Marc VandeWettering’s colleagues on the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball staff get a kick out of it when he goes into nerd mode.
VandeWettering, entering his third season as the program’s director of basketball operations, is in charge of putting together the schedule. Part of the reason it’s a perfect job for VandeWettering, a former valedictorian at Kaukauna High School who earned a business management degree from UW while serving as a student-manager, is because it involves crunching numbers.
“I’ve always loved the math and statistics side of this,” he said.
But it’s more than that to VandeWettering, who rarely stopped smiling as he described the schedule-making process during a 30-minute conversation in his Kohl Center office over the summer. By the end, you realize it’s less of a task to VandeWettering than it is, well, an experience.
VandeWettering talks about a 10,000-foot view to describe UW’s holistic approach to putting together an 11-game non-conference schedule. He mentions multiple times that, yes, while there’s science involved, it’s just as much an art form when connecting the pieces of the puzzle.
When he’s done explaining it all, it makes sense why UW is opening the 2019-20 season against No. 20 Saint Mary’s — a team the Badgers haven’t played in 43 years — at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Why the Badgers are playing a holiday tournament in Brooklyn rather than somewhere more tropical. Why VandeWettering was keeping close tabs on the offseason coaching carousel and how it might impact a home-and-home series that he’d worked hard to secure. And why even the non-conference finale against Rider, which seems like a throwaway “buy” game at first glance, was carefully selected.
Wisconsin State Journal reporter Jim Polzin breaks down the matchup between the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team and the 20th-ran…
When the calendar flips to 2020, the Badgers will turn their focus to the heart of the Big Ten Conference schedule. By that point, they will have completed a non-conference slate that includes at least four — and possibly five — games against opponents that finished last season in the top 40 of the NCAA’s NET rankings, a sorting tool used to seed the NCAA tournament field.
All but one of those games will be away from home, a huge factor considering how much value is given to neutral-site and road wins.
“How that impacts your potential to be in the tournament, your seeding, all those things are going to be so much more under a microscope as we put a schedule together,” UW coach Greg Gard said.
Add it up
VandeWettering is a smart guy. But for the science portion of the scheduling exercise, he relies heavily on someone who is considered one of the brightest minds in college basketball analytics.
That Kevin Pauga works for one of UW’s rivals makes the collaboration even more fascinating.
Pauga is an assistant athletic director for administration at Michigan State. The career paths of Pauga and VandeWettering are similar: The former was a student-manager for the Spartans prior to spending six seasons as the program’s director of basketball operations. Both have worked for the Big Ten Conference as well.
On the side, Pauga runs a website (kpisports.net) that includes his own evaluation system. The KPI Rankings, Pauga writes, “are meant to rank team résumés on a game-by-game basis.”
When VandeWettering took over UW’s scheduling in 2018, he immediately called Pauga for advice. Pauga mentioned he’d developed a program that he’d shared with others in the industry and offered it to VandeWettering to try.
At this point, it’s probably fair to ask why Michigan State would want to help UW, and why UW would want to accept help from Michigan State. It’s simple, really.
“You want the Big Ten to have a great non-conference (run) because that’s even more value added to your league,” VandeWettering said. “That’s when we’re cheering for the Big Ten the most. It’s helping us both by him giving us his insight and the program.
“It helps us when Michigan State is good in the non-conference and it helps Michigan State when Wisconsin is good in the non-conference.”
Last season was the debut of the NET rankings, which means there’s little in the way of historical data to use when determining the strength of a potential opponent. While metrics within the KPI and NET are weighed differently, the end result is similar and the former has years and years of data to examine.
The program Pauga shared with UW is an Excel spreadsheet with the KPI Rankings of every NCAA Division I team for the 2018-19 season and over a three-season span. Using a simple drop-down menu, VandeWettering can pick any program in the nation and see how it’s trending in the rankings and what kind of value that game would give to the Badgers.
The home-and-home series with Tennessee that begins this season was a no-brainer for UW. Winning that game in Knoxville on Dec. 28 would provide great value with minimum risk; a loss to the Volunteers would be as valuable as winning a home game over an opponent with a 200-plus KPI or NET ranking.
Each of the 11 non-conference games, combined with the 20 Big Ten games, helps VandeWettering form a big picture that can be tweaked based on hypothetical results. He can change a win to a loss — or the other way around — in Pauga’s program and watch how it affects the Badgers’ NCAA tournament résumé: The result of a high-value game against Michigan State, for example, could be the difference between UW being on the 3/4 or the 5/6 seed lines.
“Obviously, this is all projections,” VandeWettering said. “There’s so much human element in this that you can’t account for and this is all based on past years. You’re looking at how they were last year and how they were the previous three years. You can’t really project how they’re going to be, but this is as close as you can get.”
Projections played a role in a change of plans for UW this season.
The Badgers take part in a multi-team event (MTE) every season and were strongly considering the Cayman Islands Classic in November. Instead, they’ll play in the Legends Classic in Brooklyn that same week.
As the field for the tournament in the Caymans began to fill in, it became obvious it wouldn’t provide as strong as competition as UW had hoped. Only two of the teams — New Mexico State (46) and South Florida (83) — finished last season in the top 100 of the NET rankings. The other five teams in the event finished between No. 101 and No. 202.
The tournament in New York is only a four-team event, but it includes a potential matchup with Auburn. The Tigers played in the Final Four last season, finished No. 13 in the NET rankings and, even though they have several key pieces to replace, have been trending up under the direction of Bruce Pearl.
Considering Auburn is on the other side of the bracket, there’s no guarantee the Badgers and Tigers will meet in Brooklyn. Still, the value of the other opponents — Richmond and New Mexico — is similar to what UW would have received from its games in the Caymans.
There are variables out of VandeWettering’s control in some cases. UW has no say in whom it gets matched up with in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Badgers drew a road game at North Carolina State, which was No. 36 in the NET last season. That was good news for UW because it could have been paired with an opponent lower in the ACC pecking order, which would have put VandeWettering in the position of seeking more value from somewhere else on the non-conference slate.
