell, Herald-Times)

The Big Ten is a conference that has a longstanding reputation for playing football with a “three yards and a cloud of dust” mentality. It is a mentality that often involves multiple tight ends and jumbo formations. However, most of the Big Ten, like the rest of college football, is transitioning—or has transitioned already—away from this towards the spread offense, whether it is a read-option spread or a passing spread. These modern offenses want to spread out their fastest, nimblest, and best athletes and give them the ball in space to expose defenses.

Yet, most tight ends do not fit these criteria. When lined up adjacent to an offensive tackle, tight ends fail to spread out the defense horizontally, bringing more defenders inside the box. When they line up in the slot, most do not have the speed or athleticism to make plays in space, even if their size makes them desirable targets in the middle of the field. Accordingly, a residual effect of this offensive transition is the de-emphasis of the importance of most tight ends, and thus, makes filling out a top 10 of the best tight ends in the Big Ten a challenging exercise.

Nonetheless, the list will start with Illinois’ Matt LaCosse. LaCosse will be a senior in 2014 and should have his best season in what has been a relatively quiet collegiate career. LaCosse played in 33 games in his three seasons at Illinois, but did not become a factor in Illinois’ passing game until last year. And, even then, he was not much of a factor. LaCosse was targeted 29 times, recording a target rate of 6.7 percent. This was only the sixth-highest target rate on the roster. LaCosse did make the most of his opportunities, though. Although LaCosse was not explosive, and to be fair, most tight ends are not, he caught 20 passes for 237 yards, 11.85 yards per catch, and three touchdowns. It was a big step in the right direction for a tight end that had caught only four passes total the previous two seasons.

LaCosse should take another step in the right direction in 2014, although a breakout year should not be presumed. LaCosse should benefit from Wes Lunt taking the reins of Illinois’ offense at quarterback. Nathan Scheelhaase was more of a pocket passer than a dual threat, but Lunt better fits the mold of quarterback offensive coordinator Bill Cubit desires for his passing spread. This means airing it out even more. Consequently, LaCosse should be targeted more frequently this season than last, even if he still is splitting snaps with fellow senior tight end Jon Davis. The Fighting Illini lost their four most-productive wide receivers to graduation. The only returning Illinois player with more than 300 receiving yards last year is running back Josh Ferguson. There are question marks abound at wide receiver and very few answers for Illinois. Someone must replace that production. Even though tight ends rarely were featured in Cubit’s offenses at Western Michigan, LaCosse likely will have a more prominent role this season and should be one of Lunt’s favorite targets.

9. Adam Breneman, Penn State | Sophomore – 6’4”, 235 lbs
Receptions Receiving Yds Rec TDs YPC Long YPG
2013 15 186 3 12.4 68 16.9
Career Totals 15 186 3 12.4 68 16.9
(John Beale, AP)

(John Beale, AP)

No Big Ten school will rely more on its tight ends to produce this season than Penn State. The Nittany Lions have no apparent perimeter threats at outside receiver. They said goodbye to arguably the best wide receiver in the Big Ten in Allen Robinson, who declared early for the NFL Draft after leading the conference in targets (150), receptions (97), and receiving yards (1,432). Wideout Brandon Felder departed, too, after recording 28 catches for 312 yards and three touchdowns his senior season. Unfortunately, for Penn State, there is very little experience remaining at wide receiver. No other Nittany Lion wide receiver had more than 20 catches or 250 receiving yards last year. There may be some talented freshmen waiting in the wings, but it seems unlikely they will make an immediate impact. However, Penn State has three very talented players returning at tight end and will need them to replace the production that Robinson and Felder provided.

Two of those tight ends will be competing for the second spot on the depth chart. Those players are Adam Breneman and Kyle Carter. Breneman was considered a top-50 prospect nationally and one of the two best tight ends in the 2013 class. He actually had loftier rankings until he suffered an ACL injury entering his senior season of high school. Nonetheless, Breneman was expected to recover and contribute as soon as he arrived on campus in State College. Although he had a slow start as a true freshman, he began to impress by the end of the year. Breneman caught a touchdown in each of his of final three contests and finished the season with 15 receptions for 186 yards.

On the other hand, Kyle Carter is a tight end that has proven more on the field despite much lower recruiting accolades. Carter was a generic three-star recruit when he signed his letter of intent with Penn State in 2012. Yet, as a true freshman, he was the second-best receiver on the team with 36 receptions for 453 yards and two touchdowns. For his efforts, Carter was a consensus first-team Freshman All-American and named to the All-Big Ten first team by the media. However, last season, Carter did not have quite the same impact. He posted only 18 catches for 222 yards and one touchdown. This was the result of a new quarterback under center in then-freshman Christian Hackenberg, the presence of Breneman, and the emergence of Jesse James—who will be discussed later.

Ultimately, both Breneman and Carter will see significant playing time this season. It is not as if the loser of this competition will be stuck to the bench all season, especially when Penn State may need its tight ends to compensate for its deficiency at wide receiver. So, while either Breneman or Carter could be No. 9 in these rankings, the edge goes to Breneman because of his potential. Although Carter has had better numbers, Breneman has the tools to be special. In his limited playing time last season, Breneman recorded a 78.9-percent catch rate while averaging 12.40 yards per catch. These are excellent numbers and a rare combination for a tight end. They suggest that Breneman is a tight end that either can make defenders miss after catching the ball near the line of scrimmage or has superb hands down the field. Additionally, Breneman seems to have better chemistry on the field with Hackenberg, which is no surprise when the two were roommates last year. Breneman is a solid bet to be one of the Big Ten’s best tight ends in 2015 and 2016. However, No. 9 is a good spot for him in 2014 when he will be Penn State’s second-string tight end and have his targets cannibalized by Carter and James.

8. Justin Sinz, Purdue | 5th-Yr Senior – 6’4”, 251 lbs.
Receptions Receiving Yds Rec TDs YPC Long YPG
2013 41 340 4 8.3 28 28.3
2012 4 48 1 12.0 16 4.0
2011 3 25 0 8.3 9 2.1
2010 0 0 0 N/A N/A N/A
Career Totals 48 413 5 8.6 28 11.5
(247)

(247)

Purdue’s offense was an abomination last season. There were 123 college football teams in the FBS division last year. Yet, the Boilermakers were ranked in the bottom five nationally in scoring offense (No. 119), total offense (No. 119), and rushing offense (No. 122). There were very few positives to glean from Purdue’s offensive woes. One of them, though, was the production of its tight end, Justin Sinz.

