Month: January 2018

CBB Picks: 1/20

Ohio State (-9) over Minnesota

DETROIT (+9) over Oakland

Missouri (+5) over TEXAS A&M

SOUTH ALABAMA (-3) over App State

LITTLE ROCK (-4.5) over Arkansas State

Tulane (+12.5) over SMU

WKU (-4.5) over MTSU

MARSHALL (even ML) over UAB

PACIFIC (+10.5) over Saint Mary’s

VMI (-3) over The Citadel

UNCG (-2) over Mercer

 

YTD: 22-20 (+0.0u)

CBB Picks: 1/18

GEORGIA TECH (+8.5) over Virginia

Georgia Tech is on a similar path that they were last year. Last season entering ACC play, the Jackets were 150th in KenPom. They opened by beating eventual national champion UNC at home and were up to 71st by the start of February. They went 7-2 at home in league play. They entered ACC play at 140 this year and have already moved up 37 spots and they’re 3-1 with home wins over Miami and Notre Dame. For as much attention as Virginia’s defense garners, it’s actually GT who enters this game as the most efficient defense in the ACC. A big reason for that is Pastner’s D has made big strides on defending perimeter shooters since the beginning of the season. That will be key in slowing down a Cav offense that has become increasingly reliant on jump shots. They’ve hit a high percentage lately, but I think that bubble bursts tonight.

NC STATE (-4.5) over Wake Forest

Speaking of teams reliant on perimeter shooting. Along with taking care of the ball, three-point makes are the only things that have kept the Demon Deacon offense afloat so far in league play. If there’s two things Kevin Keatts’ defenses do consistently well, it’s force turnovers and limit open looks from the outside. Not an ideal matchup for Wake tonight.

Saint Mary’s (+7.5) over GONZAGA

I’ll admit it: it’s scary going against the Zags in Spokane. But I also really wanted to take SMU last night and got scared away by them going into Wichita. Not today. The Gaels quietly haven’t lost since they lost a couple of tight ones in November at the Wooden Legacy. They’ve already gone into the Marriott Center and stole a victory from BYU. The Zags are a different animal, but they’re not quite the force they were a year ago. SMC should get quite a few good looks from the outside and there aren’t many better shooting teams in the country. The obvious concern for the Gaels is not getting totally abused on the interior.

SAN FRANCISCO (-10) over Santa Clara

There’s really only one thing Santa Clara does well and that’s typically winning the turnover battle. That’s not a given against the Dons and they’re going to give up a lot of opportunities for San Fran’s trigger-happy guards. Should be a nice bounce back game for the Dons after losing a battle with the Zags last weekend.

UNC GREENSBORO (-19) over The Citadel

It’s never really a bad venture to give the points when the Bulldogs are on the road. Dugger Baucom’s breakneck run-and-gun pace is going to leave them vulnerable in a lot of areas tonight. For one, UNCG might not even let them get into that pace. The Spartans really get aggressive defensively in the halfcourt and the best way to make them pay is by hitting a bunch of free throws. Citadel is currently shooting 60% from the line as a team in SoCon play. UNCG isn’t a great shooting team, but they love to chuck it and should be able to find a rhythm against this team. And if they don’t, they’ll still have a field day on the offensive glass anyway.

OMAHA (-3) over Denver

A great opportunity for Omaha to get it rolling offensively, which they often do at home and they get to go against the Summit’s worst defense that also happens to be in the middle of a four-game stretch on the road.

 

YTD: 19-17 (+0.3u)

CBB Picks: 1/17

Tulsa (+7) over TEMPLE

Once again, I think it’s clear that the Owls peaked in November. They’ve lost 6 of 7. Since coming to Tulsa, Frank Haith is 4-1 against Temple with a pair of road wins in Philly and the only loss coming a couple of years ago in OT on the road.

UMass (+15) over RHODE ISLAND

UMass didn’t have a ton of experience together as a group heading into the season and I think you’re seeing them start to build some confidence over the last couple of weeks. The Rams will limit the three-point chances that UMass thrives on, but the Minutemen should be able to supplement some of that by getting to the line against an aggressive defense. Could be a bit of a let down spot for Rhody. They’re coming off a big win over the Bonnies this past weekend and they’ve got a road game with Dayton coming up.

