Northwestern Basketball

Why You Should Root for Northwestern in the NCAA Tournament

The main question here isn’t why should you root for Northwestern, but why not? Chris Collins finally did it. Come Thursday March 16 the Wildcats will make their NCAA tournament debut against Vanderbilt in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Northwestern

The Wildcats celebrate their first NCAA tournament bid (Photo/ USA Today)

Northwestern was the only team in a power five conference to never appear in the tournament before this past Sunday.

They had just seven winning seasons since the 2000-01 season. Their best finish in the Big Ten was tied for fifth in the 2003-2004 season. They also did not have a winning conference record since the 1967-68 season until this year.

The program is quickly turning around from the looks of things. The Wildcats finished 10-8 in Big Ten regular season play with a win over Michigan in the final seconds. They won two games in the Big Ten tournament against Rutgers and Maryland until they eventually fell to Wisconsin in semifinals.

Now Northwestern looks to make their mark on the NCAA tournament after drawing an eight seed.

Only three first-time tourney participants have made it to the sweet sixteen before being eliminated since 1985: Florida in 1987 (six seed), Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 (15 seed) and Cleveland State in 1986 (14 seed).

It’s been a while since a first-time tourney goer has been such a high seed. The last school to make the tournament for the first time and be better than a ten seed was UC Irvine in 1998 as a nine seed. The highest seed for a first timer since 1985 was the Florida team in 1987.

Northwestern is looking forward with a real chance to compete in the tournament despite being the last power five conference team to make the tournament.

The Wildcats face a ninth-seeded Vanderbilt team in the first round of the tournament. The Commodores snuck into the last-minute at-large bids with a win over Florida in the SEC conference tournament. Vanderbilt has 15 losses on the year, including their loss in the SEC tournament to Arkansas. Some may say the nine seed is generous.

Only 11 teams in the past 60 years with 14 losses have received an at large bid before this year. Vanderbilt tops that with its 15 losses.

The Wildcats not only have a real chance of beating Vanderbilt in the round of 64, but they also have a chance to win their second game in the round of 32 where they would most likely face Gonzaga. Many believe Gonzaga is the weakest of the four one seeds.

Northwestern

Northwestern students also celebrated Sunday with the Wildcats first bid to the NCAA tournament (Photo/Patrick Gorski- USA Today)

What is also interesting is that it would be hard to find a reason to root against them.

Most of the time when people root against a team, it might be for multiple reasons with the most popular probably being its a rival team. The team also may always be good, or maybe you just don’t like them. None of those apply to Northwestern.

You can’t say they have a true rival since they have never been good. There may be just a couple Big Ten teams. As stated before, they haven’t ever been good, so you can’t dislike them for that. The only other reason we can think of that a person may not like them is because they didn’t get accepted into the school. However, it is a pretty hard school to get into.

If you’re looking for a feel-good story, this would be the one. It is also a story that could very well last until the second weekend of the tournament. Perhaps you just want a random team to root for. Northwestern deserves your attention either way, because why not.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

The Big Ten is No Longer “Big”

Week after week there is talk about the No. 1 team in the nation (Villanova this week), the Big East, the ACC, and Grayson Allen. No one is talking about the Big Ten. There is a reason for that.

Maryland leads the conference with a 4-1 record, ranked No. 25 in the country. The Terrapins might be 16-2 overall, but they haven’t played one ranked team this year. They also have yet to play Wisconsin, Purdue or Minnesota. One might remember that Maryland is relatively new to the Big Ten Conference along with Rutgers, who is 0-6 in conference play. Minnesota has recently dropped out of the top 25 ranking after losing to Michigan State this past week. Wisconsin is sitting at No. 17 and Purdue is ranked No. 21. Neither team holds the top spot in the conference.