Sinz was the safety valve for Purdue’s quarterback, whether it was for then-freshman Danny Etling or then-senior Rob Henry. Purdue’s quarterbacks struggled with their accuracy all season, completing a miserable 55.2 percent of their passes. Due to their inability to throw pinpoint passes to their wide receivers, Etling and Henry often would check down to Sinz near the line of scrimmage. Accordingly, Sinz had the second-most targets on the roster and the fourth-most among Big Ten tight ends with 55. Because most of these throws were check downs, Sinz caught a high percentage of them—74.5 percent to be exact. This allowed Sinz to lead the Boilermakers with 41 receptions last season, turning them into 340 yards and four touchdowns, and be one of the more productive tight ends in the Big Ten.

Notwithstanding his productivity in 2013, Sinz was the beneficiary of a broken offense more than anything else. Purdue could neither run the football nor throw it down the field. So one of the very few options the Boilermakers had to move the football was Sinz near the line of scrimmage. And, when Sinz did catch the football, he did very little with it. He averaged only 8.29 yards per catch, which was one of the lowest such averages among Big Ten tight ends. Further, only one of his 41 receptions gained 25 yards or more. The last term anyone would use to describe Sinz’s game is playmaker.

The best case scenario for Sinz in 2014 is that Etling, who received decent praise as a high-school recruit, makes a sophomore leap with the help of an offensive line that cannot be any worse than last year. If Etling is allowed more time in the pocket, Sinz may be able to get open down field and make more plays rather than acting solely as a safety valve near the line of scrimmage. However, there is very little reason to be optimistic about Purdue’s offense next season. The outlook is similarly dreadful to last year. This means Sinz could load up on receptions again even if little excitement happens after the catch. But Sinz may split snaps with senior tight end Gabe Holmes, who was the starter before missing most of 2013 with a wrist injury. Fewer targets in the same caliber offense? Sinz very likely may see a dip in his production in 2014.

7. Jake Butt, Michigan | Sophomore – 6’6”, 250 lbs
Receptions Receiving Yds Rec TDs YPC Long YPG
2013 20 235 2 11.8 37 18.1
Career Totals 20 235 2 11.8 37 18.1
(MGoBlue.com)

(MGoBlue.com)

Next on the list is Michigan’s Jake Butt—a man with a last name that could not be more fitting for his position. Similar to Penn State’s Adam Breneman, Butt is a young tight end that has the tools and potential to be a special player down the road. In fact, it initially appeared that Butt would be able to fulfill much of this potential as a sophomore in 2014. As a true freshman last year, Butt’s playing time increased once Michigan shifted starting tight end Devin Funchess to wide receiver. Soon thereafter, Butt found his groove, catching 13 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns in the last five contests. His highlight of the season was against archrival Ohio State when he set career highs for receptions (five) and receiving yards (85) while adding a touchdown. It was the first glimpse of what could be a future All-Big Ten tight end. And there was some talk that Butt could do it this year with Funchess remaining on the perimeter and no other experienced receivers returning for Michigan.

However, an unfortunate and unlucky incident eliminated that talk swiftly. In February 2014, Butt tore his ACL while participating in conditioning drills. When the injury occurred, there was speculation about whether he would heal in time for this season like Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan did last year or would need to sit out for all of 2014. As of now, according to head coach Brady Hoke, all signs point to Butt making his return in late September or early October. The best guess would be that Butt would miss Michigan’s four non-conference contests and make his season debut on September 27, 2014, in the Wolverines’ Big Ten opener versus Minnesota.

While there are reports that Butt already is running and ahead of schedule in his rehab, there still are lots of questions about how effective Butt will be when he returns. Will Butt still have the same athleticism, agility, and strength in his leg to produce at a high level for Michigan? And, even if Butt’s knee is fully recovered, will he mentally have recovered from the injury? There are times when athletes are mentally conscious of their prior injury when they return, which prevents them from playing instinctively and causes them to play hesitant. The odds are that Butt will be fine, physically and mentally, when he suits up. Nevertheless, Butt still likely will play no more than nine games this season. It is difficult to rank a player high than No. 7 when it is known he will miss a portion of the season with a significant injury, even if he comes back stronger than ever.

6. Ray Hamilton, Iowa | Senior – 6’5”, 250 lbs
Receptions Receiving Yds Rec TDs YPC Long YPG
2013 8 95 0 11.9 21 7.3
2012 2 20 0 10.0 20 1.8
2011 1 15 0 15.0 15 1.5
Career Totals 11 130 0 11.8 21 3.8
(Brian Ray, Hawkeyesports.com)

(Brian Ray, Hawkeyesports.com)

Since Kirk Ferentz became Iowa’s head coach prior to the 1999 season, the Hawkeyes have had an influx of talent at tight end. There has been Dallas Clark, who was a consensus All-American and the John Mackey Award winner in 2003. There also has been Brandon Myers and Tony Moeaki, who were named to the All-Big Ten first team in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Then, there was Erik Jensen and Scott Chandler, who, in addition to the Clark, Myers, and Moeaki, were selected in the NFL Draft.

Unsurprisingly, Iowa has made tight ends a staple of its offense. Just look at C.J. Fiedorowicz last season. Fiedorowicz was an all-around tight end that not only was a solid blocker, but an above-average receiver. He earned the third-most targets on the roster with 44 and converted them into 30 receptions for 299 receiving yards and a team-high six touchdowns. Although Fiedorowicz was not an explosive tight end, which is not a trait common in many players stuck in offensive coordinator Greg Davis’ system, he was a beast near the end zone. All six of his touchdown receptions were in the red zone. For his performance, Fiedorowicz was handed All-Big Ten first-team honors and chosen in the NFL Draft.

Next on the list of Iowa tight ends under Ferentz to forward this legacy is senior Ray Hamilton. Despite being a four-star recruit that committed to Iowa over high-major programs, Hamilton was overshadowed the past three seasons by Fiedorowicz. While Fiedorowicz shined in the spotlight, Hamilton stuck to the dirty work in the trenches with his nasty blocking as Iowa’s backup tight end. Consequently, Hamilton was more of a sixth offensive lineman on the field than receiver. He caught only 11 passes for 130 yards in his first three seasons. But, with Fiedorowicz off to the NFL, it is finally time for Hamilton to demonstrate why he was so highly regarded in high school. Although his receiving skills may not be to the same standard as Fiedorowicz’s, as the starting tight end this season, Hamilton should be targeted much more frequently this season than he ever has. Further, there is strong potential for Hamilton to be a touchdown magnet in the red zone. All in all, Hamilton should be a key member of Iowa’s aerial attack, especially when the Hawkeyes do not have a standout wide receiver.

