Five Stars of the Past Week:
Ethan Happ/Nigel Hayes/Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin – the trio did everything in two good wins for the Badgers
Zak Irvin, Michigan – averaged 21.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in two games
Scottie Lindsey, Northwestern – averaged 15.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists in two wins
Malcolm Hill and Leron Black, Illinois – combined to average 35.5 points and 14.0 rebounds in two wins
Mike Watkins, Penn State – averaged 10.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 6.5 blocks in two wins
Five Seven Best Games to Watch This Week:
Purdue vs. Arizona State (NYC), 7:00 pm EST, Tuesday, ESPN
Texas at Michigan, 9:00 pm EST, Tuesday, ESPN2
Creighton at Nebraska, 9:00 pm EST, Wednesday, BTN
Iowa State at Iowa, 8:00 pm EST, Thursday, ESPN2
Wisconsin at Marquette, 2:00 pm EST, Saturday, FS1
Penn State vs. Pitt (Newark, NJ), 2:30 pm EST, Saturday, CBSSN
Michigan at UCLA, 8:00 pm EST, Saturday, ESPN2
1. Wisconsin (Last week: 1 / KenPom: 8)
By far the best week of the season for the Badgers. You always expect them to play well at home, but they rolled over two likely tournament teams. Not surprisingly with the rate that they’ve been shooting three-pointers, it was by far their two best games from outside.
Their percentages were helped out by which guys were taking them. Nigel Hayes has taken two (made both) threes in the past three games. He had been attempting more than five – at a 29% clip – per game before this recent stretch. Hayes also had 16 assists this week in the two games. He only had eight in the previous five.
If Hayes continues to play that style, it makes Wisconsin a much better team. He’s at his best when he’s only shooting open threes, attacking the basket, getting to the free throw line, and using the attention he draws to find open teammates.
Their offense struggles when he settles for jump shots, which are often contested. He was never much of a shooter coming up and didn’t take a single three in his freshman season. In his sophomore year, he hit 40% from outside playing as a role player next to Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Since he’s become a lead guy, he’s only made 30%.
His free throw rate sank from 85.4% his freshman year to 51.1% this season. For those not into analytics, FTR is simply the number of free throws you attempt divided by your total field goal attempts. It just speaks to how less frequently he’s attacking the rim now.
On Saturday, he attempted a double-digit number of free throws for the first time this season. Not coincidentally, he scored 28 points, which surpassed his previous season high by 11.
16 times in his career, Hayes has had double-digit free throw attempts. In those 16 games, he’s averaged 20.2 points per game. In the 106 he hasn’t? 10.7 ppg.
Obviously it’s not easy to get to the line that many times, but the point remains that when he’s aggressive at the rim, he’s a more productive player. That’s not unique to him, but he can get there and should continue to be his focus, in my opinion.
This week: Idaho State at home and Marquette on the road
2. Indiana (Last week: 4 / KenPom: 15)
Assembly Hall displayed its full power on Wednesday night. That’s not to diminish what the Hoosier team did against North Carolina, but when AH is at full tilt, it’s very difficult for a team to settle in, even a team as good as the Tar Heels.
When I look for the “Five Stars of the Week,” I naturally always look first to teams that won that week. I always have a player or two in mind, but I’ll be honest, I don’t have the time to watch all 14 teams play their two or three games every week.
Anyway, I wanted to find a Hoosier I could put in there this week. There was no way I could pick just one, two, or even a trio, like I did with Wisconsin. But this team is just so balanced. Tom Crean is playing as many as 10 guys double-digit minutes and they all contribute, which also means all of those guys can be major contributors on any given night.
That’s not to say they’re without their flaws. The turnover category continues to be an issue. The defense is still shaky at times. But they’re deep enough to withstand one Blackmon or Bryant having a quiet game and also, to withstand the loss of OG Anunoby for however long he ends up being out.
They’re without a doubt the first or second best team in the league right now. Being 2-0 against UNC and Kansas far outweighs a bad night in Fort Wayne.
