Five Stars From the Past Week:
Nick Ward, Michigan State – averaged 21.0 points and 9.0 rebounds in two wins
Malcolm Hill, Illinois – averaged 18.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.5 steals in two wins
Moe Wagner, Michigan – 24 points (22 in first half), 3 rebounds, and 2 steals in win over Purdue
Jordan Bohannon, Iowa – 24 points (8-10 from three), 3 rebounds, and 5 assists in win at Maryland
The Team, Minnesota – significant contributions from everyone in the rotation on the way to two wins
Five Seven Games to Watch This Week:
Indiana at Purdue, Tuesday, 7:00 pm EST, ESPN2
Michigan at Northwestern, Wednesday, 7:00 pm EST, BTN
Michigan State at Illinois, Wednesday, 9:00 pm EST, BTN
Indiana at Ohio State, Saturday, 12:00 pm EST, ESPN
Michigan State at Maryland, 2:00 pm EST, BTN
Purdue at Northwestern, 4:30 pm EST, CBS
Minnesota at Wisconsin, 6:00 pm EST, BTN
Purdue – 4 Seed (4.16 Average| 113/113 Brackets)
The Boilermakers still somehow find themselves in the driver’s seat of the Big Ten, despite not playing particularly well in both games last week.
Let me get out my fire barrel take now: I thought they actually played better at Michigan than they did at Penn State. They didn’t make a lot of smart decisions in Happy Valley, they were careless with the ball even by their own poor standards in that department, and I didn’t think they gave great effort until they realized they just might lose. But they hit 12 threes and the Nittany Lions only hit two, despite getting many open looks.
That’s not to say they were without flaw in Ann Arbor, but that game largely came down to Michigan hitting a lot of shots that they hit on pretty much everyone that walks into Crisler Arena and Purdue missing what seemed like every attempt they had near the rim.
Purdue is very likely going to be a Big Ten champion sometime this week. What form it comes in, we’ll see. Bart Torvik gives them a 66% chance to win it outright and a 96% chance for a share.
I think my favorite outcome of the Big Ten season would be the 0.2% chance (my own calculations) that there’s a four-way tie for first at 12-6.
This week: home for Indiana, at Northwestern
Minnesota – 5 Seed (5.59 Average| 113/113 Brackets)
At one point, Minnesota was 3-6 in the conference. With a week left to go, they now find themselves in that “0.2% chance of happening” spot where they could potentially have a share of the Big Ten title. And that’s probably why Richie Pitino is going to win the COY award for the Big Ten. I’ve been hard on Mini-Slick Rick, but he deserves it.
Remember last week when I made all those graphs showing the volatility of scoring coming from Murphy, McBrayer, Springs, and Curry? Well, this week the former three all scored double figures in both games and Curry scored four in each game.
It turns out having five guys all score a lot of points is really helpful in securing wins.
We also got to see what it looks like for Reggie Lynch not to foul himself out of the game and it looks like eleven (11) blocks.
What we saw this week was Peak Minnesota. Peak Minnesota is a really good team and could go far in March. We’ll see if it lasts.
This week: home for Nebraska, at Wisconsin
Wisconsin – 6 Seed (6.01 Average| 113/113 Brackets)
Turns out that second half against Maryland didn’t jumpstart the Badgers to take off. It’s starting to become a little clearer now that was more likely just part of Maryland’s quick descent to mediocrity.
There were a lot of things I was wrong on when I was projecting the Big Ten this year (Minnesota, Ohio State, and Thomas Bryant come to mind), but here’s what I wrote about Wisconsin when I picked them to finish fifth:
I don’t think I’m giving you any new information when I tell you that the Badgers are returning everyone from last year. To me, there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors with the second half of their season last year. Their offense still left a lot to be desired. They pulled out a few one or two possession games at home or on neutral courts. They caught Maryland and Iowa at the right times.
I’m not saying they’re not good. They’ll still win a lot of games. But they’re not the team that went to back-to-back Final Fours. They don’t have two lottery picks on the roster. Their highest usage player wasn’t very efficient last year and is now a social advocate!
