The big news of this week is that both undefeated teams – Iowa and Indiana – lost close games on the road. This wasn’t all that surprising. Maybe the most surprising news of the week was Minnesota giving two of the top teams in the league a run for their money. A loss for Purdue or Indiana to the Gophers would’ve been a major eye sore on their respective tournament resumes, but ultimately it was just a minor scare that will be forgotten when the committee makes their final decisions on March 13.
That’s the thing about these games: it doesn’t really matter how well you play, it just matters whether it’s a W or L on your schedule. “Survive and advance” is a common phrase thrown around the first four days of the tournament, but that applies right now as well.
Both Purdue and IU were essentially in a toss-up late in the game against Minnesota – #209 in the RPI – and if they were to lose that game it would’ve been a major mark against them and enough to knock them down at least one seed line. If a bubble team were to lose that game, it might be enough to keep them out of the tournament entirely. But one or two plays went the way of the two teams from the state of Indiana and just like that the games were essentially meaningless in the grand scheme.
And maybe some people are under the impression that one seed line isn’t that big of a deal. But right now Indiana is looking at a likely 7 seed. Losing to Minnesota would’ve dropped them to an 8 or 9 seed, which means if they advance to the next round they’d be playing a top seed. That could be the difference between playing Oklahoma or Texas A&M in the second round. Winners of the 7/10 game win about 17% more of the time in the second round than the winner of the 8/9 game.
Now, with that said, there’s still a month and a half left for teams to change their resume. Both Purdue and Indiana have the toughest stretches of their season ahead of them, as does most of the top half of the league. There’s a lot to be decided.
We’re now at the halfway mark of the Big Ten season, which is a good time to check in on the postseason awards.
Player of the Year
Leader: Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa
Contenders: Yogi Ferrell, Indiana; Denzel Valentine, Michigan State; A.J. Hammons, Purdue
Probably the biggest surprise here for most is that there aren’t any Maryland players on here, but that mainly speaks to how balanced they are as a team. Melo Trimble is the name, but Diamond Stone is leading them in scoring in conference play even though he takes four fewer shots per game. Stone is the best big man on the team, but Robert Carter leads the team in rebounding and he only has two fewer blocks than Stone. They’re likely to kind of all cancel each other out when it comes to the voting, so don’t take that as a knock.
To me, Uthoff is the clear leader. He leads the conference in scoring and he’s on the best team. He hits big shots when it counts and every opponent’s defensive strategy is focused on stopping him. An underrated part of his game is how frequently he’s blocking shots. He’s second in the league in block percentage, only coming in behind A.J. Hammons.
Valentine might be hurt by the fact he missed the first three conference games of the season and his team hasn’t met the expectations placed upon them heading into league play. However, no other player is depended upon as much as him on both ends of the floor by his team.
Ferrell is the most dangerous player in the league and he leads the conference in win shares. Not only is he an incredible shooter, but he’s fourth in the B1G in assists and he became the all-time leader at IU in that category recently. While he’s never going to be confused as an outstanding defender, he’s greatly improved in that area over his four years.
Hammons has never been a model of consistency, but when he’s engaged he’s capable of carrying Purdue to wins in the league virtually by himself. Look no further than this past Saturday when he scored 32 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, dished out 5 assists, and blocked 4 shots for good measure. Everything Nebraska did was predicated around Hammons. If Purdue wins some of these big games in the second half of the season, A.J.’s chances of winning the top honor will greatly improve.
Defensive Player of the Year
Leader: Hammons, Purdue
Contenders: Matt Costello, Michigan State; Carter, Maryland; Valentine, Michigan State; Jae’Sean Tate, Ohio State; Ethan Happ, Wisconsin; Raphael Davis, Purdue
This is one of the most difficult awards to figure out. The media doesn’t actually officially vote on this award, it’s strictly a coaches award. And I think that’s for the best because most people spectating a game typically don’t even pay much attention the defenders. The reason DPOTY typically is given to big men by the media is that big men block a lot of shots and that’s a tangible number we can all see. Advanced statistics do allow for a bit of a better understanding these days.
