Five Stars of the Past Week:
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin – averaged 23.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 3.5 steals in two wins
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue – averaged 19.5 points, 15.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists in two games
Miles Bridges, Michigan State – averaged 24.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, and 2.0 steals in two games
Justin Jackson, Maryland – 28 points (5-5 from 3) and 10 rebounds in win at Minnesota
Dererk Pardon, Northwestern – 19 points, 22 rebounds, and 3 blocks in win over Nebraska
Five Best Games to Watch This Week:
Maryland at Ohio State, Tuesday, 7:00 pm EST, ESPN
Northwestern at Purdue, Wednesday, 8:30 pm EST, BTN
Purdue at Maryland, Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN
Ohio State at Michigan, Saturday, 6:00 pm EST, ESPN2
Indiana at Wisconsin, Sunday, 1:00 pm EST, CBS
We’re halfway through the conference slate now and with every game that passes, it feels more and more clear who’s good and who’s not. There’s still quite a bit of parity in the league, but the Top 4 isn’t really debatable, although the order of them is up for discussion.
Rutgers is clearly at the bottom. #5 through #7 seems fairly set to me. Although Indiana is the wildcard. James Blackmon could be back soon, but if he’s not, who knows what happens with that team.
With that said, the power rankings are back.
1. Wisconsin (KenPom: 11)
If the Badgers were going to lose one they shouldn’t, Saturday felt like the time. But for anyone who’s watched a lot of both Wisconsin and Rutgers recently, the end of that game went exactly as expected.
It wasn’t a pretty performance by any means, but the difference between Wisconsin and their group of supposed challengers is that they still win the games they should even when they don’t bring their best. Maryland may be equal with them in terms of record, but their inability to close out Nebraska at home may end up being the difference in who wins the championship.
The Badgers just feel like a robot that’s designed to win games by any means necessary. They have the most “minutes continuity” in the nation from last year to this year and they play like it, especially down the stretch.
This week: at Illinois, home for Indiana
2. Maryland (KenPom: 40)
Ya know, I look at analytics every day. I even dabble in doing a bit of my own and write ridiculously informative and extremely important blogs about them. I find them to be really useful and they do a good job of supplementing what you think you see when you watch a team.
But at some point intangibles have to count for something. And a big intangible Maryland has is “really good at winning games in adverse environments”.
I know I just talked about them losing a game they shouldn’t have to Nebraska in the Wisconsin section, but they’re also 5-0 in true road games this year with all of those games coming against Top 100 competition.
Melo Trimble is the steady hand every game, but their freshmen make multiple massive plays every single night. None of the Cowan/Jackson/Huerter trio comes up big every single game, but as a group they deliver so consistently that it has to be somewhat embarrassing for some of the older teams that don’t in the conference. *silently stares daggers through Ohio State and Michigan*
This week: at Ohio State, home for Purdue
3. Northwestern (KenPom: 30)
It hasn’t been murderers’ row, but six straight wins is six straight wins.
Bryant McIntosh is starting to get hot. Vic Law consistently impacts every game in at least one positive way. Scottie Lindsey can now score in multiple ways. Dererk Pardon threw up a casual 19 and 22 and 3 blocks this week. Sanjay Lumpkin is now doing this:
Life is good in Evanston.
This week: at Purdue
4. Purdue (KenPom: 12)
*Very long, very exaggerated sigh*
It seemed as though the Boilers had put their road demons behind them when they got a big win in East Lansing on Tuesday. They did a great job of defending everyone except Miles Bridges. They made “winning” plays down the stretch. They looked like a team that was actually formidable.
Then they choked away another game, this time in Lincoln against an Ed Morrow-less Nebraska team.
Purdue is now 6-3 in the Big Ten, 17-5 overall. They have lost precisely one game due to offense this year and even that was against Louisville, one of the best defenses in the country.
The program’s reputation has hung its hat on defense, but not this year. This is the best offense they’ve had under Matt Painter, but they continue to lose these games because they can’t keep it together defensively.
With that said, they could still be winning these games if this wasn’t their end of game offense:
Not great, Bob!
Caleb Swanigan is the best player in the league, but he’s trying to do too much late in the game. Purdue’s offense is awesome 95% of the time because they play inside-out and they have some lethal shooters to go along with their dominant presence in the low-post. It doesn’t work when the guys in the low-post abandon that and try to force things.
This week: home for Northwestern, at Maryland
5. Michigan State (KenPom: 51)
This is when things get messy in the rankings. 1 through 4 is purely performance based and nothing else.
