Big Ten

The Big Ten Is Better Than You Thought And It’s Okay To Admit That

I’m wrong. A lot. I was wrong on a lot of different things that happened in the first weekend of the tournament.

I loved SMU. Didn’t make it out of the first round.

It didn’t cross my mind that Duke would lose in the first weekend, regardless of the fact that their second round opponent had a home crowd. They did and it wasn’t all that close.

I doubted Butler. They didn’t trail once in the first two rounds. Not even for a second.

But I was wrong. That’s just a sampling of the things I missed.

And I don’t have any problem saying it. College basketball is maybe the most unpredictable of the American sports. That’s partially why I obsess over it. I write these power ranking blogs trying to hone in on what to expect knowing full well that they’re largely meaningless once the 18-23 year-olds under the most intense pressure of their young lives become involved.

With that said, not much that happened this weekend is all that surprising. The only thing that really stands out is that South Carolina is suddenly awesome at scoring a lot of points. That’s it. That’s the list.

Some might point to Xavier. They beat a Maryland team that’s been scuffling for a while now and a Florida State team that is led by one of college basketball’s greatest underachievers, Leonard Hamilton. The Muskies also have Chris Mack and Trevon Bluiett.

This brings me to the Big Ten, which became a big topic over the weekend due to five of their seven participants winning their first round game and three of those making the Sweet 16.

This led to the inevitable: Big Ten fans puffing their collective chest out and those who trashed the Big Ten basically chalking it up to randomness. The more intelligent, but still stubborn will put it this way:

Also an annual tradition, the “one-off” argument. I won’t even dispute it. It’s actually sensible! A single 40-minute game doesn’t change everything, provided that one or both of the teams in said game played at a level above or below their relatively recent norm.

But a series of these 40-minute results isn’t an accident.

The Big Ten wasn’t all that great in November and December. They didn’t register many groundbreaking wins.

However, the team that ended up finished in a tie for 10th in the league beat two of the #1 seeds this year. One of their NIT teams beat the Big 12 tournament champions…by a lot. Their #13 seed Nebraska team beat Dayton.

But they lost the ACC-Big Ten challenge, tied the Gavitt Games with the Big East, and otherwise had a ho-hum non-conference season.

The Big Ten was not one of the best conferences in November and December.

But what was that built off? One might say a series of “one-off” games in those two rather meaningless months.

I’ve never understood how those series of isolated 40-minute games is somehow deemed more important than the ones that occur at the end of the season.

It’s not as if the Power 6 teams are playing an enormous round-robin early in the year. You’re lucky to see some teams play three other Power 6 teams in non-conference play.

But those early games create a whole narrative for the remaining three months of the season. Everyone just seems to get it in their head because one conference looks stronger than the other before the calendar turns it over that it’s just going to stay that way forever. It dismisses the idea that teams grow and evolve as the season goes on.Which is the whole point of a season, to get better so that you can play at your best in March when it all really counts.

Is the NCAA Tournament the perfect way to prove a conference’s strength? No, far from it. But show me a better way, please. If your argument involves games played around Thanksgiving, but not the ones played now, just stop. You’re embarrassing yourself. I love KenPom, but even that system is a bit flawed when it comes to measuring conferences as a whole.

The way the system is set up now with 68 teams making the field and still a tremendous slant against mid-majors receiving at-large bids, you essentially get half of every major conference’s teams in the dance with some exceptions by a team or two. Point being, you see a lot of teams from each league matched up with the others.

And what I didn’t see last weekend was a lot of accidents happening in regards to the Big Ten. Nobody got scorching hot for one game and produced a fluky result. Wisconsin legitimately beat the #1 overall seed and defending national champion. Michigan legitimately beat the second-place ACC team in front of a pro-Louisville crowd. Purdue legitimately beat the Big 12 tournament champions in front of a pro-Iowa State crowd. Michigan State buried a Miami team that had an equal 10-8 conference record in the ACC. Even Northwestern was maybe a terrible no-call away from knocking off the #1 team overall in KenPom.

Exactly zero of them made more than the national average of 35% of their three-point shots and all five of them shot worst than their respective team averages. Nothing fluky about it.

But hey, Minnesota lost to Middle Tennessee, so we get absolutely outrageous tweets like this that have no shred of supporting evidence:

Would it surprise you to know that Terrence had the Big Ten going 1-7 in the tournament with Michigan State getting the lonely first round win?

They are currently 8-4.

I’m not even trying to tell you the Big Ten was the best league this year. I’ve never said that. I have said all year that it’s a league with no truly great teams, but a few really good teams and a few other decent ones. I wasn’t sure how they’d do as a league in the tournament because they didn’t have favorable seeds (which is largely influenced by those pesky November/December games) and would therefore have a tougher road, but most of them largely played how they have since early February.

While they may not be the best, I don’t think the gap between them and the Big 12 or ACC is quite as significant as it was made out to be either. The only real difference I see is that they don’t have a Kansas or a North Carolina.

It gets extremely tiring to see the same recycled takes over and over and even more exhausting to see that it doesn’t even occur to people that they were maybe, possibly, the slightest bit wrong. And the lengths that people will go to avoid it.

 

*Deletes entire section on why Mark Titus is a moron*

The real issue at hand is the constant need to power rank the conferences in a year where there’s a whole lot of teams at the top without many discernible differences.

 

Part of what I do to evaluate how the tournament is going to go is by looking at the tiers through adjusted efficiency margins. The “great” teams are categorized by having a margin of 28+. The “very good” teams are categorized by having a margin between 22 and 28.

Here’s how many teams fit in each category over the years. The numbers for 2017 are current, every other year is post-tourney.

28+ 22-28
2002 4 6
2003 2 8
2004 1 11
2005 2 10
2006 0 9
2007 3 9
2008 4 8
2009 4 11
2010 2 10
2011 2 10
2012 2 9
2013 3 10
2014 3 12
2015 6 8
2016 5 11
2017 3 20

Hmm, what number really jumps out in that list? 21 teams in the “very good” range, an all-time high and not by a little bit.

The breakdown of teams – by conference – in the “very good” range:

ACC 4
Big 12 5
Big East 0
Big Ten 3
SEC 1
Pac 12 3
MVC 1
American 2
WCC 1

It’s a bit of an arbitrary number set, but at the same time the range from 2003 to 2016 was a very consistent five and this year has shown a spike equal to more than double the average. Things could change over the last two weeks, but not enough to skew the numbers in a substantial manner.

My whole point in all of this is to say that every league at the top had some really good teams. And all of them only had one or two really bad teams, except the Pac-12. They had four. There’s not a big difference between the other five.

That isn’t really an opinion. It’s a summation based on cold, hard facts, Jack.

Big Ten Postseason Awards and Conference Tournament Preview

The postseason is among us, which means it’s time for a couple of things: the Big Ten Tournament and award season.

I’m assuming the awards will come Tuesday simply because they did last year, but you never know with the Big Ten anymore. The conference tourney is in Washington D.C. this year because apparently the consistently great attendance in Indianapolis and Chicago was just getting old. Next year it’ll be in New York a week earlier than usual because I guess Jim Delany is looking to capture some of that Missouri Valley and old Big East mojo at the same time.

But I digress. It’s time for the awards. When they’re announced, it’ll provide some fodder for a couple of days until the conference tourney starts up and everyone forgets about them forever.

I base mine solely on performance in the 18-game conference schedule and most of the statistics I mention are conference-only numbers.

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Player of the Year

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue

I understand that I have an inherent bias, but I don’t treat this blog as a Purdue fan site and I try to be as rational and impartial as I can possibly be and hopefully that comes through. With that said, I didn’t find the POY race to be particularly close this year, especially after the last couple weeks.

I love Ethan Happ. I drove the Happ Train in December of LAST season, begging for the Badgers to get him more involved. He’s a better defender than Swanigan and doesn’t turn it over quite as much, but Swanigan is just a different type of force.

In conference play, Swanigan led the league in points (18.9) and rebounds (12.6). The next highest rebounding average was 9.3 from Jordan Murphy. And while he’s not the defender that Happ is, he’s not exactly a turnstile either. At times he would sacrifice challenging a shot in order to avoid foul trouble, but he still ends the year in the top 6 of all major defensive analytics (rating, win shares, box plus/minus).

And finally, nobody was more consistent in the league. He scored in double figures in every Big Ten game and made those double-doubles in 15 contests. His versatility and dominance on the glass allowed him to positively affect every game in a big way.

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Defensive Player of the Year

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

This one also wasn’t very close to me. As a post defender, Happ still managed to lead the league in steals and was sixth in blocked shots, while also being one of the top rebounders in the league. He’s a monster whether you look at traditional, raw statistics or the new-age analytical numbers and it’s confirmed every time you watch Happ play defense. His activity on that end jumps off the screen and that’s why he deserves it.

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Freshman of the Year

Miles Bridges, Michigan State

In a league that doesn’t often have many surefire one-and-done guys come through, guys like Bridges stand out. He’s 6’7″, 230 pounds and he can hit a contested three on one possession and dunk on your entire team the next. He was among the league leaders in points, rebounds, blocks, and three-point percentage. I imagine if they kept track of dunks, he’d be among the leaders in that too.

And he did all that as the best player on a team that’s going to make the NCAA Tournament and will be the #5 seed in the league tournament after coming back from an injury that kept him out the last five games of non-con and the first two games of league play. His consistent production was only rivaled by the two guys previously awarded in this blog.

 

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Sixth Man of the Year

Isaac Haas, Purdue

To be honest, there weren’t a lot of great candidates for this award. I guess there rarely is in college basketball, really. The NBA features quite a few guys that come off the bench, but still play more than half the game. You don’t often see that at this level.

Haas wins the award because, at times, he was the most productive player in games for the championship team. He certainly has his flaws and those are often picked apart, but at the same time he came off the bench and scored in double figures on more occasions than he didn’t, he rebounded at a high percentage, and only Nick Ward drew fouls at a higher rate. That last part might be his most important attribute as it pertains to his own team’s success. Swanigan draws a lot of fouls by himself. By the time Haas got into the game and made his impact, some teams essentially fouled themselves out of competing.

 

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Coach of the Year

Richard Pitino, Minnesota

There are probably four coaches you could pick here and I wouldn’t have much of a problem with it: Pitino, Chris Collins, Matt Painter, and Mark Turgeon.

I imagine Collins will get some votes because he’s taken Northwestern to the highest heights it’s ever been to as a program. That’s a worthy argument.

Matt Painter’s team won the league by two games. Also a pretty good argument.

Mark Turgeon’s team was picked to finish 10th and the ended up tied for second while starting three freshmen.

I’m going with Pitino. His team finished 2-16 in the league last year, they had a lot of roster turnover, and now they find themselves in a position where they’ve been playing for NCAA Tournament seeding for weeks now.

I base the awards off league performance only, but the Gophers were 12-1 in non-con and they started off 3-1 in B1G play, including wins at Purdue and Northwestern. They then lost five games in a row. That’s tough to come back from, but they did by winning their next eight.

Admittedly, in a way, that’s giving him credit for getting his team to bounce back from its own failures, but it was impressive nonetheless.

Like I said, I would have no problem with any of the four I mentioned. COY means something different to everybody and everyone has their own set of parameters. For me, I like to vote for the guys who get their teams/programs to bounce back from adversity and seemingly improve as a coach along the way. And I’ve been hard on Pitino, possibly too hard, but they had no business only winning two games last year. But this year his team has been stout defensively from the jump and they’ve made great strides on offense.

First Team

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Derrick Walton, Michigan
Melo Trimble, Maryland

These teams are hard, man. It’d be easier to separate them in to tiers with no defined number on each tier.

The first three on the list should be unanimous and actually Walton probably should be too. He was special at the end of the year and his improved play is the biggest reason why Michigan turned their season around.

