Month: January 2019

Big Ten Power Rankings: 1/28/19

 


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

Advertisements

OVERVALUED, UNDERVALUED, OR PROPERLY VALUED 1.0: 2019 NCAA TOURNAMENT

Welcome to the first installment of the 2019 Overvalued, Undervalued, or Properly Valued series.

If you’re new this year, this is all based on taking the current odds to win the national title of likely tournament teams and comparing them to the what will now be known as the Final Four Index (FFI). Here’s a little background.

I can’t remember much of what I wrote in that post, but TL;DR: the premise is ranking teams based on their similarities to the most successful tournament teams (those that reach the Final Four). The tournament is a different animal and the FFI measures teams in a tournament context and less so on a game-to-game basis like most analytical measures do.

There have been some major overhauls since the original creation of the FFI. The first version was based on where teams ranked nationally in each category (from 1 to 353), but now they’re based on actual percentages, efficiency numbers, etc.

Also, I reduced the time frame greatly of Final Four teams I used to build the weighting system. It just didn’t make sense to use data from 15, 10, or even five years ago anymore. And really there’s one reason. Three-pointers.

It used to be that if you relied too heavily on threes, it was essentially a given that you couldn’t win the national championship. That’s no longer the case. Nationwide, everyone is relying on threes more and more. KenPom measures how teams get their points (3s, 2s, FTs) and breaks them each down into a percentage. Here’s the progression of the national average of three-point distribution percentage:

3pdis

It no longer makes much sense to knock teams for relying on threes. The national average last year for three-point distribution was 31.4% and the Final Four teams three-point distribution numbers last year were 40.2%, 37%, 35.6%, and 30.4%. Three well above average and one slightly below.


For this first installment, I took the 46 teams seeded 1-11 in the current BracketMatrix and evaluated them. There are seven teams included in the “Irrelevant” section that have equal or better odds than our 46th rated team.

ty-jerome.jpg

Properly Valued

1. Duke +200 (FFI: 2)

It’s hard to ever find value on Duke and especially not when they have a Beatles-level lineup, but they’ve earned it. It’s interesting to watch their odds because they’ll suffer as a team without Tre Jones. But whenever Jones returns, their stock immediately goes up.

2. Gonzaga +600 (FFI: 4)

Both of their losses are forgivable, but if you’re thinking about a national championship, those were two of their three opportunities to prove they can beat other contenders. They beat Duke in Maui, but watching that game, it felt like the Zags were merely surviving their inexperienced opponent early in their season. Killian Tillie is back and will help the suspect defense, but I’m still not sold on this Gonzaga team being a legitimate contender.

T3. Virginia +650 (FFI: 3)

I’ll certainly understand any skepticism around the Cavs when it comes to March. Unfortunately, they’ve earned that badge with the loss to UMBC. But they’re one of the nation’s best and that’s all that should really matter. Programs are bad in the tournament until they’re not, as evidenced by Villanova’s recent success.

5. Tennessee +850 (FFI: 6)

Tennessee is a great team, but I still find myself questioning if they can really be a contender against the other great teams. They’re not the most versatile offensive team and in a shot-making generation, they don’t make a lot of difficult perimeter shots.

T8. North Carolina +2500 (FFI: 10)

It’s your typical UNC team with some minor differences. One thing this team does better than many of Roy’s teams have done in the past is rebound on the defensive end. They pretty much always attack the glass well on the offensive end, but they’ve done a great job of limiting second chance opportunities for the opponent.

A lot rests on the shoulders of freshman PG Coby White. White’s been much more efficient as the season has gone along, but does have the occasional stinker. He’s much better than Joel Berry was at making plays for others, but the cost of that has been more turnovers.

T12. Purdue +5000 (FFI: 15)

The Boilers are one team that greatly benefited from the changes in the ranking formula because they love to launch from three. They’ve grown a lot in the past month, but we’ll see if they can improve enough defensively to be more than a team with a Sweet 16 ceiling.

