Week 3 was what conference play is all about. It had just about everything. Our top team in the power rankings lost twice, including once to our number two team by 17 at home. And let’s not go blaming the rankings because Michigan State was favored by nearly double digits to beat Iowa. Northwestern did exactly what we’ve come to expect every year for Northwestern to do. Wisconsin beat a superior opponent in the Kohl Center, another time-honored tradition. Nebrasketball has had a (mini) resurgence. Oh, and Rutgers lost by 50 at home.
I mentioned last week that there were going to be great opportunities for middle-tier teams to get the upset over top-tier foes. It happened. I already mentioned Wisconsin taking down Michigan State. Michigan also took advantage of one of their two opportunities and slayed preseason Goliath, Maryland, at home without the benefits of Caris LeVert’s talents being on the floor.
As much as I enjoyed the week that was, it made me realize that I don’t have any clue how to rank these teams at the moment. I continue to struggle with where to place Indiana. Michigan State’s recent week has put my brain into a pretzel. And teams like Nebraska, Ohio State, Northwestern, Penn State, and Illinois have been all over the map with their play this year.
So with that said, I will not be ranking the teams this week and there’s no real telling when anything will become clearer. Instead I’m just going to categorize each team by how hot or cold they are. There’s only four categories. Three normal categories and one exclusively for Rutgers because I feel it’s my duty to single them out for just how absolutely putrid they are. I don’t do it to insult the players on the team because they’re kids and I know from experience how much time and effort they’ve put in. I do it for Rutgers’ embarrassing administration and for Eddie Jordan because your best win in a year coaching a Big Ten basketball program can’t be a toss-up between Howard and Fairleigh Dickinson.
Anyway, let’s recap the stars from last week and look ahead to the best games this week.
Stars of the Past Week:
Dom Uhl, Iowa – averaged 10 points off the bench in wins over Michigan State and Michigan
Zak Irvin, Michigan – 22 points in win over Maryland
Robert Carter and Rasheed Sulaimon, Maryland – combined for 47 points on 19-23 shooting, including 8-9 from three, in win over Ohio State
Vince Edwards, Purdue – averaged 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in wins over Penn State and Rutgers
Andrew White and Shavon Shields, Nebraska – combined to averaged 37 points and 17 rebounds in wins over Minnesota and Illinois
Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin – combined for 52 points in win over Michigan State
Five Best Games to Watch This Week:
Nebraska at Michigan State – Wednesday, 6:30 pm EST, BTN
Ohio State at Purdue – Thursday, 9:00 pm EST, ESPN
Michigan at Nebraska – Saturday, 2:00 pm EST, ESPN2
Maryland at Michigan State – Saturday, 6:30 pm EST, ESPN
Purdue at Iowa – Sunday, 1:00 pm EST, BTN
I’ve been one of the Hawkeyes’ biggest supporters all year, but even I didn’t truly believe that they could win the conference. Anyone would truly be stupid to not believe it now. That’s not to say that they’re a lock to win it, but they’ve played the toughest conference schedule of anyone and they’re one of two teams that remain undefeated.
What continues to amaze me about Iowa is that they seem to get deeper as the season goes on. Nicolas Baer had his real coming out party in a close win over Drake and has continued to contribute in a variety of ways. The new Hawkeye du jour is Dom Uhl. Uhl had spent most of his time in Iowa City playing minimal minutes in big games and only getting his numbers against the Alcorn and Coppin States of the college basketball universe. But Dom has seen an uptick in play in these massive Big Ten games, getting 19.4 minutes per game and taking advantage with 8.6 points per game, including 10 points in each of the past three games. He’s just another long, lanky defender for Iowa that’s hitting 54% of his three-point attempts.
Needless to say, it was another incredible week for Iowa. It wasn’t just that they won so big in the Breslin Center, but it was how bewildered they made a Tom Izzo-coached team look. They stepped on the Spartans throat from the jump and never let off. And, once again, they showed their maturity by taking care of a potentially lethal Michigan team at home three days later.