(Photo courtesy of impact89fm.org)

The Big Ten simply is not the hard-hitting, nitty-gritty conference that it used to be. There is not a single team that dominates. Any team could lose on any given day, which sounds like March Madness. However, it isn’t the exhilarating type of March Madness where teams are upsetting high-ranked ball clubs. It is a lot of average teams beating and losing to mediocre teams, with respect to the rest of the nation.

For a girl who grew up watching Drew Neitzel shoot threes consistently with both hands, and heard about Isiah Thomas and his two years at Indiana, it is obvious that the Big Ten isn’t what it used to be. All of the teams have at least one loss in conference play and teams are struggling to get wins on the road.

The only true press that the Big Ten is receiving currently is from select standout players in the Midseason top 25 ranking for the Wooden Award this year. Those few are Melo Trimble (Maryland), Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes (Wisconsin), and Caleb Swanigan (Purdue). Now this article is not to denounce the Big Ten but rather to breakdown the conference and its struggles this year.

What happened to the hoosiers?

Indiana is one of those teams that could make a great tournament run, but will the Hoosiers even make it to the tournament?

The Hoosiers started off the season with a four-point victory over Kansas. Then the team proceeded to lay an egg at IPFW in its fourth game of the season. They also beat North Carolina, but lost to Butler.

If their season continues at this pace, it will be the season that “missed it by that much.” Losing has been more of a theme this year than Tom Crean ever thought possible. The Hoosiers lost to Butler by five, Nebraska by four, Wisconsin by seven and Maryland by three. They are that close.

Indiana is typically a team that gets by. The past two years they have made it to the tournament and last year they made it to the Sweet 16. They have scorers and they have a great coach. They just need to finish.

Sparty on or Sparty off?

The Spartans are sitting near the top of the conference despite losing key players Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes and Deyonta Davis to the draft last year.

Freshman Miles Bridges (ncaabasketball.com)

The freshmen are clicking at the perfect time. Miles Bridges is coming off an ankle injury that sidelined him for the end of the preseason and beginning of conference play. Nick Ward is contributing 6.5 rebounds per game and has been named Big Ten freshman of the week twice. Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston are maturing into great role players for the Spartans, which will be key in March.

This might sound like a lot of positive conversation, but let’s not forget some key losses this season. The Spartans lost to Northeastern, Baylor, Duke, Penn State, Kentucky and Arizona. More recently, Michigan State got the job done against No. 24 ranked Minnesota, but lost to Ohio State on Sunday. This puts them at 4-2 in conference play with a tough week ahead.

Wisconsin is now the consistent leader

Wisconsin is just about the only team that has been consistently competing over the last few years. This year itself has not been stellar, yet the Badgers find themselves on a 16-game home winning streak.

The Badgers are similar to West Virginia in the way that they have multiple players averaging good numbers and are balanced in their scoring. Sophomore Ethan Happ is a 6’10” forward pulling down 9.2 rebounds per game and shooting 62.3 percent from the field. Everyone else on the team is shooting good percentages, but nothing stellar for Division I basketball.

They also only allow 60.2 points per game (ninth in the country). It is the Badgers’ defense that keeps them in games. The seniors also demand an intensity from each other and their standout sophomore Happ. Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Zak Showalter know what it means to get wins and make a run in the tournament. They made it to the Sweet 16 last year before losing to Notre Dame and the National Championship in 2015 (but lost to Duke). They are a good ball club, but to compare them to UCLA, Oregon, or Villanova is another story.

Purdue

The Boilermakers got a win over Wisconsin, but have losses to Iowa and Minnesota. Sophomore Caleb Swanigan is ranked first in the country in rebounds per game, pulling down 12.6 on average. This was key against Wisconsin when Swanigan had 18 points and 13 rebounds to secure the win. The let down is they turned around and took a five point loss to Iowa soon after, despite being ahead by nine at the half.

Caleb Swanigan of Purdue (News-Sentential.com)

This has been the trend for all of conference play thus far in the Big Ten. A team might come out and get a key win, but then come out flat the next game. There is no domination and as a fan, it’s been a tough year to watch so far.