VandeWettering admitted he was a little nervous when Tennessee coach Rick Barnes’ name came up in the opening for the UCLA job. Had Barnes left Knoxville for Los Angeles, it could have lowered the Volunteers’ value for the game this season and the matchup in Madison in 2020.
One variable VandeWettering could control, at least to some degree, was filling in the non-conference home schedule. Two of those games — McNeese State and UW-Green Bay — were assigned to UW because they fall under the umbrella of the Legends Classic. Another home opponent, Marquette, is part of a long-standing series between the in-state rivals.
But that left three “buy” games to fill as UW tried to hit the mark of 16 home games (17 counting an exhibition contest vs. UW-La Crosse) that help the revenue flow inside the athletic department. Eastern Illinois and UW-Milwaukee both finished around the 300 mark in the NET last season, but even those games add more value than a team such as Savannah State did in 2018-19. Plus, VandeWettering said putting together a home schedule that is as appealing as possible to fans is a factor in the decision-making process and having in-state and bordering state opponents on the docket is more enticing to UW fans than one from the Deep South.
UW’s non-conference finale, against Rider on New Year’s Eve, was one of the final pieces of the puzzle for VandeWettering. The Broncs finished No. 203 in the NET last season and necessarily won’t go down as a high-value result if the Badgers win that game. But the value is significantly higher than an opponent VandeWettering could have selected from a pool of teams around the No. 300 line, plus all it took was a little roster research for him to determine Rider might be better than it was last season and end up in the No. 150-175 range.
VandeWettering likes to fill in the high-major games and save the “buy” games for last. The most intriguing game in the batch might be the opener, which was added when UW examined what it had and decided it wouldn’t hurt to add one more game with significant value since it wasn’t participating in the Gavitt Games this season.
Saint Mary’s has gone 81-23 with two NCAA tournament appearances over the past three seasons and, according to VandeWettering, has an average KPI rank of No. 32 during that stretch. For the Gaels, the second-strongest program in the West Coast Conference behind Gonzaga, a game against UW is a potential résumé-builder. Ditto for the Badgers, especially considering Saint Mary’s is expected to be even stronger this season than it was in 2018-19.
“There’s a really good reward with a minimal risk of playing them, especially on a neutral court,” VandeWettering said. “It’s another opportunity for us to bolster that non-conference (résumé) and have that good reward with a minimal risk.”
Scheduling is a year-round deal for VandeWettering, who has a cabinet enclosed whiteboard on a wall in his office that includes two-year and 10-year outlooks. It’s when he’s shuffling back and forth between the whiteboard and his computer that Gard or one of the assistants might pop in and marvel at how VandeWettering is so organized and turns something so complicated into a science-filled art form.
From VandeWettering’s 10,000-foot view, it’s all about making sure he’s done his part to make Selection Sunday as stress-free as possible.
“If we have a really good team, we wanted to be rewarded for that and have a schedule strong enough to prove that we’re a really good team and get rewarded with a really good seed,” VandeWettering said. “But if we go through some injuries or have a more average year, we don’t want to be in the bubble conversation come Selection Sunday. We want to be securely in because we’ve built ourselves a strong enough schedule.
“Maybe we didn’t get the results we wanted, but we got enough. We don’t want to be in that conversation of, ‘Oh, they didn’t challenge themselves.’ We don’t want that to be the reason we’re left out.”
Explore the Wisconsin Badgers' 2019-20 men's basketball schedule
NO. 20 SAINT MARY'S
NOV. 5 — SANFORD PENTAGON IN SIOUX FALLS, SOUTH DAKOTA
Randy Bennett (above) is 414-174 with seven NCAA tournament appearances in 18 seasons with the Gaels. Bennett took over a program that went 2-27 in 2000-01 and increased Saint Mary’s win total in each of the first four seasons. The Gaels have won at least 20 games in 12 consecutive seasons.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
Senior guard Jordan Ford’s scoring average has made a jump every season, from 2.3 as a freshman to 11.1 as a sophomore to 21.1 last season. Ford shot 41.2 percent from 3-point range and 80 percent from the foul line while scoring at least 20 points in 19 games, including 30 or more on two occasions.
The Gaels return 88.5 percent of their scoring and 80 percent of their rebounding from a team that finished 22-10, including 11-5 in the West Coast Conference. The only significant loss was 6-10 forward Jordan Hunter, who averaged 7.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Junior forward Malik Fitts averaged 15.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, shooting 40.6 percent from 3-point range. Senior Tanner Krebs (8.9), who shot 39.8 percent from beyond the arc in 2018-19, and junior Tommy Kuhse (6.2) join Ford in an experienced backcourt. Aaron Menzies, a 7-3 senior center, sat out last season with a hand injury. He averaged 11.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks at Seattle in 2017-18.
NOV. 8 — KOHL CENTER
Jay Spoonhour is 93-124 in seven seasons with the Panthers. The son of the late Charlie Spoonhour, who coached at Southwest Missouri State, Saint Louis and UNLV, Jay Spoonhour has had one winning season at Eastern Illinois (18-15 in 2014-15). The Panthers went 14-18 last season, including 7-11 in the Ohio Valley Conference.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
Junior guard Josiah Wallace led the Panthers with 15.5 points per game last season. Wallace, who shot 80.2 percent from the free throw line, scored 20 or more points in eight games. He had 31 in an overtime win over Arkansas State.
There are two Madison natives on the Panthers’ roster: former Memorial standout Shareef Smith, a senior guard who averaged 8.5 points and a team-leading 3.8 assists last season; and former East product Deang Deang, a junior guard who averaged 13.3 points at Highland Community College last season. … Junior guard George Dixon, who played at Milwaukee Riverside, averaged 11.2 points and 9.1 rebounds while helping Vincennes win the national junior college title last season. … The Panthers return all five starters but lost Ben Harvey, who averaged 10.2 points as the team’s sixth man, to a transfer. … Junior guard Mack Smith averaged 12.8 points and connected a team-high 81 times from 3-point range in 2018-19.