However, there is one wild card in this picture. His name is Jake Duzey. Unlike Hamilton, Duzey does not fit the mold of the traditional Iowa tight end. Duzey has shown more ability as a receiver, but struggles with the blocking element of the position. It remains to be seen just how much Iowa will try to utilize Duzey’s skill set this season. Duzey could be a dynamic threat in the passing game for the Hawkeyes, which would cut into Hamilton’s targets and relegate Hamilton back into a blocking tight end. But, in the past, Ferentz has shied away from relying on tight ends that cannot block because his offense emphasizes the power running game. This is even the case for his No. 2 tight end, which is used almost exclusively for blocking in Iowa’s scheme. Will Ferentz and Davis add some creativity to their offense to get Duzey more involved? Or will Duzey struggle to get on the field because he cannot block effectively? These are questions to keep an eye on as Iowa’s season progresses. But, either way, expect one of Hamilton or Duzey to make a sizeable contribution for the Hawkeyes this season, just like every other Iowa tight end before them.

What do you think so far? Do you agree with where the foregoing players have been ranked? What about Michigan’s Jake Butt? Do you believe he is ranked too high, too low, or just right? Who do you think will the best tight end in the Big Ten in 2014? Please let us know in the comments below because, tomorrow, we will reveal who will be the five top tight ends in the conference.

Comparing returning production throughout the Big Ten

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014


maryland(Rob Carr, Getty Images)

As we count down the days and weeks until Michigan opens its season against Appalachian State on Aug. 30, we’re going to kick off our season preview series. The position previews and projections, opponent previews, Big Ten position rankings, staff roundtables, and mailbags that follow will carry us through the sports wasteland that is the summer. So as you take your summer vacations, enjoy cookouts and golf outings, and work on your tan, make sure to check in daily to get your maize and blue fix.

To get things started, we broke down the returning production from each team in the Big Ten. Michigan State won the conference last season, but will that success translate into 2014? Purdue went winless in conference play; are the Boilermakers headed for the same fate this fall? Michigan suffered a losing record in Big Ten play; do the Wolverines have any chance of winning their division this year?

While returning production certainly doesn’t answer any of those questions, it can be a strong indicator of how good or bad each team will be. Rather than simply looking at the number of returning starters, we broke down the yards gained, touchdowns scored, and tackles made by each of those returning starters in order to quantify the results and compare each team. Here are the results:

Offense

Returning offense
Team Percent Returning 2013 Total Off. Rank
Maryland 97.5 77
Iowa 92.8 85
Michigan State 90.9 81
Purdue 82.5 121
Penn State 76.4 43
Rutgers 74.4 96
Northwestern 71.9 73
Michigan 68.6 87
Indiana 67.3 9
Nebraska 66.5 59
Minnesota 65.9 107
Ohio State 59.8 7
Wisconsin 57.0 18
Illinois 34.3 46
Returning scoring offense
Team Percent Returning 2013 Scoring Off. Rank
Maryland 94.4 83
Michigan State 91.3 63
Iowa 89.3 79
Rutgers 86.9 77
Penn State 84.4 69
Purdue 80.6 121
Indiana 72.2 16
Northwestern 71.1 83
Michigan 63.8 46
Nebraska 59.5 48
Wisconsin 57.7 27
Minnesota 57.4 85
Ohio State 53.7 3
Illinois 40.0 60

As you can see, one of the conference newcomers, Maryland, has the most production returning in terms of both total offense and scoring offense. In fact, with nine starters returning on offense, the Terrapins lost only 204 receiving yards, seven rushing yards, and three touchdowns. In addition, Maryland returns three linemen that started all 13 games last season and have two others that have a combined 12 career starts. This is an offense that could make some noise this fall.

Iowa and Michigan State both return around 90 percent of both their total offense and scoring offenses from units that were pretty similar statistically in 2013. Iowa returns 100 percent of its passing and rushing yards while losing 21 percent of its receiving production and 31.6 percent of its receiving touchdowns from tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz. Michigan State returns all of its rushing production from running backs and all but one receiver, Bennie Fowler, who made up 21 percent of last season’s receiving yards and six of 17 receiving touchdowns.

Purdue, Penn State, and Rutgers make up numbers four through six in both categories, however, one of these is not like the others. While Purdue ranked 121st nationally in total offense and Rutgers 96th, Penn State was a respectable 43rd. The Nittany Lions have quarterback Christian Hackenberg back with a year under his belt and 100 percent of the running back production. The main loss is receiver Allen Robinson, who accounted for 108 more receiving yards than all returning receivers combined.

Northwestern and Michigan are pretty similar in terms of returning production. Northwestern has slightly higher returning numbers in both categories, but where the Wildcats ranked a few spots higher nationally in total offense, Michigan was much more adept at finding the end zone. Michigan returns 44 touchdowns compared to just 33 for Northwestern. Nebraska, which has the fifth-lowest returning production in the conference also returns 44 touchdowns from a scoring offense that was just two spots behind Michigan’s last season.

Indiana returns 67.3 percent of its total offense and 72.2 percent of its scoring offense from the Big Ten’s second-best unit. The Hoosiers have more touchdowns returning (70) than any other team in the conference even with the loss of their top two receivers, Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes, and top tight end, Ted Bolser, who combined for 22 touchdown grabs.

Ohio State was the Big Ten’s best offense in 2013, and despite having the third-lowest total offense and second-lowest scoring offense returning, the Buckeyes still have 65 touchdowns coming back, which is second only to Indiana. In addition, OSU lost 74.3 percent of last season’s starting offensive line and 87.7 percent of career starts along the line — and that includes the addition of Alabama transfer Chad Lindsay.

Wisconsin lost a lot of production from running back James White, but the Badgers do have leading running back Melvin Gordon back. The big loss was at receiver where Wisconsin lost its top four pass catchers, including White.

Defense

Returning defense
Team Percent Returning 2013 Total Def. Rank
Maryland 82.6 44
Indiana 79.1 123
Rutgers 77.8 74
Michigan 77.6 41
Northwestern 76.1 89
Illinois 75.8 112
Penn State 67.4 49
Minnesota 66.1 43
Nebraska 66.5 39
Purdue 63.3 105
Ohio State 60.3 47
Michigan State 50.1 2
Wisconsin 49.9 7
Iowa 44.4 6

The top three defensive teams in the Big Ten last season — Michigan State, Iowa, and Wisconsin — are the three that lost the most defensive production in terms of tackles, tackles, for loss, sacks, and interceptions. Iowa and Wisconsin both lost virtually their entire linebacker corps. For Iowa, that made up its top three tacklers, two of the top three in tackles-for-loss, sack leader, and interception leader. For Wisconsin, it was two of the top three tacklers, three of the top four in tackles-for-loss, and two of the top three in sacks. Michigan State’s lost production was more spread out among the entire defense rather than one position group. Ohio State also lost its top three tacklers and most of its defensive backfield, though the Buckeyes do return probably the most experienced and talented defensive line in the Big Ten.

