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.