With all that said, I’m going with the big guy who blocks the highest percentage of shots. In my defense (pun intended), Hammons was voted by the coaches as a first-team all defense player the previous two years. Last year many thought he was a favorite to win the DPOTY only to be beaten out by his teammate, Davis. While Davis still guards the best guard on every other team, Hammons holds the Boiler defense together, in my opinion. Not only does he block shots, but he alters so many others. On the team most reliant on their defensive performance, he’s the only player on Purdue who has a defensive rating under 100 in conference play.
Everyone else on the list are good defenders, but I’m gonna try not to ramble because defense tends to bore people. I do want to give a shoutout to Matt Costello, though. Costello is a four-year guy in a successful program that’s always been overshadowed by his more talented teammates that do all of that fancy stuff like scoring. But he’s as important defensively to his team as anyone else in the league and he’s been the best rebounder.
What I like most about him is how well he plays against talented big guys. Costello seems to relish the opportunity and it’s shown. He’s registered three blocks each against Maryland, Florida, and Louisville this year. Last year, he held A.J. Hammons to 3-12 shooting and blocked four shots when they hosted Purdue. All four of those teams relied on their talented players in the inside to score and Costello gave an incredible effort to slow all of them down. Not surprisingly, his team won all four of those games. If Hammons doesn’t win the award, my vote’s for Costello.
Sixth Man of the Year
Leader: Stone, Maryland
Contenders: Aubrey Dawkins, Michigan; Dom Uhl, Iowa; Isaac Haas, Purdue; Dererk Pardon, Northwestern; Max Bielfeldt, Indiana; Kam Williams, Ohio State
I’m not going to bother with facts, but I’m pretty sure you can’t start more than half your team’s conference games to win the award. That’s the only way Stone loses this because he’s started…starting games for Maryland lately.
If Stone does end up starting the rest of the way, I think the race is pretty wide open. Awards tend to go to players on the best teams, so that diminishes the chances for Williams and Pardon.
Haas is only playing 12.5 minutes per game since league play started. He’s productive in the amount of time he’s given, but Uhl, Bielfeldt, and Dawkins have more consistent impacts on every game.
Personally, I’d vote for Uhl, but I wouldn’t really have any major issue if Bielfeldt or Dawkins won. Of course, all of this is working under the assumption that Stone will start more games than he comes off the bench and I’m actually correct about the rules. If he’s eligible, he wins.
Freshman of the Year
Leader: Stone, Maryland
Contenders: Thomas Bryant, Indiana; Caleb Swanigan, Purdue; Deyonta Davis, Michigan State; JaQuan Lyle, Ohio State; Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
The truth of the matter is it’s probably a two man race between Stone and Bryant. Although, I’d say Ethan Happ should be right up there with both of them. He’s started to get more shots in conference play, while Bronson Koenig’s have diminished. A suggestion I made back when Bo Ryan was the coach, by the way. Happ’s progress has gone along with Wisconsin’s progress as a team.
But Stone and Bryant are the young, talented bigs on two of the best teams in the league. They’ve got the numbers and hype to match it, so I’d be surprised if one of them didn’t win it.
Swanigan is right up there with Costello in rebounding and might actually have better numbers if Hammons wasn’t there to swallow up so many himself. He’s a skilled offensive player who seems to still be adjusting to the quickness and instincts of college defenders.
Davis has gotten the freshman treatment that Tom Izzo seems to give to his rookies. He’s an efficient offensive player, a great shot blocker, and a very good rebounder. Davis doesn’t have much of the offense run through him with the talent the Spartans have at the guard position. I’m intrigued to see what he does next year when Valentine and Forbes have moved on.
Lyle tends to dominate the ball for Ohio State and he has similar issues that a lot of young point guards have: turnovers and inefficient shooting. He has a smoothness to his game that you can’t teach, but he’ll have to learn to make better decisions with the basketball if he wants be a great point guard. He’s surrounded by young teammates who all have their struggles though and they’ll be an exciting team to watch grow in the next couple of years.
I’d also like to point out some of the other freshmen in the league that will be around the next few years. Their teams aren’t as good, but they have just as much promise as some of these other guys.
