Month: November 2016

Big Ten Power Rankings: Hell If I Know (Rutgers Is Still Undefeated, Barely)

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Thanksgiving week is always a great one for college basketball. High major teams are forced to actually play other high major teams from other conferences. There’s a ton of games and the best teams seem to separate themselves a little bit.

Unless it’s the Big Ten. I don’t really feel like I totally know who’s good and who’s not. There could be nine good teams and there might be three. I can say with certainty that there are no great teams in the league right now. That’s not to say there won’t be one or two by the end of the year, but everybody has very noticeable flaws at the moment.

The end of Thanksgiving week is a very scary time. There’s no more basketball to be watched in the afternoon and all the food and binge drinking is put on hiatus until bowl games start in football. I actually have to work. It’s the absolute worst.

We do get the ACC-Big Ten Challenge this week, which is nice. More tests for a league that looks fairly mediocre right now. We’ll see. The Big Ten is 5-0-2 in the matchup the past seven years, but the ACC appears to be a much better group at the moment. The individual matchups are everything, however. Even still, KenPom has the ACC favored in nine of the 14 games, and the Big Ten isn’t favored by any more than five points in a game. It’s also cheating that Boston College isn’t forced to play.


Five Six Stars of the Past Week:

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin – averaged 15.0 points, 10.0 rebounds in four games

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue – averaged 17.0 points, 11.0 rebounds in three wins

JaQuan Lyle, Ohio State – averaged 13.0 points, 7.3 assists in three wins

Miles Bridges, Michigan State – averaged 19.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 blocks in three games

Melo Trimble, Maryland – averaged 23.3 points, 2.0 steals in three wins

Deshawn Freeman, Rutgers – averaged 19.5 points, 12.5 rebounds in two wins

Five Best Games to Watch This Week:

Syracuse at Wisconsin, Tuesday, 7:30 pm EST, ESPN

Michigan State at Duke, Tuesday, 7:30 pm EST, ESPN

Purdue at Louisville, Wednesday, 7:15 pm EST, ESPN

North Carolina at Indiana, Wednesday, 9:15 pm EST, ESPN2

Ohio State at Virginia, Wednesday, 9:15 pm EST, ESPN2


1. Wisconsin (Last week: 4 / KenPom: 8)

The fact that I have the Badgers in the top spot this week says everything about how I feel about the top teams in the conference. I think I picked them to finish fifth. I still don’t think they’re all that great. But they at least have a sure identity.

I think their trip in Maui once again proved that they’re at their best offensively when Ethan Happ is getting the ball down low. Not only is he great around the bucket, but he’s one of the best passers on the team. It’s nice when Bronson Koenig gets hot and is knocking down shots, but he’s a high-volume shooter that is currently making 24.6% of his three-pointers. Nigel Hayes just isn’t a consistently efficient player. Feed Happ.

This week: home for Syracuse and Oklahoma

2. Purdue (Last week: 3 / KenPom: 16)

All in all, it was a good week for Purdue. They ran away with both games in the Cancun Challenge and slogged their way through a victory over NJIT. That game was closer than it should’ve been, but Damon Lynn was hot and the guy has hit a million threes in his career for a reason.

Time to pat myself on the back.

Offensively, their perimeter shooting has been poor. I wouldn’t expect that to continue all year. Their big men get all the attention and it’s perceived that the team can’t shoot for some reason, but they shot 37% from three last year and over 38% in Big Ten play last year. Shots will start falling soon and Ryan Cline coming back from suspension will help in a big way. The turnovers are a real problem, however. Also, anytime Vince(nt) Edwards wants to wake up would be a good time.

They made 37 shots from outside in their three games last week. They also still had 50 turnovers. Also, those turnovers continue to be a problem for the big men on the team, as opposed to the guards, despite what you might read/hear from national media members that are bad at their jobs. Their four frontcourt guys accounted for 34 of those turnovers last week. Their guards have handled pressure damn near flawlessly this year, BUT narratives and stuff.

This week: at Louisville and home for Morehead State

3. Michigan (Last week: 2 / KenPom: 25)

Michigan dropped one at South Carolina and it was rather ugly. They made 10 shots. On 52 field goal attempts. They turned it over on 26% of their possessions. Scored 46 points.

They bounced back with a much better showing at home against Mount St. Mary’s, but you’re left with more questions this week about the Wolverines than answers.

They’re shooting a high volume of three-pointers, which isn’t a surprise because it’s the same thing they did last year. When they’re on, they’re really tough to beat. But when they’re 2-26 from out there like they were against USC, it’s basically impossible for them to beat anyone decent. They even uncharacteristically had a big number of offensive rebounds and still only mustered 46 points. 24 of which they got at the free throw line.

Ever since DJ Wilson emerged, Duncan Robinson has seen significantly less playing time. Wilson gives them a big upgrade defensively, but it hasn’t done wonders for their offense. That rotation seems like something John Beilein may need to figure out. They certainly needed to be better defensively this year, but Robinson’s constant threat to shoot from outside was a big reason for their offensive success last season.

This week: home for Virginia Tech and Kennesaw State

4. Indiana (Last week: 1 / KenPom: 20)

The Hoosiers obviously had the loss of the early season when they dropped one at Fort Wayne this past week. Bad loss? I guess. But it’s not nearly as bad as it was made out to be. Fort Wayne is probably in the top third of college basketball teams. The game was in Fort Wayne. OG Anunoby didn’t play the second half and wasn’t himself in the first. It happens.