This week: Rutgers on the road and Purdue at home
The Hoosiers got a win at Minnesota in their only game this week. Coaches will tell you how difficult it is to win on the road, so I’m sure Tom Crean will take a pretty ugly victory over the Gophers. The Hoosiers are still tied atop the standings with Iowa, but they still have yet to play anywhere close to a marquee game. They’ve played the worst conference schedule so far, statistically. Let’s breakdown their five wins so far.
- 7-point road win over Rutgers – Rutgers has played two other home games against Nebraska and Purdue and lost by a combined 84 (!!!) points
- 10-point road win over Nebraska – the Huskers have played better the past week and a half, but they had also lost at home to Northwestern and Samford in the couple of weeks leading up to their game with IU
- 1-point home win over Wisconsin – Wisconsin is 10-9 and IU was favored to win by 8
- 25-point home win over Ohio State – This was Indiana’s best game of conference play and it’s hard to take anything away from it, but OSU is an immature team that lost by even more to Maryland the next week
- 7-point road win over Minnesota – Northwestern, Michigan State, Milwaukee, and South Dakota State all had more convincing wins over the Gophers in the Barn
If you want to call me a hater or accuse me of raining on IU’s parade, fine. I’m just pointing out facts and I’ve got more. From a Vegas perspective, IU is 5-0 straight up, but they’re only 2-3 against the spread. From a metrics perspective, IU came into Big Ten play ranked 21st in KenPom’s rankings. After five wins, they’ve DROPPED five spots. Look around at bracket projections and you’ll find a lot of 7, 8, and 9s next to Indiana’s name. Once again, they’ve played the weakest schedule in Big Ten play so far. And once again, this week will do nothing to change that. They’re a good team, but they’re still probably the fifth best team in the league.
This week: Illinois and Northwestern at home
The Huskers are definitely not a contender and unlikely to be in any bracket conversations, but they are on a three-game win streak. They blew out Rutgers and Minnesota and won rather convincingly over Illinois in the State Farm Center. I said recently that the Huskers weren’t capable of winning a game of any importance – like, say, at Illinois – unless Shields and White both had good days along with a major contribution from one of their (too) many role players. Against the Illini, Shields and White combined for 35 points and 19 rebounds and Glynn Watson and Tai Webster combined for 33 points of their own.
We’ll see if the role players can continue to step up for Nebraska. It can’t be a game-to-game thing if they want to make any noise in the next couple of months. These next two weeks will show a lot. They’ve played really well against three teams that aren’t going to be dancing in March. If they can continue that level of play, they can flip the script on their whole season. I’m intrigued.
This week: at Michigan State and home against Michigan
Maryland actually has been pretty similar so far to Indiana. They’ve won rather unimpressively against inferior opponents, besides beating the pulp out of Ohio State. They’ve played four teams in KenPom’s top 50 all year and they’re 2-2 in those games. There hasn’t been one time this year where I felt like the Terps were near the level they were made out to be in the preseason. They’ll have opportunities to prove how good they truly are soon.
This week: Northwestern at home and Michigan State on the road
The Boilers took care of Penn State at home in a bit of a snoozer and then blasted Rutgers by 50. I wrote last week that those two games along with Ohio State at home would be a good stretch for them to get their swagger back, in a sense. That’s basically Rutgers’ main role in this league.
I think their game on Sunday at Iowa will show a lot about this team. They’ve already lost twice in a league they were supposed to contend for and Iowa was one of those losses. Not only was it a loss, but they went into your building on a night Purdue’s biggest basketball (playing) legend was being honored and erased a 17-point halftime deficit and won. How do you respond?
This week: Ohio State at home and Iowa on the road
I don’t think Michigan is one of the five best teams in the conference, but they’re right at the top along with Indiana in terms of watchability. They shoot a ton of threes (they get 42.3% of their points from outside, 3rd most in the country) and guarding opponents always seems kind of optional for this group.
With that said, they decided to defend Melo Trimble and they completely took him out of the game. He was an absolute non-factor and it allowed the Wolverines to pull out a big-time victory. They followed it up by allowing Iowa to shoot 51%, though, and they only caused four turnovers. You never quite know what you’re going to get with Michigan and that’s what will make them so unpredictable in March. They could beat a top team, but they could also lose to a double-digit seed.