T18. Buffalo +6500 (FFI: 21)

Buffalo is a legitimate team with tournament experience and one of the oldest rosters in the country. They’ve won a ton of games away from home this year, with quite a few coming against quality-ish opponents. They’re a threat to make the Final Four, but not enough to beat multiple elite teams and win the whole thing.

T23. Iowa +10000 (FFI: 23)

Iowa’s a good team that can’t be great because they can’t defend a half-decent offense.

T23. LSU +10000 (FFI: 28)

LSU is a team with similar issues to the Hawkeyes. They do have Tre Waters, though, and he has the potential to carry the Tigers further than the rest of the team might deserve. Tough to tell how good this team really is when the best team they’ve beat is Ole Miss (it was on the road) and the best team they’ve even played is Houston.

T23. TCU +10000 (FFI: 17)

They’ve had injuries and transfers all over the place. They’re a good team on both ends, but it’s hard to see them doing much without the services of Jaylen Fisher.

T30. Cincinnati +12500 (FFI: 36)

Speaking of teams whose best win is Ole Miss. A solid team, but they’ve played a terrible schedule.

T30. Louisville +12500 (FFI: 25)

The Cardinals are only getting better because Chris Mack is their coach and that’s what Chris Mack does. Jordan Nwora has gone from occasional contributor last year to one of the best players in the ACC. I could definitely see the Cards rising up the ranking list as the season progresses. They’re improving defensively and one of the things they’re getting docked heavily for right now is their bench minute numbers. But that number appears to be decreasing as Mack starts to sharpen the rotation.

T30. NC State +12500 (FFI: 35)

The Wolfpack seem to be everyone’s go-to team when discussing the merits of the NET ranking system. My take? They’re fine. They’re a tournament-caliber team that’ll probably lose to a 1 or 2 seed the first weekend and it’ll be fine. Stop getting so upset about NC State, internet.

T34. Ole Miss +15000 (FFI: 29)

Kermit Davis is a wizard to get them to this level already, but they’re still far from a legitimate threat to make a deep run.

T34. Washington +15000 (FFI: 31)

I loathe the Pac-12, but at least the Huskies are the best of a terrible bunch. Doesn’t mean they’re good, though. Best win outside of league play is…San Diego.

T39. Arizona St +20000 (FFI: 45)

The Devils have at least beat a couple teams outside of league play, but they’ve also lost to Princeton and Utah at home and got lit up by Vanderbilt.

T39. UCF +20000 (FFI: 34)

I’m not a bracketologist, but I don’t understand why the Knights are in the tournament right now. Their schedule is weak and their landmark victory to this point is a home win over Alabama and their three losses are all to mediocre-to-bad teams.

T39. St. John’s +20000 (FFI: 41)

The offense can be pretty good with a collection of versatile scoring options with a strong top two of Shamorie Ponds and Mustapha Heron. But the trade-off of playing such a small lineup is that the Johnnies are a terrible rebounding team and don’t have any rim protectors.

43. Minnesota +25000 (FFI: 38)

I’ve watched a lot of Minnesota games. Sometimes they’re awesome. Sometimes they’re atrocious.

44. Ohio State +27500 (FFI: 33)

The Buckeyes are on a nosedive right now and need to get things corrected quickly.

T45. Butler +30000 (FFI: 40)

The Bulldogs might be the biggest roller coaster in college basketball.

T45. Saint Louis +30000 (FFI: 46)

The Billies got Dion Wiley back just in time to lose Carte’Are Gordon. The defense is elite. The offense is horrendous.

T52. Seton Hall +40000 (FFI: 37)

Seton Hall is in that perfect Seton Hall range where they are perfectly mediocre.

iggy.jpg

Slightly Overvalued

T3. Michigan +650 (FFI: 7)

The Wolverines looked unbeatable back in November, but have certainly dropped off a little bit since then. (Note: that sentence was written before they dominated IU in Bloomington) Their schedule is heavily back-loaded and if the past couple years are any indication, that’s a good thing for John Beilein. Michigan has peaked in March recently.

