CBB Picks: 3/1

LOUISIANA MONROE (-7.5) over Little Rock

Marshall (+5) over UAB

 

YTD: 125-103 (+9.8u)

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2017-18 Big Ten Postseason Awards and Conference Tournament Preview

 

AWARDS

Keita Bates-Diop

Player of the Year

Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State

This should be unanimous. There are some other really talented guys that will join KBD on the first team, but he separated himself early and never really let up. No offense to his teammates, but without KBD they’re an NIT team at best. If you look at individual Top 10 lists for every statistical category, Bates-Diop is on nearly every single one of them. It’s an easy pick.

 

Defensive Player of the Year

Jaren Jackson, Michigan State

The only real argument against Jackson here is his propensity for fouling. Admittedly, it takes him off the floor too often, but his impact on the defensive end is undeniable. His individual defensive rating for the year was 84.4, three points better than anybody else in the league. Jackson’s an elite shot blocker. There were SIX Big Ten games this year where JJJ had 5 or more blocks and only on three occasions did he not have at least two.

 

Freshman of the Year

Jaren Jackson, Michigan State

On the offensive end, Jackson scored 12.4 points per game with .563/.429/.781 shooting splits. He’s pretty good.

 

Sixth Man of the Year

Justin Smith, Indiana

I found this award unbelievably difficult to choose. You could make a case for several guys. Smith started eight Big Ten games this year, but I thought he did his best work late in the season when he was coming off the bench. I’m preferential to Smith over a lot of other guys because I felt like IU was more dependent on him playing well than McQuaid for MSU, Taylor for Nebraska, or Haarms for Purdue. When the Hoosiers lost De’Ron Davis midway through the season, they needed somebody to step up and Smith – along with Freddie McSwain – did that.

 

Chris Holtmann

Coach of the Year

Chris Holtmann, Ohio State

I was right there with the Big Ten media in voting OSU 11th before the season started. Here’s my take from the preview:

Consensus Outlook: They’ll rely heavily on Jae’Sean Tate, Kam Williams, and Keita Bates-Diop. There’s talent, but maybe not the type of talent that Chris Holtmann would prefer in terms of system fit.

What They’re Not Saying: This program needs a big-time culture change. The good news on that front is that perpetual pouty faces JaQuan Lyle and Marc Loving are now gone. I believe Thad Matta to be a great coach, but he didn’t seem to have the same juice the past couple years due to his poor health. Chris Holtmann should bring a youthful passion to that position that was probably necessary.

Projection: There’s still quite a bit of talent in Columbus, but clearly there’s been other issues in the program. I think Holtmann will do a great job there, but I’m not sure the results will appear as fast as Buckeye fans would hope.

Turns out Holtmann can win with any type of talent. Having KBD helps, but the defensive improvement the Buckeyes made this year was incredible.

 

First Team

Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State
Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Carsen Edwards, Purdue
Tony Carr, Penn State
James Palmer, Nebraska

KBD is obvious.

I think Bridges might be a unanimous selection. He’s the best player on the best team, but his numbers this year aren’t the gaudiest compared to some of the competition.

For me, the younger Edwards should be the Purdue representative and I imagine the tear he’s been on lately will help. A couple of his teammates have a case, but on such a balanced team, Carsen is the only one who’s able to score outside the structure of the offense and it makes him the most important player on their team moving forward.

Tony Carr seems to be a bit polarizing for people who watch a lot of the league. Some identify him as the best guard in the league. Others consider him to be a ball hog whose ball hoggyness is a detriment to Penn State. I think you could make a case Carr is the best guard in the league, but you could probably make a similar case for Edwards, Cassius Winston, and Anthony Cowan. AND sometimes he shoots too much.

If I had to bet, I would guess Palmer doesn’t actually make the first team. I obviously think he should. Tim Miles has never been a very good offensive coach and Palmer is the focal point of his best offense in 13 years of D-1 coaching. He’s a better passing, more efficient Terran Petteway. Nebraska may not make the tournament, but Palmer is still the leading man on a 13-5 Big Ten team.

Second Team

Juwan Morgan, Indiana
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Jaren Jackson, Michigan State
Vincent Edwards, Purdue
Cassius Winston, Michigan State

Morgan was probably the toughest guy for me to leave off the first team. He absolutely carried IU through the middle of the Big Ten schedule when they were playing a lot of tough games.