That’s not to say it’s all fine and dandy, though. They got outplayed everywhere but at the post position. The turnover issue from last year has lingered and gotten worse. Their lead guard went from Yogi Ferrell to James Blackmon. Blackmon is actually a better natural scorer than Yogi, but he doesn’t have nearly the same ability to set up teammates as Yogi. His career high is four assists in a game. In addition, he’s still pretty piss poor defensively.

Wednesday should be interesting.

This week: home for North Carolina, SIUE, and SEMO

5. Ohio State (Last week: 7 / KenPom: 21)

Impressive couple of wins for the Buckeyes this week. Not that the opponents were very good, but OSU buried them. They’ve had a tendency to let vastly inferior teams talent-wise stick around and the fact that they’ve soundly beat three opponents in a row shows improvement and dare I say…consistency?

Keita Bates-Diop hasn’t even been playing. However, two guys have stepped up: JaQuan Lyle and Trevor Thompson. I’ve harped on the chaotic production levels of everyone not named Jae’Sean Tate and Lyle and Thompson have been nearly as steady lately.

Lyle had a slow first two games where it appeared he may be back in Thad Matta’s doghouse (again), but the past four games he’s been efficient scoring the ball, set up his teammates, done a fair share of rebounding, and limited his turnovers.

Thompson has brought a great deal of production off the bench. He’s doing all the things Matta wants him to do and doing them well. Getting easy buckets, rebounding at an elite level, and blocking shots.

They’ll need those two to continue that type of play if they are going to have any chance of stealing one at Virginia.

This week: at Virginia and home for Fairleigh Dickinson

6. Michigan State (Last week: 5 / KenPom: 30)

I’m still withholding a lot of judgment on this team until at least conference play starts. Couple things though: 1. beating Wichita was impressive and 2. Eron Harris has to be a steady second option if this team is going to be anything.

This week: at Duke and home for Oral Roberts

7. Maryland (Last week: 6 / KenPom: 55)

Well, they’re undefeated still. Melo Trimble is gonna be exhausted from carrying this team in, like, January. The good news for him and the Terps is that it appears Michal Cekovsky has improved quite a bit over the offseason, as opposed to all the other guys I pointed out last week.

This week: home for Pittsburgh and Oklahoma State

8. Northwestern (Last week: 8 / KenPom: 50)

It looked like it was gonna be a banner trip to Brooklyn for the Wildcats. They beat Texas in the first game and just needed to make their free throws and get one stop to close out Notre Dame. Well, they needed to inbound the ball before all that. Didn’t happen.

Poor Nathan Taphorn, man. I’ve always liked the kid since watching him play with the Illinois Wolves on the AAU circuit. His career hadn’t quite panned out like I thought it might and now this. No one is going to remember him hitting four three-pointers in possibly a program-changing win over Notre Dame. They’ll just remember him throwing the ball away at the end and then subsequently fouling an Irish player for an and-one.

Now “program-changing” may seem pretty heavy, but I don’t think it’s really that far-out to say. The story of the Wildcat program is that they’ve never been to the NCAA Tournament. Wins like that against Notre Dame in the non-conference have been what they’ve been missing. Of course they’ll have plenty of chances in Big Ten play, but KenPom projects them to go 19-12 with a 9-9 record in conference. You know where that puts them? Squarely on the bubble. You know what would be a big help in getting them off the bubble and in to the tournament and thereby changing their program’s history? BEATING NOTRE DAME ON A NEUTRAL COURT.

This week: home for Wake Forest and DePaul

9. Minnesota (Last week: 9 / KenPom: 60)

The Gophers just keep winning right in my big dumb face. They cruised over Arkansas and Southern Illinois this week. Amir Coffey looks like a guy that will contend for All-Big Ten sooner, rather than later. They’re playing very well defensively. All is well in Minneapolis.

However, this week will be their first time leaving Williams Arena for a game. More tests for Richie Pitino’s crew.

This week: at Florida State, Vanderbilt in Sioux Falls

10. Nebraska (Last week: 13 / KenPom: 76)

I was able to watch a lot of Nebraska’s win against Dayton in Anaheim and was very impressed. Based on the two programs recent histories, I fully expected the Huskers to choke one away down the stretch. And they nearly did! Ultimately, however, Nebraska did just enough to escape with the victory. Glynn Watson and Ed Morrow stepped up big-time and helped Tai Webster out.

They weren’t as successful with UCLA and Virginia Tech, unfortunately. The Bruins and Hokies may be two of the most improved programs in the country from a season ago, however. The Huskers were in both games and showed some real flashes.

Of course the biggest question is whether they can keep it up. It’s not the first time Watson (who also went for 27 against UCLA) and Morrow have had big games. They need to be steady over the course of the season.

This week: at Clemson, home for South Dakota

11. Iowa (Last week: 11 / KenPom: 72)

Yikes. The Hawkeyes were dominated in every single way by Virginia and then lose to Memphis despite an ultra-efficient 42 points from Yung Jok. The Hawkeyes scored 1.21 points per possession against the Tigers and still lost. For you non-sabermetric types out there, 1.21 ppp is very, very good. It looks like it could be a really long season in Iowa City. I think Notre Dame is going to smoke them.

