Six Stars From the Past Week:
Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Cassius Winston, Michigan State
Ryan Cline, Purdue
Jordan Murphy, Minnesota
Geo Baker, Rutgers
Five Best Games to Watch This Week:
Northwestern at Maryland, Tuesday, 7:00 EST, FS1
Wisconsin at Nebraska, Tuesday, 8:00 EST, BTN
Ohio State at Michigan, Tuesday, 9:00 EST, ESPN2
Michigan at Iowa, Friday, 7:00 EST, FS1
Maryland at Wisconsin, Friday, 9:00 EST, FS1
Note: NET Rankings are from before Sunday’s games
1a. Michigan (NET: 5)
I refuse to be forced into making a decision between the two Michigan schools so we’re going 1a and 1b until further notice.
The Wolverines won the weekend with their rout of Indiana in Bloomington. It was another dominant defensive effort. I don’t know what else to say about it. They just refused to let IU score. It was incredible.
And lately Michigan has seemed to need that defense more and more because the offense continues to have some struggles, particularly shooting the basketball. That nearly cost them a home game against Minnesota, a game you’d expect them to win rather comfortably. Beilein’s offense is a machine that basically guarantees good looks. The Wolverines aren’t consistently knocking them down right now.
This week: home for Ohio State, at Iowa
1b. Michigan State (NET: 3)
The Spartans were able to overcome a bit of a slow start at Iowa and ended up still winning going away. They weren’t as fortunate after getting in a much bigger hole at Purdue.
The first half was an awful one in West Lafayette, but it’s hardly reason to change opinion on the Spartans. With the absence of Kyle Ahrens – and still Josh Langford – MSU was in a tough spot. It was their third game of the week, without two of their top wings, and playing in one of the toughest environments in the country against a team that’s been surging.
Tom Izzo seemed upset after the game about his big men getting outworked, so best of luck to IU’s bigs after Ward, Goins, and Tillman have to put up with four or five Izzo practices this week.
This week: home for Indiana
3. Purdue (NET: 12)
After the big win over MSU on Sunday, it might be time to start thinking about the Boilers as a third contender for the Big Ten title. They’ve already played road games against the rest of the Top 4 and still sit here at 7-2. They’ve played the most difficult conference schedule so far – according to KenPom – and none of the other teams at the top have been tested nearly as much.
I’m not sure I buy what I’m even suggesting, but this team’s already exceeding my expectations so why not? The biggest question is if all these freshmen that are playing well will continue to do so for another month-and-a-half of rugged Big Ten play.
Those freshmen – along with sophomores Nojel Eastern and Matt Haarms and senior Grady Eifert – have all fit into their roles so nicely while rarely veering into “trying to make plays when they shouldn’t” territory. They’ve fit into them so well that they’ve reached the point where they can now beat a Top 10 team while their two scoring stars go a collective 10-33 from the field.
This week is the ultimate “how well can you handle success?” week for the young team.
This week: at Penn State, home for Minnesota
4. Wisconsin (NET: 14)
It’s easy to overlook the road win at Illinois because Illinois is near the bottom of the league, but in context it was a bit of a landmark victory. The context is that Ethan Happ didn’t score in double figures for the first time in like 50 games and the Badgers still managed to win. The four other starters stepped up and all scored in double figures and combined for 60 points.
Wisconsin is about to hit the meat of their schedule and those contributions will need to be more frequent if the Badgers are to make it through these next five games and still be near the top of the league.
The defense continues to be outstanding. The Badgers have only given up more than 70 points one time so far in Big Ten play and just held Northwestern to 25.7% shooting from two-point range.
This week: at Nebraska, home for Maryland
5. Maryland (NET: 22)
The loss at MSU was expected. The Spartans are one of the best teams in the country, are lethal at home, and are one of the few teams in the league that can match Maryland’s bigs.
But the Illinois loss is kind of troubling. They’re a young team and it’s a weird neutral environment, but being good in weird neutral environments is kind of important with the way college basketball decides its postseason champions.