NOV. 13 — KOHL CENTER
Heath Schroyer (above) went 9-22, including 5-13 in the Southland Conference, in his first season with the Cowboys. Schroyer had previous stops at Portland State, Wyoming and Tennessee-Martin, going a combined 126-144 over nine seasons.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
Senior guard Roydell Brown led McNeese State with 14.5 points and 9.5 rebounds, recording 11 double-doubles along the way. Brown scored 20-plus points in five of his last six games before an ankle injury ended his season.
McNeese State is located in Lake Charles, Louisiana. … Senior forward Sha’Markus Kennedy averaged 13.1 points and 7.1 rebounds last season. He had seven double-doubles, four of which came after Brown was lost for the season. … The Cowboys shot 30.7 percent from 3-point range last season and must replace their top shooter from beyond the arc. Departed senior James Harvey made nearly half (79 of 168) of McNeese State’s 3-pointers. … The Cowboys have two key additions: junior guard Leondre Washington, who averaged 8.4 points and 3.5 assists as a freshman at Robert Morris in 2017-18; and junior guard Dru Kuxhausen, who averaged 19.1 points per game at Western Nebraska Community College last season.
NOV. 17 — KOHL CENTER
Steve Wojciechowski is 97-69 in five seasons at Marquette but is still looking for his first NCAA tournament victory with the Golden Eagles. They went 24-10 last season, including 12-6 in the Big East, but were beaten 83-64 by Murray State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Marquette finished the season with only one win in its final seven games.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
Senior guard Markus Howard (above) needs 31 points to pass Jerel McNeal as the program’s all-time leader scorer and 45 to reach 2,000 for his career. It could take him only one game to reach those milestones considering he’s had 17 career games of 30 or more points and scored a career-high 53 in an overtime win over Creighton last season. Howard, a career 43.3-percent shooter from 3-point range (313 of 723), averaged 25.0 points last season while earning second-team All-America honors.
When Howard announced he was returning for his senior season, Marquette was being touted as a top-five team. Less than a week later, brothers Sam and Joey Hauser announced they were leaving the program. After considering UW, Sam (14.9 ppg) landed at Virginia and Joey (9.7) ended up at Michigan State. … Senior swingman Sacar Anim is Marquette’s second-leading returning scorer at 8.3. … A frontcourt that includes returnees Ed Morrow (5.6) and Theo John (5.5) should get a boost with the addition of 7-foot senior center Jayce Johnson, a grad transfer from Utah. … Sophomore guard Greg Elliott, who missed last season with a hand injury, missed much of the offseason after undergoing ankle surgery in June. Junior guard Kobe McEwan, who sat out last season after transferring from Utah State, bolsters the depth in the backcourt. McEwan averaged 15.6 points and 5.4 rebounds in 2017-18. Another key guard for the Golden Eagles: true freshman Symir Torrence, a top-100 recruit.
NOV. 21 — KOHL CENTER
The Phoenix are 75-64 in four seasons under Linc Darner. They won 20 games for the second time in the Darner era last season, finishing 21-17 overall and 10-8 in the Horizon League. Green Bay made a run to the final of the CollegeInsider.com postseason tournament before falling to Marshall.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
Senior guard JayQuan McCloud is Green Bay’s leading returning scorer at 13.7 points per game. McCloud shot 39.3 percent from beyond the arc and 83.2 percent from the foul line. He scored 20 or more points eight times as a junior.
The Phoenix return nine of their top 10 players in terms of minutes played, but the one departure is a big one: Sandy Cohen III led the team in scoring (17.5), rebounding (6.4), assists (4.7), blocks (1.1) and steals (1.9). … Green Bay’s other key returnees are senior forward ShanQuan Hemphill (11.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg), senior guard Kameron Hankerson (right) (8.1 ppg), junior guard PJ Pipes (6.1) and senior guard Cody Schwartz (6.0). … Green Bay’s averaged possession length last season, per KenPom, was 14.8 seconds. That was the eighth-quickest pace in the nation. Green Bay ranked first, fourth and sixth in that category during Darner’s first three seasons.
LEGENDS CLASSIC GAME 1
NOV. 25 — BARCLAYS CENTER IN NEW YORK
Chris Mooney (above) is 250-215 in 14 seasons at Richmond. The Spiders haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since a trip to the Sweet 16 as a No. 12 seed in 2011. They went 13-20 last season, including 6-12 in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Thirteen of those defeats were by single digits, and Richmond was 3-7 in games decided by six or fewer points.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
Junior forward Grant Golden has been named third-team All-Atlantic 10 in back-to-back seasons. He led the Spiders with 17.2 points and 7.1 rebounds last season. Golden was granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA in 2016-17 after undergoing a procedure to correct an accelerated heart rate that caused him to collapse in a game against Texas Tech.
Richmond returns its top six scorers from last season. That group is led by Golden and junior guard Jacob Gilyard, who averaged 16.2 points and led the Spiders with 5.2 assists and 2.8 steals per game. Junior forward Nathan Cayo averaged 12.9 points last season. Junior guard Nick Sherod (12.7 ppg) was limited to six games last season after sustaining a torn ACL. … Junior guard Blake Francis sat out last season after transferring from Wagner, where he led the team with 17.3 points per game in 2017-18. … Junior forward Sullivan Kulju was a four-year starter at New Berlin Eisenhower. Kulju, who joined the program as a walk-on, appeared in three games last season.