The Boilermakers do have a couple things going for them. They start mostly juniors with the exception of Swanigan. Next year they will be a year smarter and more experienced, which can’t hurt. Purdue also lost to Villanova by only three points at the beginning of the season. They have hope.

 

What does this mean?

Some people might chalk it up to rebuilding years. Others might say some coaches need to make an exit. As someone who has grown up respecting Thad Matta, Matt Painter, Tom Izzo and Tom Crean, I hope the latter is not the truth.

The Big Ten will bounce back. For all my fellow Big Ten fans, there is hope and March isn’t here quite yet. The tournament will see fewer Big Ten teams this year, but no one can predict what they might do.

 

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Cap, Gown and Gone: Top Five Most Impactful Graduate Transfers

Transfers in college basketball are a huge part of the way a team can build an identity. The graduate transfer rule has the power to immediately affect the destiny of two teams in each case. As opposed to the normal transfer regulations, players do not have to sit out a year and are eligible to play immediately.  That means they not only have a large immediate impact on the team they are leaving, but also that they have the ability to change the fortune of the program they are headed to in an instant. Many times, players that were under-recruited from smaller schools use this rule to jump to a big conference school.

Several players should have a significant impact as graduate transfers in the 2016-2017 season. Here are five players to watch:

 

Canyon Barry (SG), The College of Charleston to Florida

Canyon Barry was one of the most sought after transfers in the nation. (Photo courtesy of 247sports.com)

Barry was one of the most sought after transfers on the market this off-season.  He averaged a whopping 19.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per contest last year. He is a perfect example of a player having an excellent career at a small school and utilizing the graduate transfer rule to make it to a bigger school with an immediate impact. Florida loses its leading scorer, Dorian Finney-Smith, to graduation, so a scorer like Barry will be very much appreciated.

L.G. Gill (F), Duquesne to Maryland

Maryland’s roster will look completely different next year. Melo Trimble is one of the only players that is coming back of significant value. Gill is an impact player that adds veteran depth that Mark Turgeon is desperate for at this point. The forward averaged 10.1 points per game as well as 6.1 rebounds. With the departures of Robert Carter and Diamond Stone, Gill will have an immediate impact on the boards for the Terps and also bring some scoring ability. He is an efficient shooter at over 43% from the field meaning that he will make good use of looks created by Trimble. The Dukes lose their third leading scorer, as well as team leader in rebounds per game, but it is a huge gain for the team in College Park.

Merrill Holden (PF), Louisiana Tech to Iowa State

Merrill Holden played just over 23 minutes per game for the Bulldogs last year and still averaged 8.1 points, 1.1 blocks and 5 rebounds per game. To put that in perspective, that makes his per 40 minute averages 13.9 points and 8.5 rebounds with almost 2 blocks per game. While he does not have a significant amount of range, he does have the ability to impact both sides of the floor for the Cyclones with his shot blocking, rebounding and inside game. He will be an excellent addition for Monte Morris and Steve Prohm in the post-Georges Niang era.

 

Christian Kessee(G), Coppin State to Memphis

Christian Kessee will provide some depth to the Memphis roster. (Photo courtesy of chatsports.com)

Kessee is another example of a small program player making it to a higher level of competition. He averaged 14.6 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. The guard rebounds well for his size and also is an accurate shooter from behind the arc at just under 40%. Last year his three point percentage was actually higher than his field goal percentage, so he needs to work on being a more effective shooter from inside. Kessee is an all around offensive guard that can create opportunities for himself as well as others around him. The same as many other teams on this list, Coppin State loses their leading scorer. Memphis could always use a decent outside shooter and Kessee will be a key piece to the post-Pastner Tigers.