The statistical makeup of the team is nearly identical to last year’s squad that made the championship, despite some big personnel changes. The major exception is that this is only one of two Beilein teams that doesn’t shoot a ton of threes. The only other team that didn’t was back in 2013 when they also went to the national championship game.

7. Kentucky +1500 (FFI: 13)

I gotta say I disagree with the rankings here. The Wildcats are really starting to come along. The obvious flaw is that in this new age of three-point shooting, the Cats lack shooters.

T8. Kansas +2500 (FFI: 11)

It’s hard for me to picture the Jayhawks winning it all. With the loss of Doke for good, they lose their elite rim protector. Now they’re forced to play more four-guard lineups. It’s worked for them in the past, but it worked because their offense could spread other teams out and they could start their own personal three-point parade. That’s not the case with this team.

T12. Virginia Tech +5000 (FFI: 19)

Unfortunately, Chris Clarke is officially out for the season and that puts a lower ceiling on the season. The Hokies can score with the best of them and their backcourt is as good as almost any in the country. On the other end, however, they continue to be lit up like a Christmas tree from the perimeter. That’s a tough way to win big in this era of basketball.

T20. Houston +7500 (FFI: 32)

Kelvin Sampson has done a hell of a job to be 19-1 after losing his two best players from a year ago. They get crushed in the ratings for a soft schedule so far, but they’ve performed well when they’ve played better teams, so take it for what it’s worth. You’d think that they would struggle when they played teams with more size, but they did beat Oregon when Bol Bol was still playing.

T23. Florida State +10000 (FFI: 39)

I’m kind of afraid to say anything about the Noles because they played like this in the ACC last year and then made the Elite 8. I’m just saying it’s usually a good idea to bet against Leonard Hamilton in the tournament.

T23. Kansas State +10000 (FFI: 44)

This is kind of a tough one to gauge because their data set is corrupted from the Dean Wade absence for six games. They dropped from 24 to 50 in KenPom during that stretch and have climbed back to 36 in his four game return. That four game stretch has been road wins at Iowa State and Oklahoma and home wins against TCU and Texas Tech. So, yeah, Wade’s important. I’m confident in saying the Cats will move up the FFI.

T34. Arizona +15000 (FFI: 43)

Their offense is terrible. The end.

bruno.jpg

Slightly Undervalued

T20. Maryland +7500 (FFI: 12)

The Terps play a ton of young guys, but they’re really talented and experienced PG Anthony Cowan runs the show. Usually young teams struggle on the road, but they’ve blown out three Big Ten foes in their own building. They never had a chance at Michigan State, but few ever do. They’re an intriguing team that doesn’t have many holes.

T23. Mississippi State +10000 (FFI: 14)

The Bulldogs haven’t played well since SEC play started. However, if experienced guards are something you might be interested in, MSU has them in bulk and some rim protectors to boot.

T30. Oklahoma +12500 (FFI: 16)

Lon Kruger’s gotten his defense back from the Buddy Hield years, but the offense is far from it. The Sooners lack efficient scorers.

T34. Indiana +15000 (FFI: 22)

I had something somewhat positive written, but had to edit after the debacle against Michigan. Their season is in a tailspin right now and every time you expect them to bounce back and fight to get things corrected, they just fall further.

T39. Texas +20000 (FFI: 20)

The defense is good, but they still manage to lose a lot of games. They showed they were capable of beating a really good team away from home when they beat UNC, but we haven’t really seen that since then.

martins.jpg

Highly Overvalued

T8. Nevada +2500 (FFI: 24)

I wouldn’t count them out, but the biggest difference between this year and last is perimeter shooting. They miss shooters Kendall Stephens and Hallice Cooke to work off of the Martin twins. Jazz Johnson has filled in some of that hole, but Corey Henson has been streaky and Nisre Zouzoua has been a dud after shooting 36% from three at Bryant. And they still miss Lindsey Drew. Drew was out for the NCAA Tournament last year, but not having his ability to set people up is noticeable and pretty much just leaves Cody Martin to do all of that work.