Just like on the offensive side, Maryland leads the way in returning production with a whopping 82.6 percent returning. The Terps lost just four players that had double-digit tackles, although one, linebacker Marcus Whitfield, was the team leader with 15.5 tackles-for-loss and ranked second with nine sacks. Only Ohio State returns more sacks (34) than Maryland (25).

Indiana returns the second-most defensive production, but unlike its offense, the Hoosier defense was downright horrendous. It ranked 123rd nationally, so even with 13 of their top 14 tacklers back, they have a lot of work to do, especially since one of those lost was the team tackle-for-loss and sack leader.

Rutgers and Michigan both return the same amount of defensive production, but Michigan’s defense was a respectable 41st, while Rutgers’ was 33 spots lower. Both have solid linebacker groups returning. Northwestern and Illinois are right behind, but both ranked in the bottom third nationally in total defense.

Penn State, Minnesota, and Nebraska make up spots seven, eight, and nine, all with 66 to 67 percent production returning. In addition, all three were pretty similar in terms of total defense in 2013, ranking 49th, 43rd, and 39th, respectively. Penn State lost its leading tackler, linebacker Glenn Carson, and its leader in tackles-for-loss, defensive tackle DaQuan Jones. Minnesota lost quite a bit of production from its defensive backfield and its key cog in the middle of the line, while Nebraska lost three of the top four from its secondary.

Conclusion

When both offense and defense are combined, Maryland has far and away the most coming back, while Wisconsin has the least. Here’s the comparison chart.

Comparison chart

While it’s impossible to draw conclusions about this season’s performance based on these numbers alone, they can be used as part of the overall picture. In the days and weeks to come, these numbers will be expanded on in our individual opponent previews, position rankings, and other season preview content. Stay tuned.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 10

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014



As the Big Ten regular season wrapped up on Sunday Michigan was able to sit back and relax having wrapped up the outright conference title by three games and the number one seed in this week’s tournament. The Wolverines will face the winner of the last two teams they faced to close the season, Illinois and Indiana, in the quarterfinals on Friday. The rest of the tournament bracket can be found here

As the conference heads to Indianapolis to battle it out for the automatic NCAA Tournament berth, we took another look at the power rankings.

1. Michigan (23-7, 15-3)  Even
Last week: Mar. 4 W at Illinois 84-53, Mar. 8 W vs Indiana 84-80
This week: BTT quarterfinals Friday vs (8) Indiana or (9) Illinois 12pm ESPN/ESPN2

Michigan finished off an incredible conference season by outlasting Indiana on senior night. Jordan Morgan went out with a bang, recording his first double-double of the season and keeping the Wolverines alive early with critical offensive rebounds. The Big Ten outright champions earned the top seed in the conference tournament after running away from the pack and finishing three games ahead of second-place Wisconsin and Michigan State. 

2. Nebraska (19-11, 11-7) • Up 1
Last week: Mar. 5 W at Indiana 60-50, Mar. 9 W vs #9 Wisconsin 77-68
This week: BTT quarterfinals Friday vs (5) Ohio State or (12) Purdue 2:25pm ESPN/ESPN2

In its biggest game of the season Sunday, Nebraska beat Wisconsin to finish the year with a league-best 15-1 home record. Incredibly, the preseason pick to finish dead last in the Big Ten earned a first-round bye in the conference tournament and landed just one game out of second place. 

3. Wisconsin (25-6, 12-6) • Down 1
Last week: Mar. 5 W vs Purdue 76-70, Mar. 9 L at Nebraska 68-77
This week: BTT quarterfinals Friday vs (7) Minnesota or (10) Penn State 6:30pm BTN

Bo Ryan’s Badgers had their eyes set on a prize outside the Big Ten: A No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A nine-point loss to Nebraska seemingly eliminated Wisconsin from that discussion, but it still earned the second seed in the conference tournament after an 8-1 finish.

4. Michigan State (23-8, 12-6) • Up 3
Last week: Mar. 6 W vs #24 Iowa 86-76, Mar. 9 L at Ohio State 67-69
This week: BTT quarterfinals Friday vs (6) Iowa or (11) Northwestern 8:55pm BTN

Michigan State looked like it was back on track after a win over Iowa on senior night. However, a loss to Ohio State in the regular season finale dropped the Spartans to just 5-7 in their last 12 games and 1-2 since sending a healthy starting lineup back on the court.

5. Ohio State (23-8, 10-8) • Up 3
Last week: Mar. 9 W vs #22 Michigan State 69-67
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (12) Purdue 2:25pm BTN

At the beginning of the conference schedule, Sunday’s Michigan State-Ohio State game looked like a potential shootout for the regular season championship. In reality, the game meant very little to the final Big Ten standings. But Aaron Craft did get a win on senior night, and the Buckeyes just barely managed to finish above .500 in the conference.

6. Illinois (18-13, 7-11) • Down 1
Last week: Mar. 4 L vs #12 Michigan 53-84, Mar. 8 W at #24 Iowa 66-63
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (8) Indiana 12pm BTN

John Groce’s team could’ve thrown in the towel after a nine-game losing streak planted it firmly in last place. Instead, the Illini rallied and won four of their last five games, all of which were against NCAA Tournament hopefuls (Minnesota is the only non-lock at this point).

7. Minnesota (19-12, 8-10) • Up 2
Last week: Mar. 9 W vs Penn State 81-63
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (10) Penn State 6:30pm ESPN2

Minnesota put itself into a very tough position heading into the final weekend of the regular season. Losses in nine of 14 games put Minnesota on the outside of the tournament bubble looking in with just a home game against Penn State left. The Gophers did what they had to do, blowing out the Nittany Lions 81-63, but it still may not be enough.

8. Iowa (22-11, 9-9) • Down 2
Last week: Mar. 6 L at #22 Michigan State 76-86, Mar. 8 L vs Illinois 63-66
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (11) Northwestern 8:55pm ESPN2

Near the midway point of the season, Iowa was ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll and competing for a Big Ten championship. After five losses in its final six games, this team is reeling at the worst possible time. Iowa drew a favorable matchup in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, facing a Northwestern team that it beat by 26 points — twice.