CREIGHTON (-4.5) over Seton Hall

The Pirates won a close one in the first matchup. Looking at that game, it was a fairly even game outside of SHU getting 17 more free throw attempts. At one point the Bluejays were up 13 in the second half. I think revenge is on the mind for Creighton and they’re more likely to have the calls in their favor at home. I also find it highly unlikely that they’ll shoot as poorly (5-25) from three-point range again. After each of their three losses this season, Creighton has bounced back with a big win at home, outperforming the KenPom predicted margin by an average of 15.7 points.

SOUTH DAKOTA (-10) over Oral Roberts

ORU has been bad on the road in general and they’re on the third leg of a Dakota trip that’s lasted a week now. I’d imagine there’s some fatigue there after starting out 0-2 and having to spend a week in the Dakotas in the dead of winter.

YTD: 16-16-1 (-1.6u)

CBB Picks: 1/16

 

Georgia (+5.5) over LSU

The Georgia offense isn’t great and has been especially disappointing in SEC play. However, LSU is weak on the interior and I think the Dawgs will have a big advantage on the glass with Maten and Ogbeide, which should give them a sizable edge in second chance points. So far, UGA is #1 defensively in the SEC.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (-4) over Vanderbilt

MSU has played 13 of their 17 games at home and Starkville has treated them well. They just dropped their first game there this season to Auburn. Vandy is 0-6 away from Nashville. The Commodores at times over aggressive perimeter D plays into the hands of the Bulldogs. Should be a big day for Quinndary Weatherspoon.

Drake (+6.5) over NORTHERN IOWA

Drake has been on the move lately, winning 6 of 7 and making big strides in Niko Medved’s first year. UNI is going the opposite direction, peaking in mid-December and at one point losing seven straight until they knocked off Valpo at home over the weekend. They’ve been bad at both ends and might be opening themselves up to a parade of threes tonight if Drake gets hot.

NORTH DAKOTA STATE (-9) over North Dakota

Been kind of a rocky road for the Bison lately, but they should be ready to go for their instate rival. North Dakota is terrible defensively in almost every way if they can’t turn people over, they’re 0-7 in true road games, and they’re one of the few teams that can’t take advantage of NDSU’s lackluster rebounding.

YTD: 14-14-1 (-1.4u)

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 4

 


Five Stars From the Past Week:

Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State – averaged 23.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks in two wins

Isaac Haas, Purdue – averaged 15.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks in two wins

Moritz Wagner, Michigan – 27 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 blocks in win at Michigan State

Juwan Morgan, Indiana – 21 points, 11 rebounds in win over Penn State

Mike Watkins and Lamar Stevens, Penn State – 46 points, 22 rebounds in win over Nebraska

Five Games to Watch This Week:

Maryland at Michigan, Monday, 6:30 EST, FS1

Ohio State at Northwestern, Wednesday, 9:00 EST, BTN

Michigan at Nebraska, Thursday, 9:00 EST, BTN

Indiana at Michigan State, Friday, 7:00 EST, FS1

Purdue at Iowa, Saturday, Noon, ESPN


Power Rankings

Legitimately Good Teams

1. Purdue (KenPom: 2)

Pretty hard not to take the team on the 13-game win streak, although I’d say Ohio State’s probably winning a little more impressively lately.

It’s been said before, but Purdue really isn’t missing much as a team. That’s not to say they don’t have weaknesses. Rebounding can be an issue. They struggle with length. They’re very well coached defensively and are often in the right spot, but they don’t force a lot of turnovers.

But they can win in a lot of different ways. This week they hit a parade of threes. They swept their December week of Big Ten games behind 47 Isaac Haas points. They’ve won multiple games with suffocating defense.

The common question around them recently, “Are they national championship contenders?” I don’t see why not. I understand Purdue’s national reputation as a very good program that is often in the mix for a Big Ten title, but never really a threat to win the big one. And reputation is born from results, but I also know Villanova had a similar reputation until a couple of years ago.

You’d like to see them against a Duke or Villanova or somebody similar before crowning them as a contender, but for right now I haven’t seen anybody decidedly better than the Boilers.

This week: home for Wisconsin, at Iowa

2. Ohio State (KenPom: 16)

What a couple of weeks for the Buckeyes. You could make the case that they should be #1 right now, but I’ll defer to the team that had the better non-conference run.