Call me a skeptic, but I view them more as “typical Wisconsin” and not “peak Wisconsin”, if that makes sense.
The Badgers aren’t going to finish fifth, but there’s a semi-decent chance that they finish 12-6, which in a typical Big Ten season is the record of the #5 seed in the conference tourney. The rest of the league didn’t live up to my personal expectation, but Wisconsin is largely what I thought they would be.
I think this week they hit some unfortunate luck in Columbus with Ohio State being uncharacteristically lethal from outside, but the Badgers aren’t in a position to complain. Before this stretch of five games, they came out on the right side of every close game they played. Sure, experience helps in those situations, but the real analytics guys will tell you the outcomes of those close games are largely luck.
With all that said, the Badgers still have a decent chance to get a share of the Big Ten championship this week, same as every year.
This week: home for Iowa and Minnesota
Maryland – 7 Seed (6.84 Average| 113/113 Brackets)
Yikes. There’s been a lot of talk about the freshmen hitting a wall when they saw a dip in their scoring and now it’s on to Melo Trimble’s scoring. But the biggest reason for the drop recently is the Terp defense taking a nosedive.
The strength of schedule is obviously vastly different, but in the first 20 games the Terps only allowed six (30%) of their opponents to score more than a point per possession. In the nine games since, seven (78%) of opponents have eclipsed that mark. Not ideal.
At this point, it looks like Maryland might have to play in one of the dreaded 8/9 or 7/10 games in the tournament.
This week: at Rutgers, home for Michigan State
Michigan – 9 Seed (9.12 Average| 113/113 Brackets)
The win over Purdue likely locks the Wolverines into the tournament, but they probably need to win one this week to feel truly comfortable and that’s not going to be an easy task.
The good news is that Michigan is playing really well right now. Moe Wagner basically won the Purdue game in the first half with his hot shooting and Derrick Walton put it on ice in the second half of his senior day.
But the most underrated part of that game may be the emergence of Xavier Simpson. He didn’t do anything spectacular, but he got 11 minutes, scored 7 points, and made a couple of really nice plays for his teammates. If he can be another guy in the rotation for John Beilein, that would be huge.
Typically you’re only trying to shorten your rotation at this point, but there’s only six solid in there for the Wolverines right now. Sure, Mark Donnal plays, but it seems like it’s more for the purpose of giving the other bigs a break and not so much that he actually brings any real contribution.
But it’s just one game for Simpson. He had a very similar outing against Michigan State at home and responded by scoring two points over the next four games. Something to keep an eye on this week.
This week: at Northwestern and Nebraska
Northwestern – 9 Seed (9.28 Average| 113/113 Brackets)
I guess it’s only fitting that Northwestern would make this harder than it needed to be. The good news is that they’re still in a pretty favorable position and would without a doubt make the field if it were set today. The other good news: if they win either game this week they’ll essentially be a lock.
The bad news: they’re going to have to play a lot better than they have in recent weeks to win this week. Michigan and Purdue, along with Minnesota, have been the three best teams in the Big Ten over the last month.
And both the Wolverines and Boilermakers will have a lot to play for this week. I’d expect Welsh-Ryan to be very fervent this week, but both visiting teams will be equally motivated.
They could use a hot shooting day, something that’s only happened a couple of times in the past month and a half.
This week: Michigan and Purdue at home
Michigan State – 10 Seed (9.42 Average| 113/113 Brackets)
Big week for the Spartans. As I pointed out a couple weeks ago, they’re really tough to beat at home. The Breslin Center was like a super power for them this Big Ten season. Don’t believe me? Just look at a few things Matt McQuaid did in that Wisconsin game:
And my personal favorite:
But now they hit the road and they’ll only be in East Lansing for practice the rest of the way. These next two weeks we’ll find out just how dangerous they are when it matters.
This week: at Illinois and Maryland
BACK FROM THE DEAD
Illinois – Next Four Out (11.30 Average| 10/113 Brackets)
Time for an overused GIF:
I’ll admit it. I recently declared Illinois as the clear 13th best team in the Big Ten. That appears not to be so. They have lately been doing this thing where they win a lot of games.