Pardon and Aaron Falzon have both shown flashes for Northwestern and will make a great core with Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, and Vic Law for the next couple years.
Glynn Watson has shown a lot of progress and moved into the starting lineup at point guard for Nebraska.
Jalen Coleman-Lands will be a good player for Illinois once he stops settling for three-point shots so often.
Kevin Dorsey hasn’t been a consistent contributor for Minnesota, but he just showed what he was capable over the weekend when he shredded Indiana’s defense for 21 points. He’s so quick and shifty that he’ll be a real problem for every Big Ten defense in the future. And he’s the second best freshman on his team behind Jordan Murphy.
And finally, I feel sorry for Corey Sanders. Why? He has to play point guard for Rutgers and he’s actually a good player. Of course he knew what he was getting into and I’m sure playing time was a big selling point, but he plays hard and often plays well only to be let down by his supporting cast.
Coach of the Year
Leader: Fran McCaffery, Iowa
Contenders: Tom Crean, Indiana; John Beilein, Michigan; Mark Turgeon, Maryland; Matt Painter, Purdue; Tom Izzo; Michigan State
If Iowa wins the league, McCaffery is going to sweep the award. The winning coach’s team isn’t always the winner of the league, but it almost always is if you weren’t expected to win the league. He still might win if they finish second.
Tom Crean is often a punching bag for certain members of the media, a lot of Indiana fans, and fans of every other program. And we’ll see if it continues as Indiana’s schedule gets tougher, but the defense for this team has improved dramatically and Crean deserves credit.
I really think it would be one of those two at the moment, but there’s a lot left to be decided. Beilein has done a great job of surviving without Caris LeVert, although the wheels have started to wobble a bit lately. Turgeon won the media award last year, but I doubt people will be quite as generous this time around with the expectations placed on his team going into this year.
Painter would have been the co-leader for this award with Izzo had I written this after non-conference play. Purdue is still winning a lot of games, but they haven’t been as impressive doing so. Getting a re-do on that second half when they hosted Iowa in Mackey would go a long way.
Tom Izzo: 7 Big Ten regular season championships, 7 Final Four appearances…only 3 Big Ten COTY awards. I’m guessing he’s okay with that stat.
I’m not going to put together the teams at this moment because that’s the messiest to figure out of all of them and I’m tired of writing and I haven’t even gotten to the rankings yet. I’m thinking for the end of the year, I’m going to give out the least valuable of all these awards for fun as well. It’s not fun for the recipients, but they’ll never read it anyway. The biggest race of all will certainly be Worst Coach of the Year between Eddie Jordan and Richard Pitino. Pitino just fell behind because he only lost his two games this week by a combined ten points.
Stars of the Past Week:
Robert Carter, Maryland – 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists in win over Iowa
Jake Layman, Maryland – 16 points and 10 rebounds in win over Ohio State
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin – averaged 24 points in wins over Indiana and Illinois
Thomas Bryant, Indiana – averaged 19.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in two games this week
A.J. Hammons, Purdue – averaged 24 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks in wins over Minnesota and Nebraska
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State – averaged 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 6.5 assists in wins over Northwestern and Rutgers
Five Best Games to Watch This Week:
Indiana at Michigan – Tuesday, 9:00 pm EST, ESPN
Maryland at Nebraska – Wednesday, 8:30 pm EST, BTN
Ohio State at Wisconsin – Thursday, 7:00 pm EST, ESPN
Michigan State at Michigan – Saturday, 2:00 pm EST, CBS
Purdue at Maryland – Saturday, 4:00 pm EST, ESPN
It’s been three weeks since the rankings, so the previous rankings were right after Purdue had lost to Illinois, but had also just crushed Michigan. It was before Iowa beat Michigan State for a second time and Maryland lost at Michigan. It was also in the time when IU hadn’t played any of the top six teams…which still hasn’t happened. I’ve decided to include the Bracket Matrix seedings that I used last week and the RPI rankings.