The fifth spot is up for debate and I personally had a tough time choosing between five guys. I landed on Trimble because of his consistency, importance to his team, and the fact that his team ended up in second place, the highest of the five I considered.

I don’t love everything about Trimble’s game – particularly his infatuation for shooting a lot of threes despite the fact that he’s not very good at it – but he was important to the Terps in a lot of different areas. The success of the three freshmen was a big storyline for Maryland this year, but at the end of the day Melo was the biggest constant and the guy that carried the weight of the game’s outcome whenever it was tight down the stretch.

I think you can make an argument for any of the other four to be on the first team, but I found it most difficult to argue against the merits of Trimble.

Second Team

Malcolm Hill, Illinois
Peter Jok, Iowa
Nate Mason, Minnesota
Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern
Tai Webster, Nebraska

The “other four” I was referencing are the first four listed.

I can’t say anything other than what’s been said about Malcolm Hill’s production the last three  years. It stinks that we’re probably never going to see him in the NCAA Tournament. I don’t know whose fault that is, maybe it’s John Groce, maybe it’s his teammates, maybe it’s Malcolm’s. Probably a combination of all three. Hill has been really good, but never has taken his game to quite the next level where he could carry his team. He’s got a weekend left to change that.

I love Peter Jok and he’s probably the most natural scorer in the league, but he’s not always the most engaged defender, and it didn’t really help his cause that Iowa played two great games without him.

Mason’s production doesn’t always match his volume, but he’s still one of the best playmakers in the league, both for himself and his teammates. The Gophers basically hopped on his back and were along for the ride in two of their bigger wins of the year.

For me, McIntosh was the hardest to leave off the first team. There’s a lot about his game to like and him and Chris Collins might share equal importance in the Wildcats’ season. I ultimately went with Trimble because he’s more efficient and his team was better, but McIntosh certainly has a case.

Webster had a great year and was one of the most improved player’s in the league, but his team went 6-12.

Third Team

Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin
Thomas Bryant, Indiana
Tony Carr, Penn State
Dakota Mathias, Purdue
Jae’Sean Tate, Ohio State

The third team is pretty much a crapshoot. There’s like 20 guys you could probably make a case for.

Although Wisconsin’s season seemed like a bit of a disappointment and Koenig had some health issues, he still had quite a good season himself. I’d still prefer my point guard to get teammates involved a little more, but Koenig is still worthy of recognition here.

Bryant didn’t live up to expectations this year, but it wasn’t due to a lack of effort. Maybe he lingers on the perimeter too much, but, in his defense, his teammates ignore him too often when he’s on the block.

Carr is a personal favorite of mine and I think he’ll be on that first team by the time his career is over. I figured Shep Garner would be the star of the show for the Nittany Lions this year, but by the time February hit, it was fairly clear that Carr was the best offensive player on the team.

Maybe Mathias is a bit of my bias showing and the fact that Purdue’s the only team that I watched play every single minute, but his improvement this year was a huge factor in Purdue winning the league. He’s turned himself into one of the best defenders in the conference, one of the best shooters, and a great passer, which comes in handy when your team feeds the post more than anyone in the country.

I love Jae’Sean Tate. His skill level might not be among the 50 best in the Big Ten, but his effort, energy, and will level is as good as anybody. He’s 6’4″, plays with rebound-hog Trevor Thompson, and he still gets 6.2 rebounds a game. He’s 6’4″, a terrible shooter, not particularly a great ball handler, and still averaged 14.1 points a game.

Freshman Team

Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Tony Carr, Penn State
Tyler Cook, Iowa
Justin Jackson, Maryland
Amir Coffey, Minnesota
Anthony Cowan, Maryland
Nick Ward, Michigan State

I couldn’t pick just five and I probably could’ve picked five more because it was a great year for freshmen in the league. This blog has gone on too long, but all of these guys are going to be great college basketball players in years to come. Unfortunately for them, a former walk-on who’s upset that his two favorite teams aren’t good this year thinks the Big Ten is dead now so it won’t matter.

Defensive Team

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Dakota Mathias, Purdue
Reggie Lynch, Minnesota
Trevor Thompson, Ohio State
Josh Reaves, Penn State

I’ve already talked about the first two, so let’s knock out the obvious one in Reggie Lynch, who lives to block your shot and embarrass you in front of everyone you love.

Thompson doesn’t get near the attention that Happ and Lynch do around the league, but he should. He “only” blocks 1.3 shots a game, but he makes life incredibly difficult for other bigs by just being so solid in defending on the block. There’s two elite big men offensively in the Big Ten: Swanigan and Happ. He played three games against those two. It wasn’t all his doing, but it’s important to note that he only gave up 26 points (8.7 ppg) on 27 attempts in those three games. His individual defensive numbers don’t jump out, but it helps if, you know, watch him.

Reaves probably won’t get as much recognition as he deserves either, but he’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. He was second in steals per game and the only guard among the league leaders for blocks.


Conference Tournament Preview

Favorite

Purdue

The Boilers ended up winning the league by two games, so I guess you have to consider them the favorite. Their road wins over some of the top teams in the league is traditionally a good sign for success in the postseason and the fact they won a couple of those without shooting well helps.

With all that said, they could lose to 11 or 12 different teams in the conference and it wouldn’t be all that surprising. And their half of the bracket isn’t the most favorable. They’ll have to beat Michigan/Illinois and then probably Minnesota or Michigan State to reach Sunday. The Wolverines just eviscerated their defense a couple of weeks ago, Illinois did the same a year ago despite being the significantly worse team, Minnesota won their only matchup this year in West Lafayette, and MSU is a talented team that’s starting to figure things out.

The Boilers probably have to be the favorite, but if you were given the option of Purdue or the field, I think most everyone would take the field in a heartbeat.

Runner Up

Wisconsin

The Badgers have mostly stunk lately, but they’re still the most experienced team in the league with by far the most postseason success already under their belt. They’re also on the more favorable side of the bracket. They got hot against Minnesota on Sunday and if that continues, they’ll have as good of shot at winning as anybody.

Darkhorse (single bye team)

Indiana

Even though the Hoosiers went 2-3, their last five games were all pretty decent showings. Four of those games were on the road. If Rob Johnson keeps his hot shooting from the Ohio State game going, they’ll be really tough to defend. They open with Iowa, who has been playing really well in their own right, but IU almost won in Iowa City a couple weeks ago. They’ve beaten Northwestern and nearly won at both Maryland and Wisconsin, so there’s reason to believe the Hoosiers could get through their side of the bracket.

Super Darkhorse (no bye team)

Ohio State

Winning five straight games is basically impossible, especially when the top 4 teams will have an extra two days of rest. However, if anybody that plays Wednesday can do it, it’s the Buckeyes. They’ve beaten or nearly beaten every top team in the league.

Big Ten Bracketology: One Week Left

 


Five Stars From the Past Week:

Nick Ward, Michigan State – averaged 21.0 points and 9.0 rebounds in two wins

Malcolm Hill, Illinois – averaged 18.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.5 steals in two wins

Moe Wagner, Michigan – 24 points (22 in first half), 3 rebounds, and 2 steals in win over Purdue

Jordan Bohannon, Iowa – 24 points (8-10 from three), 3 rebounds, and 5 assists in win at Maryland

The Team, Minnesota – significant contributions from everyone in the rotation on the way to two wins

Five Seven Games to Watch This Week:

Indiana at Purdue, Tuesday, 7:00 pm EST, ESPN2

Michigan at Northwestern, Wednesday, 7:00 pm EST, BTN

Michigan State at Illinois, Wednesday, 9:00 pm EST, BTN

Indiana at Ohio State, Saturday, 12:00 pm EST, ESPN

Michigan State at Maryland, 2:00 pm EST, BTN

Purdue at Northwestern, 4:30 pm EST, CBS

Minnesota at Wisconsin, 6:00 pm EST, BTN



 

Locks

Purdue – 4 Seed (4.16 Average| 113/113 Brackets)

The Boilermakers still somehow find themselves in the driver’s seat of the Big Ten, despite not playing particularly well in both games last week.

Let me get out my fire barrel take now: I thought they actually played better at Michigan than they did at Penn State. They didn’t make a lot of smart decisions in Happy Valley, they were careless with the ball even by their own poor standards in that department, and I didn’t think they gave great effort until they realized they just might lose. But they hit 12 threes and the Nittany Lions only hit two, despite getting many open looks.

That’s not to say they were without flaw in Ann Arbor, but that game largely came down to Michigan hitting a lot of shots that they hit on pretty much everyone that walks into Crisler Arena and Purdue missing what seemed like every attempt they had near the rim.

Purdue is very likely going to be a Big Ten champion sometime this week. What form it comes in, we’ll see. Bart Torvik gives them a 66% chance to win it outright and a 96% chance for a share.

I think my favorite outcome of the Big Ten season would be the 0.2% chance (my own calculations) that there’s a four-way tie for first at 12-6.

This week: home for Indiana, at Northwestern

Minnesota – 5 Seed (5.59 Average| 113/113 Brackets)

At one point, Minnesota was 3-6 in the conference. With a week left to go, they now find themselves in that “0.2% chance of happening” spot where they could potentially have a share of the Big Ten title. And that’s probably why Richie Pitino is going to win the COY award for the Big Ten. I’ve been hard on Mini-Slick Rick, but he deserves it.

Remember last week when I made all those graphs showing the volatility of scoring coming from Murphy, McBrayer, Springs, and Curry? Well, this week the former three all scored double figures in both games and Curry scored four in each game.

It turns out having five guys all score a lot of points is really helpful in securing wins.

We also got to see what it looks like for Reggie Lynch not to foul himself out of the game and it looks like eleven (11) blocks.

What we saw this week was Peak Minnesota. Peak Minnesota is a really good team and could go far in March. We’ll see if it lasts.

This week: home for Nebraska, at Wisconsin

Wisconsin – 6 Seed (6.01 Average| 113/113 Brackets)

Turns out that second half against Maryland didn’t jumpstart the Badgers to take off. It’s starting to become a little clearer now that was more likely just part of Maryland’s quick descent to mediocrity.

There were a lot of things I was wrong on when I was projecting the Big Ten this year (Minnesota, Ohio State, and Thomas Bryant come to mind), but here’s what I wrote about Wisconsin when I picked them to finish fifth:

I don’t think I’m giving you any new information when I tell you that the Badgers are returning everyone from last year. To me, there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors with the second half of their season last year. Their offense still left a lot to be desired. They pulled out a few one or two possession games at home or on neutral courts. They caught Maryland and Iowa at the right times.

I’m not saying they’re not good. They’ll still win a lot of games. But they’re not the team that went to back-to-back Final Fours. They don’t have two lottery picks on the roster. Their highest usage player wasn’t very efficient last year and is now a social advocate!

Call me a skeptic, but I view them more as “typical Wisconsin” and not “peak Wisconsin”, if that makes sense.

The Badgers aren’t going to finish fifth, but there’s a semi-decent chance that they finish 12-6, which in a typical Big Ten season is the record of the #5 seed in the conference tourney. The rest of the league didn’t live up to my personal expectation, but Wisconsin is largely what I thought they would be.

I think this week they hit some unfortunate luck in Columbus with Ohio State being uncharacteristically lethal from outside, but the Badgers aren’t in a position to complain. Before this stretch of five games, they came out on the right side of every close game they played. Sure, experience helps in those situations, but the real analytics guys will tell you the outcomes of those close games are largely luck.

With all that said, the Badgers still have a decent chance to get a share of the Big Ten championship this week, same as every year.

This week: home for Iowa and Minnesota

Maryland – 7 Seed (6.84 Average| 113/113 Brackets)

Yikes. There’s been a lot of talk about the freshmen hitting a wall when they saw a dip in their scoring and now it’s on to Melo Trimble’s scoring. But the biggest reason for the drop recently is the Terp defense taking a nosedive.

maryland.png

The strength of schedule is obviously vastly different, but in the first 20 games the Terps only allowed six (30%) of their opponents to score more than a point per possession. In the nine games since, seven (78%) of opponents have eclipsed that mark. Not ideal.