That’s the negative side. But, they’re still 19-1 and in the Top 25 of both offensive and defensive efficiency.

11. Texas Tech +4000 (FFI: 18)

I don’t care how good your defense is, if you can’t score, you can’t win it all.

T12. Auburn +5000 (FFI: 26)

The Tigers need Austin Wiley back, but he won’t solve all of their defensive problems. The Tiger defense is heavily reliant on getting steals and blocking shots, otherwise they’re pretty poor. That’s proven to be an unsuccessful formula in the NCAA Tournament when you pretty much only play teams with good guards.

T12. Villanova +5000 (FFI: 30)

The rankings are based on season stats and that’s why you see Villanova at #30 after a poor non-conference showing (for them). They’ve turned it up in Big East play, but they still have some defensive issues.

T16. Marquette +5500 (FFI: 27)

The Golden Eagles have been all offense the past couple years, but that might actually be their issue right now. They can still shoot it great, but the lack of efficiency and production around the bucket leaves a little to be desired.

T16. Syracuse +5500 (FFI: 42)

Well, Boeheim’s worst teams seem to do the best in March, so maybe that’s the reason for the price.

f226bfc9-23b8-4acc-be46-3b9c675b6513-large16x9_ap19018061030771

Highly Undervalued

6. Michigan State +1000 (FFI: 1)

I kept trying to tell people last year over and over that the Spartans were overvalued and that turned out to be true when they beat 14 seed Bucknell by four and then lost to 11 seed Syracuse in the second round.

But this team is the one to bet on right now in all of college basketball. 10-1 and they might be the best team in the country. They’ve gone 7-0 without 15 PPG scorer Josh Langford and that includes four wins over Top 30 KenPom teams, two of those four on the road. That’s the difference between this year’s team and last. They consistently deliver outside of East Lansing.

T18. Iowa State +6500 (FFI: 9)

The Cyclones still aren’t fully healthy, but they fit the mold of being Top 25 on both ends of the floor. The glaring hole for this team is that they don’t rebound well, but they do lessen some of that damage by consistently winning the turnover battle.

They lack star power, but I can’t imagine trying to gameplan against their offense. It’s like porn if your bag is versatility. And that versatility extends to their defense. They don’t play their biggest guys a ton, but they still manage to do a pretty good job of protecting the rim.

22. Wisconsin +8000 (FFI: 8)

The Badgers went through a tough five game stretch to start January, but responded by beating Michigan. Nate Reuvers is quietly becoming another big scoring threat for the offense. If they have three consistent scorers outside of Ethan Happ, you’re looking at a Top 20, Top 15 type of offense to pair with their Top 10 defense.

T23. Nebraska +10000 (FFI: 5)

If you were just judging starting fives, Nebraska is certainly worthy of Top 15 consideration. The problem is that they don’t have – or don’t use – a sixth or seventh man. The offense hasn’t suffered much, but the defense has been declining in performance as the season goes on. A shorter rotation is better in March, but this might be too short.

Irrelevant

38. Florida +17500

Analytically good, but they should try winning more games.

T45. Clemson +30000

The offense is one of the worst in the ACC.

T45. Georgetown +30000

The Hoyas lean way too heavily on their freshmen. It’s a good core if Patrick Ewing keeps them together, but this year is not their year.

T45. Murray State +30000

Ja Morant is phenomenal, but the Racers haven’t beat anybody noteworthy. Just making the field solely depends upon the OVC tournament.

T45. Oregon +30000

They’d be a lot more interesting with Bol Bol, obviously.