Tier 1: Tourney Locks (if Selection Sunday was today)
1. Iowa (Previous: 2; BracketMatrix: 2; RPI: 7; KenPom: 2; Sagarin: 5)
The Hawkeyes suffered their first loss at Maryland, but it wasn’t any real cause for panic nor did it raise any question of their abilities. It was their worst shooting performance in conference and they were still in the thick of it on the road against another one of the league’s best teams.
They responded by handling business with an easy victory over Northwestern at home over the weekend.
I thought the most interesting takeaway from the game against the Terps was how little playing time Nicholas Baer received. He’s been getting more than double that on average in other conference games. It’s not the first time it’s happened, though. Similar things have happened against Florida State, Notre Dame, and Iowa State. All of them were close games that Baer had missed his first couple of outside shots. It appears as though McCaffery has a quick hook on the freshman in tight situations.
This week: Penn State at home and Illinois on the road
2. Maryland (Previous: 3; BracketMatrix: 3; RPI: 9; KenPom: 9; Sagarin: 12)
The Terps were the winner of the week with their victories over Iowa at home and Ohio State on the road.
I feel like my stance on that Iowa win is going to further my portrayal as a Terps hater, buuuuuuut it didn’t really make me feel all that different. I feel like Iowa just missed a lot of open shots that they’ve been making. Maryland has the length and athleticism to make things difficult on any team and they have defended the three well all year, but so have Michigan State, Purdue, and Michigan and it didn’t matter against the Hawkeyes. Iowa just missed.
I think Maryland is a good team that’s very likely to make it to the second weekend of the tournament. Yes, they’re tall, they’re talented, they have good guard play…I agree with all of that. But I saw people after that game acting like that Iowa win somehow confirmed their thoughts that the Terps were a Final Four lock.
They still have a turnover problem. Trimble has gotten better in B1G play, but look at their two losses and its his two highest turnover games. Carter and Sulaimon still turn it over a lot for guys that play off the ball. Their two backup bigs – Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky – have combined for 15 turnovers and 23 shot attempts in conference play. That’s not a good ratio. You can handle turnovers if you then create more turnovers or grab a lot of offensive rebounds, but neither of those are the case for this team.
Another issue: three-point shooting. They’re hitting 30% in conference. That number’s largely being carried by Rasheed Sulaimon, who’s hitting 45%. Trimble’s putting up 6.6 of them a game and making 28%. Jake Layman is putting up 4.0 a game and making 32% and that number is boosted by two good games, otherwise he’s 7-30. Jared Nickens is shooting 3.6 a game and he’s making 16%. Carter is shooting 39%, but once again if you take away one game – the blowout over OSU – he’s just 5-19.
Again, I’m not trying to totally diminish what the Terps are doing – their record speaks for itself – I just don’t at all understand the “this is a complete team” talk when they’ve got a couple of major flaws. They’re a really good defensive team that could run itself into trouble in March if they don’t start taking care of and shooting the ball better.
This week: Nebraska on the road and Purdue at home
3. Michigan State (Previous: 1; BracketMatrix: 3; RPI: 23; KenPom: 6; Sagarin: 4)
The Spartans are 6-4 in league play, but they seem to have returned to form after that Maryland win. They got wins over Northwestern and Penn State by a combined 65 points this week. They’re starting to look like that team we saw in November and December again.
It appears as though Tum Tum Nairn won’t be back this week, but luckily for the Spartans they don’t play until Saturday so that may change. They could certainly use him defensively.
Once the Spartans are back to full health, they’ll be a threat to go all the way once again.
This week: Michigan on the road
4. Purdue (Previous: 5; BracketMatrix: 5; RPI: 26; KenPom: 13; Sagarin: 12)
The Boilers snuck by the Gophers on the road without Caleb Swanigan and Kendall Stephens. They were dominated in the paint without Biggie.
They responded well by taking care of Nebraska on the backs of Hammons, Haas, and Davis. If Davis can consistently knock down inside-out threes, it makes the Boilermaker defense very difficult to guard. Davis is a guy who plays as much as he does because of his leadership and defense and the fact that he gets his fair share of points simply on effort.
If Davis continues shooting well along with P.J. Thompson and Vince Edwards, that Final Four talk for Purdue will start coming back up. Stephens, Dakota Mathias, and Ryan Cline have to give the Boilers something from the outside though. That’s each of their number one skill, but they don’t bring it on a game-to-game basis.
