Big Ten Non-Conference Awards and NCAA Tournament Outlook

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Five Stars From the Past Week:

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue – averaged 26.5 points and 20.5 rebounds in two wins

James Blackmon, Indiana – averaged 21.0 points on 70% shooting, including 67% from 3P in two wins

Trevor Thompson, Ohio State – averaged 12.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks in two wins

Nick Ward, Michigan State – 25 points and 9 rebounds in win over Oakland

Maverick Morgan, Illinois – 19 points and 11 rebounds in win over Missouri

Five Best Games to Watch This Week:

Michigan State at Minnesota, Tuesday, 9:oo pm EST, ESPN2

Northwestern at Michigan State, Friday, 6:00 pm EST, BTN

Louisville vs. Indiana (Indy), Saturday, 12:30 pm EST, CBS

Michigan at Iowa, Sunday, 2:15 pm EST, BTN

Ohio State at Illinois, Sunday, 7:00 pm EST, BTN

We begin with our non-conference awards:

Player of the Non-Conference Season

1. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
2. Melo Trimble, Maryland
3. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
4. James Blackmon, Indiana
5. Peter Jok, Iowa

This one feels fairly obvious to me, as much as I like the other guys listed here. Swanigan is fourth in the league in scoring (18.3 ppg) and first in rebounding (12.5 rpg). He averages three more rebounds per game than anyone else in the league. He’s had three 20-20 games already. He leads the league with 10 double-doubles. The next closest guy has six. He’s won Big Ten POTW three of the seven weeks.

The schedule wasn’t the strongest for Maryland, but as much credit goes to Trimble for their 12-1 record as anybody else. Happ is still the MVP of the Badger trio for me and the best two-way player. Blackmon and Jok both still leave a little to be desired defensively, but they both certainly score.

Coach of the Non-Conference Season

1. Steve Pikiell, Rutgers
2. Richard Pitino, Minnesota
3. Mark Turgeon, Maryland
4. Chris Collins, Northwestern
5. John Groce, Illinois

COTY is always tough because coaches are dealing with different standards and play much different schedules in the non-conference. I don’t have any of the Gard, Crean, and Painter trio listed. Their teams are the three current contenders for the league championship, but I don’t think any of them exceeded expectations much. They just kind of did what you expected.

Pikiell gets the nod for making the Scarlet Knights look like a basketball team, which wasn’t the case a year ago. They didn’t exactly build a tournament resume. In fact, they don’t really have one yet. But they went 11-2 – four more wins than all of last year – and their only two losses were competitive ones on the road at Miami (FL) and Seton Hall.

Pitino’s Gopher team has also made great strides. They’ve been great defensively and will be a near lock to make the NCAA Tournament if they go .500 in league play. Turgeon’s squad wasn’t overwhelming, but they’ve battled to a 12-1 record with a highly inexperienced team.

It would’ve been massive to get the one-that-got-away against Notre Dame, but Collins just might do the impossible at Northwestern this year. Thanksgiving week wasn’t kind to John Groce, but his Illini team has been flawless against a challenging schedule since and find themselves back in the tourney conversation.

Defensive Player of the Non-Conference Season

1. Trevor Thompson, Ohio State
2. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
3. Reggie Lynch, Minnesota
4. Glynn Watson, Nebraska
5. Mike Watkins, Penn State

Maybe the toughest one to really decide. I always think coaches have a much better idea of who the best defensive players are. I’m like most people in that I don’t always pay as much attention to the individual defenders.

Thompson gets the nod for me. He’s one of the most underrated players in the league, if you ask me. Defensively, he’s the only rim-protector the Buckeyes have and he does it really well. He’s the league leader in both defensive rebounding percentage and overall defensive rating. Defensive rating can be a flawed individual statistic, but when no one else on your team is close to you and your team is a Top 25 defense, I think it’s fair to say the numbers back up the eye test with Thompson.

Happ doesn’t have the explosiveness to be a big time shot-blocker, but he’s so damn solid and those block numbers will always hold his defense back from getting the respect it deserves.

Lynch and Watkins have insane block numbers so far and are two of the best in the country. Watson is one of the best end-to-end defenders in the league and leads the B1G in steals.

Newcomer of the Non-Conference Season

1. Mike Watkins, Penn State
2. Nick Ward, Michigan State
3. Anthony Cowan, Maryland
4. Amir Coffey, Minnesota
5. Cordell Pemsl, Iowa

I had a list of twenty that are probably all worthy. To narrow it down, I took out both Tyler Cook and Miles Bridges, just because they’ve both missed a large chunk of the season. Also, I made just one guy eligible per team. This was difficult with all five teams that these guys are on.

Watkins and Ward are probably 1a and 1b for me, but Watkins gets the nod because he’s been in the fire from game one this season. Ward didn’t play 20 minutes in a game until the seventh game of the season. Both have been outstanding big men and are potential NBA guys.

