Five Stars From the Past Week:
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue – averaged 25.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, 1.0 blocks, and 1.5 steals in two wins
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin – averaged 17.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and 2.5 steals in two wins
Josh Newkirk, Indiana – averaged 24.5 points (went 8-14 from three), 3.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in two games
Jordan Bohannon, Iowa – averaged 16.0 points (went 9-13 from three) and 3.0 assists in two wins
Corey Sanders, Rutgers – 25 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals in win at Penn State
Five Best Games to Watch This Week:
Michigan State at Michigan, Tuesday, 9:00 pm EST, ESPN
Purdue at Indiana, Thursday, 7:00 pm EST, ESPN2
Ohio State at Maryland, Saturday, 4:00 pm EST, ESPN
Michigan at Indiana, Sunday, 1:00 pm EST, CBS
Northwestern at Wisconsin, Sunday, 6:30 pm EST, BTN
All bracket info comes from BracketMatrix.com.
Wisconsin – 3 Seed (# of Brackets: 98/98)
The Badgers continue to win without a lot of sizzle, but 9-1 is 9-1. It’s basically only a matter of time before they wrap up another conference title.
While they finish off that title, the other focus will be their seeding for the tournament and their prospects of making a deep run.
While the Badgers aren’t making a lot of moves in the power rankings based on analytics, they are inching their way up the seed ladder every day as they grind out wins and those above them continue to lose.
The concern when you project this team long-term is how effective they can be offensively. The Rutgers game was obviously an eyesore in that department, but this week wasn’t a whole hell of a lot better. Illinois and Indiana aren’t exactly the elite defensive teams of the league and the Badgers found themselves just barely scratching out a point per possession against both teams.
Naturally, this has coincided with Bronson Koenig going through a slump. In those three games, Koenig has gone 9-34 (5-20 from three) from the floor for a total of 30 points. This isn’t new. Happ is the steady rock of the offense, but how Bronson shoots is probably the most important aspect of this team when it matters most. Look no further than the program’s last four losses (three this year, plus last year’s season-ender against Notre Dame).
I guess what I’m trying to say is that this team will go as far as Bronson Koenig takes them. No pressure.
This week: at Nebraska, home for Northwestern
Purdue – 5 Seed (# of Brackets: 98/98)
Clearly the winner of this week. The Boilermakers wrapped up a pair of victories over Top 25 teams, including a very crucial one at Maryland. Purdue basically was never really in control of the game until there were two seconds left.
The Northwestern win comes with a bit of an asterisk with Scottie Lindsey’s absence, but how much of a difference could he have made? It was a 22-point game at halftime. After the embarrassing effort in Lincoln last weekend, that just wasn’t a game that Purdue was going to lose.
What’s becoming evidently clear with this team is that if they’re going to reach their ceiling, it’ll come down to the Edwards Brothers (not actually brothers) – Carsen and Vince(nt).
I hear people say “Purdue will go as far as Caleb Swanigan takes them,” which isn’t remotely true. Caleb Swanigan is basically awesome every single game. There are different shades of awesome, but he’s relatively the same every game and there’s almost no correlation on how Purdue plays as a team. He had 28 points and 22 rebounds and his team lost at home to Minnesota. His least productive game all year came against Arizona State (6 points, 10 rebounds) and the Boilers won by 33 on a neutral floor.
Seriously, look at this:
His play is obviously the most important on the team, but it’s also a constant.
Vince(nt) Edwards has been a 6’8″ enigma ever since he stepped foot in West Lafayette. That is to say, he’d be a perfect fit with his home-state Ohio State Buckeyes. It’s not that he’s gotten any worse, it’s that he’s basically the same as a junior that he was as a freshman. His efficiency numbers are staggeringly similar. They’re good numbers, but as steady as they’ve been from year-to-year, they’re as equally unsteady from game-to-game.
For instance, this week he scored 17 points on 10 shots against Northwestern. Went 5-7 from three. On Saturday against Maryland, 0 points on 0-7 shooting. That’s the first time he’s been shutout in the scoring column in his career. Purdue’s just praying he hits an upswing in March the same way he did last year.
As for Carsen, his decision-making is suspect at times, but in a way that mentality is exactly what Purdue needs. He has the confidence that he can carry the offense of a veteran team when most of the time, they don’t need him to. But he did carry them in the first half at College Park Saturday and, good thing, because Purdue might’ve been down 10-12 points at halftime instead of the four they were because of the freshman.
Oh, and he made two free throws with his team down one point on the road against a ranked team with two seconds left.
This week: at Indiana
Maryland – 6 Seed (# of Brackets: 98/98)
Well, everyone who wanted to discount what Maryland achieved the first three months got some form of validation with their loss at home to Purdue, the Terps first matchup against a ranked opponent.
However, most of Maryland’s detractors come from the analytics crowd and – even in a loss – the Terps actually have moved up three spots in the KenPom rankings.
If you watched that game, you’d know that really Maryland controlled that game pretty much the entire way. Obviously, the issue was the late-game offense. The only points generated the last 7 or 8 minutes of the game were free throws, a lot of them via Melo Trimble. He attempted 15 total during the game, all of them coming in the second half. But, the way Maryland fans will tell it:
For the record, Trimble’s free throw rate is second-highest among Big Ten guards this season. Only guard higher? Anthony Cowan.
Anyway, I wouldn’t worry too much about the Terps offense down the stretch. They’ve executed many more times than they’ve failed.