This week: at Notre Dame, home for Nebraska Omaha

12. Rutgers (Last week: 12 / KenPom: 165)

STILL UNDEFEATED! Of course they haven’t played anybody in the top half of the country, but still. That’s progress. They’re still leading the country in offensive rebounding percentage at 50% of their missed shots. There’s a lot that they still don’t do particularly well offensively, but if they keep that up, they’ll be able to compete all year.

This week: at Miami (FL) and home for Morgan State

13. Penn State (Last week: 14 / KenPom: 102)

George Washington isn’t at the same level they’ve been the past few years, but that’s still a massive win for a really young Nittany Lion team, especially considering that they were down 10 in the first half. It’s felt like since the opening night loss to Albany, this team hasn’t gotten better each time out, with the exception of the Cincinnati game. They’ve got a chance to really build up some confidence over the next month and change heading into conference play.

This week: Georgia Tech and Wright State at home

14. Illinois (Last week: 10 / KenPom: 92)

There’s far too much experience on this Illini team for them to play like they did this past week. John Groce’s seat is officially toasty.

This week: home for NC State, VCU in Miami

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Big Ten Power Rankings: Rutgers is Undefeated

Image result for nigel johnson rutgers

It’s the first edition of the power rankings. What a beautiful time. Speaking of power rankings, this week is highly underrated in the hierarchy of sports weeks. There’s basketball on all day, every day and football on basically every night with full days on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Put five units on the over on the 4.5 pound weight gain this week for yours truly. It’s gonna be a fat week and I couldn’t care less.


Five Stars of the Past Week 10 Days:

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue – averaged 20.7 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 4.3 assists in team’s first three games

James Blackmon, Indiana – averaged 23.0 points, 7.3 rebounds on .561/.519/.750 shooting in team’s three wins

Malcolm Hill, Illinois – averaged 28.7 points, 8.7 rebounds on .556/.500/.833 shooting in their three games against D-1 competition

Peter Jok, Iowa – averaged 24.3 points on .529/.382/1.000 shooting in team’s four games

Vic Law, Northwestern – averaged 20.3 points on .645/.786/.588 shooting in team’s first three games

Five Best Games/Tournaments to Watch This Week:

I started making a list, but you know what? Just watch all of them.


1. Indiana (KenPom: 11)

The Hoosiers definitely have the best win so far in the young season of any of the Big Ten teams, and one could argue the best win so far of anybody in the country. Some have taken that so far as to put them as the number one team in the country. That seems like a bit of an overreaction to me, but polls are meaningless anyway, so knock yourself out.

However, I will roll with the Hoosiers in the top spot in the power rankings right now because these are all about how you’re playing right now.

They’ve essentially started off right where they left off last year in terms of efficiency on both sides of the ball. Blackmon has been lighting it up, but there getting contributions from a lot of places offensively. Thomas Bryant, O.G. Anunoby, and Rob Johnson have all been steady scorers so far. Curtis Jones even had 15 in his debut, against perennial powerhouse Kansas nonetheless.

The defense was greatly improved last year, but they’ve got to keep getting better if they want to get back to the level they were in 2013.

2. Michigan (KenPom: 15)

The Wolverines had a hell of a two games in MSG, beating Marquette by 18 and SMU by 22. Those are two teams that will probably be bubble teams in March, but the fact that UM dismantled both of those teams on back-to-back nights is really impressive. Both of those games were over by halftime.

It’s no surprise that Michigan can score so efficiently, but holding all four of their opponents so far underneath 1.00 points per possession is a bit of a surprise. That was a rare sight for them last year against anybody with a pulse. D.J. Wilson has been a big reason for the improvement. Wilson had rarely played heading into this season, but he’s an early candidate for most improved player in the league. He’s playing major minutes and averaging 2.5 blocks per game. He’ll be a major help to a thin frontcourt.

3. Purdue (KenPom: 19)

The Boilers looked like a team to be reckoned with last Monday when they were in a heavyweight fight with defending champion Villanova, ultimately losing by three points. And then just four nights later it looked like they were going to lose to Georgia State at home, possibly by double digits. It took a 20-0 run over the final 7+ minutes to pull out an eight point win.

The biggest concern for Purdue heading into this year was their defense, at least in my opinion. Overall, it’s been solid and probably better than I thought. They’ll struggle to guard dribble drives like they did against Nova all year, but a lot of people have problems with Josh Hart.

Offensively, their perimeter shooting has been poor. I wouldn’t expect that to continue all year. Their big men get all the attention and it’s perceived that the team can’t shoot for some reason, but they shot 37% from three last year and over 38% in Big Ten play last year. Shots will start falling soon and Ryan Cline coming back from suspension will help in a big way. The turnovers are a real problem, however. Also, anytime Vince(nt) Edwards wants to wake up would be a good time.

4. Wisconsin (KenPom: 10)

It’s hard to say much right now about the Badgers. They’ve played two of the worst teams in Division 1 at home and they lost a close game on the road against an underrated Creighton team. It was a much closer game than the final score would indicate.

They’re playing like they always play with the same roster as last year.

The biggest frustration for me is how many three-pointers they’re shooting. Half of their field goal attempts so far have been from beyond the arc. It’s maddening due to the fact that it’s not what they do well. I was begging for them to involve Ethan Happ last year when they were on that slide early on, they eventually did, and they took off (for that and a couple of other reasons). He hasn’t taken more than six shots in a game yet this year. Stop shooting so many threes. Feed Happ.