Painter emphasizes that winning the turnover and rebound battle will lead to wins. His team has had zero issue rebounding, they’re second in the country in rebound differential. But turnovers have been an issue. They’re 300th in the country in turnover margin. They give it away at a slightly above average rate, but they just don’t force many. That needs to get better.
This week: Maryland on the road
5. Michigan (Previous: 6; BracketMatrix: 7; RPI: 30; KenPom: 32; Sagarin: 25)
The Wolverines took care of Rutgers and Penn State this week, which was obviously not major news.
I think of the best traits of this Michigan team is that they aren’t overly reliant on any one player, or at least they’ve played that way without LeVert. It sounds as though they won’t be without their star much longer, but Beilein has been playing it pretty close to the vest, so it’s anyone’s guess when he’ll actually play.
It’s not like this team is desperate to have LeVert back right now, especially offensively, but they could certainly use him defensively. With that said, he is one of their better players at driving to the hoop and drawing fouls.
If LeVert seamlessly fits back into the offense, this could be as dangerous as anyone in the tournament.
This week: Indiana and Michigan State at home
6. Indiana (Previous: 4; BracketMatrix: 7; RPI: 49; KenPom: 25; Sagarin: 17)
All the excitement around the Hoosiers fizzled a bit this week with the loss at Wisconsin and the narrow win at home against the Gophers. Nothing was really damaged for Indiana, though. It’s tough to win in the Kohl Center and a win is a win in regards to the Minnesota game.
The biggest takeaway is that not all is repaired for the Hoosier defense on the interior. Minnesota was able to penetrate and get too many easy buckets down low. Nigel Hayes and Happ combined for 56 points and Hayes made it very apparent after the game that he didn’t think any Hoosiers were capable of guarding him. That’s still a big concern for this team.
But now the true tests begin as the Hoosiers finally start playing the best teams in the league.
This week: at Michigan and Penn State
Tier 2: Deep Bubble
7. Wisconsin (Previous: 9; BracketMatrix: Next 4 Out; RPI: 61; KenPom: 53; Sagarin: 47)
The Badgers were the other big winner this week as they vaulted themselves right into the NCAA mix with their overtime win over Indiana. Nigel Hayes was fantastic. And if we’re being honest, a few calls at the Kohl Center helped.
I’ve already patted myself on the back once for the Happ thing, but I’d like to do it again with how Greg Gard has handled Vitto Brown. Brown’s playing less minutes in conference play and his usage rate is down as well. That’s a good thing for Wisconsin because Brown just hasn’t proved to be an efficient player. Credit to Brown for limiting his turnovers and pumping the brakes on so many three-point shots, as well.
Khalil Iverson was the standout in the win over Illinois, scoring 10 points in 30 minutes. He hadn’t got more than eight minutes of playing time in any other B1G game, besides Rutgers who doesn’t really qualify anyways.
If Wisconsin can just get those role guys to continue to play within themselves, they just might put themselves into the tournament.
For what it’s worth, I think Gard has done a great job with this team. They’re 5-4 in conference and those four losses have been by a combined 15 points. They’re playing better, more consistent basketball than they were in November and December.
This week: Ohio State at home
8. Ohio State (Previous: 7; BracketMatrix: 0 Votes; RPI: 81; KenPom: 68; Sagarin: 64)
The Buckeyes fell out of both brackets that they were still lingering in out there, but they’re still in the conversation. A victory over Maryland would’ve been huge, but it doesn’t hurt their resume that they lost. They’ve still got quite a few chances for resume wins and they’ll need them if they want to be an NCAA team. Avoiding the loss at Illinois was big. The young Buckeyes are close to turning a corner.
This week: Wisconsin on the road
Tier 3: NIT/CBI Teams
9. Nebraska (Previous: 11; BracketMatrix: –; RPI: 154; KenPom: 96; Sagarin: 80)
The Huskers ran into motivated A.J. Hammons this week and that meant they spent the day watching him treat the rim like a Nerf hoop. Nebraska just doesn’t have enough on the inside to handle quality bigs, which was further illustrated by Isaac Haas coming off the bench and scoring 13 points in 12 minutes. They got destroyed on the glass.