9. Indiana (17-14, 7-11) • Down 5
Last week: Mar. 5 L vs Nebraska 60-70, Mar. 8 L at #12 Michigan 80-84
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (9) Illinois 12pm BTN

The preseason top-25 Hoosiers know there’s only one route to the Big Dance now: winning the conference tournament. Indiana dropped its last two games to land in the No. 8 slot in Indianapolis and a matchup against the streaking Fighting Illini.

10. Penn State (15-16, 6-12) • Even
Last week: Mar. 6 W at Northwestern 59-32, Mar. 9 L at Minnesota 63-81
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (7) Minnesota 6:30pm ESPN2

Minnesota waxed Penn State in the final road game for the Nittany Lions, but they still managed to finish the conference season with a 6-6 record in the final 12 games after losing the first six. Penn State drew a rematch against the Gophers in the first round Thursday — a chance to strengthen its NIT resume.

11. Northwestern (13-18, 6-12) • Up 1
Last week: Mar. 6 L vs Penn State 32-59, Mar. 9 W at Purdue 74-65
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (6) Iowa 8:55pm ESPN2

Northwestern quietly earned a big road win on Sunday to stay out of the cellar and finish 11th in the Big Ten. The Wildcats held much higher expectations after a 5-5 start, but a seven-game losing streak put any hopes of contending quickly to rest.

12. Purdue (15-16, 5-3) • Down 1
Last week: Mar. 5 L at #9 Wisconsin 70-76, Mar. 9 L vs Northwestern 65-74
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (5) Ohio State 2:25pm BTN

Matt Painter’s team sure hit rock bottom this season. After nearly dethroning the first-place Michigan Wolverines two weeks ago, Purdue had its heart ripped out and lost its three final games. The Boilermakers finished the season by losing 11 of 13 games, including the final six.

Stauskas, Beilein earn top honors, Wolverines re-enter top 10

Monday, March 10th, 2014


Big Ten champs celebration

Nik Stauskas became Michigan’s second straight Big Ten Player of the Year the conference announced on Monday evening. The sophomore was voted the top honor by both the coaches and media, following Trey Burke who won the award a year ago. Stauskas has averaged 17.4 points, 3.5 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per game this season with 13 games of 20 or more points. He is the only Big Ten player to rank in the top 10 in field goal percentage (48.9), three-point percentage (45.8), and free throw percentage (81.1).

Stauskas was also a unanimous selection to the All-Big Ten first team and named to the Sporting News All-America second team.

In addition, John Beilein was named Big Ten Coach of the Year by the media, becoming the first Michigan coach to win the award since Bill Frieder in 1985. Johnny Orr also accomplished the feat in 1974 and ’77. Nebraska’s Tim Miles was awarded the honor by the coaches.

Caris LeVert was named to the All-Big Ten second team  after averaging 13.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game. Glenn Robinson III garnered honorable mention honors, averaging 13.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game. Derrick Walton Jr. was named to the all-freshman team, averaging 8.1 points, 2.9 assists, and 2.9 rebounds per game. This is the fourth straight season the Wolverines have had a player on the all-freshman team (Robinson III in 2013, Burke in 2012, and Tim Hardaway Jr in 2011).

Below are the full All-Big Ten teams as selected by both the coaches and the media.

All-Big Ten first team
Coaches Media
Name School Name School
Nik Stauskas* Michigan Nik Stauskas* Michigan
Roy Devyn Marble Iowa Roy Devyn Marble Iowa
Gary Harris Michigan State Gary Harris Michigan State
Terran Pettaway Nebraska Terran Pettaway Nebraska
Frank Kaminsky Wisconsin Frank Kaminsky Wisconsin
All-Big Ten second team
Coaches Media
Name School Name School
Yogi Ferrell Indiana Yogi Ferrell Indiana
Caris LeVert Michigan Caris LeVert Michigan
Adreian Payne Michigan State Adreian Payne Michigan State
D.J. Newbill Penn State D.J. Newbill Penn State
Sam Dekker Wisconsin Aaron Craft Ohio State
All-Big Ten third team
Coaches Media
Name School Name School
Noah Vonleh Indiana Noah Vonleh Indiana
Aaron White Iowa Aaron White Iowa
Aaron Craft Ohio State Drew Crawford Northwestern
LaQuinton Ross Ohio State Tim Frazier Penn State
Tim Frazier Penn State Sam Dekker Wisconsin
All-Big Ten honorable mention
Coaches Media
Name School Name School
Rayvonte Rice Illinois Rayvonte Rice Illinois
Glenn Robinson III Michigan Glenn Robinson III Michigan
Keith Appling Michigan State Will Sheehey Indiana
Denzel Valentine Michigan State Keith Appling Michigan State
Andre Hollins Minnesota Denzel Valentine Michigan State
Shavon Shields Nebraska Andre Hollins Minnesota
Drew Crawford Northwestern DeAndre Mathieu Minnesota
A.J. Hammons Purdue Shavon Shields Nebraska
Ben Brust Wisconsin LaQuinton Ross Ohio State
A.J. Hammons Purdue
Ben Brust Wisconsin
Josh Gasser Wisconsin
Traevon Jackson Wisconsin
All-Big Ten all-freshman team Sportsmanship Award honorees
Name School Name School
Kendrick Nunn Illinois Joseph Bertrand Illinois
Noah Vonleh Indiana Will Sheehey Indiana
Derrick Walton Jr. Michigan Mike Gesell Iowa
Kendall Stephens Purdue Jon Horford Michigan
Nigel Hayes Wisconsin Denzel Valentine Michigan State
All-Big Ten defensive team Austin Hollins Minnesota
Name School Shavon Shields Nebraska
Gary Harris Michigan State Drew Crawford Northwestern
Aaron Craft Ohio State Lenzelle Smith Jr. Ohio State
Shannon Scott Ohio State Tim Frazier Penn State
A.J. Hammons Purdue Travis Carroll Purdue
Josh Gasser Wisconsin Ben Brust Wisconsin
*Unanimous selection

Michigan also moved back into the top 10 in both polls, checking in at No. 8 in the AP Poll and No. 9 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. It is the first time the Wolverines have been in the top 10 since the first week of February when they reached 10th.

Wisconsin’s loss to Nebraska on Sunday dropped the Badgers below Michigan, to 12th and 13th. Michigan State remains at 22nd in both polls for the second straight week, while Ohio State moves back in at 24th in both. Iowa dropped out.

As for Michigan’s non-conference opponents, Arizona dropped one spot to fourth in both polls, fell to seventh and sixth, and Iowa State is still 16th in both.

The full national rankings are below.

