Five Stars From the Past Week:
Peter Jok, Iowa – averaged 19.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists in two wins
Tracy Abrams, Illinois – averaged 19.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.5 steals in two wins
Trevor Thompson, Ohio State – averaged 16.5 points and 12.0 rebounds in two games
Nigel Johnson, Rutgers – averaged 18.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.5 steals in two wins
Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin – averaged 19.5 points, including 8-13 three-point shooting in two wins
Five Best Games to Watch This Week:
Purdue vs. Notre Dame (Indy), Saturday, 2 pm EST, ESPN2
Ohio State vs. UCLA (Las Vegas), Saturday, 3 pm EST, CBS
Butler vs. Indiana (Indy), Saturday, 5 pm EST, BTN
Dayton vs. Northwestern (Chicago), Saturday, 7 pm EST, BTN
BYU vs. Illinois (Chicago), Saturday, 9:30 pm EST, BTN
1. Wisconsin (Last Week: 1 / KenPom: 8)
For my money, the Marquette win is the best of the season for the Badgers. They beat Syracuse, Oklahoma, and Georgetown by wider margins, but crushing their intrastate rival on the road in the second half was a statement of sorts. The final outcome could’ve been even more one-sided if Ethan Happ actually played in the first half, which he only participated in two minutes of.
You’d like to see Wisconsin play a better defensive game, but it didn’t come close to mattering because of how lethal they were on offense. Six guys scored 11+. Nigel Hayes continued to play the way I described last week. When Happ did play, he was his usual dominant, Mr. Fundamental 2.0 self. Bronson Koenig was hitting shots.
I had doubts about this team, mainly because of the style Hayes had been playing last year, but the most recent version of the Badgers is one that makes them the clear favorites of the Big Ten.
This week: Green Bay and Florida A&M at home
2. Indiana (Last Week: 2 / KenPom: 15)
There’s really not a lot to say about the Hoosiers this week. They destroyed Houston Baptist in their only game, which was not surprising.
While they only play once again this week, it’s against Butler on a neutral floor, so it’s another opportunity to learn a little bit about IU, who seems to be one of the most polarizing team when it comes to polls.
My opinion: polls are stupid and meaningless and largely created by a group of people who don’t seem to watch a lot of basketball and seem to lack basic logic and reasoning. With that said, please enjoy the rest of my piece that is sorted arbitrarily by my own personal preference of the quality of Big Ten teams…until I feel differently a whole seven days from now.
This week: Butler in Indy
3. Purdue (Last Week: 3 / KenPom: 12)
I’m still taking the wait-and-see approach with the Boilermakers. Of course I hope that they’re really good, but I don’t think you can say that for sure right now. They’ve proven their ability to blow out inferior teams, including those that are above average, but not particularly “good”.
The latest examples: Arizona State and Cleveland State. The Sun Devils have talent, but they don’t seem to really know how to play together. They certainly don’t know how to defend together and Purdue certainly put that fact on display. The Boilers got open shot after open shot and promptly put away ASU before the first half was over.
But you still have to wonder. There’s no shame in losing to Villanova and at Louisville, but there’s only one opportunity left for Purdue to actually get a “quality” win in non-conference play. That would be Notre Dame this weekend in an event that the Boilers are 0-5 in its five years of existence. In a vacuum there’s no shame in losing to the Irish, but at the same time it feels like this team needs it to validate themselves as a real contender.
This week: Notre Dame in Indianapolis
4. Northwestern (Last Week: 5 / KenPom: 39)
Not much to say about a blowout win over New Orleans, but they’ve crushed two teams without Dererk Pardon in the lineup, which is…something.
This week: Chicago State at home, Dayton in Chicago
5. Michigan (Last Week: 6 / KenPom: 32)
They’re probably too high actually. Minnesota should probably be above them based on what they’ve done this year, but I at least know that the Wolverines can keep it together for a season. I was far from impressed by the Texas game. The Longhorns are very young and lack any sense of cohesion offensively, but still managed to stick around with the Wolverines in Ann Arbor all night.
Then, you had the UCLA game. Highly entertaining, that’s for sure. But UM was about as efficient offensively as you can hope for on the road against a good team and still ended up losing by 18. The Bruins are a great offensive team, sure, but that’s the most efficient game they’ve had against anybody this year and that includes Pacific, CS Northridge, San Diego, Long Beach State, Portland, and UC Riverside.
We’ll see what happens with SMU and Marquette. Right now they’re on the borderline of being “quality” teams. We could just be looking at an exact replica of last year’s season for the Wolverines.
This week: Central Arkansas and Maryland Eastern Shore at home
6. Minnesota (Last Week: 7 / KenPom: 47)
Week-by-week my skepticism in the Gophers decreases. They still need to sort out quite a few things offensively and that certainly limits their ceiling as a team right now, but they have proven all season that they can guard. Their UT Arlington win has taken a big jump in importance after the Mavericks housed Saint Mary’s on the road.