5. Michigan State (KenPom: 27)

I knew when I picked the Spartans to win the Big Ten title, it was probably gonna come with some ups and downs early. I don’t even know if they’re worth talking about right now because you know that Izzo will use his Izzo magic and make this team really good eventually.

I do know two things though: if they’re going to get better they have to stop turning it over at a ridiculous pace and they can’t shoot 54% from the line. I have faith that the latter will get better. As for the former, you expect the freshmen to make a lot of mistakes. It’s natural. Veterans Tum Tum Nairn and Eron Harris can’t have games where they combine for 8 turnovers, like they did against Arizona.

6. Maryland (KenPom: 53)

If it feels like the Terps are off to the same start as last year, it’s because they pretty much are. Narrowly beating teams they should blow out at home and winning a close against Georgetown. They don’t play anybody above “mediocre” this entire non-conference season.

Their young guys are playing pretty well and each bring something different to the table. Melo is being Melo, which has just evolved into him missing a bunch of outside shots, but getting fouled a lot and making free throws. The problem is that it appears their veteran guys who have played roles in the past haven’t really improved much at all. Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley are a combined 2-25 from the floor against D-1 opponents. Jaylen Brantley has been ineffective. Damonte Dodd remains proof that size and rebounding are not directly correlated. Transfer LG Gill hasn’t been able to apply himself.

They might rack up a lot of wins in the non-con, but I’m not sure I’ll feel any differently about them. They don’t have a big-time test until Jan. 7. I don’t know, man. I felt pretty blah about them all of last year too, but at least they had the talent to make me feel like they had a chance to live up to the hype. Right now, I just don’t see much to think they have a chance to have any real impact this year.

7. Ohio State (KenPom: 29)

It’s nice to see them win some tight games early on. Navy isn’t any good, but it was a true road game. Providence is a team they should beat at home, but you never knew what you were gonna get from last year’s Buckeyes. They weren’t very sharp against UNCC, but my god that was hardly a home game for them. The fan support for that game was abysmal and the Providence game wasn’t that much better. Pretty pathetic effort from the Buckeye “faithful” so far this season. Somebody should tell them their team has a chance to be pretty good.

They’ll have consistency problems as a team again this season if they don’t get…consistency from anyone other than Jae’Sean Tate. For instance, JaQuan Lyle and Kam Williams have each scored 20+ in one game and single digits in the other two games. Between those two, Keita Bates-Diop, and Marc Loving, at least one of them has to deliver on a night-in, night-out basis. It’s like they just play hot potato right now with who it’s going to be each night and then sometimes they just drop the potato and nobody does it. That’s when they lose

8. Northwestern (KenPom: 60)

The Wildcats nearly pulled off the upset in Indy, but they couldn’t quite close out a veteran Butler team in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Those are the wins that have been missing for Northwestern to make that step to the NCAA Tournament. That sucks. The good news is that they’ll have two more chances to get meaningful wins tonight and tomorrow in the Legends Classic.

The other good news is that Vic Law looks like he’s going to have a great year after sitting out all of last season due to injury. He’s shooting into an ocean right now.

It might take freshman guard Isiah Brown a little while to be an efficient producer, but he’s certainly not afraid. His usage rate is currently 21st in the nation, which is my favorite statistic of this week.

9. Minnesota (KenPom: 67)

I was a Gopher doubter. A hater, some might say. But credit where credit’s due, they’ve been good so far. Now, they haven’t played/beaten anybody that’s likely to be significant on a postseason resume, but they’ve taken care of business.

I’ll also add that they had a good November last season before losing 17 of their next 18, so I’m not going to be singing Richie Pitino’s praises just yet.

But I’m gonna keep positive for now because that’s what these rankings are about. They have seven guys that on any given night wouldn’t surprise me that they scored 15 points. That’s the sign of a team that can be really good. They’ve been really solid inside the paint on both ends this year, but they’ve struggled to clean up the glass.

Their biggest weakness is still the absence of shooters. Dupree McBrayer is off to a good start, but it’s just been four games. He only shot 25% from outside last season. Nate Mason has the ability, but consistency remains an issue for him. He’ll never be a great three-point shooter, but being around 35-36% would be big.

10. Illinois (KenPom: 71)

There’s not too much to report on the Illini. They’ve won the games they should have because they haven’t played anybody yet. Tonight they’ll play Winthrop, which could get interesting. Winthrop’s decent. Plenty of tests remain after that in the non-con, starting with West Virginia in the NIT.

One revelation so far has been Tracy Abrams’ ability to shoot. It’s a small sample size, but he’s 9-11 from distance through the first four games. His previous season high was 27.2% from outside. The knee injuries were sure to limit his quickness and overall mobility, so his newfound ability to shoot will allow him to be effective offensively.

11. Iowa (KenPom: 58)

The Hawkeyes are playing at an electric pace so far. It’s resulting in a lot of high scoring games. While it’s fun to score nearly 100 points a game, it’s not as fun to give up 84 points to Savannah State.

Iowa has played one of the softest schedules so far. They did play Seton Hall at home, but those defensive problems caused a loss in their only even slightly meaningful game so far. We’ll see how they fare this weekend.

12. Rutgers (KenPom: 152)

I started writing this piece in December of last year. This is the first time Rutgers is out of the cellar. A hearty congrats to the Scarlet Knights.

What a difference Steve Pikiell makes. Rutgers actually looks like a basketball team playing basketball together. They are 4-0. None of the wins are wildly impressive, but winning at DePaul isn’t something this team would’ve done last year. They also did it quite convincingly. They were up 22 with 10 minutes to go before the Blue Demons put lipstick on the pig.