I’m guessing Happ makes first team. I don’t have a huge problem with that. He certainly has the numbers and his team would be Pittsburgh-level bad without him. But there’s a lot of deserving guys and at some point winning has to be a factor.

Jackson might actually be the best player in the league. He’s ultra-efficient, an elite defender, and there’s not much he can’t do. But due to the overall talent on MSU, Jackson didn’t always need to do much and most guys mentioned here didn’t have the same luxury.

Put simply, Edwards does pretty much everything for Purdue.

I swear Cassius Winston hits every big shot he takes. And if he’s not hitting them, he’s likely assisting. Winston doesn’t garner the media attention that Bridges and Jackson do, but he might be the most important player on the team. He’s the best traditional point guard the league has seen in a while and his ability to set the table – while also being a scoring threat – is what makes them so dangerous offensively.

Third Team

Jae’Sean Tate, Ohio State
Mike Watkins, Penn State
Anthony Cowan, Maryland
Isaac Haas, Purdue
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Michigan

I’ve always been a big fan of Tate, which mainly started out because his effort and appearance to actually enjoy playing basketball stuck out like a sore thumb around some of his teammates the past couple years.

Watkins’ value will always largely be found on the defensive end, but a league-leading 70% EFG percentage doesn’t hurt either. In terms of importance to his team, Penn State was trending way up until the last three games when he was only able to play a combined 14 minutes and the Nittany Lions dropped all three.

In the best guard conversation, Cowan can claim the consistency crown. He’s about as steady as they come and he’s improved almost every part of his game from a year ago.

No one affects a gameplan quite like Haas. He doesn’t always produce, but his presence alone makes all of his teammates better.

MAAR probably won’t make it, but as soon as he took more control of the Michigan offense, they took off as a team. It’s made the Wolverines as dangerous as anybody else in the league.

Toughest guys to leave off: CJ Jackson, Isaac Copeland, Mo Wagner, Josh Reaves, Lamar Stevens, Dakota Mathias, Kevin Huerter, Jordan Murphy, Leron Black

Defensive Team

Jaren Jackson, Michigan State
Mike Watkins, Penn State
Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State
Josh Reaves, Penn State
DeShawn Freeman, Rutgers

For my money, Reaves is the best on-ball defender in the league and might be as important as Watkins defensively for the Nittany Lions.

Freeman’s unlikely to get any attention because of the team he plays for and the fact it’s so difficult to quantify individual defensive numbers. But there are some measures out there and here’s where Freeman ranks in the Big Ten: 5th in steals per game, 4th in steal %, 7th in defensive rebounding %, 3rd in defensive rating, 5th in defensive win shares (on a team that doesn’t win a lot), and he’s just outside the Top 10 in defensive box plus/minus. He’s constantly deflecting passes. If you actually subject yourself to Rutgers games, his constant effort and activity is noticeable.

There are a lot of guys that could make this list, buy you can only pick five out of a big pool.

Freshman Team

Jaren Jackson, Michigan State
Luka Garza, Iowa
Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State
Brad Davison, Wisconsin
Trent Frazier, Illinois

I made the list before Sunday’s games. I amended the list after watching Brad Davison light up Michigan State. He was the last cut until that happened, but now that distinction belongs to Bruno Fernando. I’m sorry, Bruno. It wasn’t a star-studded year for freshmen, but there are quite a few guys who will likely be around for four years. So that’s something.


TOURNAMENT PREVIEW

Favorite

Michigan State (1 seed; +225)

They’ve played close games on the road with both Wisconsin and Maryland, but I’m not sure you worry much about their first game on Friday now that it’s a neutral floor. But I’ve pretty much been on the “MSU is overvalued” train for a while now. They’re good obviously, but based on their head-to-head matchups with these other Top 4 teams, would you really say they should have considerably lower odds than the rest? They’re also on the same side of scorching hot Michigan and the Wolverines already rolled them once in East Lansing.

With that said, Izzo squads have won three of the last six.

 

Probable Runner-Up

Purdue (3 seed; +400)

It appears as though Purdue has found their way out of a recent slump and they’ve started to shoot well again. I thought their side of the bracket broke pretty well for them in terms of matchup advantages. That’s not to say (probably) IU and (probably) Ohio State are a walk in the park by any means, but it could’ve been worse for them.