How has it happened? Improved three-point shooting and really good defense. That part is not a surprise. That’s the same formula as when they went on a tear from post-Brooklyn trip up until Big Ten play. Also not a surprise because making threes and preventing other teams from scoring is a really good way to win in modern basketball.
Now the Illini get another chance for a Top 50 win with Michigan State coming to town. Given the way the Spartans have played on the road, it’s a really, really good chance.
It would be extremely 2016-17 Illinois basketball to beat Michigan State and then lose at Rutgers over the weekend.
This week: home for Michigan State, at Rutgers
Not Officially Dead
Indiana – Others Receiving Votes (12.00 Average| 1/113 Brackets)
The Hoosiers got a big win over Northwestern, but they still have a lot of work to do. The only bracket that currently has IU in the field also has Kansas as 2, Baylor as a 4, Wichita as a 6, and Princeton as a 12. Point being, it’s a terrible bracket.
But they have a great opportunity this week to partially undo that 1-7 stretch. Winning at Purdue, a rival and a team that’s trying to clinch the championship, would be about as impressive a win as they’ve had all season. It doesn’t look probable on paper, but they do have some matchups that prevent problems for Purdue. Parlay that with a win at Ohio State, get themselves a bye out of the first day of the Big Ten Tournament, and all the sudden they’re in business.
Now what are the chances of that happening? Roughly 7%, according to KenPom. Not great, but the odds were probably similar that Indiana would lose 7 of 8 at any point this year.
This week: at Purdue and Ohio State
Iowa – N/A Seed (0.00 Average| 0/113 Brackets)
Beating IU and Maryland in the same week is bigger in terms of beating brand names than what they’re actually worth in terms of a 2017 NCAA Tournament resume, but it still keeps the Hawkeyes hanging around.
Along with Reggie Lynch’s 11 blocks against Penn State, Peter Jok scoring 35 points on 12 attempts is probably the most bizarre stat line of the week. It would be less bizarre if it was someone like Melo Trimble, but Jok’s a volume guy that doesn’t typically spend a ton of time at the line. He had only had double-digit free throw attempts six times in his career with a high of 12. He had 23 against the Hoosiers.
Now if the Hawks can get a win in Madison, that’ll really get them some momentum heading into the postseason, assuming they take care of business against Penn State on Jok’s senior day.
Their best chance to beat the Badgers is the same way they beat the Terps and that’s by burying 1,000 three-pointers (actually 16). That’s obviously tough to do, but it is the weak spot of the Wisconsin defense.
This week: at Wisconsin, home for Penn State
Ohio State – N/A Seed (0.00 Average| 0/113 Brackets)
Their only game of the week was a big win over Wisconsin. I’m not sure the Buckeyes really played any better than they have been, though. The Badgers are obviously scuffling and the only real noticeable difference for OSU was their 10-16 (63%) three-point shooting and 23-27 (85%) free throw shooting.
I’d like for it to be a sign of things to come, but I don’t think that’s a repeatable formula for them. They did a great job defending down low, but I think they’ve done that well all year. It was impressive that they kept that going despite Trevor Thompson only playing 11 minutes due to foul trouble.
If they manage to win both this week and do a little damage in the Big Ten Tournament, they have to at least be in the conversation for the NCAAs, right? I would have to think so, although that FAU loss has been the albatross around their neck all season.
This week: at Penn State, home for Indiana
They nearly beat Purdue, despite only going 2-18 from three. They’ll be a problem for a lot of teams next year.
This week: home for Ohio State, at Iowa
I backed the wrong horse last week. I went with the Huskers, turns out it should’ve been Illinois.
This week: at Minnesota, home for Michigan
They seem to be on a mission to ruin someone’s tournament resume. They’ve just barely failed to close the deal against Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Michigan. This week they get stumbling Maryland and surging Illinois at home. Best of luck to those two.
This week: Maryland and Illinois at home