AP Poll Coaches Poll
Rank Team Rank Team
1 Florida (29-2) 1 Florida (29-2)
2 Wichita State (34-0) 2 Wichita State (34-0)
3 Villanova (28-3) 3 Villanova (28-3)
4 Arizona (28-3) 4 Arizona (28-3)
5 Louisville (26-5) 5 Louisville (26-5)
6 Virginia (25-6) 6 Duke (24-7)
7 Duke (24-7) 7 San Diego State (27-3)
8 Michigan (23-7) 8 Virginia (25-6)
8 San Diego State (27-3) 9 Michigan (23-7)
10 Kansas (23-8) 10 Kansas (23-8)
11 Syracuse (27-4) 11 Syracuse (27-4)
12 Wisconsin (25-6) 12 Cincinnati (26-5)
13 Cincinnati (26-5) 13 Wisconsin (25-6)
14 Creighton (24-6) 14 Creighton (24-6)
15 North Carolina (23-8) 15 North Carolina (23-8)
16 Iowa State (23-7) 16 Iowa State (23-7)
17 Oklahoma (23-8) 17 Saint Louis (26-5)
18 Saint Louis (26-5) 18 Oklahoma (23-8)
19 Memphis (23-8) 19 Memphis (23-8)
20 New Mexico (24-6) 20 New Mexico (24-6)
21 Connecticut (24-7) 21 Connecticut (24-7)
22 Michigan State (23-8) 22 Michigan State (23-8)
23 Virginia Commonwealth (24-7) 23 Southern Methodist (23-8)
24 Ohio State (23-8) 24 Ohio State (23-8)
25 Southern Methodist (23-8) 25 Virginia Commonwealth (24-7)

Big Ten Tournament bracket: Michigan the top seed

Sunday, March 9th, 2014


BigTenTournamentBracket2014_edited-2

Big Ten power rankings: Week 9

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014



This week’s edition of the Big Ten power rankings features more movement than usual as the conference continues to deal surprise after surprise. With March upon us, teams that play well down the stretch often outperform teams with more impressive overall resumes in postseason tournaments.

While teams like Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa will certainly make the field of 68, playing poorly in late February and early March can really take the steam out of a potential deep run in the Big Dance. Meanwhile, teams that streak into the tournament on the final days of the season (Nebraska? Indiana?) represent extremely dangerous matchups.

So here’s how the Big Ten teams are playing with less than a week remaining before they head to Indianapolis.

1. Michigan (21-7, 13-3)  Even
Last week: Feb. 26 W at Purdue 77-76 OT, Mar. 1 W vs Minnesota 66-56
This week: Tuesday at Illinois 7pm ESPN, Saturday vs Indiana 6pm 

The in-state rival Spartans lost just before tip-off in Ann Arbor on Saturday, and after Michigan took care of Minnesota, it officially clinched at least a share of the regular season Big Ten championship. John Beilein’s surprise team can seal the title alone with a win at Illinois tonight or against Indiana on Saturday. 

2. Wisconsin (24-5, 11-5) • Even
Last week: Feb. 25 W vs Indiana 69-58, Mar. 2 W at Penn State 71-66
This week: Wednesday vs Purdue 9pm BTN, Sunday at Nebraska 7:30pm 

History shows that no matter what happens early in the season, a hot team is dangerous in March. The Badgers are red-hot heading into the final week of conference play, riding a seven-game winning streak and tied with Michigan State for second place in the Big Ten. Wisconsin could represent the most dangerous team in the conference, but clinching a share of the title gave Michigan the nod at No. 1 for now. 

3. Nebraska (17-11, 9-7) • Up 4
Last week: Feb. 26 L at Illinois 49-60, Mar. 1 W vs Northwestern 54-47
This week: Wednesday at Indiana 7pm BTN, Sunday vs #9 Wisconsin 7:30pm

Despite last week’s loss to Illinois, which looks slightly less egregious after the Illini won in East Lansing on Saturday, Nebraska finds itself contending for a first-round bye in Indianapolis. Tim Miles’s team held off Northwestern on Saturday and can secure a winning conference record with a win in either of its final two games (at Indiana on Wednesday or against Wisconsin on Sunday).

4. Indiana (17-12, 7-9) • Up 4
Last week: Feb. 25 L at #14 Wisc. 58-69, Feb. 27 W vs #20 Iowa 93-86, Mar. 2 W vs #22 OSU 72-64
This week: Wednesday vs Nebraska 7pm BTN, Saturday at #12 Michigan 6pm

Don’t look now, but Indiana is making the run that Big Ten fans were waiting for. Indiana knocked off two straight top-25 teams last week to keep its dim tournament hopes alive. They may not recover from the 3-7 stretch that plagued the heart of their conference schedule, but the Hoosiers aren’t going down without a fight. It may take a win in Ann Arbor in the season finale to put Indiana over the hump.

5. Iowa (17-12, 6-10) • Up 3
Last week: Feb. 26 W vs Nebraska 60-49, Mar. 1 W at #18 Michigan State 53-46
This week: Tuesday vs #12 Michigan 7pm ESPN, Saturday at #24 Iowa 8:30pm

John Groce waited nearly two whole months of Big Ten play for his team to show some life, and although it’s likely too late to join an already-crowded NCAA Tournament bubble, Illinois played spoiler three times in the past two weeks. A win over Michigan State in East Lansing proved the most impressive feat for Illinois on the season, but beating Minnesota and Nebraska the week before was more nationally significant, as both teams have tournament hopes that hang by a thread.

6. Iowa (20-9, 9-7) • Down 1
Last week: Feb. 25 L at Minnesota 89-95, Feb. 27 L at Indiana 86-93, Mar. 2 W vs Purdue 83-76
This week: Thursday at #22 Michigan State 9pm ESPN, Saturday vs Illinois 8:30pm

When both Michigan and Michigan State faltered on their home courts on Feb. 16, Iowa climbed to within one game of the conference co-leaders in the loss column. The Hawkeyes responded by losing their next three games and falling completely out of contention. After struggling to beat Purdue at home, Iowa looks to take advantage of an equally-wounded Spartan squad on Thursday.

7. Michigan State (22-7, 11-5) • Down 3
Last week: Mar. 1 L vs Illinois 46-53
This week: Thursday vs #24 Iowa 9pm ESPN, Sunday at Ohio State 4:30pm

All season long Tom Izzo stuck to the same story: when Michigan State returned all of its injured players, the miraculous turnaround would begin. Well on Saturday Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson all played against Illinois and the Spartans lost on their home court, and scored just 46 points in the process. The time to start worrying about Michigan State has arrived, as it has dropped six of its last 10 games, with half of those coming at home.