This week: home for Houston Baptist
3. Purdue (Last week: 2 / KenPom: 16)
I heard/read quite a few “that’s the worst half Purdue has played in a while” after the first half slop fest in Louisville on Wednesday. Apparently those people missed the first 32 minutes of the Boilermakers game with Georgia State 12 days prior.
When Purdue is good, they’re really good. When they’re not good, they can lose to just about anybody. You saw both of those teams at Louisville. The first half was a mess of turnovers, missed shots, and not getting any looks for their two big guys down low. They actually played pretty well in the second half, which was probably helped out by the Cardinals relaxing a bit with a big lead.
They’ll never be at their best against teams with the type of length and athleticism that Louisville has. They can’t feed the post like they want to, when they do the big guys lose it in a double team, and their offense completely shuts down in long stretches.
An antidote for that can be Carsen Edwards. The freshman provides something that’s been lacking from this team for years and that’s speed, quickness, an ability to get to the rim, etc. He still has strides to make in terms of decision making, but he’s already made some and it’s shown. He’s averaged just over 16 ppg the over their past four games. Louisville was the one game in that stretch where he wasn’t efficient.
It’s a dangerous game to play, but Purdue’s ceiling as a team depends a lot on his development this season. He’s the type of player you need in March, which is the only month that’s going to define Purdue’s season.
Oh, and Vince(nt) Edwards. He has to get back to his late-season form from a year ago – or at least like 85% – if this team is gonna go anywhere.
This week: Arizona State in New York and Cleveland State at home
4. Ohio State (Last week: 5 / KenPom: 24)
What felt like might be a big coming out party for the Buckeyes Wednesday night, turned in to a big missed opportunity. OSU was up by 16 in the first half at Virginia, but couldn’t finish. The main reason? 20 turnovers, eight of them coming from JaQuan Lyle. It had to sting even more to see West Virginia come in this past weekend and take down the Cavs at home.
It had to sting even more, coming out lethargic once again against a very poor Fairleigh Dickinson team. Lyle had five more turnovers.
This week: Florida Atlantic and UConn at home
5. Northwestern (Last week: 8 / KenPom: 44)
The Wildcats survived a tight one with Wake Forest and then promptly dumped all over Chicago-area rival DePaul. The final score wasn’t a real indicator of just how bad Northwestern beat the Blue Demons.
It’s time for some Scottie Lindsey love. I’m as guilty as anybody at putting all the focus on this team at Bryant McIntosh and Vic Law. McIntosh gets the love because he’s the point guard, a scorer, and been an immediate big-time contributor since the moment he stepped on campus. Law is the biggest recruit to come through Evanston in a long time and is different from any player they’ve had in recent memory.
But Lindsey is putting up 15.5 points per game this year, a full nine points higher than a season ago. He’s shooting a .464/.465./.933 and throwing in five rebounds and four assists for good measure. He’s been in double figures scoring every game so far. He’s officially turned the McIntosh-Law duo into a trio.
This week: home for New Orleans
6. Michigan (Last week: 3 / KenPom: 25)
Virginia Tech is one of the most improved teams in the country and capable of beating anyone in the ACC this year. They’re balanced offensively with a multitude of scorers. Well coached.
However, there’s far too much experience on this Michigan team to blow a 15-point lead at home to the Hokies. The game was lost at the free throw line. The Wolverines spent all night content to shoot threes, while VT got to the line and ended up +15 in free throws made. Aside from that area, Michigan played pretty well.
Two more tests this week. We’ll have a better idea if Michigan just had a really good weekend in New York or if it really was a sign of things to come.
This week: home for Texas, at UCLA
7. Minnesota (Last week: 9 / KenPom: 51)
The Gophers weren’t very competitive in the second half down in Tallahassee, but they bounced back with a neutral site win over Vandy. The FSU game was largely a game of missed shots and free throw shooting, which was also rather poor on both sides. The game had basically zero flow. I wasn’t able to see any of the Vandy game, but it appeared to be sloppy in its own right, but with a better result. It’s clear in the early season that Minny will be able to guard people, but we’ll see if their offense has enough to be a tournament team.