AUBURN OR NEW MEXICO
LEGENDS CLASSIC GAME 2
NOV. 26 — BARCLAYS CENTER
Bruce Pearl (above) is 100-72 in five seasons at Auburn. The Tigers made a run to the Final Four last season as a No. 5 seed, dropping a controversial heartbreaker to eventual champion Virginia in a national semifinal. Pearl has had issues following NCAA rules over the years, and Auburn expects to receive a Notice of Allegations from the organization for former Pearl assistant Chuck Person’s role in a pay-for-play recruiting scandal that resulted in him pleading guilty in federal court.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
Senior guard Samir Doughty is Auburn’s leading returning scorer at 7.3 points per game. Doughty, who started 27 of 40 games, shot 42.5 percent from 3-point range. He scored 20 points in a win over Murray State.
Auburn lost leading scorer Bryce Brown (15.9), leading rebounder Chuma Okeke (6.8) and leader in assists Jared Harper (5.8) from a team that went 30-10 overall and 11-7 in the SEC. Those three players combined for 43.2 points and 294 made 3-pointers on a team that got nearly half of its scoring from beyond the arc. … What Auburn lacks in star power, it makes up for in experienced role players. That group includes Doughty, senior center Austin Wiley (6.9), senior forward Anfernee McLemore (6.7), senior guard J’Von McCormick (4.1) and senior Danjel Purifoy (3.7). … Two key additions for the Tigers: sophomore guard Jamal Johnson, who sat out last season after averaging 6.9 points in 27 starts as a freshman at Memphis in 2017-18; and freshman forward Isaac Okoro, a top-50 recruit.
— OR —
Paul Weir is 33-33 in two seasons at New Mexico. He took over the Lobos after going 28-6 and earning a trip to the NCAA tournament in his only season at New Mexico State. Weir was an assistant under Steve Alford at Iowa and, if this coaching thing doesn’t work out, he has plenty of backup options considering he has a PhD in educational leadership and three master’s degrees.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
Junior swingman Vance Jackson (above) was second on the team in scoring (13.1), rebounding (7.0) and assists (2.7) last season. Jackson, who began his career at UConn, scored 30 points in a loss to Fresno State.
The Lobos lost their top scorer — Anthony Mathis (14.4) — from a team that went 14-18 overall and 7-11 in the Mountain West Conference. But their next five leading scorers are back. That group includes Jackson and senior forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (10.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg), who made stops at Kansas and Arizona State before landing at New Mexico. Junior swingman Makuach Maluach, junior guard Keith McGee and senior forward Corey Manigault each averaged more than 9 points per game last season. … Junior guard JaQuan Lyle, a transfer from Ohio State, missed last season after rupturing his right Achilles tendon. Lyle averaged 11.4 points for the Buckeyes in 2016-17. … Junior guard Zane Martin, another transfer, averaged 19.8 points at Towson two seasons ago.
BIG TEN/ACC CHALLENGE
DEC. 4 — PNC ARENA IN RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA
North Carolina State is 45-24 in two seasons under Kevin Keatts. The Wolfpack went 24-12 last season, including 9-9 in the ACC, and made it to the quarterfinals of the postseason NIT.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
Senior guard Markell Johnson (above) is North Carolina State’s leading returning scorer at 12.6 points per game. Johnson, who scored a game-high 21 points in a 79-75 loss to UW at the Kohl Center last November, led the Wolfpack with 4.2 assists per game despite dealing with a nagging back injury. He averaged 17.3 points over the final nine games of the season.
North Carolina State’s backcourt is deep with Johnson, senior C.J. Bryce (11.6 ppg), junior Braxton Beverly (9.4) and junior Devon Daniels (9.3) all returning. … The frontcourt isn’t as deep or potent, especially considering the Wolfpack has to find a way to replace Torin Dorn, who led the team with 14.0 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Graduate transfer Pat Andree, who averaged 12.9 points and shot 41.9 percent from 3-point range at Lehigh last season, likely will step in as a stretch-4. Junior forward D.J. Funderburk, who began his career at Ohio State, is back after averaging 8.8 points per game last season. One frontcourt player who didn’t return is Wyatt Walker, who picked North Carolina State over UW after leaving Samford as a graduate transfer. Walker decided to pursue a pro career overseas after averaging 4.8 points and 4.5 assists last season.
DEC. 21 — KOHL CENTER
Pat Baldwin (above) is 25-39 in two seasons at UW-Milwaukee. The Panthers took a step back last season, losing their final 11 games to finish 9-22 overall and 4-14 in the Horizon League. It was the second time in three seasons the program has finished last in the Horizon since former Badgers assistant Rob Jeter was fired following the 2015-16 campaign despite producing a 184-170 record and two NCAA tournament appearances over 11 seasons.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
Senior guard Darius Roy led the Panthers with 15.8 points and 4.1 assists per game last season. Roy, who began his career at Mercer before moving on to Connors State College, shot 40.5 percent from 3-point range and 84.3 percent from the line.
Roy likely will move from point guard to off guard now that junior Te’Jon Lucas is eligible to play for the Panthers. Lucas, a former Milwaukee Washington standout, started 34 games over two seasons at Illinois before transferring. … Senior swingman DeAndre Abram averaged 12.1 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds last season. … Junior swingman Vin Baker Jr. will sit out this season after transferring from Boston College. His father played for the Milwaukee Bucks from 1993-97 and is now an assistant coach with the organization.
DEC. 28 — THOMPSON-BOLING ARENA IN KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE
Rick Barnes is 88-50 in four seasons at Tennessee. The Volunteers made it to the No. 1 spot in the AP Top 25 poll en route to going 31-6 overall and 15-3 in the SEC. Their NCAA tournament run included two overtime finishes against Big Ten opponents: an 83-77 win over Iowa in the second round and a 99-94 loss to Purdue in the Sweet 16. Barnes flirted with leaving for UCLA in the offseason before deciding to remain in Knoxville.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
Senior guard Lamonte Turner (above) is Tennessee’s leading returning scorer at 11.6 points per game. He also averaged 3.8 assists per game and posted a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Tennessee’s three best players were selected in the 2019 NBA draft. Grant Williams was a two-time SEC Player of the Year and averaged 18.8 points and 7.5 rebounds last season, Admiral Schofield averaged 16.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game and Jordan Bone added 13.5 points and a team-leading 5.8 assists per game. That’s a ton of production to replace, but it helps to have a pair of senior guards, Turner and Jordan Bowden, leading the way. Bowden averaged 10.6 points and committed only 35 turnovers in 1,002 minutes last season. … The Volunteers will need either junior forward John Fulkerson (3.1 ppg) or junior swingman Yves Pons (2.2 ppg) — or both — to make a jump in the frontcourt. … Freshman guard Josiah-Jordan James is ranked No. 26 in ESPN’s list of the top 100 recruits in 2019.