On the flip side, this event hasn’t always been the kindest to them. Painter won the championship in 2009 and the upperclassmen on this team made the title game a couple of years ago, but otherwise it’s been a lot of quick exits.

Best Value Bet

Michigan (5 seed; +800)

Who’s playing better right now? They’ve maintained their level of play defensively and now the offense is starting to take off with MAAR in more of a leading role. The problem for the Wolverines is that they’ve got the toughest road of the four teams with the lowest odds.

I don’t hate IU at +2000 either. They’ve competed with the best the league has to offer, but those have all occurred at home. Still, they’ve kept steadily improving all year. I’m not sure the Hoosiers at 20-1 is exactly “value”, but it’s a darkhorse option.

I should point out for both that a non-Top 3 seed has only won this tournament three times. Of course one of those was Michigan a year ago as an 8 seed.

 

 

 

CBB Picks: 2/24

VIRGINIA TECH (-4) over Louisville

Ohio (+12.5) over BUFFALO

DREXEL (-3) over UNC Wilmington

DELAWARE (-3) over James Madison

Texas A&M (-1) over VANDERBILT

TEXAS TECH (-2) over Kansas

Louisiana Monroe (+6) over TROY

UT ARLINGTON (-2.5) over Georgia State

MTSU (-7.5) over UAB

UC Riverside (+10.5) over UC DAVIS

UTEP (-2) over Southern Miss

SAN JOSE STATE (+13.5) over San Diego State

YTD: 117-97 (+10.5u)

CBB Picks: 2/23

Dartmouth (+11) over PENN

Getting a spread this big in the Ivy League is a rarity. The league has the highest percentage of close games (<4 points or OT) in the country and the lowest percentage of blowouts (>19 points), according to KenPom.

But Penn is currently winning the conference, Dartmouth is last, and the Quakers are at home. Schematically though, Penn’s defense is so good because they’re able to run people off the line and limit open three-point looks. That’s less impactful against a Dartmouth team that’s stopped settling quite as much and has seemed to emphasize getting to the rim. It’s allowed the Big Green to start generating more offense at the free throw line and 21-24 free throw shooting is what nearly allowed them to beat Penn a couple weeks ago.

Maybe the best reason to like this game though is the situational dynamics at play. Dartmouth’s confidence has to be at a high after winning two of their last three. They started 0-7 in Ivy League play, losing none of those by more than 10 points and five of those losses fitting in the “close game” category. Playing their best basketball of the season, they now get a shot at the conference leader. And from Penn’s standpoint, they have a one-game lead on Harvard with four games to go. Guess who they play tomorrow at home? The Fighting Zuckerbergs. They could be looking ahead.

YTD: 117-96 (+11.6u)

CBB Picks: 2/21

GEORGETOWN (+6.5) over Xavier

PENN STATE (-2.5) over Michigan

North Carolina (-4) over SYRACUSE

Duquesne (+12) over ST. BONAVENTURE

EAST CAROLINA (+7) over SMU

Alabama (+8) over AUBURN

PITT (+9) over Wake Forest

MINNESOTA (-2.5) over Iowa

UNLV (-1.5) over Fresno State

SIENA (+2.5) over Fairfield

YTD: 107-91 (+7.1u)

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 9

 


Five Six Stars From the Past Week:

Cassius Winston, Michigan State – averaged 14.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.0 assists in two wins

Tony Carr, Penn State – averaged 24.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in two games

Robert Johnson, Indiana – averaged 21.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in two games

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin – 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 steals in win over Purdue

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Michigan – averaged 17.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 5.0 assists in two wins

Carsen Edwards, Purdue – averaged 24.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.5 steals in two games

Five Six Games to Watch This Week:

Indiana at Nebraska, Tuesday, 9:00 PM EST, BTN

Michigan at Penn State, Wednesday, 7:00 PM EST, BTN

Ohio State at Indiana, Friday, 8:00 PM EST, FS1

Michigan at Maryland, Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN

Michigan State at Wisconsin, Sunday, 1:00 PM EST, CBS

Penn State at Nebraska, Sunday, 5:15 PM EST, BTN


Power Rankings

Tournament Locks

1.Michigan State (BracketMatrix: 2 seed; 50/50 brackets)

The Spartans will be your outright champions of the league. The schedule was favorable thanks once again to unbalanced schedules and conference expansion, but you have to give them credit. They’ve avoided the slip-ups against lesser competition. Others did not.