In case you haven’t heard Dan Dakich speak for a 5-minute stretch about any topic under the sun recently, Keita Bates-Diop is currently the Big Ten POY. I made sure to throw “currently” in there because after all, he does have 12 games left to play. But his play this year has been unreal to this point. It’s hard to find a hole in his game. Through six games, he’s currently in the Top 10 of the Big Ten in the following categories:

You know what, I’m not even going to list them out because it’s basically everything but steals per game and he’s 0.1 away.

One week I’ll make some room for CJ Jackson Appreciation, but it’s hard not to fawn over the guy who has now been KenPom MVP of the last eleven (11) Ohio State basketball games.

If you want to root for something, root for both the Buckeyes and Purdue to be undefeated when they meet in Mackey Arena on February 7th. KP gives this about an 11% chance of happening. This league needs a big marquee game desperately.

This week: at Northwestern, Minnesota in NYC

3. Michigan (KenPom: 17)

What an eventful week for the Wolverines. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows. We’ll start with the lows.

There’s certainly no shame in losing to Purdue, even at home. Purdue played well, shot well, and did some things defensively that John Beilein wasn’t prepared for and caused a slow start for the Wolverine offense. Now obviously the ending was a pretty bitter way to lose and especially when two controversial calls didn’t go your way at the end.

But I think that game combined with the massive win at the Breslin Center showed one thing very clearly: Michigan will go as far as Mo Wagner takes them.

Wagner was largely held in check against Purdue, but then exploded for a highly efficient 27 against Michigan State. Michigan is 8-2 when Wagner scores 20+. And those 8 wins aren’t a bunch of buy games. Only two of them were, in fact. They include MSU and UCLA victories this year and wins over Louisville, Purdue, and Wisconsin last year.

Wagner has always been uniquely efficient for a 6-11 player that spends half his time away from the paint, but if Michigan is going to take it to another level this year, they need a more consistently aggressive Mo.

This week: home for Maryland and Rutgers, at Nebraska

4. Michigan State (KenPom: 6)

At their best, Michigan State is not the fourth best team in the league, obviously. But right now they’re pretty mediocre. It’s only three games, but the last three have resulted in two double-digit losses (one at home) and an overtime dogfight win at home over Rutgers. That’s something you’d expect out of Illinois.

I didn’t find anything particularly troubling about the Ohio State loss last weekend. Sure, they got blown out, but it’s just one game and I thought it had more to do with the Buckeyes, playing on the road, and generally just the random swings of a 40-minute basketball game.

The performance against Rutgers was troubling. Say what you want Big Ten Network studio analyst about “Rutgers having a formula for Michigan State”…it’s Rutgers at home. After a blowout loss. That’s a game you should roll.

Okay, well surely you can get it together for a marquee game at home against your in-state rival, right? Guess not.

With all that said, I don’t think it matters. Michigan State’s chances of winning an outright Big Ten title are on life-support, but that’s not really what the program hangs its hat on. As long as they play well in March, this mid-January swoon will quickly be forgotten.

This week: home for Indiana

Could Be Decent, Could Be Terrible. Who’s To Say?

5. Indiana (KenPom: 89)

Traditionally, this Indiana team wouldn’t sniff the fifth spot, but this is the league we’re dealing with this year. And for their part, the Hoosiers are starting to play pretty well.

The offense is still a bit of a mess, but they’ve turned it up a notch on the other end. It’s nice to see Robert Johnson appear to give a shit.

It’s tough to put IU in the NCAA Tournament conversation at the moment, but they’re at least playing at the level of a bubble team, which is good because they’re going to need to play their best basketball of the season over the next three weeks. For a bad league, it’s tough to have a super-challenging three-week stretch, but the Hoosiers have it. Some think it’s still too early to be talking tournament, but Indiana’s resume is going to be defined by the next six games.

This week: at Michigan State

6. Penn State (KenPom: 46)

Good news: this is still Pat Chambers best team he’s had at Penn State by a fairly wide margin. Bad news: all of these close losses might still keep them from an NCAA berth. They’ve lost six games now by an average of five points, no margin greater than 11. It keeps them at a tournament level in regards to analytics, but doesn’t do much for their traditional resume that depends upon arbitrary things like “winning”. They’re an elite group defensively when healthy and Josh Reaves is a big part of that. They need him back in a hurry.