DEC. 31 — KOHL CENTER
Kevin Baggett is 123-104 in seven seasons at Rider. The Broncs won the MAAC regular-season title in 2017-18 and were the preseason favorite to repeat last season, but they finished in a tie for second at 11-7 and were 16-15 overall.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
Senior guard Stevie Jordan (above), a two-time second-team All-MAAC selection, led the Broncs with 12.6 points, 4.4 assists, 1.9 steals and 32.6 minutes per game as a junior. Jordan shot 37.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Rider is located in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. … The Broncs return their top four scorers from 2018-19. That group includes Jordan, junior forward Frederick Scott (12.1), senior center Tyere Marshall (10.8) and junior swingman Dimencio Vaughn (10.6). Marshall led Rider with 6.6 rebounds per game last season. … Another double-digit scorer from last season, Jordan Allen (10.1), left the program in April. … The Broncs’ average possession lasted 15.6 seconds, which ranked No. 21 in the nation per KenPom. … Rider forced turnovers on 22.3 percent of its defensive possessions, according to KenPom. That ranked No. 13 nationally.
DEC. 7 — KOHL CENTER
MARCH 7 — ASSEMBLY HALL IN BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA
Archie Miller is 35-31 in two seasons at Indiana. The Hoosiers went 19-16 last season, including 8-12 in the Big Ten, and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NIT. They’ve gone three consecutive seasons without reaching the NCAA tournament, matching the program’s longest drought in 47 years.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
Senior guard Devonte Green (above), who averaged 9.4 points last season, is the team’s leading returning scorer. He also had a team-high 3.0 assists per game as a junior. Green averaged 15.4 points over his final seven games, scoring 26 in a loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament. He made eight 3-pointers in that game and finished the season shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc.
Indiana must replace its two leading scorers, Romeo Langford (16.5) and Juwan Morgan (15.5). Morgan also was the team’s leading rebounder at 8.2 per game. … Miller believes one of the team’s strengths is its flexibility at forward, a group that includes junior Justin Smith, sophomore Damezi Anderson and redshirt freshman Jerome Hunter. “We have a big, strong, long group that, in my opinion, has some versatility,” Miller said. “We’ve got to get the most out of it by having them challenge each other every day.” … Freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, a McDonald’s All-American, arrives with monster expectations, just as Langford did a year ago. “There’s a lot around him in terms of accolades and hype,” Miller said. “But right now, he’s been very, very humble in the way that he’s worked (and) in the way that he’s fit in.” … Indiana added Butler graduate transfer Joey Brunk, providing some depth at center alongside senior De’Ron Davis.
31.2 | Indiana’s 3-point percentage in 2018-19. Only Rutgers was worse among Big Ten teams.
DEC. 11 — RUTGERS ATHLETIC CENTER IN PISCATAWAY, NEW JERSEY
FEB. 23 — KOHL CENTER
Steve Pikiell is 44-54 in three seasons at Rutgers. Last season represented somewhat of a breakthrough for the Scarlet Knights, who went 7-13 in the Big Ten after back-to-back 3-15 campaigns. The program is trending up, but there’s still the matter of ending a run of 13 consecutive losing seasons. “We’ve tried to build this in the last three or four years around great character kids that want to work hard and overachieve,” Pikiell said.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
Junior guard Geo Baker (above) has started 60 games during his first two seasons at Rutgers. He averaged 12.2 points and a team leading 4.1 assists last season while finishing fifth in the Big Ten with 1.6 steals per game.
Expectations are higher for Rutgers this season. Imagine the hype if the program’s top player, Eugene Omoruyi, had stayed with the Scarlet Knights rather than moving on to Oregon as a graduate transfer. The loss of Omoruyi, who led the team with 13.8 points and 7.2 rebounds last season, is huge. Among the top returnees other than Baker: sophomore guard Montez Mathis (8.5 ppg), sophomore wing Ron Harper Jr. (7.8), junior guard Peter Kiss (6.0), sophomore guard Caleb McConnell (5.5), sophomore center Myles Johnson (4.8) and senior forward Shaq Carter (4.5). Mamadou Doucoure, who started 29 games as a freshman in 2017-18, also is back after missing most of last season with an injury. … Pikiell also welcomes three newcomers that he believes will give him 11 rotation-worthy players: junior guard Jacob Young, a transfer from Texas who averaged 13.3 points on Rutgers’ offseason trip to Spain; senior forward Akwasi Yeboah, who averaged 16.7 points and 7.7 rebounds last season at Stony Brook; and freshman guard Paul Mulcahy, the first New Jersey male prep player in 26 years to average a triple-double.
63.7 | Rutgers’ free throw percentage last season, which ranked last among Big Ten teams.
NO. 18 OHIO STATE
JAN. 3 — VALUE CITY ARENA IN COLUMBUS, OHIO
FEB. 9 — KOHL CENTER
Chris Holtmann enters his third season at Ohio State with a 45-24 record. The Buckeyes have made it to the NCAA tournament in each of Holtmann’s first two seasons. They went 20-15 last season, including 8-12 in the Big Ten, and won a close game against Iowa State before falling to Houston in the round of 32.
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Junior forward Kaleb Wesson (above) led the Buckeyes with 14.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game last season. Wesson, who was suspended the final three games of the regular season for an unspecified violation of athletic department policy, attempted 177 free throws, making 73.4 percent of them. “His biggest issue, even as good a year as he had last year, was he has to play smarter in terms of his fouls,” Holtmann said. “We’ve got to help him with that as a coaching staff. He’s got to take the next step there, and we’re anxious to see if he will.”