At this point, it looks like Maryland might have to play in one of the dreaded 8/9 or 7/10 games in the tournament.

This week: at Rutgers, home for Michigan State

Almost Locks

Michigan – 9 Seed (9.12 Average| 113/113 Brackets)

The win over Purdue likely locks the Wolverines into the tournament, but they probably need to win one this week to feel truly comfortable and that’s not going to be an easy task.

The good news is that Michigan is playing really well right now. Moe Wagner basically won the Purdue game in the first half with his hot shooting and Derrick Walton put it on ice in the second half of his senior day.

But the most underrated part of that game may be the emergence of Xavier Simpson. He didn’t do anything spectacular, but he got 11 minutes, scored 7 points, and made a couple of really nice plays for his teammates. If he can be another guy in the rotation for John Beilein, that would be huge.

Typically you’re only trying to shorten your rotation at this point, but there’s only six solid in there for the Wolverines right now. Sure, Mark Donnal plays, but it seems like it’s more for the purpose of giving the other bigs a break and not so much that he actually brings any real contribution.

But it’s just one game for Simpson. He had a very similar outing against Michigan State at home and responded by scoring two points over the next four games. Something to keep an eye on this week.

This week: at Northwestern and Nebraska

Northwestern – 9 Seed (9.28 Average| 113/113 Brackets)

Ohhhhhhhhh boy.

I guess it’s only fitting that Northwestern would make this harder than it needed to be. The good news is that they’re still in a pretty favorable position and would without a doubt make the field if it were set today. The other good news: if they win either game this week they’ll essentially be a lock.

The bad news: they’re going to have to play a lot better than they have in recent weeks to win this week. Michigan and Purdue, along with Minnesota, have been the three best teams in the Big Ten over the last month.

And both the Wolverines and Boilermakers will have a lot to play for this week. I’d expect Welsh-Ryan to be very fervent this week, but both visiting teams will be equally motivated.

They could use a hot shooting day, something that’s only happened a couple of times in the past month and a half.

This week: Michigan and Purdue at home

Michigan State – 10 Seed (9.42 Average| 113/113 Brackets)

Big week for the Spartans. As I pointed out a couple weeks ago, they’re really tough to beat at home. The Breslin Center was like a super power for them this Big Ten season. Don’t believe me? Just look at a few things Matt McQuaid did in that Wisconsin game:

And my personal favorite:

But now they hit the road and they’ll only be in East Lansing for practice the rest of the way. These next two weeks we’ll find out just how dangerous they are when it matters.

This week: at Illinois and Maryland

BACK FROM THE DEAD

Illinois – Next Four Out (11.30 Average| 10/113 Brackets)

Time for an overused GIF:

Image result for undertaker coffin gif

I’ll admit it. I recently declared Illinois as the clear 13th best team in the Big Ten. That appears not to be so. They have lately been doing this thing where they win a lot of games.

How has it happened? Improved three-point shooting and really good defense. That part is not a surprise. That’s the same formula as when they went on a tear from post-Brooklyn trip up until Big Ten play. Also not a surprise because making threes and preventing other teams from scoring is a really good way to win in modern basketball.

Now the Illini get another chance for a Top 50 win with Michigan State coming to town. Given the way the Spartans have played on the road, it’s a really, really good chance.

It would be extremely 2016-17 Illinois basketball to beat Michigan State and then lose at Rutgers over the weekend.

This week: home for Michigan State, at Rutgers

Not Officially Dead

Indiana – Others Receiving Votes (12.00 Average| 1/113 Brackets)

The Hoosiers got a big win over Northwestern, but they still have a lot of work to do. The only bracket that currently has IU in the field also has Kansas as 2, Baylor as a 4, Wichita as a 6, and Princeton as a 12. Point being, it’s a terrible bracket.

But they have a great opportunity this week to partially undo that 1-7 stretch. Winning at Purdue, a rival and a team that’s trying to clinch the championship, would be about as impressive a win as they’ve had all season. It doesn’t look probable on paper, but they do have some matchups that prevent problems for Purdue. Parlay that with a win at Ohio State, get themselves a bye out of the first day of the Big Ten Tournament, and all the sudden they’re in business.

Now what are the chances of that happening? Roughly 7%, according to KenPom. Not great, but the odds were probably similar that Indiana would lose 7 of 8 at any point this year.

This week: at Purdue and Ohio State

Iowa – N/A Seed (0.00 Average| 0/113 Brackets)

Beating IU and Maryland in the same week is bigger in terms of beating brand names than what they’re actually worth in terms of a 2017 NCAA Tournament resume, but it still keeps the Hawkeyes hanging around.

Along with Reggie Lynch’s 11 blocks against Penn State, Peter Jok scoring 35 points on 12 attempts is probably the most bizarre stat line of the week. It would be less bizarre if it was someone like Melo Trimble, but Jok’s a volume guy that doesn’t typically spend a ton of time at the line. He had only had double-digit free throw attempts six times in his career with a high of 12. He had 23 against the Hoosiers.

Now if the Hawks can get a win in Madison, that’ll really get them some momentum heading into the postseason, assuming they take care of business against Penn State on Jok’s senior day.

Their best chance to beat the Badgers is the same way they beat the Terps and that’s by burying 1,000 three-pointers (actually 16). That’s obviously tough to do, but it is the weak spot of the Wisconsin defense.

This week: at Wisconsin, home for Penn State

Ohio State – N/A Seed (0.00 Average| 0/113 Brackets)

Their only game of the week was a big win over Wisconsin. I’m not sure the Buckeyes really played any better than they have been, though. The Badgers are obviously scuffling and the only real noticeable difference for OSU was their 10-16 (63%) three-point shooting and 23-27 (85%) free throw shooting.

I’d like for it to be a sign of things to come, but I don’t think that’s a repeatable formula for them. They did a great job defending down low, but I think they’ve done that well all year. It was impressive that they kept that going despite Trevor Thompson only playing 11 minutes due to foul trouble.

If they manage to win both this week and do a little damage in the Big Ten Tournament, they have to at least be in the conversation for the NCAAs, right? I would have to think so, although that FAU loss has been the albatross around their neck all season.

This week: at Penn State, home for Indiana

Dead

Penn State

They nearly beat Purdue, despite only going 2-18 from three. They’ll be a problem for a lot of teams next year.

This week: home for Ohio State, at Iowa

Nebraska

I backed the wrong horse last week. I went with the Huskers, turns out it should’ve been Illinois.

This week: at Minnesota, home for Michigan

Rutgers

They seem to be on a mission to ruin someone’s tournament resume. They’ve just barely failed to close the deal against Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Michigan. This week they get stumbling Maryland and surging Illinois at home. Best of luck to those two.

This week: Maryland and Illinois at home

Big Ten Power Rankings

 


Five Stars From the Past Week:

Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, Purdue – combined to average 39.0 points and 24.0 rebounds in two wins

Melo Trimble, Maryland – averaged 29.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists in two games

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin – averaged 21.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 3.5 steals, and 1.5 blocks in two games

Malcolm Hill, Illinois – 21 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in win at Iowa

Tai Webster and Glynn Watson, Nebraska – combined to average 29.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, and 2.5 steals in two wins

Five Best Games to Watch This Week:

Minnesota at Maryland, Wednesday, 8:30 pm EST, BTN

Wisconsin at Ohio State, Thursday, 9:00 pm EST, ESPN

Purdue at Michigan, Saturday, 4:00 pm EST, ESPN2

Northwestern at Indiana, Saturday, 8:00 pm EST, BTN

Wisconsin at Michigan State, Sunday, 4:00 pm EST, CBS


 

Contenders

1. Purdue – 4 Seed (94/94 brackets)

The Boilers rolled over MSU and Rutgers at home, but maybe the biggest news of the week for them was Wisconsin and Maryland both losing. After dropping some questionable games in the first half of the conference season, it’s now up to Purdue whether they grab at least a share of the title.

It’s not going to be an easy road, but if they’re going to do it, it’s going to come down to the old cliché of “defense wins championships”. The inconsistency of the Boilers in January was entirely due to their inconsistency without the ball.

That has changed. Look at their defensive efficiency numbers from January to February.

Best Worst Range Average
January 75.9 119.9 44.0 102.6
February 79.9 97.7 17.8 89.7

As you can see they’ve not only played better defense, but they’ve done it every single game, not allowing any of their five opponents in February to score a point per possession.

And this has coincided with a bit of a shooting slump at the other end. When they get both of those things going at the same time, they’re one of the best teams in college basketball.

As far as the race for the Big Ten title goes, Purdue will have the toughest road despite the fact that they’ve been playing the best of the top 3 over the past couple of weeks. The schedule isn’t favorable at all, but it’s hard to bet against them right now.

This week: at Penn State and Michigan

2. Wisconsin – 5 Seed (94/94 brackets)

I quietly wondered to myself if maybe the Badgers would be better off playing at Michigan without Bronson Koenig. Not because Koenig isn’t really valuable to the team, but as I’ve pointed out the past couple weeks, he hasn’t shot it well and it’s unsurprisingly negatively impacted his team.

Well, D’Mitrik Trice stepped up in his spot and went 2-15 from the field. So much for that. It didn’t help that Nigel Hayes was largely invisible, which is something that happens far too often for a guy that’s played as many minutes in his career as he has.

But the Badgers responded by getting probably their most important victory to date.

Every fanbase seems to have one guy on their team every year that they repeatedly criticize. Sometimes it’ll change from month-to-month. This guy’s play is the difference between mediocrity and greatness, according to the fanbase.

For instance, Purdue’s guy has alternated between Isaac Haas and Vince(nt) Edwards this year. I’m not deep in the Ohio State message boards, but I would assume it’s either JaQuan Lyle or Marc Loving. Seems like James Blackmon, Rob Johnson, and Thomas Bryant have all had their turn for IU this year.

Well, it appears as if Vitto Brown is the guy for Wisconsin. I’ve seen more and more chatter about the best lineups for the Badgers and seemingly none of them feature the senior forward.

I get it. Brown shot 42% from three in Big Ten play last year and shots beyond the arc only accounted for about a third of his total field goal attempts all season. This year? He’s shooting 25% from three in conference games and about 60% of his total attempts are from out there.

That’s a vast difference, especially factoring in that he didn’t attempt a three-pointer his first two seasons on campus.

It doesn’t help that Brevin Pritzl is starting to come on and one of the leaders of the team is saying things like this:

While I understand Badger fans being infatuated with the shiny new toy, I don’t know that I’d be dead set on just telling Vitto to ride pine. I would just point out that from Feb. 28 on last season, Vitto went 19-36 (53%) from three over the final seven games.

In terms of the Badgers wrapping up their bid for a conference championship, it’ll probably be determined this week. If they sweep, it’s hard to imagine them dropping one at the Kohl Center against Iowa or Minnesota. That would give them a great chance of sole possession. 1-1 this week likely means a tie and 0-2 is disastrous.

This week: at Ohio State and Michigan State

3. Maryland – 6 Seed (94/94 brackets)

All things considered, if you were a Terp supporter, I think you’d have to be at least content coming out of last week with a 1-1 record. Especially with the lack of production from anyone not named “Romelo Trimble”.

It’s only two games so it’s not time to panic yet, but that’s a bit of a trend in the wrong direction. Coming into the season a lot of people, including myself, thought Maryland was going to be the Melo show and a rotating cast of contributions from others. It hasn’t gone that way, though. Cowan, Jackson, and Huerter have played large roles all year for a really good team, but this past week they played a lot closer to the expectations and further away from their reality for the past four months.

I’m not expecting that to continue, but the reality is those three can’t go a combined 11-39 over the course of two games and have the Terps succeed at the same time.