Cowan got the Terp nod over Justin Jackson. He’s been a little more efficient and a solid table-setter. Coffey has slowed down the past few weeks, but he’s also a lot younger than Lynch and Akeem Springs and brings a unique skill set to that team. Pemsl has been ultra-efficient and has been really effective without Cook in the lineup.

Not a lot actually happened this week, so it seems like a perfect opportunity to check in on where all the bracket prognosticators have everybody in the NCAA Tournament projections. It’s obviously still very early, but I think it gives you a good idea of what teams need to accomplish in conference play if they want to go dancing.

Nationally, it’s not the prettiest scene for the B1G right now. KenPom’s ratings have them as the fourth-best league in the country and only have four teams in the Top 40. For comparison, the Big 12 has eight teams (out of 10) and the ACC has nine. As a group, they just didn’t have a lot of big wins in the early season.

Barring A Debacle, They’re Playing For Seeding

Purdue – Bracket Matrix: 4 Seed (29/29 brackets, 4.41 average)

The Big East, ACC, and Big 12 all have three teams higher on the seed list than the B1G’s highest team, the Boilermakers.

There was nothing really damaging for Purdue in the non-conference, but there also wasn’t a ton of resume building either. The Notre Dame win is the only one that would currently classify as “quality”, although Auburn could certainly join that list. The Tigers are 10-2 headed into a pretty weak SEC and they’ve already got a few nice wins themselves.

The biggest takeaway in terms of their seeding chances in the early season was really the opportunities they lost out on. Beating Villanova at home would’ve been major and probably worth at least a full seed line. They’d probably like a re-do on that first half in Louisville, as well. Those are two losses that won’t necessarily hurt them, but could’ve helped them get out of that 4/5 seed purgatory where losing in the first game is a very real possibility, which the Boilers are very familiar with after UALR last year.

This week: Iowa and Minnesota at home

Indiana – Bracket Matrix: 4 Seed (28/29 brackets, 4.75 average)

The Hoosiers collected the two best wins in the league during the non-con. Beating UNC and Kansas will be a big boost when it comes time for their final seeding.

So why are they the same seed as a Purdue team that wasn’t able to win those type of games? Well, SOS would probably be the biggest reason. KenPom has them at 348 out of 351. They’ve only played four games against the KenPom top 250. They went 2-2. Their next best win at the moment – behind UNC and Kansas – would be Houston Baptist, who currently has one D-1 win.

The Fort Wayne loss isn’t all that damaging at the moment. I’ve written before about these arbitrary marks we like to make with the RPI. Any loss outside of the Top 100 in the RPI is considered bad and any win inside the Top 50 is considered good. The RPI is already pretty dumb and these meaningless boundaries we set are even dumber. A win over the #1 team and a win over the #50 team are reduced to being the same value when you lump them under “Top 50 RPI wins”.

I digress. The reason Fort Wayne isn’t a bad loss at the moment is because they’re juuuuuust inside the Top 100 in the RPI at 97.

The SOS will go way up for IU after they go through their B1G schedule and they also will play Louisville this week, which will be a big boost to the non-con SOS.

This week: home for Nebraska, Louisville in Indy

Wisconsin – Bracket Matrix: 5 Seed (29/29 brackets, 4.79 average)

Speaking of Top 50 wins, the Badgers may not have gotten one yet. The RPI is even worse at this point of the year than usual, but while Wisconsin won five games over big-name schools, Georgetown is the highest in the RPI right now at 59. While I’ve repeatedly let my disdain for the RPI be known, it may be correct in that Georgetown, Syracuse, Oklahoma, Marquette, and Tennessee are actually not very good.

Beating Creighton or North Carolina would’ve solidified a good win for the Badgers, but they couldn’t close in Omaha and the Tar Heels blew them out in Maui. If they’re going to get up in to one those Top 2 seeds, they’ll probably have to go something like 16-2 in league play or a couple of those big-name teams they beat are going to have to play much better in their leagues.

This week: home for Rutgers

They’d Probably Be In Now, But Some Work Left To Do

Maryland – Bracket Matrix: 7 Seed (26/29 brackets, 7.35 average)

It doesn’t really matter how you get them and the Terps had a trio of potentially good wins over Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and Georgetown. How did they get them? They won all three games by one point.

It speaks to the Terps ability to close games, but is also a reason that some are skeptical if they can be a team that wins double-digit games in conference play. But as I mentioned in the season preview, their schedule is very favorable. While that helps them in terms of their ability to have a chance at winning the conference or coming close, it reduces their opportunities to help out their seeding.

This week: Illinois and Nebraska at home

Minnesota – Bracket Matrix: 7 Seed (26/29 brackets, 7.81 average)

The Gophers are in a fairly similar boat with Maryland, they were just a little more convincing in their victories over decent teams. That doesn’t really change anything with the traditional, antiquated way of viewing resumes, but it helps their standing with power rankings like KenPom and Sagarin, which become part of the conversation more and more every year.