This week: home for Minnesota, at Northwestern

7. Maryland (KenPom: 41)

Only one game this past week for the Terps and it was a blowout loss at Ohio State. Like everybody else, they struggled with Bates-Diop and they also ran into the rarely seen Andrew Dakich buzzsaw. It’s tough to feel great about Maryland’s chances for the postseason after the injuries and with how poorly they seem to play on the road, but they’re certainly still in the race.

This week: at Michigan, home for Minnesota

8. Nebraska (KenPom: 81)

The Huskers seem to be in a constant “Are they decent or not?” purgatory. I know they’re a pretty good defensive team until somebody misses a shot. If there’s one fatal flaw for this team, it’s that they can’t clean up possessions with rebounds. In all seven of their losses this year, they’ve given up at least 30% of defensive rebounds.

They have guys who can score, but none of them super-efficiently. Their two highest-usage guys are both south of 50% in effective field goal percentage and one of those guys – Glynn Watson – is very far south of 50. For comparison sake, all 12 of Purdue’s players are above 50%. Even the walk-ons.

They’re not a terrible shooting team from the perimeter, but they also only have one good shooter (Anton Gill). Evan Taylor’s shooting 50% for the season, but he’s only taken five in six Big Ten games and he’s made just one of those.

So basically, they’re every Nebraska team Tim Miles has had in his six years. He’s only had one team finish in the Top 100 of offensive efficiency. So once again the defense makes them not terrible, but not necessarily decent.

This week: home for Illinois and Michigan

9. Wisconsin (KenPom: 78)

Well, I think we finally found what’s going to kill “the streak” for the Badgers and it has taken losing four senior starters from the previous year and three scholarship guards due to injury. I’d still think it’d be conceivable they could finish in the Top 5 of the league, but they still have five games against the Top 4 teams.

This week: at Purdue, home for Illinois

10. Northwestern (KenPom: 76)

I don’t know that it was really an up-and-down week for the Wildcats. I think they just got to play the disaster that is currently Minnesota basketball and took advantage like most teams would.

The harsh reality is their offense stinks, their zone stinks, and this year has been a tremendous missed opportunity to build momentum for a program that has never really had any.

There’s still time to save it, but the Wildcats haven’t given any reason for me to believe they will. Beating Ohio State would, though.

This week: Ohio State and Penn State at home

Confirmed Bad

11. Rutgers (KenPom: 121)

One of these days Rutgers is going to bust loose and it is going to be glorious and all of you are going to have to pay for your Rutger jokes.

That day does not appear to be imminent.

This week: home for Iowa, at Michigan

12. Minnesota (KenPom: 69)

I try to remain objective for the most part, but I think the Pitino family has at least two sleaze balls and I’m greatly enjoying both of their basketball programs falling apart at the seams due to their sleaziness, so sue me.

This week: at Penn State and Maryland, Ohio State in NYC

13. Iowa (KenPom: 87)

Somebody had to win Iowa/Illinois and it was Iowa so they were rewarded with the 13th spot. I still think you’re gutless, Iowa. Except for Luka Garza. Luka can play for me any day.

This week: at Rutgers, home for Purdue

14. Illinois (KenPom: 95)

Yikes.

This week: at Nebraska and Wisconsin

 

CBB Picks: 1/13

DUKE (-16) over Wake Forest

Kansas State (+12) over KANSAS

OKLAHOMA (-5) over TCU

Dartmouth (+17) over BOSTON COLLEGE

GEORGIA (-5) over South Carolina

Creighton (+4) over XAVIER

Miami (OH) (+15.5) over BUFFALO

FLORIDA STATE (-6) over Syracuse

CLEMSON (-3.5) over Miami (FL)

LOYOLA (IL) (-6) over Bradley

WYOMING (-7) over Colorado State

Missouri (+5.5) over ARKANSAS

MTSU (-15.5) over Southern Miss

Oregon State (+12.5) over ARIZONA STATE

FRESNO STATE (-6.5) over New Mexico

Valpo (+4.5) over NORTHERN IOWA

Utah State (+13.5) over NEVADA

WASHINGTON (-4) over Stanford

UTEP (-4.5) over FIU

BOISE STATE (-3.5) over San Diego State

UCLA (-11.5) over Colorado

SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (-14.5) over Denver

NORTH DAKOTA STATE (-6) over Oral Roberts

SEMO (-4) over Eastern Kentucky

UT MARTIN (-4.5) over Morehead State

Big Ten Basketball Non-Conference Review, Power Rankings, and Week 2 Preview

It’s been two months since our last look at the Big Ten and that’s because of two reasons: 1) I didn’t have time and 2) the league pretty much stinks and it’s futile to try to rank 12 of the teams.