I do have to say it was a bit odd of Mark Turgeon to essentially throw in the towel with four minutes to go. I understand that it’s getting close to the end of the season and guys are a little banged up and tired, but the game was far from out of reach. I don’t think a few minutes is going to make the big difference for the team over the next few weeks. Also, getting a technical with less than 10 minutes to go and your team only down four probably wasn’t the brightest move either.

You would expect the Terps to sweep the rest of the way, but Minnesota and MSU won’t be walks in the park, even if they are in College Park. If they take care of business, they’ll just have to hope both Wisconsin and Purdue lose a game.

[NOTE: After I wrote this, I saw Cekovsky was out for the year. I don’t have much to add, but can confirm that it is, in fact, not a good development.]

This week: home for Minnesota and Iowa

Other Tournament Teams

4. Northwestern – 7 Seed (94/94 brackets)

Oh boy. The Wildcats just barely avoided what would have been an unmitigated disaster by pulling one out at the end over Rutgers at home. A loss to the Scarlet Knights wouldn’t have ended their chances at the NCAA Tournament, but it would have put them at risk, especially when you look ahead at what’s remaining on the schedule.

But Northwestern won, Scottie Lindsey is back, and the dream season lives on. Lindsey was expectedly rusty, but the fact that he was still able to play 24 minutes was a good sign. I assume conditioning is the biggest issue for him to get past right now.

Lindsey or no Lindsey, the Wildcats need to tighten back up their defense. They’re getting beat in multiple ways right now on that end. Rutgers stayed in the game because they hammered the offensive glass, Purdue made a parade of threes against them, and Illinois just scored in every way.

Not many teams in the country are better than Rutgers at grabbing their own misses and the same goes for Purdue at making threes, but that’s not going to cut it for Northwestern. A key for any team to succeed in the postseason is limiting other team’s strengths and the Wildcats aren’t doing a good job of that right now.

They’re still likely to make the dance for the first time, and that’s great. But unless they start taking things away from the opposition, the NCAA Tournament is not only going to be a new experience, but a fleeting one also.

This week: at Illinois and Indiana

5. Michigan – 10 Seed (94/94 brackets)

Not surprisingly, the Wolverines went 1-1 this week and the game they won was the one where they played significantly better defense. I hate to sound like a broken record, but that’s what matters for Michigan.

I know they lost, but it’s an encouraging sign for this team that they were in a toss-up game on the road against a quality opponent when Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin went a combined 10-28.

It helped that DJ Wilson decided he was Robert Horry for an evening:

As well as the Wolverines are playing right now, they’re still going to have to keep it up if they want to guarantee the spot they want in March. They have three of their last four on the road and their only home game is against Purdue on Saturday.

This week: at Rutgers, home for Purdue

6. Minnesota – 7 Seed (94/94 brackets)

I know they just beat Michigan and they’re on a five-game win streak, but the game against the Wolverines was a toss-up in the Barn and I don’t think the Gophers have played a great game still since early January.

Where they get their offensive production continues to baffle me. Mason and Coffey are about the only two guys that consistently contribute in a big way.

Jordan Murphy goes on these ridiculous weeks-long spurts. He’s currently on a good one, averaging 18.0 ppg over the last four. Before that, he had been averaging 6.4 over an eight-game stretch, which was preceded by a five-game stretch where he averaged 13.6.

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Akeem Springs essentially does the same thing. He hasn’t scored more than 7 points in their last three games. In the five games before that, he didn’t score less than 14.

springs

Dupree McBrayer scored in double figures in 12 of his first 15 games. Since then? 3 out of 12 games.

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In Big Ten play, Eric Curry has three games in double figures and three games with a goose egg.

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Reggie Lynch is fairly consistent in the scoring category. It’s never a ton, but it’s always something. He’s even more consistent with his 5 blocks and 5 fouls in every game.

It’s good that the Gophers have so many options to score, but I think you’d like a little more stability with who it’s coming from every night. It hasn’t happened recently, but a handful of times they’ve had only one or two guys show up.

So mysterious, the Gophers.

This week: at Maryland, home for Penn State

7. Michigan State – 10 Seed (92/94 brackets)

Spartan Nation got in a war of words with a broadcaster this week. It all started with Dan Dakich calling them whiny on Twitter. They responded by…whining about it? Dakich took it a little too far by calling some people stupid, too stupid to get into Michigan (where his son attends). Tom Izzo put on his tough guy jacket and called Dakich out. The Spartans then lost by a bunch to Purdue and Izzo mentioned his displeasure with “displacement” roughly 327 times in his postgame press conference. Some might have called it “whining” about the officiating.

This has been my favorite feud of the year.

Best wishes to Eron Harris in his recovery. That’s a shitty way to end a career.

This week: home for Nebraska and Wisconsin

What Could’ve Been

8. Indiana – Others Receiving Votes (1/94 brackets)

What’s left to say about Indiana? Things are going very poorly, obviously. All of the talk around the program seems to be whether or not Indiana is going to fire Tom Crean or if Tom Crean is going to leave Indiana on his own free will.

Personally, I don’t think either side should be moving on from one another just yet, but I’m also not very close to the situation.

Certain Indiana fans crush Crean because he’s “only” made it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. Just as a reminder, he’s been there three times in a five-year stretch. They’ve been there one other time since the early 90’s. He’s won two Big Ten titles, which had also happened only once since the early 90’s.

But you’re in a rush to replace him with who? Gregg Marshall? Why? Because he made the Final Four one year? Cool, so did Crean before he got the big job. The Crean haters always point out the Syracuse loss in the Sweet 16 when IU was a #1 seed. Marshall lost in the second round with a team that was a #1 seed and also 35-0.

Marshall’s just one example. Any legitimate candidate you throw out there, I could poke holes in his resume.

Is Tom Crean the best coach in the country? No, but he’s the best of the four that’s been in Bloomington the last 25 years.

This week: at Iowa, home for Northwestern

9. Nebraska – N/A Seed (0/94 brackets)

One of the best weeks for anybody in the league. The Huskers handled Penn State at home and then went on the road and pulled one out in Columbus.

It’s too little, too late for the Huskers, but if they get on a little roll here at the end and keep it going into the Big Ten Tournament…things could get interesting. Nebraska has multiple really good wins this year and they’ve played the toughest schedule in the country by RPI standards.

The chances are less than 1%, but I don’t think Nebraska has pulled their last upset this season.

This week: at Michigan State, home for Illinois

Likable Young, Mediocre Teams

10. Penn State – N/A Seed (0/94 brackets)

They only played once and they got run by Nebraska. No result in a Penn State game is surprising. It made sense when they beat Maryland and it made equal sense when they lost to Rutgers. That’s just the story of the season for the Nittany Lions. It’s just growing pains.

This week: home for Purdue, at Minnesota

11. Iowa – N/A Seed (0/94 brackets)

Not a good couple of weeks for the Hawkeyes after it looked like they might be able to linger in the NCAA Tournament conversation for a while. Just like Penn State, they’re a young team that’s true to form in their inconsistency. Unfortunately it means we don’t get to see Peter Jok in important games in March.

This week: home for Indiana, at Maryland

Largely Irrelevant

12. Ohio State – Others Receiving Votes (1/94 brackets)

To put it lightly, they disgust me.

This week: home for Wisconsin

13. Illinois – N/A Seed (0/94 brackets)

They play like the young teams, only they’re one of the most experienced teams in the league.

This week: home for Northwestern, at Nebraska

14. Rutgers – N/A Seed (0/94 brackets)

Imagine if the last minute of the Wisconsin and Northwestern games go a little differently. Their resume might be better than Ohio State’s.

This week: home for Michigan

Big Ten NCAA Tournament Tiers

 


Five Stars From the Past Week:

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue – averaged 25.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, 1.0 blocks, and 1.5 steals in two wins

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin – averaged 17.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and 2.5 steals in two wins

Josh Newkirk, Indiana – averaged 24.5 points (went 8-14 from three), 3.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in two games

Jordan Bohannon, Iowa – averaged 16.0 points (went 9-13 from three) and 3.0 assists in two wins

Corey Sanders, Rutgers – 25 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals in win at Penn State

Five Best Games to Watch This Week:

Michigan State at Michigan, Tuesday, 9:00 pm EST, ESPN

Purdue at Indiana, Thursday, 7:00 pm EST, ESPN2

Ohio State at Maryland, Saturday, 4:00 pm EST, ESPN

Michigan at Indiana, Sunday, 1:00 pm EST, CBS

Northwestern at Wisconsin, Sunday, 6:30 pm EST, BTN


All bracket info comes from BracketMatrix.com.

Image result for ethan happ

Locks

Wisconsin – 3 Seed (# of Brackets: 98/98)

The Badgers continue to win without a lot of sizzle, but 9-1 is 9-1. It’s basically only a matter of time before they wrap up another conference title.

While they finish off that title, the other focus will be their seeding for the tournament and their prospects of making a deep run.

While the Badgers aren’t making a lot of moves in the power rankings based on analytics, they are inching their way up the seed ladder every day as they grind out wins and those above them continue to lose.

The concern when you project this team long-term is how effective they can be offensively. The Rutgers game was obviously an eyesore in that department, but this week wasn’t a whole hell of a lot better. Illinois and Indiana aren’t exactly the elite defensive teams of the league and the Badgers found themselves just barely scratching out a point per possession against both teams.

Naturally, this has coincided with Bronson Koenig going through a slump. In those three games, Koenig has gone 9-34 (5-20 from three) from the floor for a total of 30 points. This isn’t new. Happ is the steady rock of the offense, but how Bronson shoots is probably the most important aspect of this team when it matters most. Look no further than the program’s last four losses (three this year, plus last year’s season-ender against Notre Dame).

Opponent Date Points FGM/A FG% 3FGM/A 3FG%
Purdue 1/18/2017 9 3/8 37.50% 1/4 25.00%
UNC 11/23/2016 2 1/13 7.69% 0/5 0.00%
Creighton 11/15/2016 21 8/19 42.11% 3/13 23.08%
Notre Dame 3/25/2016 8 3/12 25.00% 1/6 16.67%
Totals/Averages 10 15/52 28.85% 5/28 17.86%

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this team will go as far as Bronson Koenig takes them. No pressure.

This week: at Nebraska, home for Northwestern

Purdue – 5 Seed (# of Brackets: 98/98)

Clearly the winner of this week. The Boilermakers wrapped up a pair of victories over Top 25 teams, including a very crucial one at Maryland. Purdue basically was never really in control of the game until there were two seconds left.

The Northwestern win comes with a bit of an asterisk with Scottie Lindsey’s absence, but how much of a difference could he have made? It was a 22-point game at halftime. After the embarrassing effort in Lincoln last weekend, that just wasn’t a game that Purdue was going to lose.

What’s becoming evidently clear with this team is that if they’re going to reach their ceiling, it’ll come down to the Edwards Brothers (not actually brothers) – Carsen and Vince(nt).

I hear people say “Purdue will go as far as Caleb Swanigan takes them,” which isn’t remotely true. Caleb Swanigan is basically awesome every single game. There are different shades of awesome, but he’s relatively the same every game and there’s almost no correlation on how Purdue plays as a team. He had 28 points and 22 rebounds and his team lost at home to Minnesota. His least productive game all year came against Arizona State (6 points, 10 rebounds) and the Boilers won by 33 on a neutral floor.

Seriously, look at this:

swanigan.png

His play is obviously the most important on the team, but it’s also a constant.

Vince(nt) Edwards has been a 6’8″ enigma ever since he stepped foot in West Lafayette. That is to say, he’d be a perfect fit with his home-state Ohio State Buckeyes. It’s not that he’s gotten any worse, it’s that he’s basically the same as a junior that he was as a freshman. His efficiency numbers are staggeringly similar. They’re good numbers, but as steady as they’ve been from year-to-year, they’re as equally unsteady from game-to-game.