They are currently leading the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. That’s particularly impressive considering they were 299th last year.

I’m officially intrigued to see how they play against Miami next week.

13. Nebraska (KenPom: 76)

Tai Webster is the unquestioned leader of this team. He’s off to a great start. It’s unclear who his right-hand man will be all year, though. Jack McVeigh is playing well so far this season, but he wasn’t the model of consistency last year and the jury is still out on if he can be a legit second option. Glynn Watson is kind of in the same spot. He was a bigger contributor than McVeigh last season, but he needs to be more consistent. He was excellent in the opener, but then he has 2 points on 1-9 shooting, 0 assists, and 3 turnovers against Louisiana Tech. In reality, both of those guys need to step up if they’re going to compete this year.

14. Penn State (KenPom: 109)

I projected the Nittany Lions to finish 9th in the B1G this year. While they aren’t off to a great start, I still think they can do it. They’re one of the youngest teams in America and they’re playing like it right now, but they’ll be better off when conference play rolls around. They’ll be an intriguing, dangerous team all year. They’re just learning how to win and play together right now.

Big Ten Basketball Preview

Friday brings the beginning of the college basketball season. Personally, I couldn’t be any more freaking jazzed. I’ll be celebrating by taking in Purdue – McNeese State. What a matchup. On to the meaningless preseason awards/rankings.

Player of the Year

Thomas Bryant, Indiana

It’ll be interesting to watch Bryant this year. A lot of media outlets are projecting him to be the player of the year in the B1G this year. He had a great freshman campaign, but the weight from Yogi’s shoulders now lift onto him. He’s got a ton of talent and the fact that he passed up being a first-round pick in the draft to come back to school tells me he’s motivated. Having a big year for one of the best team’s in the league instantly makes you a candidate for this award.

Newcomer of the Year

Miles Bridges, Michigan State

A ridiculous talent that I almost gave the POTY award to.

Coach of the Year

Thad Matta, Ohio State

It’s a bounce back year for Thad. Anytime you outperform expectations, you’ve got a great chance to win this award.

First Team

Thomas Bryant, Indiana
Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Peter Jok, Iowa
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

Second Team

Melo Trimble, Maryland
Malcolm Hill, Illinois
James Blackmon, Indiana
Jae’Sean Tate, Ohio State
Shep Garner, Penn State

Projected Order of Finish

1. Michigan State (KenPom: 14)

Well, they have a bunch of talented freshmen and Eron Harris. They don’t have a lot of size. I’m sure Tom Izzo will figure it out.

2. Ohio State (KenPom: 13)

I’m willing to bet on Thad Matta. In his previous 16 years as a head coach, he’s averaged over 26 wins a year. They had a lot of issues early on last season, which isn’t surprising given that they were 346 out of 351 teams in terms of experience heading into the season.

There were a few transfers in the offseason. However, the first six in the rotation are all back, they’re all talented, and they’ve got a couple of freshmen coming in that will contribute right away. Matta traditionally prefers a shorter rotation, so depth isn’t that big of a concern.

3. Purdue (KenPom: 15)

There’s a chance Purdue has the most efficient offense in the league this year. It’s likely IU takes the crown again, but it should be close.

Unfortunately for the Boilers, their defense is likely to take a tumble this season. Raphael Davis and A.J. Hammons were two of the best defenders in the B1G the past few years and now they’re both gone.

Everyone’s favorite subject with Purdue is the point guard position of course. Their front court is one of the best in the country, they have shooters, but point has been the position they haven’t figured out since Lewis Jackson left. It’s still probably not gonna be great but P.J. Thompson as a junior and Spike Albrecht seems better than P.J. Thompson as a sophomore and Johnny Hill to me. Freshman Carsen Edwards provides a different element for them as well.

The conference slate will probably end up being about middle of the road in terms of the difficulty. They’ll face IU and Michigan State twice, but that’s it of the top teams.

4. Indiana (KenPom: 16)

Replacing Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams, and two other key players – Max Bielfeldt and Nick Zeisloft – is quite the task, but James Blackmon is coming back, O.G. Anunoby is expected to make a big jump, and they’ve got a Top 25 recruiting class coming in. We’ll see if they can keep up the defensive improvement they made last season, but offense shouldn’t be a problem.

5. Wisconsin (KenPom: 8)

I don’t think I’m giving you any new information when I tell you that the Badgers are returning everyone from last year. To me, there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors with the second half of their season last year. Their offense still left a lot to be desired. They pulled out a few one or two possession games at home or on neutral courts. They caught Maryland and Iowa at the right times.

I’m not saying they’re not good. They’ll still win a lot of games. But they’re not the team that went to back-to-back Final Fours. They don’t have two lottery picks on the roster. Their highest usage player wasn’t very efficient last year and is now a social advocate!

Call me a skeptic, but I view them more as “typical Wisconsin” and not “peak Wisconsin”, if that makes sense.

6. Maryland (KenPom: 48)

It’s gonna be a lot of Melo this year. They’ll need their talented freshman class to be ready to go and some of their role guys from the past couple years to move in to larger roles. Much like Michigan State, it’s difficult to analyze a team like Maryland that has a lot of young talent that’s largely unproven to this point.

The best thing the Terps may have going for them is their Big Ten schedule. Of the Top 6 teams, Ohio State is the only team they play twice.