This week: home for NJIT, Georgia Southern, and Northern Illinois
8. Michigan State (Last week: 6 / KenPom: 38)
The Spartans finally put together two good games back-to-back, even if it was a loss. the game against Duke got away from them late, but they were back and forth with the Blue Devils for 80% of that game.
Then they followed it up by nearly losing to Oral Roberts. Of course Miles Bridges didn’t play, but still. Battling with ORU is much different than FGCU. ORU is terrible. Two nights before they had lost by 28 to Oakland.
It wasn’t Bridges’ offense they were missing. They didn’t defend well and they allowed the Golden Eagles to gather 14 offensive rebounds. It was the most efficient ORU has been offensively and the highest offensive rebounding percentage they’ve had against any D-1 opponent. Bridges is the second best rebounder for the Spartans, but that phase of the game has been a problem all year for MSU.
In positive news, it was a monster game for Nick Ward.
This week: home for Youngstown State and Tennessee Tech
9. Maryland (Last week: 7 / KenPom: 64)
No doubt it was an ugly performance against Pittsburgh, who followed up their 14-point win in College Park by losing to Duquesne over the weekend, who’s off to a terrible start.
With that said, I was impressed by the Terps ability to bounce back with a win over Oklahoma State on Saturday. They significantly slowed down a Cowboy offense that’s been on a tear so far this season. Maryland didn’t shoot the ball well and their rebounding was poor again, but a team that starts three freshmen came back from 12 down in the second half to beat a good team. Not to mention, they did it without a big offensive game from Melo Trimble.
Also, that Kansas State win is looking better by the day.
This week: home for Howard and Saint Peter’s
10. Illinois (Last week: 14 / KenPom: 69)
Huge week for the Illini and I think we can all agree it was solely due to the motivation from the fact that I placed them last in the rankings last week. That one’s for free, John Groce.
In all seriousness, they played great this week. Their defense against VCU was outstanding.
With that said, this team’s biggest problem the past few years has been consistency. They haven’t proven that yet. They’ve got two teams this week who they should beat by double digits, but are good enough to win if the Illini aren’t sharp.
This week: IUPUI and Central Michigan at home
11. Nebraska (Last week: 10 / KenPom: 74)
The Huskers aren’t a likely tournament team this season, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. That one at Clemson is one they really needed. For a team that’s not great on the boards, they had a great night of rebounding, but another night of poor shooting and turnovers did them in. They’re a team that just doesn’t do a great job of setting each other up for easy buckets at the moment.
Also, they wasted another Good Glynn Watson game. He’s scored 20+ in four games this year. He’s scored two in two games. Gotta win Good Glynn Watson games.
This week: home for Creighton and at Kansas (good luck!)
12. Rutgers (Last week: 12 / KenPom: 150)
The dream of an undefeated season is over, but the improvement form last year is still very apparent. Last year’s Scarlet Knights would’ve lost by 30 at Miami. At one point, it looked like they might, but there’s actually some fight on this team.
Thing is, I’m not sure Corey Sanders has had one good game yet. Well, at least one good shooting game. He’s shooting 29.6% from the field so far. I find it hard to believe that will continue. If he gets going, they’ll have a nice little trio with him, Deshawn Freeman, and Nigel Johnson, with CJ Gettys as a decent fourth option.
Another good test for the Scarlet Knights this week as they travel to play Steve Pikiell’s former team, Stony Brook.
This week: home for Central Connecticut, at Stony Brook
13. Penn State (Last week: 13 / KenPom: 99)
How about Mike Watkins? The redshirt freshman and his mustache are currently fourth in the country in blocks per game, along with a near 10 and 8 in points and rebounds. The Nittany Lions just keep winning games with this inexperienced group. Beating Pittsburgh on Saturday would be big.
This week: George Mason at home, Pittsburgh in Newark
14. Iowa (Last week: 11 / KenPom: 93)
Nebraska-Omaha had by far their most efficient game offensively against a D-1 opponent on Iowa’s home floor. Yikes.
This week: Stetson and Iowa State at home