Wesson’s older brother Andre, a senior forward, averaged 8.6 points while starting 34 games last season. … Ohio State landed three top-50 recruits: point guard D.J. Carton, forward E.J. Liddell and forward Alonzo Gaffney. Carton was heavily recruited by UW. He and junior CJ Walker, who started 34 games at Florida State in 2017-18 before transferring, give Holtmann options at the point. “We’ll play those two together, as well,” Holtmann said. “So we don’t always look at it as an either-or situation.” … Other rotation returnees besides the Wesson brothers include sophomore guard Luther Muhammad (7.6), sophomore guard Duane Washington Jr. (7.0), junior forward Kyle Young (6.0), sophomore forward Justin Ahrens (3.2) and junior guard Musa Jallow (2.9).
204 | Combined fouls for Kaleb and Andre Wesson last season.
JAN. 8 — KOHL CENTER
The Fighting Illini are 26-39 in two seasons under Brad Underwood. Illinois went 12-21 last season, including 7-13 in Big Ten play. That was a two-game drop in overall win total but a three-game improvement in conference record. Underwood’s team has the talent to make a huge jump this season and end a string of six consecutive seasons without an NCAA tournament berth, the program’s longest drought since it missed 17 seasons in a row from 1964-80. “I think we have a different swagger,” Underwood said. “I think there’s a different feel about us, just from an experience standpoint.”
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Sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu (above) led the Illini with 13.8 points and 3.3 assists per game as a freshman. He scored at least 20 points seven times, including 24 in an upset win over Michigan State. Underwood said Dosunmu has added some muscle in the offseason.
Junior guard Trent Frazier has made 141 shots from 3-point range during his first two seasons at Illinois. He shot 40.6 percent from beyond the arc last season. … Forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili came out of nowhere last season to average 12.5 points and 5.2 rebounds as a freshman. He scored 35 points in an overtime win over Rutgers. … Illinois averaged 21.2 fouls per game last season, leading to an eye-popping 777 free throw attempts by its opponents. Bezhanishvili averaged 3.8 fouls and fouled out 10 times. … Illinois’ biggest addition in the offseason was 7-foot freshman center Kofi Cockburn, a top-50 recruit. … The Illini have lost 15 consecutive games to UW.
46.3 | Field-goal percentage for Illinois’ opponents last season, which put the Illini last in the Big Ten in that category.
JAN. 11 — BRYCE JORDAN CENTER IN STATE COLLEGE, PENNSYLVANIA
Patrick Chambers enters his ninth season with a 127-140 record and no NCAA tournament appearances with the Nittany Lions. Penn State finished 14-18 last season, including 7-13 in Big Ten play. Chambers believes this will be a breakthrough season for the program but has issued a warning to his players. “We can’t get ahead of ourselves,” he said. “And as long as we stay in the present and we’re mindful and we’re aware and our mantra is just get better every single day, then you’re going to put yourself in that position.”
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One reason for optimism in State College is the return of senior forward Lamar Stevens (above), who flirted with leaving for the NBA. Stevens led Penn State with 19.9 points and 7.7 rebounds last season to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors. Chambers praised Stevens and his family for the decision to come back. “It’s powerful,” Chambers said. “That’s a leader. That’s a pioneer. It’s an outlier. And for Penn State, we need guys like that.”
Penn State’s most significant loss was guard Josh Reaves, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year last season. Another notable departure was point guard Rasir Bolton, who transferred to Iowa State after starting nine games as a true freshman in 2018-19. Bolton (11.6) was second on the team in scoring. … Chambers believes sophomore guard Myles Dread is ready to make a jump this season. The coaching staff also is hoping for a big final season from senior center Mike Watkins (7.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg), who has dealt with injuries and off-the-court issues during his career. … Penn State added graduate transfer Curtis Jones Jr., a senior guard. Jones began his career at Indiana before transferring to Oklahoma State, where he averaged 8.1 points last season.
1,660 | Career points for Stevens, who needs 554 to pass Talor Battle as Penn State’s all-time leader in that category.
NO. 7 MARYLAND
JAN. 14 — KOHL CENTER
Mark Turgeon is 180-92 in eight seasons at Maryland. The Terrapins went 23-11 last season, including 13-7 in the Big Ten, with the fifth-youngest roster in the nation. They played two 2-point games in the NCAA tournament, beating Belmont in the opening round before falling to LSU.
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Senior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. (above) led the Terrapins with 15.6 points and 4.4 assists per game last season. Cowan has started all 99 games in his career. “Anthony had a terrific summer,” Turgeon said. “Going into his senior year, he made the decision he wanted to come back to Maryland and make an impact and have a legacy, so he has a chance to do a lot of things. He’s scored a lot of points, he has a lot of assists, he has a lot of steals, but he wants to win at a high level.”
Maryland is picked to finish second in the Big Ten despite losing Bruno Fernando, who averaged 13.6 points and 10.6 rebounds as a sophomore, to the NBA. Everybody else from the Terps’ rotation is back, including Jalen Smith. The sophomore forward added 35 pounds since last season, when he averaged 11.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Also back: sophomore guard Eric Ayala (8.6), junior guard Daryl Morsell (8.5) and sophomore forward Anthony Wiggins (8.3). “We’re all embracing it,” Turgeon said of the high expectations. “We want more, and we want to be great.” … A pair of newcomers — 7-2 center Chol Marial and forward Makhi Mitchell — are top-100 recruits. Marial will miss the start of the season after having surgery to repair stress fractures in both legs.
59-33 | Maryland’s record in Big Ten regular-season play since joining the Big Ten in 2014, a .720 winning percentage.