T52. Alabama +40000

This is Avery Johnson’s best offense he’s had in Tuscaloosa. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s still just an average offense.

T52. Baylor +40000

I’d enjoy another Makai Mason tournament moment, but the Bears struggle to score if they don’t get second chances. They’re capable of beating some good teams, but they’re going to have to prove it on the road if they want to make the dance.

Big Ten Power Rankings: 1/21/19

I thought about punting on the power rankings this season. Obviously I have so far, wanting to spend more time on gambling-related research. The power rankings blogs are a labor of love, you see. I could spend 10 hours writing this thing and it wouldn’t get half the page views as a “blog” with a couple of cricket picks from the Bangladesh Premier League with no reasoning and no explanation of how and when I started taking an interest in the sixth-best cricket league.

But this league is too good not to write about. I spent every week last season talking about a group of teams that produced four NCAA Tournament participants and only a couple more that reached the NIT. It was brutal. There often weren’t enough candidates for the “Five Best Games to Watch” portion of the blog because there were barely five good teams. It was a rich man’s Pac-12 and I was there every step of the way, hating it.

What I’m trying to say is I deserve this. This blog has never been about you, the reader. It was about me, the self-fellating, spare-time blogger who just needs to be heard. Sure, the precious picks are for you. But the content? The content is mine. It’s just a bonus if you enjoy it.

Now the skeptics may find the timing of the power rankings comeback rather curious. I’ve been very open about my Purdue fandom and, yes, it is very convenient that they’ve been playing a lot better lately and just beat their biggest rival on Saturday.

And for those of you in my brain, it’s also very convenient that Michigan lost this weekend and now I can justify putting Michigan State ahead of them because I’ve thought the Spartans were the better team for the past month or so.

But the truth is, I’m no longer knee-deep in self-assigned spreadsheet work and I have more time.

But enough about me. It’s about the kids.


Seven Stars From the Past Week Twelve Weeks: 

Cassius Winston, Michigan State

Carsen Edwards, Purdue

Michigan

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

Bruno Fernando, Maryland

Juwan Morgan, Indiana

James Palmer, Nebraska

Five Best Games to Watch This Week:

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

Purdue at Ohio State, Wednesday, 7:00 EST, BTN

Michigan State at Iowa, Thursday, 7:00 EST, FS1

Michigan at Indiana, Friday, 6:30 EST, FS1

Michigan State at Purdue, Sunday, 1:00 EST, CBS


 

Great

1. Michigan State (NET: 5)

This is far from Tom Izzo’s flashiest team. There’s no household names – although Cassius Winston should be – and there aren’t any surefire lottery picks on the roster. But it might be his most complete team in a while.

It’s the best offense they’ve had since Denzel Valentine graduated, but this one might be even better because they’re much more balanced and have multiple options to score down low. These Spartans are not living and dying by the three like those Valentine teams were.

They also might have the best defense they’ve had since Draymond Green graduated. There’s no Jaren Jackson level of rim protector this year, but as a unit, they’re still the best shot blocking team in the league and they’re the best team nationally when it comes to actually scoring in the paint. If you can’t make perimeter shots against the Spartans, you really don’t have a chance to win the game.

They’ve won three straight road games and buried Purdue at home without the services of Josh Langford, who was averaging 15.0 PPG the first couple of months.

This week: home for Maryland, at Iowa and Purdue

2. Michigan (NET: 6)

Much like their in-state rivals, the Wolverines lack big names on the roster. And also like Spartans, it hasn’t held them back by any measure. They’re as balanced as you could possibly be and they’ve only strengthened their elite defense that led them to the national championship game a year ago.

You can hardly notice that the NC finalist lost three starters from that team. All returnees have raised their game and 30-year-old freshman Ignas Brazdeikis has certainly helped quite a bit, but none has been more significant than Jon Teske becoming one of the better big men in the league.