8. Ohio State (22-8, 9-8) • Down 5
Last week: Feb. 27 L at Penn State 63-65, Mar. 2 L at Indiana 64-72
This week: Sunday vs #22 Michigan State 4:30pm CBS

The last time Ohio State lost to Penn State, it responded by winning six of its next seven games. This time, the Buckeyes followed up with a loss to Indiana. Unfortunately for Thad Matta’s squad, the most glaring part of the statement is that the Buckeyes have lost to the 5-11 Nittany Lions twice.

9. Minnesota (18-12, 7-10) • Down 3
Last week: Feb. 25 W vs #20 Iowa 95-89, Mar. 1 L at #16 Michigan 56-66
This week: Saturday vs Penn State 8:30pm

Minnesota nearly punched its NCAA Tournament ticket for good Saturday when a furious second-half charge brought it to within two points of first-place Michigan. The visible frustration on coach Richard Pitino’s face as the game slipped away perfectly sums up the remainder of his team’s season. Minnesota will sit and watch the rest of the bubble teams play during the week before hosting Penn State in a game that does little to strengthen its tournament resume. As Joe Lunardi’s “last team in,” this stressful week could turn Pitino’s hair a few shades closer to his father’s.

10. Penn State (14-15, 5-11) • Up 1
Last week: Feb. 27 W vs #22 Ohio State 65-63, Mar. 2 L vs #14 Wisconsin 66-71
This week: Thursday at Northwestern 7pm ESPNU, Saturday at Minnesota 8:30pm

Though Penn State is unlikely to win its final two road games and finish the season with an overall .500 record, it did complete a sweep of the preseason No. 11 Buckeyes on Thursday. After losing their first six conference games, the Nittany Lions can settle for morale victories.

11. Purdue (15-14, 5-11) • Down 1
Last week: Feb. 26 L vs #16 Michigan 76-77 OT, Mar. 2 L vs #20 Iowa 76-83
This week: Wednesday at #9 Wisconsin 9pm BTN, Sunday vs Northwestern 12pm

Purdue played both Michigan and Iowa to the end last week, but the end result was two losses, bringing the streak to a total of four. The Boilermakers’ last chance to play spoiler against a tournament team comes on Wednesday, when they travel to Madison to battle the streaking Badgers.

12. Northwestern (12-17, 5-11) • Even
Last week: Mar. 1 L at Nebraska 47-54
This week: Thursday vs Penn State 7pm ESPNU, Sunday at Purdue 12pm

Northwestern crashed and burned after a strong start to the conference season, currently riding a six-game losing streak. The Wildcats do have an opportunity to finish on a positive note as the final two regular-season games come against fellow last place Big Ten opponents.

Big Ten title race down to three

Friday, February 28th, 2014


UM crowd vs MSU 2-23-14

As February comes to a close and perhaps the greatest month in all of sports approaches, the Big Ten men’s basketball conference remains as unpredictable as ever.

Nearly two weeks ago, the would-be headliner battle between the two Michigan schools that topped the standings all season long suffered a major blow when Michigan fell to Wisconsin and Nebraska shocked Michigan State in East Lansing. Meanwhile, Nebraska put together a five-game winning streak to burst onto the NCAA bubble, only to lose to lowly Illinois and see it all slip away. Even the Iowa-Indiana game scheduled for Feb. 18 proved unpredictable, as an eight-foot beam that fell from the Assembly Hall ceiling postponed the game for over a week.

With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the standings usually provide a clearer picture of what the conference tournament will feature. But in the midst of such an erratic regular season, more surprises surely lie ahead, right?

Spoiler alert: This year’s Big Ten regular season championship is Michigan’s to lose.

Remaining schedule for Big Ten title contenders
Michigan Michigan State Wisconsin
Saturday vs Minnesota, 6pm BTN vs Illinois, 4pm ESPN
Sunday at Penn State, 12pm BTN
Tuesday, Mar. 4 at Illinois, 7pm ESPN
Wednesday, Mar. 5 vs Purdue, 9pm BTN
Thursday, Mar. 6 vs Iowa, 9pm ESPN
Saturday, Mar. 8 vs Indiana, 6pm ESPN
Sunday, Mar. 9 at Ohio State, 4:30pm CBS at Nebraska, 7:30pm BTN

After the victory to sweep Tom Izzo’s Spartans, Michigan firmly planted itself atop the conference with four winnable games remaining.

A trip to Purdue, which provided the most difficult remaining challenge, ended with a miracle in-bounds play for the Wolverines, who snuck out of West Lafayette unscathed, much to the chagrin of championship hopefuls Michigan State and Wisconsin.

Now the only teams standing in Michigan’s way are 5-9 Indiana, 5-10 Illinois, and a struggling Minnesota team with just two conference road wins against the league’s last place squads. John Beilein’s one-game lead should hold up and bring Michigan the long-awaited sole Big Ten title.

But outcomes rarely go according to plan in the 2013-14 edition of the Big Ten. If the first place Wolverines do drop any of their final three games, what does it mean?

Iowa’s loss at Indiana on Thursday night and Ohio State’s loss at Penn State made it mathematically official: the only two teams left to challenge Michigan are Michigan State (one game behind) and Wisconsin (two).

Michigan's last-second win over Purdue on Wednesday kept the Wolverines on track for the outright Big Ten title (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Michigan’s last-second win over Purdue on Wednesday kept the Wolverines on track for the outright Big Ten title (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Let’s say Michigan finishes the season by winning two of its final three games. Regardless of what Wisconsin does in its final three games, the Badgers would fall short of the Wolverines, having already lost five times in the Big Ten.

A Michigan loss would, however, leave the door open for Michigan State, which could finish the season in a tie and, despite earning the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, boast a share of the regular season championship. But the Spartans face a one of the toughest stretch runs in the Big Ten.

Michigan State played sub-.500 basketball in the month of February, losing four of seven games. The Breslin Center lost some of its esteem after Nebraska came in and bullied the Spartans last weekend, so a matchup with the desperate Hawkeyes on March 6 could challenge Izzo’s battered team. Iowa’s current three-game losing streak compliment’s Michigan State’s struggles to set up a surprisingly important matchup in the final week of the season.

Days later, the Spartans travel to Columbus in what Big Ten officials probably expected to be a conference-deciding game against Ohio State. However, a sweep at the hands of bottom-feeding Penn State dropped Thad Matta’s team well out of contention, and barring a Michigan loss, this game provides little importance in the bigger picture.

If Michigan does lose, then Ohio State earns a chance to play spoiler for Michigan State and help its hated rival from Ann Arbor. Michigan State hasn’t won back-to-back games since Jan. 21 when a win over Indiana marked its 11th straight at the time. Michigan ended that streak.