NO. 1 MICHIGAN STATE
JAN. 17 — BRESLIN CENTER IN EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN
FEB. 1 — KOHL CENTER
Tom Izzo is 606-232 in 24 seasons at Michigan State. The trip to the Final Four last season was the Spartans’ eighth under Izzo. They’re 32-6 in the Big Ten over the past two seasons, with an outright title in 2017-18 and a share of the crown with Purdue last season. Now, with a load of experience returning, Michigan State enters this season as the team to beat both in the Big Ten and nationally.
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Senior point guard Cassius Winston (above) was fourth in the conference in scoring (18.8) and first in assists (7.5) en route to being named Big Ten Player of the Year last season. A first-team All-American, Winston shot 39.8 percent from 3-point range and 84.0 percent from the free throw line. “People are going to guard him different,” Izzo said, “and we’re going to have to be ready for that.”
Michigan State must replace three players — forwards Nick Ward and Kenny Goins, and guard Matt McQuaid — who combined for 30.6 points and 18.0 rebounds while helping the Spartans go 32-7 overall and 16-4 in the Big Ten. … Senior guard Joshua Langford (15.0 ppg) was limited to 13 games last season due to an ankle injury. Langford had returned to practice and Izzo was optimistic he’d return to his old self, but Langford sustained an injury in the same left foot and is out indefinitely. … Junior forward Xavier Tillman made a jump last season, averaging 10.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. … The next breakout candidate could be forward Aaron Henry, who averaged 6.1 points and 3.8 rebounds as a freshman. … The Spartans’ freshman class includes two top-100 prospects, point guard Rocket Watts Jr. and forward Malik Hall.
1 | Michigan State’s Big Ten ranking in field goal percentage (48.0), 3-point field goal percentage (37.8) and free throw percentage (75.3) last season.
JAN. 21 — KOHL CENTER
FEB. 15 — PINNACLE BANK ARENA IN LINCOLN, NEBRASKA
Fred Hoiberg takes over for Tim Miles, who went 116-114 in seven seasons with the Cornhuskers. Hoiberg inherits a program that has never won a game in the NCAA tournament. Hoiberg was born in Lincoln and his grandfather, Jerry Bush, coached the Huskers for nine seasons from 1953-63. After a successful run at his alma mater, Iowa State, where he went 115-56 in five seasons, Hoiberg returned to the NBA. He spent three-plus seasons with the Chicago Bulls before being fired last December. “I’m looking forward to getting back on the sidelines,” Hoiberg said. “I’d had enough of waking up and drinking coffee and watching game shows and doing puzzles.”
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Junior guard Dachon Burke Jr. (above) sat out last season after transferring from Robert Morris. He averaged 17.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.1 steals per game to earn second-team All-Northeast Conference recognition as a sophomore.
Fourteen of the 16 players on Nebraska’s roster are new to the program. The only holdovers are Thorir Thorbjarnarson, who played 307 minutes last season, and Burke. Among the newcomers: senior guard Haanif Cheatham, who started 65 games over two seasons at Marquette before landing at Florida Gulf Coast, where he averaged 13.2 points last season; sophomore guard Cam Mack, who began his career at Stephen F. Austin and averaged 19.1 points and 7.6 assists per game last season at Salt Lake Community College; and junior guard Jervay Green, who began his career at George Washington and averaged 23.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game last season at Western Nebraska Community College. “I do like this group,” Hoiberg said. “I hope we go out and play with a chip on our shoulder every time we step on the floor.” … Hoiberg’s staff includes former Nebraska coach Doc Sadler.
7 | Freshmen on Nebraska’s roster.
NO. 23 PURDUE
JAN. 24 — MACKEY ARENA IN WEST LAFAYETTE, INDIANA
FEB. 18 — KOHL CENTER
Matt Painter begins his 15th season in charge of the Boilermakers. He’s 321-159 at Purdue and has a .762 winning percentage (109-34) over the past four seasons. Painter and Co. won a share of the Big Ten regular-season crown last season and nearly advanced to the Final Four, dropping a heartbreaker in overtime to eventual champion Virginia in the Elite Eight.
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Junior guard Nojel Eastern (above) averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds last season and was named to the Big Ten All-Defensive Team. Eastern posted a team-high four double-doubles. “Nojel Eastern has a lot of experience, a guy who’s really helped us win games,” Painter said.
Painter understands the biggest issue facing his 2019-20 team: “I think we have to be different when it comes to scoring the basketball,” he said. That’s because the Boilermakers have to replace three players who combined to make 281 shots from 3-point range last season. The biggest loss is guard Carsen Edwards, who led the Big Ten with 24.3 points per game. Ryan Cline averaged 12.0 points and shot 41.7 percent from beyond the arc, while Grady Eifert shot 43.8 percent on 3s and grabbed 5.5 rebounds per game. Eastern and 7-3 junior center Matt Haarms (9.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg) aren’t big scorers, but they’ll be counted on a little more on offense than in the past. The key for Purdue will be how much development is shown from a group of sophomores that includes Trevion Williams (5.2 ppg), Aaron Wheeler (4.7), Sasha Stefanovic (2.5) and Eric Hunter Jr. (2.2). … He’s no Edwards, but Purdue graduate transfer guard Jahaad Proctor averaged 19.3 points last season at High Point.
4 | Purdue’s national rank in the KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency rating in 2019-20.
JAN. 27 — CARVER-HAWKEYE ARENA IN IOWA CITY
Fran McCaffery is 174-132 in nine seasons at Iowa. After going back-to-back seasons without making it to the NCAA tournament, the Hawkeyes returned last season while finishing 23-12 overall and 10-10 in Big Ten play. Iowa beat Cincinnati in the first round before falling to Tennessee in overtime.
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Sophomore guard Joe Wieskamp (above) averaged 11.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game while being named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team last season. Wieskamp shot 42.4 percent from 3-point range while starting all 35 games. “He wants to be more vocal,” McCaffery said. “He’s always led by example with his work ethic and his productivity, but he has to understand that he has a voice that in the locker room, at crunch time, people are going to listen.”