Jordan Mathews (G), Cal to TBD

Things were looking up for the Cal Golden Bears after Ivan Rabb elected to return to school. The announcement by Jordan Mathews was a bit of a surprise in the past week. He suddenly indicated that he would be leaving what would have been an extremely strong Golden Bear team after he graduates to play elsewhere. Initial indications are that Gonzaga is the leader to land Mathews. Mathews is no small loss for Cal. Without Ty Wallace and Jaylen Brown for the upcoming season, he would have been the leading returning scorer. Mathews averaged 13.5 points per game as well as 3.4 rebounds.  He shot over 41% from behind the arc, and that astounding figure was down from the previous year. Mathews’ offensive ability is something that would be a great addition to any team. With Gonzaga losing Kyle Wiltjer to graduation and Domantas Sabonas to the draft, there will be no shortage of room for Mathews to grow if he chooses to transfer there. This late transfer decision is undoubtedly one of the most surprising and impactful this offseason.

Draft Deadline Decisions: Dropouts and Draftees

The deadline for players to withdraw from the NBA Draft and remain eligible for collegiate competition was Wednesday, May 25th. Some decisions were made that will greatly affect the upcoming season of college basketball. Here is a list of some of the most notable draft decisions and the effects that the player staying or leaving will have on the school:

 

Josh Hart, Villanova

Hart’s return means that Villanova is in excellent shape for the upcoming year. They certainly will miss Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. Arcidiacono was the team’s leader in assists as well as the third leading scorer. Ochefu was the team’s leading rebounder as well as fourth leading scorer. What the team brings back with this decision, though is a multi-faceted guard. Hart averaged 15.5 points per game, 6.8 rebounds and also 1.2 steals per game.  He is a very dynamic player on both ends of the floor. He will be complimented by Kris Jenkins decision to return as well as the continual growth of Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. Top recruit Omari Spellman could also play a role. Villanova is in a good spot for the upcoming season, and with this return, is a top ten team to start the season.

 

Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall

Isaiah Whitehead is a devastating loss for the Pirates. (Photo courtesy of nytimes.com)

Whitehead’s decision to stay in the draft was the second most important decision in Big East play, next to Josh Hart’s. Last season, Whitehead averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game. He also averaged 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals each contest.  Seton Hall loses one of their most dynamic players and will be a completely different team without the guard returning for his junior season.

 

Malik Newman, Mississippi State

Malik Newman was set to be one of the first one and done players in Starkville.  Now, not only is that no longer a reality, but also ESPN’s Jeff Goodman is reporting that Newman is looking to transfer from Mississippi State.  He came in under Ben Howland as one of the most highly touted recruits in the nation, but had a relatively lackluster, injury plagued freshman season. Newman’s return would bolster the recruiting class that Howland put together along with other returnees Quinndary Weatherspoon and I.J. Ready. At this point, Newman has asked for a release to transfer.

 

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

Much like Villanova, Nigel Hayes’ return completes a prolific off-season for the Badgers. There were a lot of questions about this team last season with the retirement of coach Bo Ryan, but a Sweet 16 run put a stop to those. Wisconsin returns several key players, in addition to Hayes: Bronson Koenig was the second leading scorer on the team and also added shooting range that kept defenses spread out. He demonstrated this in the tournament game against Xavier. Ethan Happ is looking to build on a phenomenal freshman year in which he averaged 12.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Hayes returns as the clubhouse leader in scoring and assists and he is also the second leading rebounder behind Happ. Wisconsin is a complete team and will be in the top 5 in the preseason rankings due to this return.

 

 

Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson

Clemson should be ecstatic to return a player the caliber of Jaron Blossomgame. (Photo courtesy of foxsports.com)

The aptly named player had a flourishing junior campaign and will grace the ACC with one last run.  He showed improvements across the board.  Blossomgame averaged 18.7 points per game to go along with 6.7 rebounds as well as 1.3 blocks. Not to mention that his percentage from behind the arc skyrocketed from 28.8% to above 40%.  Clemson will return three double-digit scorers in Blossomgame, Donte Grantham and Avry Holmes as well as third leading rebounder Sidy Djitte. While the team may not be the most powerful in the ACC, the Tigers will undoubtedly have something to roar about come Tournament time.