Clearly, Michigan State’s quest for a Big Ten title remains an uphill battle.

Wisconsin, unlike the Spartans, plays a much easier schedule to finish the season. Penn State and Purdue, both tied for last place, figure to provide little resistance for Wisconsin next week, setting up an important trip to Lincoln on March 9.

Nebraska’s only loss in the new Pinnacle Bank Arena came at the hands of the first-place Wolverines, who snuck out of Lincoln with a 71-70 win on Jan. 9 after the Huskers missed three layup attempts in the closing seconds. Despite the loss at Illinois on Wednesday, Nebraska’s five-game winning streak puts it tied for fourth place in the loss column in the conference. With a Big Ten record that matches Iowa’s and a nearly-perfect home resume, Nebraska provides a real challenge for Wisconsin to finish the regular season.

Even the most unpredictable conference standings take shape near the end of the season. Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin played well enough through 15 Big Ten games to stay alive into March, but Michigan represents the clear-cut favorite with less than two weeks to go.

The Wolverines may win all three remaining games and leave no room for another contender to catch up. But even if the surprising Big Ten serves up another upset, the odds lie in Michigan’s favor.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 8

Thursday, February 27th, 2014


1. Michigan (20-7, 12-3)  Up 2
Last week: Feb. 23 W vs 13 Michigan State 79-70
This week: Wednesday W at Purdue 77-76 OTSaturday vs Minnesota 6pm BTN

In the biggest game in the Big Ten this season, Michigan completed a sweep against conference co-leader Michigan State and regained sole possession of first place. The Wolverines then avoided disaster on Wednesday night at Purdue thanks to a last-second bank shot from Glenn Robinson III. 

2. Wisconsin (23-5, 10-5) • Down 1
Last week: Feb. 22 W at #15 Iowa 79-74
This week: Tuesday W vs Indiana 69-58, Sunday at Penn State 12pm BTN

The Badgers had another tremendous week, knocking off Iowa on the road and bouncing back from a poor 19-point first half performance to hold off Indiana on Monday. Wisconsin owns the longest current winning streak in the Big Ten at six. 

3. Ohio State (22-6, 9-6) • Up 3
Last week: Feb. 19 W vs Northwestern 76-60, Feb. 22 W vs Minnesota 64-46
This week: Thursday at Penn State 7pm ESPN2, Sunday at Indiana 4pm

Sam Thomson and the Buckeyes have quietly reclaimed one of the top four spots in the Big Ten. With wins in six of its past seven games, Ohio State sits in position to earn a first-round bye in the conference tournament.

4. Michigan State (22-6, 11-4) • Up 1
Last week: Feb. 20 W vs Purdue 94-79, Feb. 23 L at Michigan 70-79
This week: Saturday vs Illinois 4pm ESPN

The Spartans continued their recent trend of losing every other game when they dropped another game to the Wolverines in Ann Arbor on Saturday. Michigan State is likely to get back on track Saturday against Illinois.

5. Iowa (19-8, 8-6) • Down 3
Last week: Feb. 22 L vs #16 Wisconsin 74-79
This week: Tuesday L at Minnesota 89-95, Thursday at Indiana 9pm ESPN, Sunday vs Purdue 2:05pm

For the first time all season, Iowa has lost two straight games and dropped to fifth in the Big Ten behind Ohio State and Wisconsin. The makeup game in Assembly Hall Thursday night could be a make-or-break game for Iowa’s hopes of earning a first-round Big Ten Tournament bye.

6. Minnesota (18-11, 7-9) • Up 1
Last week: Feb.19 L vs Illinois 49-62, Feb. 22 L at #24 Ohio State 46-64
This week: Tuesday W vs #20 Iowa 95-89, Saturday at #16 Michigan 6pm BTN

Richard Pitino’s team found its back up against the wall on Monday after dropping eight of its last 12 Big Ten games. The Gophers somehow found a way to hold on against Iowa and move back on the right side of the NCAA bubble, for now.

7. Nebraska (16-11, 8-7) • Down 3
Last week: Feb. 20 W vs Penn State 80-67, Feb. 23 W vs Purdue 76-57
This week: Wednesday L at Illinois 49-60, Saturday vs Northwestern 5pm ESPNU

Just when it looked like Nebraska’s Cinderella story run to the NCAA Tournament could become a reality, it dropped a must-have game to Illinois. Now only a deep conference tournament run could put Tim Miles’s crew back in the conversation.

8. Illinois (16-12, 5-10) • Up 3
Last week: Feb. 19 W at Minnesota 62-49
This week: Wednesday W vs Nebraska 60-49, Saturday at #18 Michigan State 4pm ESPN

After losing 10 of 11 games during the heart of the Big Ten season, Illinois has no chance of earning an at-large bid into the Dance. But the Fighting Illini are bursting a few other Big Ten bubbles with wins over Minnesota and Nebraska in the past week.

9. Indiana (15-12, 5-9) • Up 3
Last week: Feb. 22 W at Northwestern 61-56
This week: Tuesday L at #14 Wisconsin 58-69, Thursday vs #20 Iowa 9pm, Sunday vs #22 Ohio State 4pm

It was a great week for Indiana basketball. Not only did the Hoosiers pick up a road win against Northwestern, but Assembly Hall has been repaired and deemed safe enough to play the previously-scheduled game against Iowa on Thursday.

10. Purdue (15-13, 5-10) • Down 2
Last week: Feb. 20 L vs #13 Michigan State 79-94, Feb. 23 L at Nebraska 57-76
This week: Wednesday L vs #16 Michigan 76-77 OT, Sunday at #20 Iowa 2:05pm BTN

Purdue missed a golden opportunity at a marquee win on Wednesday night after getting waxed in back-to-back games by Michigan State and Nebraska. Purdue’s schedule doesn’t get any easier after the overtime loss as trips to Iowa and Wisconsin loom.

11. Penn State (13-14, 4-10) • Down 1
Last week: Feb. 20 L at Nebraska 67-80
This week: Thursday vs #22 Ohio State 7pm ESPN2, Sunday vs #14 Wisconsin 12pm

Pat Chambers’s team is reeling after a 13-point loss at the hands of Nebraska. The Nittany Lions have a chance to sweep Ohio State when the Buckeyes visit State College on Thursday.

12. Northwestern (12-16, 5-10) • Down 3
Last week: Feb. 19 L at #24 Ohio State 60-76, Feb. 22 L vs Indiana 56-61
This week: Saturday at Nebraska 5pm ESPNU 

Remember when four out of five wins put Northwestern in the top four spots in the conference? Now the only cause for celebration in Evanston is that the Wildcats get to host the proverbial last-place game against Penn State next week.