7. Michigan (KenPom: 31)

The Wolverines essentially return everybody but Ricky Doyle. Caris LeVert is gone, but he only played in one game after the turn of the new year last season. They bring in a decent recruiting class, but Xavier Simpson seems like the only sure thing to contribute.

This is a good and bad thing. It’s always good to have experience on your roster and you hope that players develop from one year to the next. However, the same things are true of this team. While they’ll be potent once again offensively, they still don’t have that go-to guy in key situations. Also, while Mark Donnal is a nice player, he hasn’t proved to be a consistent inside presence down low and the team’s interior defense as a whole is pretty poor. John Beilein brought in a couple of recruits with height, but neither one of them strikes me as a game-changer for the 2016-17 season.

Michigan’s B1G schedule isn’t very kind. From Jan. 17-Feb. 16: at Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, at Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan State, at Indiana, and Wisconsin. That’s seven out of eight games against teams in the Top 16 of KenPom’s preseason rankings. That’s incredibly mean.

8. Illinois (KenPom: 70)

The Illini aren’t all that different from a year ago. Tracy Abrams is back, but the guy hasn’t played a game since March of 2014. He’s in his third senior year, which sounds like a good thing, but after multiple significant knee injuries I don’t think you can expect him to be the same player. Mike Thorne is also back after missing most of last year. He’ll provide a much need presence on the interior.

However, Kendrick Nunn was dismissed in the offseason and he generated a lot of offense for this team last year. Malcolm Hill will be awesome, but how much more can he do than he’s done in the past? I’d expect Jalen Coleman-Lands to make a jump, but we’ll see how much.

The Illini don’t play a true road game in the non-con, but they do play a lot of solid competition. Their league schedule is about as good as you can ask for. They play each of the top five teams only once and three of those are at home. I anticipate they’ll be higher in the conference standings than their power rating will indicate they should be.

9. Penn State (KenPom: 97)

The Nittany Lions may just find themselves back in the postseason this year. They lose Brandon Taylor, who did basically everything for them, but they return almost every other significant contributor and add in one of the four or five best recruiting classes in the league, UConn transfer Terrence Samuel, and Mike Watkins, who was a four-star recruit that redshirted last season.

As a side note, Mike Watkins looks like Eddie Murphy circa the Beverly Hills Cop days.

That’s just a fact. I’m already in on Mike Watkins. Head of the fan club.

Back to basketball. The Nittany Lions finished 7-11 in the league with the second toughest schedule, according to KenPom. This year they avoid OSU, MSU, and Maryland on the road. Jan. 18 to Feb. 1 is gonna be a pretty shitty stretch for them, though. They have five games, as follows: Indiana, at Purdue, at Wisconsin, Illinois, at Indiana. Sounds fun!

Don’t sleep on the Nittany Lion guard play this year.

10. Iowa (KenPom: 55)

No more Uthoff raining shots from everywhere. No more Mikey G being the king of grit, while also being “deceptively athletic”, no more Woodbury poking eyeballs and having the most punchable face in the conference, no more Anthony Clemmons bricking shots from deep.

It’s a year of transition in Iowa City.

Yung Jok is back and will probably have anywhere from 50-80% (all numbers approximate) usage this season. With a young roster full of freshman and previous role players transitioning to starters, Fran is due to snap more than a couple whiteboards this year, and quite possibly a few blood vessels.

In case you were wondering, yes, a fresh batch of ugly and/or annoying white guys has been added to the roster. And also Tyler Cook, who should be good at basketball.

11. Northwestern (KenPom: 61)

Alex Olah and Tre Demps are gone. Vic Law is back from injury, as well as three freshmen who may or may not be good. Law is a good player, but it’s hard to find that as a net positive. Obviously you have to account for players improving from one year to the next, but it’s a team that feasted on the bottom teams in the conference and a weak non-con, which ultimately resulted in their best win being over Wisconsin at home before Wisconsin turned the corner.

The schedule isn’t nearly as favorable this year. The non-con will actually force them to play some competition this year, as opposed to just UNC without Marcus Paige and Virginia Tech like last season. In Big Ten play, they only have to play Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan State once, but they’re all on the road.

12. Nebraska (KenPom: 87)

The Huskers were a 2.5-headed monster with Shavon Shields and Andrew White as the two main heads and Tai Webster being the half head (one of the strangest things I’ve said on this here blog). Shields and White are now gone. Glynn Watson did become a significant contributor and I thought got a lot better as the season went on, but still you’re left wondering how they’re going to make up for what was already a deficit in production.

A lot will fall on the shoulders of newcomers Anton Gill and Isaiah Roby. Gill sat out last year after transferring from Louisville. He didn’t do much under Slick Ricky for the Cardinals, but he was a Top 50 guy coming out of high school and will have plenty of chances. Roby is a true freshman that was a Top 150 guy. He had a productive exhibition game, at least. Fellow newcomer Gill was quoted as saying, “He can play. He’s real good,” about Roby. Insightful shit, man.

Looking at their schedule, they do avoid having to play at Indiana, Wisconsin, or Purdue, which can only help their conference record outlook. If the Huskers are going to do anything this year, they’ve got to be better defending the perimeter.

13. Minnesota (KenPom: 71)

Bad news for Richie Pitino: With Eddie Jordan’s firing from Rutgers, he now takes the mantle of worst coach in the league.

Good news for Richie Pitino: he’s got a lot of talent on the roster.

