Big Ten

2019-20 Big Ten Power…Discussion: Week 10

Teams ordered once again by where they fall in the Bracket Matrix because I am a coward.

Maryland (BM: 2 seed)

The Terps lost at Ohio State after beating Northwestern at home, but it’s hard to feel anything but positive about the team in College Park right now. Losing is rarely a good thing and the loss at Columbus didn’t fit the criteria, but Maryland was competitive despite Anthony Cowan only shooting four times and fouling out.

Aaron Wiggins hitting six threes and scoring 20 points may be the biggest takeaway from the game from a Maryland perspective. I feel like I’ve said it a thousand times, but this team’s potential is directly related to the shooting effectiveness of Wiggins and Eric Ayala and to a lesser extent, Darryl Morsell and Donta Scott.

This week: at Minnesota, home for Michigan State

Penn State (BM: 4 seed)

Not a great week for the Nittany Lions as I think you’re starting to see more of an impact of Myreon Jones being out of the lineup. They scored just 116 points total this week and it seemed like they could really use a guy who can score inside and out and shoot threes at a 41% clip. Apparently Jones is due back any day now.

Although they ended up losing at IU, I was impressed with the poise of Penn State in a tough environment. They got down 19 in a raucous Assembly Hall and were able to grind their way back to leading the game, but couldn’t make enough plays late. They need Myreon Jones back, but they could also stand to see others step up when times are tough. Lamar Stevens can’t do it all in those moments.

This week: home for Rutgers, at Iowa

Michigan State (BM: 5 seed)

Not much to report on this week with the only game being a win at Nebraska, who may not even give a damn anymore. The Spartans shot it really well, which they need to do much more often if they want to reach their potential.

This week: home for Iowa, at Maryland

Michigan (BM: 5 seed)

I just love the potential of this team when they’ve got their best eight-man rotation, like they do now with Isaiah Livers back. The Wolverines have now won seven of eight and even broke Rutgers’ perfect home record without Livers. They followed that win up with a dominant performance at Purdue, in a must-win game for the Boilers.

There was a stretch there after Livers got hurt, that this team slipped defensively for a couple of weeks. That’s no longer the case. Michigan has been elite defensively for the better part of the last month or so.

This week: home for Wisconsin, at Ohio State

Iowa (BM: 6 seed)

Thursday night’s Ohio State win was the Hawkeyes in a nutshell. They came out of the gates bombarding the Buckeyes with offense coming from all angles. They also lost focus defensively enough later on to make things a bit more interesting than they needed to be. It never got truly close, but it’s something Iowa needs to be wary of down the road in the postseason when they don’t have the support of their home crowd.

This week: at Michigan State, home for Penn State

Ohio State (BM: 6 seed)

Based on what we’ve seen from Ohio State, the result at Iowa wasn’t very surprising. The Bucks can tend to get into three-point shooting contests and that typically isn’t going to go well when playing a road game against an elite offense.

But OSU responded by beating the likely Big Ten champs despite a tight first half. The Buckeyes resoundingly won the critical end-of-first-half, beginning-of-second-half stanza with a 17-3 run.

This week: at Nebraska, home for Michigan

Wisconsin (BM: 7 seed)

Without a doubt it was a good week, but I don’t know that we’ve learned that much about the Badgers recently. If they shoot it well, they’re really good (duh). They’ve won five of the last six, but four have been at home and one of the road games was at lifeless Nebraska. When it’s all clicking, the Badgers are as good as anyone in this league. But even during this successful run, the only constant offensively is Nate Reuvers.

This week: at Michigan, home for Minnesota

Illinois (BM: 8 seed)

Illinois is an interesting team, man. I don’t know what to make of them. They had a good week this week, but I still feel like there’s things to figure out for Brad Underwood. Defensively, they’ve been solid the whole year, bordering on great. But lineups are hard to sort with this team.

Ayo and Kofi are in every best lineup that they have. I think most would agree before the season that Giorgi is one of their five best players, but he’s best suited in the same spot as Kofi. Giorgi averaged 12.5 PPG last year as a freshman, but has only reached double-figures in two of his last 17 games.

Trent Frazier is the microwave man. Da’Monte Williams and Kipper Nichols don’t care about scoring, but contribute to that great defense. Alan Griffin is the X-Factor and Andres Feliz is the understated constant of the offense.

I honestly can’t tell you what is the best rotation/equation of these eight guys, but I know if Underwood totally figures it out, this team is dangerous.