In order to do so, the Spartans had to overcome a 27-point deficit on the road. It helped that they had more fans at the arena in Rosemont, but no one else in the league could do that. Their defense against Northwestern in the second half was incredible. The Wildcats literally could not get one open shot.

But it still begs the question: why are you down 27 to a Northwestern team without their point guard? Sure, the Wildcats were hitting some tough shots, but that doesn’t explain Sparty only scoring 16 points in the first 16 minutes. That’s an effort that won’t fly in their quest to win a national title.

 

This Week: home for Illinois, at Wisconsin

2. Ohio State (BracketMatrix: 4 seed; 50/50 brackets)

February was always a bit of a cloud looming over the feel-good story of the Buckeyes’ chase for a Big Ten title. They survived the first big hurdle of winning at Purdue, but they ran into a buzzsaw in Happy Valley this week and obviously Ann Arbor wasn’t much easier.

Here’s a blazing take: maybe they’re better off without Kam Williams. Williams is a great shooter, but he provides little else and he clearly has some issues off the court. He scored 6 points on 9 shots this week and had 7 fouls. Fouled out in 12 minutes against Michigan. Basically every time he’s had a big game in his career, it’s been against bad competition. Musa Jallow and Andre Wesson aren’t world beaters, but they played pretty well in his absence. I just convinced myself that was actually a pretty good take.

Probably a bigger issue for the Buckeyes heading into the postseason is their over-reliance on Keita Bates-Diop. The red line one the chart below is the offensive efficiency numbers for OSU as a team, in order from best to worst. The gray line is KBD’s personal offensive rating in those games.

KBD

As you can see, the team numbers are basically a trend line for KBD’s personal numbers. You also might notice that the teams on the right-hand side are most of the tournament teams OSU has played this year.

Those teams are basically making KBD an inefficient high-volume shooter. Not quite Trae Young levels, but still. Below you can see the number of points relative to his field goal attempts in those ten games.

KBD2.png

It’s not rocket science to know that it helps OSU when KBD plays well, but these charts are basically telling you it’s a necessity. Of their seven least efficient games as a team, they’ve lost six with the only win coming on KBD’s tip-in with three seconds to go at Purdue. If the Buckeyes are going to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, it’s going to be on KBD’s back. No pressure.

This Week: home for Rutgers, at Indiana

3. Purdue (BracketMatrix: 2 seed; 50/50 brackets)

As Sunday night showed, it helps when you play with energy. Shooting will come and go, but Purdue’s biggest problem lately was the appearance that it didn’t seem to think playing hard was still necessary. I don’t know if they got full of themselves with all the national attention they were getting or it was February blues, but they finally played with a sense of urgency against Penn State.

Make no mistake, beating the scorching hot Nittany Lions without Vince Edwards was a big deal for this team.

Losing to Wisconsin was bad from a perception standpoint and a conference championship race standpoint, but it really probably only knocks them from a shaky 1 seed down to a 2. And I don’t think that’s the worst thing for this team, for a number of reasons.

Worth noting: Carsen Edwards is carrying this team right now. When Purdue was playing so well in December and January, it relied upon balance. The motto of the offense was “the go-to guy was the open guy.” That is not currently the case.

This Week: at Illinois, home for Minnesota

4. Michigan (BracketMatrix: 9 seed; 50/50 brackets)

Sunday was big for the Wolverines. I don’t think their tournament status would’ve been in grave danger (is there another kind?) if they lost, but a loss there with their tough schedule this week and things might’ve got a little dicey.

But Michigan was largely in control from start to finish against Ohio State. They made life difficult for basically every Buckeye except for Jae’Sean Tate.

There is something interesting going on with the offense, though. For most of the season they were in need of more consistency outside of Charles Matthews. They’ve gotten that from MAAR and Wagner. But now Matthews hasn’t scored 20 points in a game since December 21st. It’s been 15 games. Matthews scored 20+ six times in the first 14 games of the season. I’m not saying Michigan needs him to put up 20 every game, but they definitely need more than he’s giving them right now.