For instance, this week he scored 17 points on 10 shots against Northwestern. Went 5-7 from three. On Saturday against Maryland, 0 points on 0-7 shooting. That’s the first time he’s been shutout in the scoring column in his career. Purdue’s just praying he hits an upswing in March the same way he did last year.

As for Carsen, his decision-making is suspect at times, but in a way that mentality is exactly what Purdue needs. He has the confidence that he can carry the offense of a veteran team when most of the time, they don’t need him to. But he did carry them in the first half at College Park Saturday and, good thing, because Purdue might’ve been down 10-12 points at halftime instead of the four they were because of the freshman.

Oh, and he made two free throws with his team down one point on the road against a ranked team with two seconds left.

This week: at Indiana

Maryland – 6 Seed (# of Brackets: 98/98)

Well, everyone who wanted to discount what Maryland achieved the first three months got some form of validation with their loss at home to Purdue, the Terps first matchup against a ranked opponent.

However, most of Maryland’s detractors come from the analytics crowd and – even in a loss – the Terps actually have moved up three spots in the KenPom rankings.

If you watched that game, you’d know that really Maryland controlled that game pretty much the entire way. Obviously, the issue was the late-game offense. The only points generated the last 7 or 8 minutes of the game were free throws, a lot of them via Melo Trimble. He attempted 15 total during the game, all of them coming in the second half. But, the way Maryland fans will tell it:

For the record, Trimble’s free throw rate is second-highest among Big Ten guards this season. Only guard higher? Anthony Cowan.

Anyway, I wouldn’t worry too much about the Terps offense down the stretch. They’ve executed many more times than they’ve failed.

And while the Maryland doubters will point to the Purdue game as validation, I’m sure they’ll also gloss over the fact that earlier in the week the Terps picked up their 8th Tier A win of the season, according to KenPom. Purdue and Wisconsin have five each. Northwestern has two. And based on a cursory glance through the top teams in the country, the Terps may have the most of anybody.

This week: at Penn State, home for Ohio State

Northwestern – 7 Seed (# of Brackets: 98/98)

There’s not a lot to say about the Wildcats this week. They only played one game and it was at Purdue without the services of Scottie Lindsey. It went about as well as you’d expect it to go. Hopefully they have a better showing in Madison this weekend.

This week: Illinois at home, at Wisconsin

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Almost Locks

Minnesota – 8 Seed (# of Brackets: 95/98)

The Gophers finally ended their losing streak with an important win at Illinois. The biggest news from that game was that their defense returned back to form after it took a three-game hiatus. That’s always been what this team has hung their hat on this season and without a strong showing on that end, they put a lot of pressure on an offense that probably won’t ever be prolific with the current roster/staff.

Minnesota can’t really help themselves with their tournament standing this week, but it’s important they take care of business or they might be finding themselves on the bubble.

This week: home for Iowa, at Rutgers

Michigan State – 9 Seed (# of Brackets: 95/98)

The Spartans only played one game this week and in the spirit of full disclosure, I probably only saw about three minutes of it. Looks like they shot it really well, despite having a -14 disadvantage at the line, not doing a good job on the glass, and losing the turnover battle. Not your classic recipe for winning on the road, but the Spartans just need to continue winning games in any fashion they can.

This week: at Michigan, home for Iowa

Indiana – 10 Seed (# of Brackets: 75/98)

It appears James Blackmon is set to come back this week. All things considered, I’m not sure it had that big of an effect on wins and losses. Sure, he’d give you a better chance at winning at Northwestern and Wisconsin, but IU hasn’t been very good away from Assembly Hall with Blackmon in the lineup, anyway. The Penn State game probably would have gone much smoother, but it still ended up as a win.

What was interesting in JBJ’s absence was the Indiana defense. They’ve played 12 games since B1G play started. The three that he sat out were among the five best defensive games they’ve had as a team in that stretch, based on efficiency.

I know everybody says he’s improved defensively – and he has – but I think it’s also fair to say he’s still not a plus on that end.

But he’s also still really great on offense. And that was also reflected in the Hoosiers’ numbers without him. His play will be especially key this week against two of the better offensive teams in the league. Both of those games may just come down to who can make more shots from the perimeter and Blackmon is really freaking good at making shots.

It will also help if Josh Newkirk continues to stay hot. Newkirk came into this past week shooting 2-14 from three. He then proceeded to go 8-14 in two games on his way to eclipsing the 20-point marker for just the second and third time in his career.

This week: home for Purdue and Michigan

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Extremely Bubbly

Michigan –  Second Four Out (# of Brackets: 28/98)

Another week, another disappointing performance for the Wolverines. They got mentally and physically bullied at home against one of their rivals. For such a veteran team, you’d think they’d learn by now that taking 70% of your field goal attempts from three isn’t the best idea.

I’m not going to write them off yet because they’ve got four games coming up that could turn around their season. At minimum, they have to go 2-2.

This week: home for Michigan State, at Indiana

Ohio State –  Others Receiving Votes (# of Brackets: 2/98)

The Buckeyes had to at least get one win this week to keep their tournament hopes alive and they came through with their win in Ann Arbor after faltering at home against Maryland.

The offense has picked up for Thad Matta’s crew, but the defense still leaves a little bit to be desired. They did quite well against the stout Terps defense, but they got shredded in the paint at the other end and when they did force a miss, they didn’t do a good enough job cleaning it up.

That’s kind of been the story all year for OSU. As soon as they shore up on their current issue(s), they start a brand new one. Overall, they’re not really bad in any one area, but they don’t have much to hang their hat on either. They’ve still got time to put it all together and make a run, but that time basically starts on Saturday.

This week: home for Rutgers, at Maryland

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Just Win All Your Games, No Big Deal

Penn State – N/A Seed (# of Brackets: 0/98)

If the Nittany Lions just would’ve done a better job of hitting free throws down the stretch, they would’ve gotten out of Bloomington with their biggest win of the season and maybe started to get some NCAA Tournament consideration. But they didn’t. They left the door open for the Hoosiers and IU gladly walked right in.

And then Penn State doubled down and lost to Rutgers at home. Yikes.

This week: home for Maryland, at Illinois

Nebraska – N/A Seed (# of Brackets: 0/98)

It would’ve been nice to see this team at full strength. With Ed Morrow, they’d at least be a tier above and maybe two.

This week: home for Wisconsin

Illinois – N/A Seed (# of Brackets: 0/98)

I don’t really have anything nice to say about the Illini at the moment.

This week: at Northwestern, home for Penn State

Rutgers – N/A Seed (# of Brackets: 0/98)

An impressive road victory for the Scarlet Knights at Penn State. Unlike Iowa without Peter Jok, I think it’s fair to question if Rutgers is better without Nigel Johnson. Johnson has talent, but he’s a high volume shooter eFG% is 34.5% in Big Ten play. For those not deep in the analytics, that’s an extremely bad number, the worst in the league, actually. In his defense, of the 56 players that qualify (based on percentage of minutes played), Rutgers doesn’t have a single guy in the top half.

This week: at Ohio State, home for Minnesota

Big Ten Power Rankings: The Midway Point

 


Five Stars of the Past Week:

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin – averaged 23.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 3.5 steals in two wins

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue – averaged 19.5 points, 15.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists in two games

Miles Bridges, Michigan State – averaged 24.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, and 2.0 steals in two games

Justin Jackson, Maryland – 28 points (5-5 from 3) and 10 rebounds in win at Minnesota

Dererk Pardon, Northwestern – 19 points, 22 rebounds, and 3 blocks in win over Nebraska

Five Best Games to Watch This Week:

Maryland at Ohio State, Tuesday, 7:00 pm EST, ESPN

Northwestern at Purdue, Wednesday, 8:30 pm EST, BTN

Purdue at Maryland, Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN

Ohio State at Michigan, Saturday, 6:00 pm EST, ESPN2

Indiana at Wisconsin, Sunday, 1:00 pm EST, CBS


We’re halfway through the conference slate now and with every game that passes, it feels more and more clear who’s good and who’s not. There’s still quite a bit of parity in the league, but the Top 4 isn’t really debatable, although the order of them is up for discussion.

Rutgers is clearly at the bottom. #5 through #7 seems fairly set to me. Although Indiana is the wildcard. James Blackmon could be back soon, but if he’s not, who knows what happens with that team.

With that said, the power rankings are back.

1. Wisconsin (KenPom: 11)

If the Badgers were going to lose one they shouldn’t, Saturday felt like the time. But for anyone who’s watched a lot of both Wisconsin and Rutgers recently, the end of that game went exactly as expected.

It wasn’t a pretty performance by any means, but the difference between Wisconsin and their group of supposed challengers is that they still win the games they should even when they don’t bring their best. Maryland may be equal with them in terms of record, but their inability to close out Nebraska at home may end up being the difference in who wins the championship.

The Badgers just feel like a robot that’s designed to win games by any means necessary. They have the most “minutes continuity” in the nation from last year to this year and they play like it, especially down the stretch.

This week: at Illinois, home for Indiana

2. Maryland (KenPom: 40)

Ya know, I look at analytics every day. I even dabble in doing a bit of my own and write ridiculously informative and extremely important blogs about them.  I find them to be really useful and they do a good job of supplementing what you think you see when you watch a team.

But at some point intangibles have to count for something. And a big intangible Maryland has is “really good at winning games in adverse environments”.

I know I just talked about them losing a game they shouldn’t have to Nebraska in the Wisconsin section, but they’re also 5-0 in true road games this year with all of those games coming against Top 100 competition.

Melo Trimble is the steady hand every game, but their freshmen make multiple massive plays every single night. None of the Cowan/Jackson/Huerter trio comes up big every single game, but as a group they deliver so consistently that it has to be somewhat embarrassing for some of the older teams that don’t in the conference. *silently stares daggers through Ohio State and Michigan*

This week: at Ohio State, home for Purdue

3. Northwestern (KenPom: 30)

It hasn’t been murderers’ row, but six straight wins is six straight wins.

Bryant McIntosh is starting to get hot. Vic Law consistently impacts every game in at least one positive way. Scottie Lindsey can now score in multiple ways. Dererk Pardon threw up a casual 19 and 22 and 3 blocks this week. Sanjay Lumpkin is now doing this:

Life is good in Evanston.

This week: at Purdue

4. Purdue (KenPom: 12)

*Very long, very exaggerated sigh*

It seemed as though the Boilers had put their road demons behind them when they got a big win in East Lansing on Tuesday. They did a great job of defending everyone except Miles Bridges. They made “winning” plays down the stretch. They looked like a team that was actually formidable.

Then they choked away another game, this time in Lincoln against an Ed Morrow-less Nebraska team.

Purdue is now 6-3 in the Big Ten, 17-5 overall. They have lost precisely one game due to offense this year and even that was against Louisville, one of the best defenses in the country.

The program’s reputation has hung its hat on defense, but not this year. This is the best offense they’ve had under Matt Painter, but they continue to lose these games because they can’t keep it together defensively.

With that said, they could still be winning these games if this wasn’t their end of game offense:

Not great, Bob!

Caleb Swanigan is the best player in the league, but he’s trying to do too much late in the game. Purdue’s offense is awesome 95% of the time because they play inside-out and they have some lethal shooters to go along with their dominant presence in the low-post. It doesn’t work when the guys in the low-post abandon that and try to force things.

This week: home for Northwestern, at Maryland

5. Michigan State (KenPom: 51)

This is when things get messy in the rankings. 1 through 4 is purely performance based and nothing else.

The fact that Michigan State is at the fifth spot probably doesn’t say great things about the league, but at the same time the small gap between #5 and #12 speaks to the depth, I guess.

Miles Bridges gets the nod for the Spartans over the other teams in their tier. He’s so damn good. As unorthodox and somewhat ugly as his shooting stroke is, he’s been consistent from deep all season. Add that on top of his freak athleticism and it makes Bridges one of the most difficult players to defend in the league.