Melo Trimble, Maryland

Melo Trimble was not projected to be a first round pick but coming back may not have been the best decision for him. Trimble was the team leader in scoring and assists, but he is the only of the top five scoring options to come back to College Park. After the losses of Jake Layman and Rasheed Sulaimon per eligibility as well as Robert Carter and Diamond Stone to the NBA draft, Mark Turgeon’s squad looks extremely depleted in comparison to the team that began last year at a fiery 15-1. Trimble will attract a significant amount of attention from opposing defenses and it will be left to the incoming freshman class to carry the weight of the team.

 

Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey and Chris Boucher, Oregon Ducks

There should be some sort of celebration in Eugene because the Oregon Ducks are one off the biggest winners at the Draft Deadline. Their core of Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, and Chris Boucher all three declared and all three have decided to return to school. This immediately makes Dana Altman’s team the team to beat in the PAC-12 for the upcoming season. The team is losing Elgin Cook and Dwayne Benjamin, but this decision gives them three of their top four scorers on a team that already achieved a number one seed. These are also three of their top 5 rebounders, and Boucher was second in the NCAA in blocks this past season. The bar will be set very high for them next season.

Best Remaining College Basketball Games

There is still one month of regular season college basketball to be played before teams get into their conference tournaments. A lot of teams will be fighting for spots in the tournament or for higher seeds, making this next month exciting. Here are some of the games that should be great to watch the rest of the way:

The first game between Kansas and Oklahoma was a close game with some controversy. Photo courtesy usatoday.com.

#6 Kansas at #3 Oklahoma, Saturday February 13

The first time these two teams played in Lawrence, Kansas, it was an overtime thriller that many say was the best played game all season. Now the rematch has a chance to be another classic and could result in the winner being the Big 12 regular season champion. Oklahoma should have the edge playing at home and with Buddy Hield on their side.

#15 Texas A&M at LSU, Saturday February 13

Texas A&M dropped a game at home to South Carolina, which has made the SEC wide open. LSU now leads the SEC with an 8-2 record. This game specifically will be a good watch because Ben Simmons will be going up against a great team. If the Tigers can win this game it would help move them off of the bubble.

Alex Caruso has plenty of big game experience, which will be useful down the stretch. Photo courtesy d1nation.com.

#22 Kentucky at #15 Texas A&M, Saturday February 20

Kentucky only has three SEC losses and can win the conference with how wide open it is. Jamal Murray has been on fire and he looks like he is capable of carrying the Wildcats to a championship. Texas A&M has a few key games left and this will be there last big test of the regular season.

#12 Miami at #9 North Carolina, Saturday February 20

Miami is a team that no one is talking about, but is capable of beating anyone in the country. Angel Rodriguez has the potential to lead Miami to big wins down the stretch. North Carolina can really help separate the top of the ACC with a win in this game.

#3 Oklahoma at #10 West Virginia, Saturday February 20

These teams are currently tied at the top of the Big 12. Oklahoma can seal a Big 12 championship with a win over Kansas and West Virginia. West Virginia’s defense should make this a great game to watch. Their press going up against Buddy Hield will make it a very interesting game.

#7 Virginia at #12 Miami,  Monday February 22

The second game in the round robin that will decide the ACC is Virginia at Miami. Virginia’s defense, again, is always great to watch, but their offensive ball control drives some fans crazy. Miami isn’t a great scoring team, so they will have to make the most of each possession.

Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono has led Villanova to a number one ranking this season. Photo courtesy cbssports.com.