Bad news for Gopher fans: I have no belief that Pitino will be able to cultivate that talent into a winner. The brightest moment of Pitino’s career thus far is taking an experienced team that learned how to play under a good coach (Tubby Smith) to an NIT championship in his first season. It’s been downhill since then.

The team competed last year, but ultimately ended up 2-16 in the league and had a nice little sex scandal completely derail the end of the season and force them to play with 5 scholarship players down the stretch.

THIS season is already about to crash and burn before it starts. Reggie Lynch came over from Illinois State, where he was a productive player. He had his own sexual misconduct issues over the summer and had two surgeries. Talented wing grad transfer Akeem Springs is already sending out tweets that would leave one to believe that he was about to quit or be kicked off the team. Texas A&M transfer Davonte Fitzgerald tore his ACL.

Yikes. At least the football team is 7-2.

14. Rutgers (KenPom: 191)

I’d actually expect this team to be much improved from a year ago, but of course that’s really not saying much. It will help them that they have a real coach that has the slightest clue what he’s doing. (Good freaking riddance, Eddie!) Having a healthy Deshawn Freeman will also help. He was only able to play in six games last season.

Week 11 CFB Picks

10-7 last week. Weird week. First of all, I’ve spent the past couple days walking around thinking I went 10-9. Actually, that happens about 50% of the time. Turns out I’m not great at counting when I’m heavily sauced.

It was the first week I can remember in a while being way off on two occasions. I legit thought Baylor might beat TCU by 40 and it turned out to be the opposite. And also Nebraska obviously didn’t come close to covering the 17. Although I would’ve at least liked to see the game finish with Tommy Armstrong at QB. The best thing they had going on offense was his mobility and you can’t underestimate just how bad Ryker Fyfe is at playing football.

With that said, it was still a winning week and we also won a couple games big with UTSA and Wazzu.

Let’s keep it going, degenerates.

12:oo pm

Rutgers (+14.5) over MICHIGAN STATE – 2u

MSU hasn’t won a game since the middle of September. Their two wins are over 3-6 Notre Dame and Furman (they only won by 15). They stink. And of course Rutgers is terrible, as well, but if you take away the three opponents they’ve played currently in the Top 5 of the CFP they’ve been respectable. They’re at least still competing. Give me the two touchdowns and I’ll ride against the team that is a net -95 against the spread this year.

3:30 pm

CLEMSON-Pittsburgh over 66.5 – 2u

In their 8 games against FBS competition, Pitt has scored a minimum of 28 points every game and put up 36+ in seven of those games. They’ve also given up a minimum of 27 points in each of those games. Clemson will be the best defense they’ve played, but teams like Miami, Virginia Tech, and Penn State are all Top 30 defenses. They can run or throw.

For Clemson’s part, they haven’t been as consistent on offense, but they have been more explosive and Pitt’s D still hasn’t figured things out. They’re going to get shredded.

VIRGINIA TECH (-13.5) over Georgia Tech – 2u

GT is 5-4. GT is 0-4 against Top 50 opponents and have lost by an average margin of 16 ppg. Limit that to the Top 25 and they’re 0-3, losing by more than 20 ppg. VT is in the Top 15-20 range. Even better, they’re one of the five best teams in the country in home games. They’ve blasted every team to come into Blacksburg.

Bud Foster’s defense hasn’t given up more than 28 points to Paul Johnson’s triple option offense. Justin Fuente has had the Hokie offense rolling this year – especially so at home – and the Yellow Jacket D hasn’t been very successful at slowing down much of anything.

WESTERN KENTUCKY-North Texas over 65 – 2u

Gonna continue to ride the WKU overs. Their offense is cooking. 44+ in six straight games. The way I’m picturing this is WKU getting up early and forcing NT to try and keep up with them by passing. The Mean Green already prefer to throw the ball and dink and dunk their way down the field. The Hilltopper pass D allows easy completions for a bunch of yards. I think NT will score enough to push this one over the top.

GEORGIA-Auburn under 48.5 – 2u

Two Top 20 defenses and a lot of running plays is a good recipe for an under.

UTSA (+22.5) over LOUISIANA TECH – 2u

I’ll ride with UTSA again this week. They covered last week by 41 points. It was obviously tainted by Brent Stockstill going out for MTSU, but even still, they were up 14-7 at the time. LT is probably better than MTSU, but they do still give up points, UTSA’s defense is still solid, and the Roadrunners just don’t get blown out.

7:00 pm

MARSHALL (+9.5) over MTSU – 3u

I repeat: Brent Stockstill is out. That’s a huge blow to that offense. Freshman John Urzua takes over and he’s thrown four picks in 44 attempts this year. His first career start is now on the road in a night game. Not that Marshall presents the most intimidating atmosphere, but still. MTSU will still score some, but Marshall will be able to keep up against the porous Blue Raider defense. I don’t hate the +280 ML.

7:30 pm

WASHINGTON (-8.5) over USC – 2u

I think Washington is just a better version of USC. The Huskies are awesome at home. The competition admittedly hasn’t been the greatest, but they’re 5-0 with an average margin of 36 points. It’s a mid-evening start in a stadium that will be juiced. Sam Darnold has been awesome since he took over at QB for the Trojans. Some might say too awesome. I think he’s going to have his first freshman “moment” this week in that environment against a defense that’s Top 10 in takeaways and Top 25 in sack percentage.