Poor DJ Wilson. Although in true Michigan defensive fashion, it appears no one gave a second thought to providing any helpside defense.

The Spartan offense as a team hasn’t been that bad lately. That side of the ball has started to come around. Unfortunately for them, that’s coincided with the recession of their defense and it’s resulted in MSU still fighting for their tournament life.

This week: at Nebraska

6. Michigan (KenPom: 35)

I don’t know, man. They caught Indiana at the right time and played their best game of the season at the same time.

Then they go on the road against their intrastate rival and one of their senior leaders goes 0-8 with 0 points and 3 turnovers.

They are what they are and that’s a team that probably peaked a week before Thanksgiving. It’s frustrating to watch.

I’m obviously a big proponent of the Big Ten, but at this point I can’t say that Michigan has earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament. I’d rather watch whatever mid-major team that inevitably slips in their conference tournament, but won 25+ games. The Wolverines are now 0-6 in true road games. Their best win in two months is either a very depleted Indiana team or Texas.

This week: home for Ohio State

7. Indiana (KenPom: 39)

With 100% sincerity, it sucks what’s happening to IU. My Purdue fan side wishes for (emotional) pain for IU at all times, but as a fan of the Big Ten and college basketball in general, I’m never going to take joy in injuries derailing a season.

The Hoosiers had very real problems before the injury bug hit them, but they still had two months to figure them out.

Now? Now they have to figure out how to win games with Josh Newkirk as their third scorer. That spells doom with their upcoming schedule.

Why does it seem like every team desperate for wins has to go play at the Kohl Center that week?

This week: home for Penn State, at Wisconsin

8. Minnesota (KenPom: 44)

I basically trashed Richie Pitino for a year and a half and then felt like a real dummy when they were 3-1 at the start of Big Ten play with wins at Purdue and Northwestern. I then declared Minnesota a contender for the league championship.

Since that point, the Gophers have lost five straight.

The lesson? Never doubt your belief that Richie Pitino will always find a way to disappoint. The Gophers are now back fighting for their tournament lives.

This week: at Illinois

9. Iowa (KenPom: 91)

Was looking for some hot takes on Iowa being better without Peter Jok, so I did a quick Twitter search on him. Found this instead:

Nothing he said was even remotely controversial, but instead mature and hopeful. But of course, the replies didn’t disappoint.

This week: at Rutgers, home for Nebraska

10. Penn State (KenPom: 93)

The roller coaster season for the Nittany Lions continues. They aren’t terrible, but  they’re not a viable threat to the big boys on the road yet.

This week: at Indiana, home for Rutgers

11. Ohio State (KenPom: 63)

It felt like a big win at home against Minnesota and then they go and lay a defensive egg against a Peter Jok-less Iowa team.

I can’t totally quit them yet, but outside of Tate and Thompson they have little consistency. Lyle has improved in that department, but he’s still not equipped to really run a team.

This week: home for Maryland, at Michigan

12. Nebraska (KenPom: 83)

They snapped the five-game losing skid with a big win over Purdue, but I’m not sure it’s sustainable. Jack McVeigh had a huge game, but he’s been the model of inconsistency. They’ll be a tough out for anybody that comes to Lincoln, but their play elsewhere has slipped back to the mean.

This week: home for Michigan State, at Iowa

13. Illinois (KenPom: 67)

I’ve heard some discussion about “Who’s the 13th team in the Big Ten?” I don’t find it to be that difficult of a question to answer. Illinois is so bad on the road. They ended up making it a four-point game in Happy Valley, but it wasn’t remotely that close. They’re a veteran team without a lot of potential for getting better. They just have no defensive spine. Their Big Ten resume may seem fairly even with the few right above them, but the Illini are the only team that’s seemingly regressed without the excuse of an injury.

This week: home for Wisconsin and Minnesota

14. Rutgers (KenPom: 129)

They had their big chance, but couldn’t finish.

This week: home for Iowa, at Penn State

 

Big Ten Conference Race: Wisconsin’s To Lose


Five Stars of the Past Week:

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin – 28 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals in OT win at Minnesota

Melo Trimble, Maryland – 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists in win at Iowa

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue – averaged 20.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in two wins

James Blackmon, Indiana – averaged 25.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in two wins

Corey Sanders, Rutgers – 25 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 blocks in win over Nebraska

Five Games to Watch This Week:

Purdue at Michigan State, Tuesday, 7:00 pm EST, ESPN2

Indiana at Michigan, Thursday, 9:00 pm EST, ESPN2

Maryland at Minnesota, Saturday, 2:15 pm EST, BTN

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

Indiana at Northwestern, Sunday, 6:30 pm EST, BTN


The power rankings for this league are pretty meaningless, so it seemed like an appropriate time to update every team’s chances of winning the regular season title, with a little help from our friend Bart Torvik.

If you’d like to see all the numbers for yourself, you can visit the site here.

Bart uses 50,000 simulations to give the percent chance of each team winning the title – both as the outright winner and sharing it – and also the percent likelihood of number of wins for each team.

The numbers listed here are each team’s percent chance at winning a share of the title and the win range is based on the three most likely outcomes.

In The Hunt

Wisconsin (Chance to Win: 81.0% / Probable Win Range: 14-16)

The Badgers have a 63% chance to win sole possession. Seems high on the surface given that Maryland has the same record and Purdue and Northwestern only trail by a half game, but KenPom gives them a minimum of a 58% chance in every game and at least a 70% chance in 9 of their 12 remaining games.

They’re probably not good enough to actually run the table, but they’re the safest bet at the top to win.

The biggest question nationally around the Badgers is if they can actually beat a great team. They’re 0-3 against Top 20 competition. But nobody seems better at beating teams that they should beat. The other three teams in this category have lost a game they shouldn’t at home already.

Essentially, Wisconsin may not have the highest ceiling in the league, but on the flip side it’s hard to argue anyone else for the highest floor. They’re the perfect team to thrive in a league full of mediocre teams.

This week: Penn State at home, Rutgers at MSG

Maryland (Chance to Win: 6.9% / Probable Win Range: 10-12)

Maryland fans are at war with KenPom. Well, at least their most famous fan (that I know of and follow on Twitter):

You can really sense the bitterness in that tweet. (They rose up four spots btw).

I get it. The Terps are now 17-2, 5-1 in the Big Ten and they’re still only 44th in KP’s rankings. They’re tied for first in the standings and 7th by the metrics. Terp fans want to enjoy the ride without getting analytics thrown in their face.

Buttttttttttt, I also get the other side of the coin. As insufferable as Jeff (BPredict) is, he actually makes good points most of the time. They don’t beat a lot of teams soundly, teams that you’d expect a typical 17-2 Big Ten team to blowout.

That’s why they’re given 74% less chance to win the league then the team they’re currently tied with atop the standings without there being a big gap in strength of schedule the rest of the way.

With all that said, the Terps are getting better and they’re still missing two of their rotation players. I’d be mildly surprised if they didn’t at least go 12-6.

This week: home for Rutgers, at Minnesota

Purdue (Chance to Win: 27.0% / Probable Win Range: 12-14)

The only other team in the league with more than a 7% chance of even getting a share of the league title. Their title hopes really depend upon the next two and a half weeks, when they play four road games and a home game against Northwestern.

Purdue is one of those teams that may have a higher ceiling than Wisconsin, an opinion that’s probably most supported by their meeting with the Badgers.

However, the home loss to Minnesota and the loss at Iowa are why you have a hard time trusting this team over the course of the long Big Ten season. Their good is Final Four good, but their bad is NIT bad.

With their struggles on the road and having to play 7 of their remaining 11 games away from Mackey Arena, it’s hard to feel good about their chances really.

Speaking from a fan perspective quickly, I don’t even care about winning the Big Ten. It’d be nice, obviously. But Purdue fans have experienced plenty of conference titles over the past four decades. The NCAA Tournament is all that really matters. I’d give up a Big Ten championship for a Final Four in a heartbeat. The best part about winning a B1G title would be that it would help out Purdue’s seeding (assuming 13-5 doesn’t win the league).

This week: at Michigan State and Nebraska

Northwestern (Chance to Win: 6.2% / Probable Win Range: 10-12)

Let’s say the current standings hold true, do you know when the last time Northwestern finished as high as 3rd in the Big Ten? 1960. Not only was I not born, but my parents weren’t born either.

They’ve never won it, obviously. And that’s probably not gonna happen this year either. The schedule just isn’t very forgiving. They have to play Purdue and Indiana twice each, at Wisconsin, and Maryland at home. They’d have to hold serve at home in those games, steal one on the road, not have a slip-up anywhere else and hope that Wisconsin loses three more times (less than 50% chance) to just get a share.

While the chances are slim, it’s pretty cool that that’s even a somewhat realistic conversation.

I’m not saying the Wildcats are a lock for the dance, but they could go like 6-5, win a Big Ten Tournament game, and probably still make the field.

Two wins this week and it’s all pretty much playing for seeding the rest of the way, barring a major collapse.

This week: Nebraska and Indiana at home

Still Lingering

Indiana (Chance to Win: 0.9% / Probable Win Range: 9-11)

A great win for the shorthanded Hoosiers over Michigan State on Saturday. I said before the game that they needed Blackmon and Johnson to carry them and those two delivered with an efficient 50 points combined. That win followed up by the buzzer-beater game winner by Blackmon in Happy Valley. It shouldn’t have been that close, but a win is a win is a win.

The issue is that they have such less room for error without OG Anunoby. They already needed a lot from Blackmon when Anunoby was healthy and in the lineup. To expect JBJ to score 25 (somewhat efficiently) every night is probably unrealistic. You’d hope Thomas Bryant would step up, but it’s been three months now and he’s still not playing at the level he did last season.

Oh, and the Hoosiers have played the softest B1G schedule to date and they have the toughest remaining, including 7 of their 11 games on the road.

It’s hard to count this team out, but things are not really working in their favor right now.

This week: at Michigan and Northwestern

Michigan State (Chance to Win: 0.5% / Probable Win Range: 8-10)

I don’t know, maybe that point when all of Izzo’s magic works and this team turns into one of the best in the league just isn’t going to happen. Maybe it’s this week when they play Purdue and Michigan. Even still, they haven’t really showed much at all away from the Breslin Center, which is pretty important in the postseason.

They’re still a team that struggles a lot offensively and I’m not sure how you really fix that. Defenses know they want to get the ball to Bridges anywhere on the floor and Ward, but exclusively on the low block. Harris has been good at times, but he’s just as likely to go for 6 as he is 20.

The rest of their guards just don’t really pose as a consistent threat. Outside of Harris, they have Winston, Nairn, Langford, McQuaid, and Ellis in their guard/wing rotation. Those five have combined for 15 double-digit scoring efforts out of a possible 99. That makes life really difficult for them, especially when it seems like how they play on offense carries over so much in to how they play defense.

This week: Purdue and Michigan at home

Minnesota (Chance to Win: 0.8% / Probable Win Range: 9-11)

The Gophers appeared to be right in the thick of things after their impressive wins in the first two weeks of conference play, but since then they’re 0-3 with a pair of two-point losses.

They’re still firmly in the tournament at this point, but four losses already in the conference means they pretty much have to go perfect the rest of the way to even get a share of the conference title. That’s obviously not very likely, but luckily for them they’re through the toughest part of their schedule and their last 11 games rate as the easiest in the league.

This week: at Ohio State, home for Maryland

No Real Chance

Michigan (Chance to Win: 0.0% / Probable Win Range: 7-9)

Don’t look now, but Michigan is starting to actually play like they might want to make the tournament!

A win in Madison would’ve been huge, but just the fact they competed was honestly more than I was really expecting from them and then they came back this weekend and took it to Illinois. The Illini have been an easy out away from Champaign, but still, Michigan has played a soft opening schedule and they hadn’t soundly beaten anyone.