#1 Villanova at #5 Xavier, Wednesday February 24

Villanova is number one for the first time in school history and is in the Big East driver’s seat. A win over Xavier in this game could seal it for the Wildcats as well as get them closer to locking up a number one seed. If Xavier is able to win every other game on their schedule and get a help in the form of a Villanova loss, or two, this game would put them at the top of the Big East. This is also a revenge game for Xavier, who lost at Villanova by 31 points earlier this season.

#9 North Carolina at #7 Virginia, Saturday February 27

The last of the ACC round robin features a culture clash. Virginia is going to play great defense and hold the ball on offense, while North Carolina will try to get out on the fast break every chance they get. The winner of this game could be the number one seed in the ACC tournament.

#2 Maryland at #18 Purdue, Saturday February 27

Iowa doesn’t have any marquee games down the stretch, making this the best game left in the Big Ten season. If Iowa slips up this could decide the Big Ten champion. Purdue has plenty of talented big guys making their team a Big Ten throwback. Maryland has enough talent on its roster to make this game interesting, but they will need to be tough to beat Purdue.

Jamal Murray has been heating up lately, making Kentucky a serious threat. Photo courtesy twitter.com.

LSU at #22 Kentucky, Saturday March 5

Another revenge game on the slate. Kentucky lost to LSU in Baton Rouge and now gets them in Rupp Arena. This game is the season finale for both teams and could decide the SEC. With Jamal Murray heating it up, Simmons and Murray will be a great battle of freshmen.

#11 Oregon at #23 USC, Saturday March 5

Oregon is leading the Pac-12 and this game could put the icing on the cake. The Ducks are playing great basketball and are capable of making a deep tournament run. USC has been a surprise this season and could still win the Pac-12.

 

 

 

Big Monday Surges Ohio State In Recruiting Rankings

Dwayne Haskins

(The Buckeyes landed huge prospects today including Dwayne Haskins, Courtesy Rivals.com)

In the college football world, every single school is scrambling to polish off their 2016 class of recruits. National Signing Day is just over two weeks away, meaning plenty of high-caliber recruits are being recruited hard by big name schools.

Ohio State has been waiting for a few top targets to announce where they’ll attend school next fall, hoping their name will be announced by their favorite recruits.

Today, OSU won big as they gained three top recruits who have propelled OSU to the best class of 2016.

At noon EST, Ohio State received their first commit of the day. Binjimen Victor, a four-star prospect from Fort Lauderdale, Florida announced via twitter that he’d attend The Ohio State University next fall.

The wide receiver hopes to compliment early enrollee Austin Mack in the class’ stacked wide receiver class.

Victor's tweet announcing his decision is shown

Victor’s tweet announcing his decision is shown

 

Victor had offers from 43 schools, so the sought after pass catcher is a huge find for Ohio State.

Jones added to the OSU grand day, Courtesy olgchs.org

Later on, linebacker Keandre Jones flipped from Maryland to Ohio State, ruining the Monday for Maryland fans. Jones gave Ohio State a surprise visit last week, spurring questions for the future of himself. The four-star talent has earned comparison to former standout Buckeye and now NFL linebacker Ryan Shazier.

After reports filed in that Jones had committed to OSU on Friday night, he confirmed today that he would attend Ohio State in 2016.

To end the day, OSU gained a quarterback from Bullis High School in Maryland, Dwayne Haskins. Ohio State stole Haskins from Maryland after Tristen Wallace flipped from OSU to Oregon.

This was the second commit who flipped from Maryland to Ohio State, paving way for a bitter taste in the mouths of the Terrapin faithful.

These four-star commitments propelled Ohio State from the third-best class to the top of college football for 2016. Ohio State awaits a few more big time prospects, especially Rashard Lawrence. The five-star defensive tackle will announce on Friday whether he’ll attend LSU or Ohio State next fall.

The three commitments OSU received today will certainly add momentum for signing day, and this is the best time for the Buckeyes to gain the spotlight. The future looks bright for Ohio State, especially after a monumental day today.