The good news is that their offense is one of the rare in the in the big six conferences that has actually gotten more efficient in conference play. A lot of that has to do with the development of Watson, who’s playing more confidently and getting more comfortable at this level.
This week: Maryland and Rutgers at home
10. Northwestern (Previous: 8; BracketMatrix: :(; RPI: 101; KenPom: 97; Sagarin: 76)
For a team that desperately needed to get a win over one or two of the big boys this conference season, losing their last chances at doing so by an average of 26 points was a tad bit deflating.
It seems like it takes everything coming together for a long streak to end. You need that big moment to flip everything. The Red Sox had to suffer a walk-off home run loss in Game 7 to their arch-rival one year, only to have to battle back from a 3-0 series deficit the next year against that same Yankees team to break the streak.
The Wildcats had a team that was capable of making a run this year to the Dance, but injuries and a couple of close losses derailed their season. Yes, Alex Olah is back now, but it’s pretty clear to anyone who’s watched him that he’s not himself.
Olah will be gone next year, but Pardon has been a revelation in his absence. Chris Collins has also recruited two 4-star bigs to come in next year, as well. Vic Law will be back.
Tre Demps’ leadership will be missed, but I’m not sure losing a guy who’s putting up 6.4 threes a game at a 28% clip will be the worst thing.
But this team still has a chance this year to experience some postseason success – not in the tournament they were hoping for – but maybe it can springboard them on to bigger and better things in 2016-17.
This week: Minnesota at home
Tier 4: 2-7
11. Illinois (Previous: 10; BracketMatrix: –; RPI: 115; KenPom: 134; Sagarin: 115)
The Illini just don’t get enough out of their role players. Nunn and Hill are forced to carry this team and they haven’t been able to carry them to wins. Coleman-Lands and Maverick Morgan were good against Ohio State, but it was an off night for Hill and Illinois just can’t afford that at all.
Everyone outside of the star duo provided a whopping total of 18 points on 7-24 shooting against Wisconsin.
This year has kind of turned into “we’ll get ’em next year” for John Groce and company and there’s a good chance that they may. Not all is bleak for Illini fans. If Tracy Abrams isn’t granted a sixth year of eligibility, it would be a crime by the NCAA. The coaching staff is hopeful that big man Mike Thorne will get one as well. Leron Black will be back from injury and every single guy that’s playing now will be back. There’s not much in the way of recruiting with only late-bloomer Te’Jon Lucas signed at point guard, but transfers in college basketball have turned into NBA free agency these days, so you never know what else may come about.
This week: at Rutgers and home for Iowa
12. Penn State (Previous: 12; BracketMatrix: –; RPI: 114; KenPom: 145; Sagarin: 130)
I don’t really know what to say about Penn State. They’re just kind of…there. Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner are good. Jordan Dickerson can block shots. Payton Banks is starting to shoot better. It stinks Josh Reaves is hurt.
I guess I’ll just give you a stat fact: the Nittany Lions haven’t been an above-average three-point shooting team since 2009-10 and they were only .1% above the average.
Kind of tough to compete in the Big Ten if you can’t shoot and your best inside presence over a seven year stretch is Ross Travis.
This week: Iowa on the road and Indiana at home
Tier 5: Winless, But Not The Worst Ever
13. Minnesota (Previous: 13; BracketMatrix: –; RPI: 209; KenPom: 189; Sagarin: 166)
As I mentioned, the Gophers nearly pulled the upset twice this week, but they ultimately came up short both times. They almost got the win over Indiana without senior guard Carlos Morris. Either win would have been big for the young team’s confidence, but even still at least competing should help.
This week: Northwestern on the road
Tier 6: People Are Saying They’re Getting More Competitive Because They Only Lost A Game By Eleven, As Opposed to 50
14. Rutgers (Previous: 14; BracketMatrix: LOL; RPI: 217; KenPom: 275; Sagarin: 258)
Lost by 34 the next game.
This week: Home against Illinois and at Nebraska