It will all be forgotten if they don’t keep it up this week, though.

This week: home for Indiana, at Michigan State

Penn State (Chance to Win: 0.0% / Probable Win Range: 6-8)

A setback week for Penn State. It looked like they may be able to steal a win they didn’t necessarily deserve in overtime against Indiana, but James Blackmon dashed those hopes in regulation.

I’ve been clear on this blog about my Purdue fandom, but even I was disappointed with their performance in West Lafayette. They stood no chance in that game, one in which I thought they could really compete.

That’s been par for the course for this team, though. They play really well for a week or two and then they take a step back.

This week: at Wisconsin, home for Illinois

Nebraska (Chance to Win: 0.0% / Probable Win Range: 6-8)

Brutal week for the Huskers. They had a great opportunity to keep their tourney hopes alive and they end up on the wrong side of two one-point games. The most crushing part about it is you have to think with Ed Morrow, those games go the other way. They have no one to replace his what he does. With him out and no promise of returning anytime in the immediate future, things only look like they’re going to get worse with their upcoming schedule.

This week: at Northwestern, home for Purdue

Iowa (Chance to Win: 0.0% / Probable Win Range: 6-8)

They only played one game this week and they lost at home to Maryland. They spotted the Terps a 15-point advantage in the first half before coming all the way back and taking a lead late in the game, but they couldn’t close it out.

But that’s not the real story this week. The real story is that Fran McCaffery is still an asshat.

That actually just shows a little bit of what happened. He kept going down to the other side of the floor.

It’s fine if you occasionally lose your shit once or twice a decade, but Fran just does it over and over. Everyone remembers the chair slam. Of course there was the North Dakota incident earlier this year. He’s prone to the Belichick/Popovich act of being a dick to the media after a tough loss. The difference is, those two guys are extremely successful and extremely successful people pretty much get to do whatever they want and it’s fine. But Fran is in his 21st year of being a head coach at the D-1 level, he’s 57 and he’s got a whopping 4 NCAA Tournament wins to show for it. Give it a rest, dude.

My favorite part is when Hawkeye fans act like it’s okay their head coach is a child because at least he’s not Todd Lickliter. You guys are the worst.

This week: at Illinois, home for Ohio State

Ohio State (Chance to Win: 0.0% / Probable Win Range: 6-8)

The bad news: they’re 2-5 and KBD is still out for the year.

The good news: they’ve played the most difficult schedule in league play and it’s going to get (slightly) easier.

Their NCAA Tournament hopes are on life-support right now, but a couple of wins this week gets them right back on track. But the guy is just petulant.

This week: home for Minnesota, at Iowa

Illinois (Chance to Win: 0.0% / Probable Win Range: 6-8)

The final score in Ann Arbor ended up a little prettier than the game actually was. The Illini have now gone on the road four times in B1G play and have been blown out four times.

Illinois is headed for their fourth straight missed NCAA Tournament. You can’t really do that at Illinois and keep your job. I don’t care who is coming in the next recruiting class.

So, an Illinois blogger posed the question:

You have to let Groce coach out the season and maybe he turns it around and they do make the tournament, but the team isn’t close to good enough right now. Between his lack of success there and a new AD in town, the writing is on the wall and it’s fun to talk about.

The responses:

Most popular answers: Gregg Marshall, Cuonzo Martin, Archie Miller, Kevin Keatts

Funniest because they were serious: Tony Bennett, Sean Miller, Brad Stevens

Good luck with Marshall. He’s already making $3.3 million a year. He has no problem getting to the tournament and he’s running the biggest program on campus. There’s no football team to cater to.

Martin obviously would be a great fit for the job, but the timing doesn’t seem ideal there. He just signed a three year extension through 2020-21 in October. He’s also only been at Cal for three years now and you’d think he’d like to actually get through a full four-year cycle at a place. Cal is his third stop and he’s yet to spend four years anywhere.

Archie is up for at least one big job every year, but he doesn’t seem in a hurry to leave. He’d probably at least listen, though.

Keatts would seem like the easy get, provided no other major competition is in the picture for him. But that’s not likely the case. At least Mizzou, LSU, and possibly Clemson will be looking for coaches.

Illini fans need to get it out of their heads that they have any shot at anybody like Bennett, Sean Miller, or the head coach of the team that is currently the #3 seed in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Your last three head coaches have come from Tulsa, Southern Illinois, and Ohio.

Name I’d add: Dan Muller

This week: home for Iowa, at Penn State

Rutgers (Chance to Win: 0.0% / Probable Win Range: 2-4)

The Scarlet Knights are officially off the schnide with their win over Nebraska. It was a great game for Corey Sanders and he topped it off with the game winner, rebounding his own miss and putting it back in. It was great to see a good atmosphere in Piscataway. Despite the Knights being on a seven-game losing streak, they showed out and it was cool to see. Now, the goal for Rutgers is besting last year’s 1-17 mark. Might have to wait until next week.

This week: at Maryland, Wisconsin in MSG

Big Ten Power Rankings: A Three Team Race?


Five Stars of the Past Week:

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue – averaged 17.0 points and 12.0 rebounds in two wins

Amir Coffey, Minnesota – averaged 18.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in two wins

Glynn Watson, Nebraska – 34 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals in OT win over Iowa

Peter Jok, Iowa – averaged 26.0 points and 8.5 rebounds in two games

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin – averaged 18.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 3.5 steals in two games

Five Games to Watch This Week:

Indiana at Maryland, Tuesday, 9:00 pm EST, ESPN

Minnesota at Michigan State, Wednesday, 7:00 pm EST, BTN

Minnesota at Penn State, Saturday, 12:00 pm EST, ESPNU

Nebraska at Michigan, Saturday, 2:00 pm EST, BTN

Michigan State at Ohio State, Sunday, 1:30 pm EST, CBS


I have no idea who Bart Torvik is, but he has a website that power ranks college basketball teams in a variety of ways (maybe too many varieties, Bart) using numbers and shit. Anyway I saw this tweet, which projects the number of wins/chance of winning the B1G, and thought it would be useful for the power rankings this week. I think it’s stupid to rank each team individually right now because there’s not a big difference right now between the 3 and 11.

On the surface, the graphic looks pretty good to me. I can’t claim to know everything that goes into it, though. The first thing that pops to mind is future schedule because that seems to favor the Gophers.

It also generally fits with my opinions on teams, so I’m using it. Also, it says they ran 50,000 simulations and that seems like a lot.

Contenders

Purdue (KenPom: 12)

It was a crucial week for Purdue early in the conference season and they came out of it with two big wins. The victory at OSU wasn’t finished with perfection, but you’ll take a road win anyway you can get them, especially when Swanigan and Haas didn’t play particularly well. The length and athleticism of OSU presents problems for the Boilers as well, so a win in any form was big in Columbus.

On Sunday, Purdue pretty much cruised over Wisconsin, despite the fact they had 18 turnovers to the Badgers’ nine. UW is a good matchup for Purdue because the Badgers can’t kill them with dribble penetration and that showed. I thought it was the best defensive performance the Boilers have played all season.

This week: at Iowa

Wisconsin (KenPom: 11)

About as tough of a scheduling week as you can ask for. The Badgers had to play at both IU and Purdue. Wisky got off to a great start in Bloomington before they found themselves trailing in the second half. It felt like it was going to be a typical home win for IU, but the Badgers were much sharper down the stretch and ultimately doubled up the Hoosiers from three-point land.

In terms of the Big Ten title race, the loss at Purdue hurt because it’s the only time the two teams will meet in the regular season. It’s an early advantage for Purdue, but obviously a lot of season left.

This week: home for Ohio State

Minnesota (KenPom: 31)

With their schedule so far, I feel like the Gophers would have definitely signed up for 3-1 through the first four games if you asked them before it all started. However, that MSU loss at home feels like it’s definitely going to be a big deal as the conference race rolls on. They were up 13 at halftime and should’ve finished it off.

Focusing on the positive, the Gophers got another big road win at Northwestern this week and then led the entire way over OSU.

They have so many guys that are threats. Their offense still isn’t the most efficient, but they’re still a really tough guard when they move the ball and probe the defense. They’re playing like a mature team and they’ll need to continue that as they go on the road twice this week.

This week: at Michigan State and Penn State

Winning(ish), But Probably Pretenders

Maryland (KenPom: 55)

I thought about throwing the Terps in the top group. The fact they basically led the entire game at Michigan despite Melo going 5-15 for 13 points is a testament to how much the rest of the team has developed. Not to mention, Cekovsky has been out for the first three B1G games.

They may have just caught Nebraska at the wrong time. It happens. Last year, the time frame in which you played Iowa and Wisconsin made a big difference.

In some ways, I like this Terps team more than last year. They don’t have the overall talent level or experience, but I feel like they’re only getting better and they grind out games better.

This week: home for Indiana, at Illinois

Michigan State (KenPom: 47)

*reminds self not to let gambling losses affect overall assessment of teams*

The Spartans handled their recent success with a lot of maturity Wednesday when they boatraced Rutgers at home. An excellent showing.

Then, Saturday at the Palestra happened and MSU played exactly like the young team they are. They came out providing little resistance to PSU’s offensive attack and got down early. Any time they got themselves within striking distance, they lost their minds. They’d start launching deep threes early in the shot clock or not within the natural flow of the offense. There was this stretch:

It was like Ward suddenly thought he had LeBron’s skill set for a minute. It was just one example of a stretch where the Spartans crushed themselves. The thing is, Ward is by far the most consistent of MSU’s four freshmen.

That’s the main reason you have to doubt the Spartans. They have moments of brilliance, but they’ll still lay an egg once every few games.

This week: home for Minnesota, at Ohio State

Nebraska (KenPom: 88)

Watson and Webster helped the Huskers grind out a win over Iowa at home. It was a big win for Nebrasketball, but at the same time, if you need two OTs to beat Iowa at home, it doesn’t exactly scream conference title contender.

Losing to Northwestern at home didn’t help. Just when I was starting to think maybe Watson could be an All-B1G player, he goes for 6 points on 2-11 shooting at home against NW. He’s made as much growth as almost anybody in the league from last year to this year, but he’s still inconsistent. Which would actually be fine if he was on a better team, but Webster is the only other consistent scorer on the team.

That’s the thing about Nebraska. Those two could go off for 50 on any night and wreck your bid for a title, but they could also go for 25 and lose in a blowout. They’re dangerous every game, but players 3 through 8 in their rotation don’t make them any type of contender.

This week: at Michigan

Iowa (KenPom: 78)

We head into the group of 2-2 teams. They’re equally winning and losing and they’ll probably end up anywhere from 6 to 13.

Iowa lost a heartbreaker in Lincoln and then had to grind out a win over Rutgers at home.

I have two insane takes to present to you this week from Twitter. This is the first one:

Peter Jok does in fact take a lot of shots. He’s not the most efficient player on the planet, but he’s not, ya know, inefficient. It’s absolutely bizarre to say that Jok is the reason Iowa’s offense is “mediocre”. Even with his volume, Jok is the 2nd-most efficient player on the Hawkeyes, following only Cordell Pemsl. Pemsl just makes shots around the bucket and has a pretty low usage.

If you’re going to say this about Jok, then you should’ve said it about Jarrod Uthoff last year, but nobody did. He was considered a frontrunner for B1G POTY. Jok was more efficient than Uthoff last year and even more efficient this year. If you’re comparing him to Uthoff last year, Jok’s biggest problem is that…he doesn’t have a Peter Jok by his side. Iowa’s roster is significantly less experienced/talented this year and they count on Jok to carry them. His assist rate is third on the team. He shoots the highest percentage on the team from mid-range and three-point range. If you think he’s the problem offensively, you’re just wrong.

Now if you want to criticize his leadership on defense…that’s an actual thought.