Minnesota (+7) over NEBRASKA – 3u

I would like this line, even if Tommy Armstrong was playing with absolute certainty. But that’s still up in the air. They’ll probably know whether he goes by Thursday or Friday. If he’s ruled out, there’s no way you get this number.

But like I said, I still like it anyway. You’ve got two teams that run the ball 60+% of the time. Nebraska is below average against the run and Minnesota is in the Top 15 defending the run. The Gophers are actually in that same category against the pass.

Minnesota’s been great on the road this year: 3 point loss to Penn State, 21 point win at Maryland, and a 23 point win at Illinois. They’re +38.5 ATS in total in those three games.

Leans

KANSAS (+10) over Iowa State

Feel like the Jayhawks are going to go balls out for this one. Iowa State stinks on the road. I’ve already made my one wager on Kansas football for the year, so I’ll ultimately pass.

Season: 104-70-12 (59.8%)

Week 10 CFB Picks

13-7 last week.

CINCINNATI (+8) over BYU – 2u

Just have to take this one out of principle. Six of eight BYU games have been decided by a field goal or less. One was decided by a touchdown and the other one they dick kicked Michigan State up and down the field.

Cincinnati kind of stinks, but not to the point they should be catching more than a touchdown at home against a team intent on taking games down to the wire. I also think the Bearcats will be able to put up some points on BYU. The Cougars have one of the worst pass defenses in the country and their front 7 is very banged up.

Jamaal Williams is back for BYU, but Cinci’s run defense should be able to somewhat hold him in check.

Oklahoma State (+3) over KANSAS STATE – 2u

I’ve been on Team Pokes all year. Last week was a big test and they passed with flying colors. Manhattan is always a tough place to go play, but the biggest reason I like the Cowboys here is I believe Mason Rudolph could have a big day against a Wildcat pass defense that is one of the worst in the country.

UTSA (+21 -120) over MTSU – 3u

I’m buying the half point here to make it an even three touchdowns. I don’t think it’ll be necessary, but it’s a relative small price to pay.

MTSU has a tough time blowing people out, mainly due to the fact that their defense is suspect. By “suspect”, I mean that they give up more than 34 points per game. People like to throw on the Blue Raiders and UTSA QB Dalton Sturm has had a really good year and can take advantage.

The line was surprising to me mainly  due to the fact that UTSA is 4-4 and actually has a positive point differential. They haven’t played too difficult of a schedule, but they haven’t been blown out once and they nearly knocked off Arizona State earlier in the year. Their defense is actually pretty solid. They haven’t given up more than 33 points in regulation all year. The 52 they gave up to UTEP in a 5OT game skews their PPG allowed numbers. I wouldn’t be surprised if MTSU tops that 33 mark, but UTSA will be able to hold their own on offense.

BAYLOR (-8) over TCU – 3u

The difference between Baylor at home and on the road is night and day. They’re coming off that heartbreaker of a loss to Texas and I think getting TCU at home is a great way to rebound. Eight isn’t a great number, but there are a lot of similarities to a couple of weeks ago when I was on WVU against the Frogs at home.

For one, TCU isn’t very good on the road. It also appears that maybe they’re just not good at all.

Second, Baylor’s pass defense – like WVU – is one of the best in the country. That’s a problem for an offense that is so dependent on gaining yards through the air.

And finally, Baylor is good in the run and pass game on offense. TCU’s numbers look great against the run, but they’ve only played two above average rushing offenses all year. They held up okay against WVU, but Oklahoma shredded them for 260 yards on the ground. If you can run on the Frogs, it allows teams to expose their already average pass defense.

Just a reminder that TCU’s best win is still a toss-up between Iowa State or SMU. Or maybe South Dakota State, actually. Either way, they’re 1-3 in their last four with that one win being by one point over Kansas.

WESTERN KENTUCKY-FIU over 66.5 – 2u

It’s basically just the same as the FIU-MTSU over last week. FIU’s offense has been greatly improved since Ron Turner left. WKU is slightly better than MTSU on defense, but they’re also slightly better on offense and they’ve been humming lately. 50+ in three of their last four games.

WASHINGTON STATE (-16.5) over Arizona – 2u

The Cougs didn’t come through for us last week, but I’ll take another flyer on them this week. Arizona is bad and getting worse. They gave Washington a run at home earlier in the year, came up short, and have now lost three of the last four by 21+. I think the Wazzu run D will hold up against the Wildcats rushing attack and will likely win the turnover battle.

Nebraska (+17) over OHIO STATE – 2u

Been a while since OSU really beat anybody soundly, no? Even that 21-point win over IU a month ago wasn’t as impressive as the score would indicate. There’s no glaring disadvantage for the Huskers here to be getting that many points. They’ve been good on the road.

TEXAS TECH-Texas over 81 – 1u

I’ll be honest here, I just wanted something to roll with in the noon slot. This was the most entertaining option.

Leans

Louisville (-25) over BOSTON COLLEGE

I think the Cards are going to eviscerate the BC D, especially after last week’s scare and they’ll be motivated after their (fundamentally useless) playoff ranking. I’d do it, but I’m too big of a pussy to lay 25 on the road.

Syracuse (+27) over CLEMSON

I’d probably fire away if it was 28. I think Syracuse can score enough points to hang around and their defense is getting better. It would seem like a nice spot to bet against Clemson after their big win over Florida State last week and Cuse coming off a bye, but I got burned taking Boston College after Clemson’s win over Louisville earlier this year.

Season: 94-63-12 (59.9%)