This week: home for Minnesota and on the road for Nebraska
The Badgers finally broke through with a big victory over Michigan State, a few days after losing to Northwestern. It helped that they shot a ton of free throws against the Spartans (TV Teddy was working), but to their credit they made 80% of their 36 attempts. Koenig and Hayes made a ton of shots, which is a necessity if this team is going to have any type of success the rest of this season. The Badgers settle for fadeaways and contested jump shots with the absolute best of ’em.
Interesting stat time: take away their blowout over Rutgers (not a real B1G team) and the Badgers five other league games have been decided by a grand total of 16 points, or just around three per game. Unfortunately for them, they’ve been on the wrong side of four of those. It will be interesting to keep an eye on them over the next couple of weeks because they’ve got a great opportunity to rattle off a few wins in a row.
This week: Penn State on the road
The Nittany Lions gave a big blow to Northwestern’s tournament chances this week, grabbing a commanding victory in Welsh-Ryan Arena behind Brandon Taylor’s 19 points. Taylor isn’t quite as talented as Talor Battle, Tim Frazier, or D.J. Newbill, but he’s taken over their role of trying to carry Lion teams to Big Ten wins. “Trying” is the key term there. Shep Garner contributes quite a bit of scoring, but he does it rather inefficiently. I’m not sure who informed Payton Banks that it’s a good idea for him to put up 3-4 shots from deep a game, but someone should tell him to quit that practice. I guess what I’m getting at is Taylor is an enjoyable player to watch and I wish he could’ve experienced more success over his career.
This week: Wisconsin at home and Ohio State on the road
I should probably address my projection last week that Michigan State would win the league by two games. I’ll admit that I don’t feel quite as good about it at this juncture. If they do win the conference at this point, it’ll probably be shared. However, if Vegas put a line out on every game left on their schedule right now, they’d probably only be the underdog in one of them: on the road against Purdue.
The loss to Iowa was certainly decisive, but as I’ve tried to reiterate every week: every team will have bad nights and they will lose. Also, Iowa’s just a better team right now. I’m not really convinced that the Spartans played all that poorly against Wisconsin. Hayes and Koenig made a ton on jump shots and the Badgers made 13 more free throws than State attempted. It was Denzel Valentine’s third game back and the first one he started to look like himself. Not to mention, Tum Tum Nairn didn’t play. Don’t expect the Spartans to be down for long.
This week: Nebraska and Maryland at home
I recently suggested that Ohio State would be the annual middling B1G team to catapult itself near the top of the class. It’s not totally dead yet, but I can guarantee it will never happen if they continue this trend of getting massacred on the road against good teams. The good news for the Buckeyes is that as bad as they’ve been against Indiana and Maryland, it still just counts as two losses.
This week: at Purdue and home against Penn State
Good Northwestern: they rode Bryant McIntosh’s 28 points on the way to a 70-65 victory over Wisconsin.
Bad Northwestern: they rode a 3-26 three-point shooting output on the way to a 71-62 defeat to Penn State at home just four days later.
Come Selection Sunday, that’ll be in the “bad loss” category for the Wildcats. Northwestern doesn’t have an opportunity to get a marquee victory at home. They’ll have several opportunities to do that away from Evanston, but their recent play doesn’t show many signs of that actually happening. However, they did have big man Alex Olah return against the Nittany Lions. He only played seven minutes in his first game back and they’ll need him to contribute much more if they want to get that elusive NCAA bid.
This week: Maryland and Indiana on the road
The week of rest proved to not be beneficial to the Illini. They lost at home to Nebraska and the game never really seemed to be in doubt in the second half. What did I gather from that game? It’s not a great strategy long-term to take 15 more 3FG than 2FG, especially if you’re going to make less than 30% of those three-point attempts.
This week: Indiana and Minnesota on the road
I don’t have much to say about the Gophers. They aren’t good and they aren’t particularly fun to watch.
This week: Michigan on the road and Illinois at home
Worst Team In The Big Ten Ever
It angers me to watch them play. They’ve lost their six conference games by an average of 27.3 points. Can we just make them, Boston College, and St. John’s play each other for the rest of the year? They all have zero business playing in their conferences.
This week: Iowa will beat them by 30 in Piscataway