They also have a relatively easy road with their B1G schedule. They play each of the Top 3 only once and only Purdue is on the road. I’m not saying they’re going to win the league, but it wouldn’t be the dumbest thing to sprinkle a little action on them to win the league, either.

This week: home for Michigan State and at Purdue

Northwestern – Bracket Matrix: 9 Seed (23/29 brackets, 8.83 average)

They need Dayton, Texas, and Wake Forest to finish the season strong. They’d also probably like to have a time machine and redo the ends of the Butler and Notre Dame games.

I’m not saying it’s a lock that Northwestern makes the tournament if they go 9-9 in league play, but it’d put a lot of pressure on the committee to keep them out.

This week: at Penn State and Michigan State

Michigan – Bracket Matrix: 9 Seed (25/29 brackets, 8.92 average)

I’m not trying to freak any Wolverine fans out, but their non-con resume is very similar to last year, if not a little worse. They went 10-8 in B1G play last year and still had to beat IU in the conference tournament in order to make one of the play-in games in Dayton. Not saying, just saying.

This week: at Iowa

Things Are Pretty Bubbly

Ohio State – Bracket Matrix: 11 Seed (13/29 brackets, 9.54 average)

I had high hopes for the Buckeyes this year. Even higher hopes after their first half at Virginia. Since then, it appears they’re exactly what we thought they were.

You can get away with playing very poorly and winning close games against Fairleigh Dickinson and UNC Asheville at home. It becomes a big deal for 20 minutes on Twitter as everyone waits to see if you lose. But if you win, just about everybody forgets by the next day and it’s never talked about nationally again. More specifically, it never matters with the committee in March.

Unfortunately that overtime loss to Florida Atlantic could be the difference between making the tournament and playing in the NIT again. In addition, they may still not have a good win. Their only real hope is Providence.

They may need to win 11 or 12 B1G games, including a couple of big ones.

This week: at Illinois

Illinois – Bracket Matrix: 11 Seed (13/29 brackets, 10.38 average)

I’m no bracket expert, but I’d say the Illini have a much better resume right now than Ohio State, but what do I know? Yes, they lost to Winthrop, but Winthrop is a lot better than FAU. They’ve also beaten NC State, VCU, and BYU. Three wins that are right about the same level as OSU’s one win over Providence.

Illinois has a chance to rack up a lot of wins in the B1G, but they only have one chance at each of the Top 3, with only Wisconsin at home. They’re going to need to have to avoid bad losses because they won’t have many opportunities to offset them with big wins.

This week: at Maryland, home for Ohio State

Michigan State – Bracket Matrix: Second Four Out (8/29 brackets, 10.50 average)

They really need Wichita State to be dominant in the MVC again this year. The Shockers were their best win and Wichita left non-con with one decent win over Oklahoma.

They also need Northeastern to have a really good run in the CAA to be a Top 100 team.

Most importantly, the Spartans need to start playing significantly better.

MSU will get the benefit of the doubt when it comes down to Selection Sunday and that’s just a fact. There’s a reason Syracuse made the tournament last year, setting the record for being the team with the highest RPI to be selected to make the field. Also, MSU had the worst record ever for a team selected back in 2011 when they were 18-14.

This week: at Minnesota, home for Northwestern

A Lot Of Work To Do, But Possible

Iowa – Bracket Matrix: N/A

They’re not in a great spot right now, but the Iowa State win was a good place to start and the way they’ve been playing the past few weeks suggests that they may be a factor in the conference. Two big games to start off league play.

This week: at Purdue, home for Michigan

Rutgers – Bracket Matrix: N/A

I mentioned it in the COTNCS discussion, but while Rutgers doesn’t have any good wins yet, they also haven’t done any damage to a potential NCAA Tournament resume yet. Having no bad losses (with plenty of opportunities), puts them ahead of Iowa, Illinois, MSU, and OSU in that aspect.

It’s difficult to imagine them as a tournament team because of how bad they were last year, but we’ve only seen them play two good teams. They were both on the road and the Scarlet Knights didn’t look too bad. They don’t play any of the Top 3 at home. That hurts their chances for a massive win, but it also means they’ll have a good opportunity to win every game at home the rest of the way. It’s not likely, but it’s also not inconceivable. KenPom gives Michigan the best chance to win in Piscataway and he only favors them by four points.

This week: at Wisconsin, home for Penn St.

Maybe Next Year

Penn State – Bracket Matrix: N/A

The Nittany Lions will be frisky, but they’re probably not frisky enough to overcome an 8-5 record with losses to George Mason and Albany.

This week: home for Northwestern, at Penn St.

Nebraska – Bracket Matrix: N/A

There was a glimmer of hope until they lost to Gardner-Webb.

This week: at Indiana and Maryland



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