I was one of the league’s biggest defenders last year and it paid off with how the Big Ten performed in the NCAA Tournament. I don’t think I can do that this year.

It’s not that teams had a bunch of terrible losses through non-conference play. Conference-wide, there were only six losses to teams outside the KenPom Top 100 and four of those belong to Rutgers and Indiana. But a recurring theme in the recaps that follow is that a lot of teams didn’t beat anybody all that noteworthy.

After a year with a lot of young, talented teams, the expectation was that many in the Big Ten would raise their level of play and it would be a competitive year with a lot of NCAA Tournament teams. It’s now looking like it’ll certainly be competitive, but if the tournament field was selected today the Big Ten would have maybe five teams competing and two of them might be playing in Dayton the first couple days.

But hey, at least they’re not the Pac-12!


Nine Stars from the Past Week Two Months:

Miles Bridges and Nick Ward, Michigan State – averaging 32.4 points, 15.3 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game

Vincent and Carsen Edwards, Purdue – averaging 31.6 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game

Jordan Murphy, Minnesota – averaging 19.1 points, 12.6 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game

Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State – averaging 18.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game

Anthony Cowan, Maryland – averaging 15.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.5 steals per game

Charles Matthews and Moritz Wagner, Michigan – averaging 31.0 points and 12.6 rebounds per game

Six Games to Watch This Week:

Indiana at Wisconsin, Tuesday, 7:00 pm EST, ESPN

Penn State at Maryland, Tuesday, 7:00 pm EST, BTN

Nebraska at Northwestern, Tuesday, 9:00 pm EST, BTN

Maryland at Michigan State, Thursday, 8:00 pm EST, FS1

Northwestern at Penn State, Friday, 8:00 pm EST, FS1

Michigan State at Ohio State, Sunday, 4:30 pm EST, CBS


Power Rankings

1. Michigan State (KenPom: 2 / BracketMatrix: 1 seed)

Good Things That Have Happened: It was pretty much all good for the Spartans. That’s why they’re currently #1 in the country. They won their bracket at the PK80 tournament. It wasn’t the toughest road to the title with matchups against DePaul and UConn, but the trip was worth it playing North Carolina in the championship and rolling the Heels behind an incredible defensive performance.

They didn’t have the strongest non-conference schedule, but they did tack on a blowout win over Notre Dame at home and started out 2-0 in conference.

Not Good Things That Have Happened: They lost to Duke in the Champions Classic, but there’s no shame in that. The win at Rutgers certainly wasn’t the prettiest, but every Big Ten champion usually has a couple of those on the road in league play every year. The key is being able to grind them out for wins.

Outlook for the Remainder of the Year: The biggest takeaway from the first half of the season for the Spartans is how well they’ve shot the ball from the perimeter. It was a concern before the season and they’re currently shooting 41.1%, good for 17th in the country. It’s still far from being the focal point of the offense, but they’ve got four guys shooting above the national average.

They’re likely still in for a dogfight for the conference title, but regardless of how that turns out, they’re looking at probably a 3 seed at the worst. The sheer number of capable players that they can trot out gives Tom Izzo a lot of options. He’s got probably four guys he can feature in the offense with the improvement in Year 2 for Josh Langford and the immediate impact Jaren Jackson has provided.

This week: home for Maryland, at Ohio State

2. Purdue (KenPom: 3 / BracketMatrix: 3 seed)

Good Things That Have Happened: The Boilers were able to rack up quite a few quality wins in non-conference play, as many as anybody in the country. That will be important for a program that has seemingly been stuck in 4/5 seed purgatory for eternity. They’ve already picked up two road wins that will likely be “quality” at years end with victories over Marquette and Maryland.

The win that sticks out is the 25-point romp over Arizona in the Bahamas. Talk about playing a team at the right time. Both Purdue and the Cats were staring at rock bottom if they lost that game and Purdue just happened to be more equipped to bounce back sooner. Arizona’s a different team with Rawle Alkins – as we’ve seen since he came back – but his absence in that game is the sort of detail that kind of gets lost in the resume spreadsheets in March.