Illinois turns a lot of people over, but 21 is an unacceptable number for the Terps, especially when your point guard and primary ball-handler only was responsible for two of those.
It’s just one game, but the Terps have a brutal stretch coming up and they can’t let things snowball.
This week: home for Northwestern, at Wisconsin
6. Minnesota (NET: 58)
I’m not sure how much credit goes to the Gophers for playing Michigan so close in Ann Arbor. After all, the Wolverines went 3-22 from three. I’d give Minnesota more credit if locking down three-point shooters was a consistent thing they did. They just allowed Iowa to go 10-18 in The Barn on Sunday.
But at the end of the day, they did play Michigan close and they did beat Iowa. And, really, that’s the Gophers. They don’t do many things consistently well, but they do enough to sit at 5-4 in the best league in the country. Sunday night that meant scoring 92 points when they hadn’t eclipsed 70 in weeks.
This week: home for Illinois, at Purdue
7. Iowa (NET: 25)
I hate to quit harping on the same point with the Hawkeyes in every blog I write…but you can’t be a team that gives up 92 to Minnesota and live to contend for a Big Ten championship or be a legitimate threat in the NCAA Tournament. Their games are fun, but fun has an expiration date.
This week: home for Michigan, at Indiana
8. Ohio State (NET: 38)
Going 1-1 without Kyle Young this week has to be considered a win. They were aided by the Isaac Copeland injury at Nebraska, but it really doesn’t matter. That’s a good win and the Buckeyes were in desperate need as they were sliding toward the wrong side of the tournament bubble.
But it’s just one win and OSU still needs more from Kaleb Wesson and CJ Jackson. Luther Muhammad’s 24 points were huge at Nebraska. Andre Wesson’s 22 against Purdue nearly brought them a great comeback win. But those guys aren’t going to be able to do that every night.
I hate to single out Kaleb Wesson, but he has to be mentally tougher and continue to be productive in somewhat limited minutes when he gets in foul trouble. Either that or stop getting into foul trouble nearly every game. He’s had at least four fouls in eight of their last nine games.
This week: at Michigan, home for Rutgers
9. Nebraska (NET: 24)
The worst news of the week was the torn ACL Isaac Copeland suffered against OSU. It’s hard for any team to lose a player as good as Copeland and to still maintain their level of play, but its especially problematic for the smallest rotation in the Big Ten.
I’m not going to write them off just yet, but they were already performing under expectations/potential and now are without one of their best players. We’ll see.
This week: home for Wisconsin, at Illinois
10. Northwestern (NET: 52)
The offensive performance at Wisconsin was ugly, but the story of the week was the victory over Indiana and, specifically, Aaron Falzon’s breakout performance in it. I don’t think Chris Collins is expecting 21 a game from Falzon, but if he can become a reliable threat off the bench, that’s a huge boost to a team that really only has one other consistent producer outside the starting lineup.
This week: at Maryland
11. Rutgers (NET: 122)
Two landmarks for the Scarlet Knights this week: they won back-to-back regular season Big Ten wins for the first time in 4.5 years of league play and they won just their second road game in league play during the same time. Oh, and both of those road wins are against Penn State.
This week: home for Indiana, at Ohio State
12. Illinois (NET: 116)
Credit to the Illini for turning up the heat on Maryland and scoring a big win out of it. But last I checked, they don’t praise you in Champaign for getting a big win to improve to 6-14 on the season.
This week: at Minnesota, home for Nebraska.
13. Indiana (NET: 42)
Indiana’s not the 13th best team in the conference, but they’re sure playing like it lately. Six straight losses and they really haven’t even been close to winning for two-and-a-half weeks. My hands are tied here.
This week: at Rutgers and Michigan State
14. Penn State (NET: 85)
0-9. Just lost at home to Rutgers. Next few home games are Purdue, Michigan, Nebraska, and Maryland. Yikes.
This week: home for Purdue