This week: home for Purdue, at Northwestern

Northwestern (KenPom: 40)

You’ve gotta walk before you can run. The Wildcats have to just make the tournament before they can ever be considered to be a real conference contender. They won at Nebraska, but you still wonder if they can actually win against high-level teams. We’ve still got a couple weeks to figure out if they can do that.

This week: at Rutgers, home for Iowa

Penn State (KenPom: 85)

This was the week I envisioned seeing from the Nittany Lions when I predicted them finishing ninth in the league, well above where most were putting them. That’s not me bragging. I also picked Ohio State to finish second. Plus, they could very well still end up 13th.

They couldn’t hold on in the second half in Ann Arbor. They were 14 with less than 13 minutes to go and it seemed like that lead evaporated in a hurry. Turnovers were a problem and it just got away from them.

But nonetheless, it was still an impressive performance for a young team. And they followed it up by handling the Spartans in Philly. It ended up being a nine-point win, but it never felt like MSU was totally in it. The Nittany Lions played harder and smarter in the battle between two of the younger teams in the conference.

Their next two games are big-time opportunities to keep building.

This week: home for Minnesota

Losing, But Could Get Back In The Mix

Indiana (KenPom: 27)

The Badger loss stretched the losing streak to three, but nothing like Illinois at home to bust a slump. The second half defense against the Illini left a little to be desired, but it didn’t really matter. They had that game won in five minutes.

I really just want to get to these tweets from IU’s SB Nation blog:

Turnovers are a hot topic around IU, especially with some of their fans. I wouldn’t disagree with the second tweet here. Of course defense is the other half of the equation.

But if your argument is that making shots is all that matters, wouldn’t you want to, ya know, take as many shots as you could? I think that’s reasonable. Now how do you do that? Well the best two ways are to get offensive rebounds and…not turn the ball over. What also helps in terms of winning? Taking away those same opportunities for your opponent.

Indiana is a very good rebounding team and they’re especially exceptional on the offensive glass. This negates some of their turnover issue, but acting like it doesn’t matter is just wrong.

Looking at these two profiles from KenPom, I think it’s fair to say these two teams are very similar. The percentages on both sides of the floor are wildly similar. EFG on offense favor the one on the left and they rely more on the three and less so on free throws. Defensively, their percentages are once again pretty similar, only they left is better at rebounding, but a little weaker in 2P%.

But what really stands out when you look at that? Turnovers! The team on the right is fairly average, but the one on the left is one of the worst in the country both ways.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the team on the left is 2016-17 Indiana. The team on the right? 2012-13 Indiana aka Big Ten outright champions aka a #1 seed in the tournament aka a team that was never out of KenPom’s Top 4 that year.

Admittedly, the numbers for the 2013 team include their whole schedule, which was obviously more difficult than this year’s team’s schedule to date. But still.

Turnovers matter. That’s why it’s a better predictor of tournament success than say, ohhhh, offensive three-point percentage.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it would really help Indiana out if they stopped turning the ball over. Maybe stop playing Josh Newkirk so much.

This week: at Maryland, home for Rutgers

Michigan (KenPom: 39)

The Wolverines are headed down a dangerous path. Coming into the year, they seemed like a shoo-in for the tournament. But they really just haven’t gotten any better from last year. Individual guys – Mo Wagner and DJ Wilson, specifically – have stepped up their game, but MAAR has taken a step back and while Duncan Robinson’s still shooting it well, he’s playing dramatically less minutes.

I guess maybe what they lost in the offseason was a little undervalued. Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht both left, but they didn’t play in the second half of last season. Aubrey Dawkins and Kam Chatman both transferred. Neither were major contributors, but Dawkins provided the occasional hot shooting hand off the bench. Chatman hit the biggest shot of the season.

The other problem is their freshman class has essentially given them nothing this year. Austin Davis is redshirting. Jon Teske hasn’t proven able to play at this level yet. Ibi Watson couldn’t break into the rotation. Xavier Simpson is the only one really playing and he has a total of 24 points and 21 assists on the season. I don’t think that’s necessarily what they envisioned for this class.

This week: at Illinois, home for Nebraska

Just Losing

Illinois (KenPom: 72)

The decision not to have a true road game before conference play doesn’t appear to have been a good one. They’ve now gotten blown out in their first two road games.

Maybe that hasn’t really mattered. The Illini have a lot of experience, which really speaks more to John Groce’s ineffectiveness in molding this team together over the last few years.

They need to get two wins this week if they want to stay in the tourney hunt.

This week: home for Michigan and Maryland

Ohio State (KenPom: 48)

Disastrous start for the Buckeyes to start conference play. They’ve been in every game, but they haven’t been able to close any of them. And now Keita Bates-Diop is out for the year, which is major salt in the wound. KBD’s loss makes an already short rotation even shorter.

If it doesn’t feel like things couldn’t be worse, now they get to go play at the Kohl Center!

Oh, and then there’s this:

Loving tweeted that out after the Buckeyes lost a close one at home to Purdue.

I empathize with Loving and I’m sure many of his teammates who share the same sentiment. The crowds in Columbus have been embarrassing this year. Not showing up for NC Central is one thing, but when it’s 60% full at most while you’re hosting a Top 20 team in your conference? Shameful.

I’ve criticized Loving and some of his other teammates for their own lack of energy and passion before, but you know what would help them out? 19,000 people screaming in support.

This week: at Wisconsin, home for Michigan State

Rutgers (KenPom: 137)

They almost had one at Iowa. Almost. They’ve got a couple winnable games coming up at home and I’d expect the Knights to at least get one of them. If they don’t, they’ll probably start off 0-9 in conference and nobody wants that.

This week: home for Northwestern, at Indiana

Big Ten Power Rankings: Everyone Stinks Edition

Image result for glynn watson nebraska

We’re now through one week of Big Ten play and 11 teams have already lost at least one game. I thought about actually power ranking everyone and putting Wisconsin at #1, Rutgers at #14 and everyone else at T-2, but there’s a very real chance the Badgers go 0-2 next week and Rutgers will probably do something stupid like win at Michigan State because the Spartans actually looked good this week.

Instead I’m just going to rank them based on their very early conference standings and explain why each of them STINKS.

While the bottom of the league has risen this year from last year, the top has fallen back, which has created one big mess of mediocrity right now.

Heading into the season, the Top 5 teams in the league based on KenPom projections were all in the Top 16 and had an average ranking of 13.2. Now, not even two full months later and the current Top 5 has two teams in the Top 16 and an average ranking of 24.2.

It’s not a good look. Sure, it makes for a more competitive conference season and a sense of unpredictability every night that’s exciting, but it doesn’t bode well for when the conference hits the NCAA Tournament. The lack of wins over other high-major opponents doesn’t help either.


Five Stars of the Past Week:

Nick Ward, Michigan State – averaged 16.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks in two wins

Glynn Watson, Nebraska – averaged 21.5 points and 4.0 steals in two wins

Scottie Lindsey, Northwestern – scored 31 points on 9-14 shooting (5-8 from 3P) and grabbed 5 rebounds in win at Penn State

Nate Mason, Minnesota – averaged 24.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 7.5 assists in two games

DJ Wilson, Michigan – career highs of 28 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 three-pointers made in OT loss to Iowa

Five Best Games to Watch This Week:

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

Purdue at Ohio State, Thursday, 7:00 pm EST, ESPN

Minnesota at Northwestern, Thursday, 9:00 pm EST, ESPNU

Maryland at Michigan, Saturday, 3:15 pm EST, ESPN2

Wisconsin at Purdue, Sunday, Time TBD, CBS


Conference Standings and Why Everyone Stinks

T-1. Michigan State (KenPom: 47)

The Spartans stink because they’re still really young and they still lack quality frontcourt depth, which isn’t changing. They had a great week this week, but you still have to be skeptical. They had a great run there around Thanksgiving and then ended up playing poorly the next couple weeks against bad teams at home.

This week: Rutgers at home, Penn State on the road

T-1. Nebraska (KenPom: 81)

Nebraska stinks because they’re the team that went 6-6 in the non-conference and lost to Gardner-Webb at home. As much as I like Ed Morrow, him and Michael Jacobson aren’t exactly the most fearsome guys down low. With Anton Gill now out for the season, their bench went from poor to very poor. Horne, Roby, and Tshimanga all show flashes, but not on a consistent enough basis. A nice couple wins for the Huskers this week, but they still stink.

This week: Iowa and Northwestern at home

3. Wisconsin (KenPom: 11)

Wisconsin stinks because they may not have beaten anyone that’s going to make the NCAA Tournament yet. They also still aren’t great at the shooting thing. We’ll see just how much they stink this week.

This week: at Indiana and Purdue

T-4. Purdue (KenPom: 14)

Purdue stinks because they’re always due to lose a game or two they shouldn’t in B1G play and they cost themselves a high seed in the tournament. They also stink because they struggle with athletic guards that drive their nuts off. I’m sure it won’t come up in March at all. Also, Isaac Haas stinks, but BOY DOES HE HAVE SOME BIG SHOES!

This week: at Ohio State and home for Wisconsin

T-4. Minnesota (KenPom: 40)

Minnesota stinks because their halfcourt offense stinks. They did well against Purdue because they could just ball screen them to death, but that didn’t work as well against MSU’s athletic guards and that’s why the Gophers lost. Also helping Minnesota against Purdue: Eric Curry and Jordan Murphy combined to go 4-9 from three. Coming in they were 2-18. So the official ruling on the halfcourt offense is that it still stinks.

This week: at Northwestern, home for Ohio State

T-4. Northwestern (KenPom: 43)

Northwestern stinks because their destiny is to fail and lose some stupid game in heartbreaking fashion. They also stink because they’re fairly mediocre at a lot of things.

This week: home for Minnesota, at Nebraska

T-4. Maryland (KenPom: 60)

Maryland stinks because the schedule is set up so perfectly for them to actually contend for the conference title, but they refuse to win easily. Sunday it cost them when they gave up a 14-0 run to end the game at home against Nebrasketball. They also stink because their best offense is getting fouled. And finally, they stink because Michal Cekovsky can’t stay healthy.

This week: at Michigan

T-4. Illinois (KenPom: 70)

Illinois stinks because they can’t decide if they want to be good or bad. They also stink because they’re basically middle-of-the-road at every single thing. They have no identity. And they really stink because they’re probably not going to make the tournament and they are going to completely waste Malcolm Hill’s career.

This week: at Indiana

T-4. Iowa (KenPom: 75)

Iowa stinks because their defense stinks. Never forget that they gave up 98 points to Nebraska Omaha. They also stink because they make Peter Jok score all the points and everyone else’s stinkiness is going to prevent Jok from making a run at the POTY crown.

This week: at Nebraska, home for Rutgers

T-4. Penn State (KenPom: 97)

Penn State stinks because they’re wildly inconsistent and their offense would be the worst in the conference if Rutgers didn’t exist. Anyone who loses by 19 at home to George Mason just stinks.

This week: at Michigan, home for Michigan State

T-11. Indiana (KenPom: 24)

Indiana stinks because they’ve now lost to Nebraska at home and Fort Wayne. They stink because they can’t stop turning it over and they treat defense as an optional task. They stink because it’s now January and their third best win is still Houston Baptist.

This week: home for Wisconsin and Illinois

T-11. Michigan (KenPom: 32)

Michigan stinks because their defense still stinks and they haven’t shown much improvement, if any, from last year despite returning almost all of their roster from last year. They stink because they couldn’t beat Iowa, even with DJ Wilson playing the game of his life.

This week: home for Penn State and Maryland

T-11. Ohio State (KenPom: 46)

Ohio State stinks because they are who we thought they were and not who we hoped they would be. They stink because they might miss the tournament for the second straight year with some of the best talent in the league.

This week: home for Purdue, at Minnesota

14. Rutgers (KenPom: 135)

Rutgers stinks because – although they are much improved – they’re still Rutgers.

This week: at Michigan State and Iowa