Teske isn’t the biggest scorer, but he doesn’t have to be with the guys around him. From an offensive standpoint, maybe the most important aspect he brings is that he’s a threat to shoot from outside. Teske had only attempted two three-pointers his first two years in Ann Arbor. He’s now 9-20 from the outside in Big Ten games this year. If the 5 man can shoot in John Beilein’s offense, best of luck guarding that.

Teske also leads the league in blocked shots and is top two in a bunch of defensive analytical categories that I’m sure you don’t care about.

While I think the Spartans have been the better team lately, it’s far from a finished race. While Izzo has historically gotten the praise for his team’s performances in March, it’s been the Wolverines that have turned it on late the past couple of years.

This week: home for Minnesota, at Indiana

Good

3. Maryland (NET: 20)

Most analytical rankings prefer Purdue, Nebraska, and Wisconsin by a hair over the Terps, but they’ve been rolling lately. They’ve won their last three road games by double digits. They’ve held off a big comeback at home against the Badgers and completed one of their own against Indiana. Their only conference loss came on the road by two points against Purdue back in early December.

Anthony Cowan continues to be a picture of consistency and one of the best guards in the league. Bruno Fernando is the star of the show for me, though. He’s one of the best rebounders and shot blockers in the country. He’s also one of the most efficient offensively and his efficiency isn’t just limited to around the basket. And he’s got Jalen Smith right beside him, who does a lot of the same things effectively.

Take those three and toss in a 48% three-point shooter in Eric Ayala and it’s easy to see why this is Mark Turgeon’s best offense at Maryland.

This week: at Michigan State, Illinois in NYC

4. Purdue (NET: 14)

Purdue certainly seems to have turned a corner over the last month, especially defensively as the young guys understand the defense better. It also helps to uncover a walking double-double midseason and use him to replace the worst defensive player on the team. The Trevion Williams for Evan Boudreaux exchange in the lineup has yielded nothing but positive results so far.

The emergence of the freshmen hasn’t just been defensive for the Boilers. They’ve also started to take on bigger roles offensively. That has coincided with a Carsen Edwards usage rate that is trending downward. This can only be viewed as positive. Edwards is a remarkably talented player, but his team is just 1-4 when his usage rate is over 38%.

This week: at Ohio State, home for Michigan State

5. Wisconsin (NET: 16)

The Badgers are a wild ride, man. Their last six games: lost at WKU, lost at home to Minnesota, destroyed Penn State in Happy Valley, lost to Purdue at home in OT, get down by 21 at Maryland and then nearly win the game, and finally, beat 17-0 Michigan at home.

The Badgers are one of the best defensive teams in the country and rarely have a bad game in that department. They also rarely get a bad game from Ethan Happ. Those are two things you can really depend on with them. What’s a little less dependable, but extremely important, is how well the other guys shoot from the perimeter. The only time they’ve shot well and lost was against Purdue. The only times they’ve shot poorly and won games were against Stanford, Rutgers, and Iowa. All three opponents shot worse than Wisconsin.

This isn’t revolutionary. A lot of basketball is just making more shots than your opponent. But outside of Happ, the only other guy in the rotation who doesn’t shoot a lot of threes is Khalil Iverson, who’s only attempts 2.4 shots per game in Big Ten play. If the supporting cast isn’t hitting threes, it’s essentially a one-man offense.

This week: at Illinois, home for Northwestern

6. Iowa (NET: 25)

I’ve never been confused for the world’s biggest fan of this crop of Iowa players, but the offense is undeniably great and they’ve handled business both home and away lately. They’ll certainly rack up a lot of wins this season, but you can’t simply outscore your way to a championship.

That’s the conundrum with Iowa. They’ve had the second best offense in conference play, but also the second worst defense. They have had some of their better performances defensively over these last five games, but we’ll see if that trend continues with home games against the Michigan schools coming up.