And while the Maryland doubters will point to the Purdue game as validation, I’m sure they’ll also gloss over the fact that earlier in the week the Terps picked up their 8th Tier A win of the season, according to KenPom. Purdue and Wisconsin have five each. Northwestern has two. And based on a cursory glance through the top teams in the country, the Terps may have the most of anybody.
This week: at Penn State, home for Ohio State
Northwestern – 7 Seed (# of Brackets: 98/98)
There’s not a lot to say about the Wildcats this week. They only played one game and it was at Purdue without the services of Scottie Lindsey. It went about as well as you’d expect it to go. Hopefully they have a better showing in Madison this weekend.
This week: Illinois at home, at Wisconsin
Minnesota – 8 Seed (# of Brackets: 95/98)
The Gophers finally ended their losing streak with an important win at Illinois. The biggest news from that game was that their defense returned back to form after it took a three-game hiatus. That’s always been what this team has hung their hat on this season and without a strong showing on that end, they put a lot of pressure on an offense that probably won’t ever be prolific with the current roster/staff.
Minnesota can’t really help themselves with their tournament standing this week, but it’s important they take care of business or they might be finding themselves on the bubble.
This week: home for Iowa, at Rutgers
Michigan State – 9 Seed (# of Brackets: 95/98)
The Spartans only played one game this week and in the spirit of full disclosure, I probably only saw about three minutes of it. Looks like they shot it really well, despite having a -14 disadvantage at the line, not doing a good job on the glass, and losing the turnover battle. Not your classic recipe for winning on the road, but the Spartans just need to continue winning games in any fashion they can.
This week: at Michigan, home for Iowa
Indiana – 10 Seed (# of Brackets: 75/98)
It appears James Blackmon is set to come back this week. All things considered, I’m not sure it had that big of an effect on wins and losses. Sure, he’d give you a better chance at winning at Northwestern and Wisconsin, but IU hasn’t been very good away from Assembly Hall with Blackmon in the lineup, anyway. The Penn State game probably would have gone much smoother, but it still ended up as a win.
What was interesting in JBJ’s absence was the Indiana defense. They’ve played 12 games since B1G play started. The three that he sat out were among the five best defensive games they’ve had as a team in that stretch, based on efficiency.
I know everybody says he’s improved defensively – and he has – but I think it’s also fair to say he’s still not a plus on that end.
But he’s also still really great on offense. And that was also reflected in the Hoosiers’ numbers without him. His play will be especially key this week against two of the better offensive teams in the league. Both of those games may just come down to who can make more shots from the perimeter and Blackmon is really freaking good at making shots.
It will also help if Josh Newkirk continues to stay hot. Newkirk came into this past week shooting 2-14 from three. He then proceeded to go 8-14 in two games on his way to eclipsing the 20-point marker for just the second and third time in his career.
This week: home for Purdue and Michigan
Michigan – Second Four Out (# of Brackets: 28/98)
Another week, another disappointing performance for the Wolverines. They got mentally and physically bullied at home against one of their rivals. For such a veteran team, you’d think they’d learn by now that taking 70% of your field goal attempts from three isn’t the best idea.
I’m not going to write them off yet because they’ve got four games coming up that could turn around their season. At minimum, they have to go 2-2.
This week: home for Michigan State, at Indiana
Ohio State – Others Receiving Votes (# of Brackets: 2/98)
The Buckeyes had to at least get one win this week to keep their tournament hopes alive and they came through with their win in Ann Arbor after faltering at home against Maryland.
The offense has picked up for Thad Matta’s crew, but the defense still leaves a little bit to be desired. They did quite well against the stout Terps defense, but they got shredded in the paint at the other end and when they did force a miss, they didn’t do a good enough job cleaning it up.
That’s kind of been the story all year for OSU. As soon as they shore up on their current issue(s), they start a brand new one. Overall, they’re not really bad in any one area, but they don’t have much to hang their hat on either. They’ve still got time to put it all together and make a run, but that time basically starts on Saturday.
This week: home for Rutgers, at Maryland
Just Win All Your Games, No Big Deal
Penn State – N/A Seed (# of Brackets: 0/98)
If the Nittany Lions just would’ve done a better job of hitting free throws down the stretch, they would’ve gotten out of Bloomington with their biggest win of the season and maybe started to get some NCAA Tournament consideration. But they didn’t. They left the door open for the Hoosiers and IU gladly walked right in.
And then Penn State doubled down and lost to Rutgers at home. Yikes.
This week: home for Maryland, at Illinois
Nebraska – N/A Seed (# of Brackets: 0/98)
It would’ve been nice to see this team at full strength. With Ed Morrow, they’d at least be a tier above and maybe two.
This week: home for Wisconsin
Illinois – N/A Seed (# of Brackets: 0/98)
I don’t really have anything nice to say about the Illini at the moment.
This week: at Northwestern, home for Penn State
Rutgers – N/A Seed (# of Brackets: 0/98)
An impressive road victory for the Scarlet Knights at Penn State. Unlike Iowa without Peter Jok, I think it’s fair to question if Rutgers is better without Nigel Johnson. Johnson has talent, but he’s a high volume shooter eFG% is 34.5% in Big Ten play. For those not deep in the analytics, that’s an extremely bad number, the worst in the league, actually. In his defense, of the 56 players that qualify (based on percentage of minutes played), Rutgers doesn’t have a single guy in the top half.
This week: at Ohio State, home for Minnesota