This week: LIU Brooklyn at home
7. Ohio State (Last Week: 4 / KenPom: 33)
Oof. The consistency factor has always been the talk around this Buckeye team, well at least in this space. It appeared they had turned a corner in that area and then the Florida Atlantic game happened. It’s just bad, there’s no other way to put it. You can’t lose that game and still be considered a contender.
This is no longer what you would consider a young team. They have plenty of experience. Their ceiling is high, but their floor is still pretty low. It doesn’t even really matter that much if they beat UCLA this weekend. They beat Kentucky last year in the same event. Consistency is the key with this team and the FAU game just proved they haven’t totally turned the corner yet.
This weekend: UCLA in Las Vegas
8. Maryland (Last Week: 9 / KenPom: 66)
Two wins over two bad teams. They’ve got two more bad teams to play before conference season starts. Then we can finally start to learn more about what the Terps are about.
This week: Jacksonville State at home
9. Michigan State (Last Week: 8 / KenPom: 41)
Miles Bridges still isn’t playing for the Spartans and of course that somewhat excuses them from yet another suspect performance against a low-major opponent at home. Matt McQuaid missed the Tennessee Tech game as well, but McQuaid really hasn’t been that much more of a factor than he was last season.
The hope when the focal point of your team goes out is that it allows the other members of the team to grow. If we’ve seen that from anybody, it’s been Josh Langford. Nick Ward has also provided instant production when he’s on the floor, but his biggest problem is still staying out of foul trouble. Cassius Winston has the highest assist rate in the country.
All of those guys are freshmen. The problem for the Spartans is that their returning players have largely stayed the same. McQuaid I mentioned, but the same goes for Tum Tum Nairn, Alvin Ellis, and Kenny Goins. Kyle Ahrens is playing a lot now that Bridges is out, but I’m not sure he brings all that much to the table.
This is the stretch of the season where MSU is playing five teams they should comfortably beat. It’s an excellent time for a young team to grow together and gain confidence heading into conference play. While that’s still happening for most of the newcomers, Bridges is out and he’s the biggest piece of their team. They’re still managing to get the wins right now, but my fear is they’ll still be way behind the conference’s elite in terms of cohesion when he gets back.
It’s not time to panic yet, but it’s the first time in a while where the Spartans aren’t looking like a shoo-in for the NCAA Tournament.
This week: Northeastern at home
10. Illinois (Last Week: 10 / KenPom: 67)
A nice week of taking care of business for the Illini. Malcolm Hill and Tracy Abrams both went for 30+ in a game. The IUPUI win still wasn’t the prettiest thing on the planet. The Jaguars got a lot done in the paint on offense. They were much better in that area against Central Michigan, not to mention the Illini lit it up offensively. Abrams going 7-8 from deep obviously had a lot to do with it.
This week: BYU in Chicago
11. Rutgers (Last Week: 12 / KenPom: 131)
Central Connecticut is pretty shitty, but it’s been half a decade since Rutgers beat a team by 40+. The Knights held CC to 0.51 PPP, which is impressive against anybody.
They followed that up by getting their second road win of the season at Stony Brook. In a vacuum, beating the Seawolves on the road isn’t that big of a deal because they’re a far cry from what they were last season. However, when you consider it’s a bunch of Steve Pikiell’s former players going against his new team that he left them for, it adds a little weight to the win.
I’m not gonna say the Scarlet Knights are exactly NCAA contenders yet, but they at least seem like they belong as a Power 6 team, which they were very far from being last season.
This week: Fairleigh Dickinson at home and Fordham in New York
12. Nebraska (Last Week: 11 / KenPom: 84)
Going in, you knew it might be a tough week for the Huskers. They had to play Creighton at home and at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Threre’s definitely no shame in losing to those two teams, but if you’re a Husker supporter you’d like to see them be a little more competitive. It’s fair to say this team is pretty far off from where they need to be to be a factor in this league.
In their defense, they’ve played one of the most difficult schedules in non-conference play, but they had six opportunities to beat quality opponents and they only manufactured one two-point win. They lost four of the games by double-digits. They’ll be dangerous in Pinnacle this year, but I’m not sure about much else.
This week: home for Gardner Webb
13. Iowa (Last Week: 14 / KenPom: 80)
If you told me Iowa was going to beat Iowa State, I would’ve been mildly surprised. But it’s a rivalry game in Carver-Hawkeye, of course the Hawkeyes have a shot. But I, like many others, was completely stunned that Iowa ran their intrastate rival out of the building. It wasn’t even one of their better offensive performances. It was without a doubt the best defensive performance for the Hawkeyes all year. Sure, they’ve slowed down a couple of horrible teams, but every other decent team they’ve played has shredded them.
With that said, it’s one game and this team has a lot more to prove. It’s a nice win, but the questions still remain if this team can guard night-in and night-out.
This week: Northern Iowa in Des Moines
14. Penn State (Last Week: 13 / KenPom: 123)
After taking a step forward the previous couple of weeks, the young Nittany Lions took a step back this week. Or a couple of steps back. However many steps equates to losing by 19 to George Mason at home.
This week: at St. John’s