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
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
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
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
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
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