The fact that Michigan State is at the fifth spot probably doesn’t say great things about the league, but at the same time the small gap between #5 and #12 speaks to the depth, I guess.
Miles Bridges gets the nod for the Spartans over the other teams in their tier. He’s so damn good. As unorthodox and somewhat ugly as his shooting stroke is, he’s been consistent from deep all season. Add that on top of his freak athleticism and it makes Bridges one of the most difficult players to defend in the league.
Poor DJ Wilson. Although in true Michigan defensive fashion, it appears no one gave a second thought to providing any helpside defense.
The Spartan offense as a team hasn’t been that bad lately. That side of the ball has started to come around. Unfortunately for them, that’s coincided with the recession of their defense and it’s resulted in MSU still fighting for their tournament life.
This week: at Nebraska
6. Michigan (KenPom: 35)
I don’t know, man. They caught Indiana at the right time and played their best game of the season at the same time.
Then they go on the road against their intrastate rival and one of their senior leaders goes 0-8 with 0 points and 3 turnovers.
They are what they are and that’s a team that probably peaked a week before Thanksgiving. It’s frustrating to watch.
I’m obviously a big proponent of the Big Ten, but at this point I can’t say that Michigan has earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament. I’d rather watch whatever mid-major team that inevitably slips in their conference tournament, but won 25+ games. The Wolverines are now 0-6 in true road games. Their best win in two months is either a very depleted Indiana team or Texas.
This week: home for Ohio State
7. Indiana (KenPom: 39)
With 100% sincerity, it sucks what’s happening to IU. My Purdue fan side wishes for (emotional) pain for IU at all times, but as a fan of the Big Ten and college basketball in general, I’m never going to take joy in injuries derailing a season.
The Hoosiers had very real problems before the injury bug hit them, but they still had two months to figure them out.
Now? Now they have to figure out how to win games with Josh Newkirk as their third scorer. That spells doom with their upcoming schedule.
Why does it seem like every team desperate for wins has to go play at the Kohl Center that week?
This week: home for Penn State, at Wisconsin
8. Minnesota (KenPom: 44)
I basically trashed Richie Pitino for a year and a half and then felt like a real dummy when they were 3-1 at the start of Big Ten play with wins at Purdue and Northwestern. I then declared Minnesota a contender for the league championship.
Since that point, the Gophers have lost five straight.
The lesson? Never doubt your belief that Richie Pitino will always find a way to disappoint. The Gophers are now back fighting for their tournament lives.
This week: at Illinois
9. Iowa (KenPom: 91)
Was looking for some hot takes on Iowa being better without Peter Jok, so I did a quick Twitter search on him. Found this instead:
Nothing he said was even remotely controversial, but instead mature and hopeful. But of course, the replies didn’t disappoint.
This week: at Rutgers, home for Nebraska
10. Penn State (KenPom: 93)
The roller coaster season for the Nittany Lions continues. They aren’t terrible, but they’re not a viable threat to the big boys on the road yet.
This week: at Indiana, home for Rutgers
11. Ohio State (KenPom: 63)
It felt like a big win at home against Minnesota and then they go and lay a defensive egg against a Peter Jok-less Iowa team.
I can’t totally quit them yet, but outside of Tate and Thompson they have little consistency. Lyle has improved in that department, but he’s still not equipped to really run a team.
This week: home for Maryland, at Michigan
12. Nebraska (KenPom: 83)
They snapped the five-game losing skid with a big win over Purdue, but I’m not sure it’s sustainable. Jack McVeigh had a huge game, but he’s been the model of inconsistency. They’ll be a tough out for anybody that comes to Lincoln, but their play elsewhere has slipped back to the mean.
This week: home for Michigan State, at Iowa
13. Illinois (KenPom: 67)
I’ve heard some discussion about “Who’s the 13th team in the Big Ten?” I don’t find it to be that difficult of a question to answer. Illinois is so bad on the road. They ended up making it a four-point game in Happy Valley, but it wasn’t remotely that close. They’re a veteran team without a lot of potential for getting better. They just have no defensive spine. Their Big Ten resume may seem fairly even with the few right above them, but the Illini are the only team that’s seemingly regressed without the excuse of an injury.
This week: home for Wisconsin and Minnesota
14. Rutgers (KenPom: 129)
They had their big chance, but couldn’t finish.
This week: home for Iowa, at Penn State