Not Good Things That Have Happened: Western Kentucky. It may not go down as a “bad loss”, but a team as experienced and talented as Purdue had no business losing to the Hilltoppers. WKU beat SMU the next day and will probably be an upper-tier C-USA team, but still not a good look.

Purdue also lost to Tennessee in the Bahamas, but the Vols are pretty good and exactly the type of team that has given the Boilers trouble for what seems like decades.

Outlook for the Remainder of the Year: Purdue appears to be the only team that’s likely to give Michigan State any competition for the league title. The teams only meet once, which is in East Lansing, but the Spartans probably have a tougher schedule otherwise.

Purdue’s pretty much been what I expected them to be, with one big (7’3″) exception: Matt Haarms. Back-up center was a concern heading into the year with the unknown health of Jacquil Taylor and the almost total unknown that was Haarms. But the Dutchman has changed things for Purdue defensively, giving them an elite shot-blocking presence and a more mobile big to defend PNRs when Isaac Haas need a breather.

This week: home for Rutgers and Nebraska

3. Michigan (KenPom: 33 / BracketMatrix: 10 seed)

Good Things That Have Happened: The road win at Texas was hopefully a big one. Texas will probably look good analytically all year, but the Big 12 is the best league in the country and, well, somebody’s gonna lose some games and Texas might be one of them.

Wins over UCLA, IU, and VCU are good, but definitely not game-changers.

I guess outside of that, it was important that it turns out that Charles Matthews is the type of lead-guy they need to have some success this year.

Not Good Things That Have Happened: The LSU loss was similar to Purdue losing to WKU. Not a killer, but it certainly wasn’t good.

There were no bad losses for the Wolverines, but I guess you could say the lack of opportunities to get important wins is a “not good thing”. Usually when you have a ticket to the Maui Invitational you’re looking at some quality competition, but due to the loss in the opening round to LSU, Michigan didn’t play anybody inside the Top 80 of KenPom.

Outlook for the Remainder of the Year: Safe money is probably on the Wolverines making the NCAA Tournament, but there’s work to do. This is one of the rare seasons where a John Beilein team is better defensively than offensively. In fact, at this rate, it would be the best defensive team Beilein’s had in the history of KenPom (since 2001-02 season).

Offensively, they still need to get more from guys not named Charles Matthews and Mo Wagner. They’re both shooting on 27% of their possessions with nobody else that plays consistent minutes above 20%. For reference, both MSU and Purdue have four guys above 20%. Obvious candidates for the Wolverines are MAAR and Duncan Robinson. Also, consistent production out of Xavier Simpson would be massive.

This week: at Iowa, home for Illinois

4. Minnesota (KenPom: 43 / BracketMatrix: 11 seed)

Good Things That Have Happened: They won whatever tournament they were in of the 10 CBB tournaments that happen at the Barclays Center every year. They also got a nice road win at Providence. They avoided a catastrophic loss.

Not Good Things That Have Happened: Well, they did lose to Nebraska. Although it doesn’t appear to be major, Nate Mason does have an ankle injury and I’m sure he’ll be able to play on it soon, but those things linger and will likely hinder a guy like Mason who relies on explosiveness for a while.

Outlook for the Remainder of the Year: All things considered, it was a pretty disappointing first two months for the Gophers. They’re about as experienced as anybody in the country, they were a 5 seed in the tournament last year, and they’ve maintained status quo so far. Analytically, they’ve regressed as a team. I was a Richard Pitino detractor until I had to eat crow last season, but, buddy, I’m ready to fire up the Little Richie criticism again if need be. There doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of individual improvement from a season ago. Jordan Murphy is playing pretty well, but he’s been putting up double-doubles from the jump and is now just getting more opportunities.

This week: home against Illinois and Indiana

5. Ohio State (KenPom: 48 / BracketMatrix: Next Four Out)

Good Things That Have Happened: They started out 2-0 in conference play with a big road win at Wisconsin and a home victory against rival Michigan. They didn’t have any bad losses, which has been a problem for Ohio State teams in the past couple years. Also, Keita Bates-Diop has become what everyone hoped he would become.

Not Good Things That Have Happened: It’s not a bad loss, but the way in which they lost to Butler was tough to swallow. Obviously that was an emotional game already for Chris Holtmann, but then they blow a big lead in a short amount of time and they leave Portland 1-2 instead of 2-1. Clemson is a good team, but you would’ve expected a much better effort at home in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, especially defensively.