This week: home for Michigan, at Minnesota

7. Nebraska (NET: 15)

The analytics seem to support the Huskers more than the win/loss record. I’m not saying Nebraska isn’t a Top 15 team like many of those rankings suggest, but the facts are that they’re 0-4 against Top 25 teams in those same rankings and I would only call one of those games a true toss-up at the finish. They’re just 3-4 in Big Ten play so far.

Of course there’s still a lot to like in Lincoln. Their starting five is about as good as any you’ll find in the conference. Each with a unique skill set, they make quite a quintet. And don’t get me wrong – I love a tight rotation – but outside of those five, the cupboard is pretty bare.

We’ll see if the Huskers prove to be an analytical darling or if they can turn it on and start winning some of these bigger games.

This week: at Rutgers, home for Ohio State

Good Sometimes

8. Indiana (NET: 34)

Indiana’s good enough to make the tournament, but the ceiling is pretty limited unless they have a serious uptick in perimeter shooting. The Hoosiers have a few guys that can knock down wide open set shots, but it’s certainly not a strength of their team. With that said, they have some great finishers around the basket.

The most glaring issue right now has to be the defensive end. Their last four games have been among their worst statistically. Opponent and location play a big factor, but IU wasted their best offensive road performance at Maryland by giving up 18 offensive rebounds.

This week presents some opportunities for them to score some momentum-changing victories and get the ship turned in the right direction again.

This week: at Northwestern, home for Michigan

9. Minnesota (NET: 67)

I’m not sure that the Gophers are really that good, but they’ve avoided any catastrophic losses and racked up a couple nice wins already. But they did almost just lose to Penn State at home. In their defense, the injuries to their role players have started to pile up. In great news, they did get Eric Curry back after missing a year-and-a-half due to knee issues.

The problem for me with the Gophers is…well I don’t know what they’re especially good at. Game-to-game what can you count on? They put up some gaudy rebounding numbers in the non-conference, but that’s been slowed down quite a bit against Big Ten foes.

They haven’t really gotten into the meat of the schedule yet, so we’ll see if Minnesota really has the goods to make the dance when it’s all said and done.

This week: at Michigan, home for Iowa

10. Ohio State (NET: 40)

The Buckeyes need a win bad after losing four straight, punctuated by getting blown out at home by Maryland. The double-edged sword aspect of playing in a conference this competitive is that losses can keep piling up before getting an opportunity to play a weak opponent at home and regain confidence. The positive part of that sword is the sheer number of opportunities to get big wins to put on an NCAA Tournament resume and dig yourself out of a hole.

Issue number one that needs sorted out is the offense. The Buckeyes haven’t eclipsed 62 points in their last three games. Two of those games have come against the two worst defenses in conference play.

They need to get it sorted out quickly. They’re trending in the wrong direction and they won’t be favored to win any of their next three games. It starts with Kaleb Wesson being Kaleb Wesson again and he needs some help from guys like Keyshawn Woods, who need to start playing to their potential.

This week: home for Purdue, at Nebraska

The Rest

11. Northwestern (NET: 60)

The Wildcats aren’t a bad team, but being not bad isn’t enough to legitimately compete in the league this year. They’ll be a tough out at home, but they just don’t have the offensive firepower to hang with good teams on the road.

This week: home for IU, at Wisconsin

12. Illinois (NET: 104)

Thought maybe they had turned a bit of a corner with the blowout win over Minnesota, but then they gave up 95 to Iowa and lost by 24. So maybe not.

This week: home for Wisconsin, Maryland in NYC

13. Penn State (NET: 75)

The Nittany Lions have played a brutal schedule and are probably actually better than Illinois, but I mean, 0-8 is 0-8. The offense is putrid. A Pat Chambers staple.

This week: home for Rutgers

14. Rutgers (NET: 142)

Of all the teams that couldn’t afford losing their top scorer and rebounder to injury, Rutgers has the past couple weeks with the injury to Eugene Omoruyi.

This week: home for Nebraska, at Penn State