This Week: at Penn State and Maryland

Hanging On The Bubble

5. Penn State (BracketMatrix: “Others Receiving Votes”; 3/50 brackets)

It was almost a home run week for the Lions. They not only took care of business at home against Ohio State, they murdered the Buckeyes from the jump. Usually when Tony Carr is going for 30, it’s on 20+ shots and the Nittany Lions tend to lose those games. Not this time. He was 9-15 from the field and only turned the ball over once. I’d say it’s the best game of his career, but his game against the Buckeyes was equally exceptional.

The Purdue loss hurts. It’s obviously not a bad loss, but the Boilers were vulnerable with the way they were playing and with the absence of Vince Edwards.

The good news for PSU is that they still have two more opportunities for big wins this week and they’re still playing really well. The OSU win put them firmly in the conversation for one of the last NCAA bids. Their rankings in analytical measures like KenPom are a plus. They just need to strike while the iron’s hot this week.

This Week: home for Michigan, at Nebraska

6. Nebraska (BracketMatrix: “First Four Out”; 5/50 brackets)

The BracketMatrix data was gathered before the loss to Illinois. I don’t know how much that affects things for them, but I know it’s not good.

The Huskers put themselves in a difficult situation where they had almost no room for error and they erred. All the positivity around them is still true despite the loss, but now they absolutely have to win two games against teams that are also playing their best basketball right now. And after they do that, they’ll probably need to beat at least one of the Top 4 in the BTT.

This Week: home for Indiana and Penn State

 

7. Indiana (BracketMatrix: N/A; 0/50 brackets)

The resume isn’t there at all for the Hoosiers. They’re 0-8 in Quad 1 and they’ve got 3 bad losses.

But I feel like you have to include them just for the way that they’re playing and their potential to get big wins down the stretch. They have two opportunities for big wins this week and obviously the Big Ten Tournament as well.

IU hasn’t exactly been beating a murderer’s row during their current four-game win streak, but they were playing well against top competition before that. They’ve largely done it on the backs of their defense, but they found themselves in a shootout on Saturday in Iowa City. The Hoosiers won that too via 14-24 three-point shooting. Shooting has been a burden for them all year, but they’ve made 47% of their attempts from distance over this four game stretch.

This Week: at Nebraska, home for Ohio State

8. Maryland (BracketMatrix: “Others Receiving Votes”; 1/50 brackets)

Well the one guy who has the Terps appears to be a little misguided. It appears to be some formulaic apparatus he’s using that not only has Maryland in the field, but comfortably as a 9 seed. He also has Nevada as a 3 seed, so yeah.

The Terps essentially have the perfectly average NIT resume. They’re not a bad team, but they’re 0-9 in Quad 1 games and 1-2 in Quad 2. They’re a title contender next year.

This Week: at Northwestern, home for Michigan

Perhaps Next Year

9. Wisconsin

I thought there had been a lot of reasons for the Badgers to feel encouraged heading into next year with everybody in line to come back. That feeling is a little more tangible now with how they’ve played the past couple weeks.

This Week: home for Minnesota, at Northwestern, home for Michigan State

10. Northwestern

This Week: home for Maryland and Wisconsin, at Iowa

11. Illinois

This Week: at Michigan State, home for Purdue, at Rutgers

12. Iowa

This Week: at Minnesota, home for Northwestern

13. Minnesota

This Week: at Wisconsin, home for Iowa, at Purdue

14. Rutgers

This Week: at Ohio State, home for Illinois

CBB Picks: 2/17

UCF (-3) over SMU

LSU (-1) over Missouri

BALL STATE (pick) over Toledo

LOUISIANA MONROE (-2) over Texas State

BOSTON COLLEGE (pick) over Notre Dame

UNLV (+4.5) over SAN DIEGO STATE

CENTRAL MICHIGAN (-2.5) over Eastern Michigan

UAB (-2) over SOUTHERN MISS

KANSAS (-3.5) over West Virginia

UMass (+16) over DAVIDSON

DELAWARE (-1) over Elon

MISSISSIPPI STATE (-7.5) over Ole Miss

WAZZU (+8) over Utah

Furman (-8.5) over SAMFORD

Eastern Kentucky (+11.5) over TENNESSEE STATE

Weber State (-4.5) over SACRAMENTO STATE

YTD: 92-83 (+0.9u)