Outlook for the Remainder of the Year: Still a lot of work left to do for the Bucks, but you’d expect them to keep getting better under Holtmann. The personnel for this team was never ideal for his system, so as the season goes on I think it’s fair to expect him to utilize the roster better. Obviously, they’re going to lean very heavily on Bates-Diop, who has been fantastic, being the KenPom MVP in all seven of the team’s games in December.

This week: at Iowa, home for Michigan State

6. Maryland (KenPom: 30 / BracketMatrix: 11 seed)

Good Things That Have Happened: They beat Butler handily at home, they also grinded one out at Illinois. Most importantly, Anthony Cowan has taken over the role as “the man” very nicely.

Not Good Things That Have Happened: In a vacuum, the loss to St. Bonaventure isn’t bad, but the fact it kept the Terps from having a shot at TCU is a bit costly. Instead they had to play New Mexico and that win doesn’t really help them at all.

But the obvious worst thing to happen was losing Justin Jackson for the season. That sucks.

Outlook for the Remainder of the Year: Jackson had been kind of underwhelming this year for his talent level, but he obviously still brought a lot to the table and his absence limits the ceiling of this team quite a bit. With that said, a positive spin would be this: at least it wasn’t Anthony Cowan…or Kevin Huerter. Both those guys have been phenomenal and the real reason Maryland has got off to a pretty good start. The success of the Terps will continue to rely upon their production. I think Maryland is still in a decent spot to push for an NCAA Tournament bid.

This week: home for Penn State and Iowa, at Michigan State

7. Northwestern (KenPom: 53 / BracketMatrix: Others Receiving Votes (1))

Good Things That Have Happened: They held off Illinois at home.

Not Good Things That Have Happened: They lost to Georgia Tech, who has lost to Grambling State, Wright State, and Wofford so far this year. They also struggled to beat Loyola (MD), Saint Peter’s, La Salle, and DePaul.

Outlook for the Remainder of the Year: Now that I’m looking things over, Northwestern probably doesn’t deserve to be this high. But really nobody does beneath them either because that’s how bad it’s been in the league so far. Things would’ve gotten really bad for the Cats if they lost McIntosh, but his injury in the Brown game doesn’t appear to be anything serious.

I expected less from Northwestern than what it appeared many thought, but not even I expected this. Their inability to roll over bad teams has been surprising. It’s largely been a defensive regression, but they suffer from the same issue as Minnesota in the lack of individual offensive development category.

This week: home for Nebraska, at Penn State

8. Penn State (KenPom: 41 / BracketMatrix: Others Receiving Votes (2))

Good Things That Have Happened: Won at Iowa, destroyed in-state rival Pitt, didn’t get embarrassed by Texas A&M.

Not Good Things That Have Happened: Lost to Rider and Wisconsin at home.

Outlook for the Remainder of the Year: I don’t know. It kind of feels like a typical Penn State team, but they’re not playing in a typical Big Ten. So maybe they have a good year in the league. They certainly have enough players to do so. It kind of feels like a make or break year for Pat Chambers. Not saying he gets fired if Penn State doesn’t have a good year in the league, but it’s hard to make many excuses this year. He has the players, the competition is down, and they probably need to do something.

This week: at Maryland, home for Northwestern

9. Nebraska (KenPom: 97 / BracketMatrix: N/A)

Good Things That Have Happened: They beat Minnesota at home and nearly beat Kansas. Would’ve been a lot more helpful if they actually beat Kansas, though.

Not Good Things That Have Happened: Like a lot of other teams in the league, they didn’t necessarily have any bad losses. They just didn’t beat anybody good outside of the league. The blowout loss at St. John’s was especially problematic.

Outlook for the Remainder of the Year: Nebraska is pretty much always a perpetual rollercoaster under Tim Miles, which always makes them scary as an opponent. Their depth is a concern once again. I have no idea what’s really happened with Jack McVeigh, but his dropoff in production this year is a problem. They’ve got a pretty good crop of players that makes you think “next year will be the year”, but that’s basically every year in Lincoln. I’m sure they’ll be on the bubble for a week or two and then they’ll lose to Rutgers or something.

This week: at Northwestern and Purdue

10. Wisconsin (KenPom: 70 / BracketMatrix: N/A)

Good Things That Have Happened: They won at Penn State.