Iowa must replace three — and possibly four — of its top six scorers from a year ago. Forward Tyler Cook, who led the Hawkeyes with 14.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, declared for the NBA draft with a season of eligibility remaining. Guard Isaiah Moss departed as a graduate transfer. Meanwhile, senior guard Jordan Bohannon is out indefinitely with a hip injury. It appeared in the spring as though Bohannon would sit out this season as a graduate transfer, but he made significant progress over the summer and may decide to play. … Junior center Luka Garza shot 29.2 percent from 3-point range last season and 60.8 percent from inside the arc. … True freshmen Joe Toussaint and Patrick McCaffery, along with redshirt freshman C.J. Fredrick, could work their way into the rotation. McCaffery, the son of the coach and younger brother of sophomore guard Connor McCaffery, is a top-100 recruit.
111 | Iowa’s national rank in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rating. That ranked last among Big Ten teams.
FEB. 5 — WILLIAMS ARENA IN MINNEAPOLIS
MARCH 1 — KOHL CENTER
The Golden Gophers are 112-92 in six seasons under Richard Pitino. Last season represented a breakthrough of sorts for Pitino, who led Minnesota to its first NCAA tournament victory in six years. The Gophers, who finished 22-14 overall and 9-11 in the Big Ten, beat Louisville in the opening round before getting blown out by Michigan State. Pitino had to hit the reset button in the offseason after losing the team’s two best players, Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy. “We lost a lot, but that doesn’t mean that we have to take a step back,” Pitino said.
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Sophomore center Daniel Oturu (above) averaged 10.8 points and 7.0 rebounds last season. He recorded seven double-doubles, including a 12-point, 11-rebound effort in a loss to UW.
How much production is there to replace? Coffey led the team with 16.6 points 3.2 assists per game, while Murphy averaged 14.4 points and 11.0 rebounds and is No. 2 all-time in the Big Ten in the latter category. Joining Oturu in a super sophomore class is guard Gabe Kalscheur, who averaged 10 points and shot 41 percent from 3-point range last season. … Junior forward Eric Curry will miss the season after injuring his right knee during a preseason practice. Curry missed a total of 53 games over the previous two seasons with injuries to his other knee. … Pitino will rely heavily on three transfers, including a pair of guards who sat out last season: sophomore Marcus Carr, who averaged 10.0 points and a team-leading 4.0 assists in 32 games (27 starts) at Pittsburgh in 2017-18; and junior Payton Willis, who started 16 games over two seasons at Vanderbilt, averaging a little over 5 points per game. Meanwhile, Minnesota added graduate transfer Alihan Demir, a forward who averaged 14.8 points and 6.4 rebounds at Drexel last season.
21 | Consecutive seasons in which Minnesota has finished below UW in the Big Ten standings.
FEB. 27 — CRISLER CENTER IN ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN
After John Beilein shocked the basketball world, resigning in mid-May to coach the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, Michigan turned to its past. Juwan Howard, who was a member of the “Fab Five” teams that went to back-to-back national title games in ’92 and ’93, called being hired by the Wolverines “a dream come true for me.” Beilein went 278-150 in 12 seasons, leading Michigan to a pair of Final Four appearances. “I do respect the gentleman who was there before me,” Howard said.
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Senior point guard Zavier Simpson (above) averaged 8.8 points and 6.6 assists last season, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors and being named to the conference’s All-Defensive Team. “Now having an opportunity to coach him, I see why he’s been so special,” Howard said, “because he’s a great person, an excellent leader and a hard worker.”
Michigan’s top three scorers from last season — Ignas Brazdeikis (14.8), Jordan Poole (12.8) and Charles Matthews (12.2) — all left with eligibility remaining. Howard knows what he has in Simpson and senior center Jon Teske (9.5 points, 7.0 rebounds), but the Wolverines need junior forward Isaiah Livers (7.9 ppg) to make a jump. Another player to keep an eye on is Franz Wagner, a 6-8 swingman from Germany and the younger brother of former Michigan standout Mo Wagner. … After Beilein left, assistant coach Luke Yaklich departed to join Shaka Smart’s staff at Texas. Yaklich played a major role in Michigan finishing No. 3 in 2017-18 and No. 2 last season in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rating. … Former Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli was among the hires by Howard for his staff.
5 | Michigan’s national rank in turnover percentage in 2018-19. Only Saint Joseph’s, Nebraska-Omaha, Hofstra and Notre Dame were better in that category.
MARCH 4 — KOHL CENTER
Northwestern is 101-96 in six seasons under Chris Collins. Since making it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history in 2016-17, the Wildcats have gone 10-28 in Big Ten play. They were 4-16 in the conference and 13-19 overall last season. A 10-game losing streak late in the season included a pair of defeats against UW.
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Senior forward A.J. Turner (above) is the Wildcats’ leading scorer at 8.7 points per game. Turner, who began his career at Boston College, scored 24 points in a win over DePaul and 20 in an overtime loss to Illinois in the Big Ten tournament.
Northwestern’s top three scorers last season — Vic Law, Dererk Pardon and Ryan Taylor — were seniors. Plus, three other players left the program with eligibility remaining. That leaves Collins with a green roster that includes eight freshmen and sophomores. He compared it to the early stages of the rebuild that included Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, Law and Pardon. “I feel good about our young talent,” Collins said. “I feel like we’re on the right track towards our future. But obviously I understand from afar where expectations can be because you look on paper and there’s a lot of unknowns when you look at our roster.” Turner and junior guard Anthony Gaines will be counted on to provide leadership. Northwestern also needs big jumps out of sophomores Miller Kopp, Pete Nance and Ryan Greer. … Freshman forward Robbie Beran was a top-100 recruit who also considered the Badgers. … Graduate transfer Pat Spencer, a senior guard, was a four-time All-American in lacrosse at Loyola (Md.).
204 | Northwestern’s national rank in the KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency ratings last season. The Wildcats were No. 19 in defensive efficiency.
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