Not Good Things That Have Happened: They lost seven games. None of them were necessarily bad, but going 2-7 against decent opponents isn’t ideal.

Outlook for the Remainder of the Year: If things weren’t going poorly enough, D’Mitrik Trice and Kobe King both have the dreaded “out indefinitely” with injuries. I don’t really know what to say about this team. Ethan Happ is basically exactly the same as before except now there’s no one around him that can just go score. And there aren’t many shooters. The only reasons their defense is halfway decent is because they rebound well and don’t foul. There’s a shot the Top 4 streak doesn’t end because the conference is so down, but it’s still pretty unlikely.

This week: Indiana at home, Rutgers on the road

11. Indiana (KenPom: 91 / BracketMatrix: N/A)

Good Things That Have Happened: They beat Notre Dame.

Not Good Things That Have Happened: Losing to Indiana State and Fort Wayne at home by a combined 41 points.

Outlook for the Remainder of the Year: I have no idea. I thought that they were turning a corner when they rolled Iowa at home, competed at Louisville, and then beat Notre Dame. They followed that up with the egg at home against Fort Wayne. Now, yes there is some “shooting luck” with the ISU and FW games, but the truth is that IU’s guards pretty much stink and the battle on the perimeter isn’t often going to favor them. They can improve the defensive part of it, but it’s really hard to become a better shooting team midseason.

The good news for IU is that there’s a lot of teams in this league they can beat this year and potentially get things kickstarted. The bad news is that they open 2018 with road games at the Kohl Center and the Barn.

This week: at Wisconsin and Minnesota

12. Illinois (KenPom: 87 / BracketMatrix: N/A)

Good Things That Have Happened: They won the Border Battle or whatever they call it against Mizzou.

Not Good Things That Have Happened: Mizzou was the only good-ish win that they had. They lost a game in Chicago against NMSU. They also struggled with UT-Martin, Austin Peay, and Grand Canyon at home.

Outlook for the Remainder of the Year: It’s gonna take a pretty sizable turnaround for them to even be on the bubble, but you can kind of see the path. They’re biggest issue is that scoring is a real problem. Brad Underwood’s strength has never been halfcourt offense, but it’d do wonders for this team if Mark Alstork and Michael Finke just started making shots that they’ve made earlier in their career. Alstork is more capable of getting his own shot, which makes his play a bigger key. I have a theory and that theory is that you can’t depend on Leron Black to carry your offense and at the same time be a good offense. Alstork needs to be better, as does Finke, as does Aaron Jordan, who’s disappeared over the last couple weeks.

This week: at Minnesota and Michigan

13. Iowa (KenPom: 78 / BracketMatrix: N/A)

Good Things That Have Happened: Well, they did win nine games. Unfortunately none of the teams they beat are in the Top 120 of KenPom.

Not Good Things That Have Happened: They lost two games in the Cayman Islands to mid-major schools. They started out 0-2 in league play. They lost to their in-state rival. They lost in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Now, I wouldn’t consider any of those teams bad, but it’s not a good look when you go 0-6 against the Top 100 and none of those six teams would be in the NCAA Tournament if they selected today.

Outlook for the Remainder of the Year: I predicted Iowa to finish sixth, so obviously I didn’t see this one coming. I still don’t really think they’re that bad, but at some point you actually have to beat somebody and we’re two months in for the Hawks. The offense is fine, but could definitely be better. You’d like to see more consistent production out of the backcourt. For me, the biggest problem once again is that they just play with no edge defensively. They don’t rebound well at that end and they don’t really make any plays. The NCAA Tournament isn’t impossible, but they need to get it going with a couple big wins this week.

This week: Michigan and Ohio State at home, Maryland on the road

14. Rutgers (KenPom: 121 / BracketMatrix: N/A)

Good Things That Have Happened: THEY BEAT SETON HALL…

Not Good Things That Have Happened: …which they followed up with by losing to Stony Brook and Hartford at home.

Outlook for the Remainder of the Year: I keep waiting for Rutgers to turn the corner, but it’s probably going to take at least another year. And I’m not talking about turning into a tournament team. I’m just talking about them getting out of the “conference doormat” phase. They’re still so much better than they were under Eddie Jordan, but that transition has really only happened defensively. The offense is still really bad.

This week: Purdue on the road, Wisconsin at home