This week: at Northwestern, home for Indiana

Indiana (BM: 9 seed)

Indiana has turned their season around the past couple of weeks for the better. The Michigan game was ugly, but the other three have been impressive.

They absolutely needed the road win at Minnesota — the Gophers also had to have it — and they went in to Minneapolis and took it.

It looked like the Hoosiers were going to roll PSU in Bloomington and then the Nittany Lions stole the lead. I think last year’s IU team probably would have folded, but this team has refused to do so recently.

A couple of things have changed recently with this team. The first: they’ve fed Trayce Jackson-Davis. TJD got three shots against Michigan and the Hoosiers got blown out. This week he got 32 attempts and it resulted in 40 points to go with his 26 rebounds.

The second reason things have changed: Race Thompson. Thompson just plays hard and makes key plays when it matters most. Play that guy and things seem to go a lot better.

This week: at Purdue and Illinois

Rutgers (BM: 10 seed)

Rutgers has now lost five of seven with those two wins being an OT home win over Northwestern and a home win over Illinois without Ayo Dosunmu. I’m rooting for the Scarlet Knights, but……I have no idea why they seem to be so locked into the tournament. They’ve made road blowouts look close recently by playing the full 40 minutes without ever actually being in the game.

They’ve got three games left and I don’t think I’d consider them the favorite in any. I’m just saying, things might start to get dicey if they don’t play better soon.

This week: at Penn State

Purdue (BM: Second Four Out)

Just a couple of weeks ago I remarked how little Indiana seemed to care that they were playing their rival in front of several Hoosier legends (on Bob Knight day, no less). It looked like IU and Purdue were headed in totally opposite directions.

My how times have changed in the last two weeks. Purdue pulled a similar (lack of) effort on Saturday against Michigan and the season is officially on its last life. They stink out loud right now and it’s unclear if all of the players actually care.

This week: home for Indiana

Minnesota (BM: N/A)

Home losses to Indiana and Iowa feel like near back-breakers to their NCAA Tournament hopes. They looked great in the win at Northwestern and it helps their overall record, but isn’t necessarily a resume builder. The opportunity is still there, but it’s now or never time.

This week: home for Maryland, at Wisconsin 

Northwestern (BM: N/A)

Losers of 11 straight.

This week: home for Illinois, at Nebraska

Nebraska (BM: N/A)

Losers of 12 straight.

This week: home for Ohio State and Northwestern

2019-20 Big Ten Power…Discussion: Week 9

I’m giving up. I’m quitting on the power rankings for the rest of this year. It’s pointless. Maryland and Penn State are clearly at the top, Nebraska and Northwestern are clearly at the bottom, but 3-12 is still a jumbled mess. The difference between third and third-to-last is just 2.5 games. All teams are ordered by the Bracket Matrix.

Maryland (BM: 2 seed)

After playing at home against Nebraska like a team that had just won at Illinois and was already looking forward to playing at Michigan State, the Terps played like Big Ten Champs at East Lansing.

Not that they had it actually won in the first half, but it felt like Maryland had to win that game twice. They were clearly the better team in the first half – getting up by as much as 15 – before finishing the half poorly and ultimately losing the rest of the lead in the second half.

When it got to 60-53 Spartans with less than four minutes and the crowd at full throttle, I’m not sure even the most optimistic Terp fan thought they were going to win. Then the best duo in the league took over. Jalen Smith stuck the first three and grabbed a couple rebounds to feed Anthony Cowan, who hit three straight threes and added two free throws to put a nail in the Spartans’ coffin.

This week: home for Northwestern, at Ohio State

Penn State (BM: 3 seed)

The Nittany Lions have now won eight straight, including four straight on the road. It’s probably not a lasting strategy for them, but they went 25-57 from three this week and Myreon Jones is still out of the lineup.

They completely stole Purdue’s spirit in Mackey Arena Tuesday and were led to victory behind season-best efforts from Mike Watkins, Seth Lundy, and John Harrar.

This isn’t the first time Pat Chambers has had a pretty good team, but it’s by far the most consistent. After every big win there’s some of that old Penn State fear that they’re going to come out flat the next time out and this team keeps showing up every night.

This week: home for Illinois, at Indiana

Michigan State (BM: 5 seed)

I thought for sure after the big road win at Illinois that the Spartans were going to go on one of those patented February runs that leads them into even better play in March. They had Gameday and a Saturday night home game against the conference leader to kick that patented run into overdrive and then the Spartans couldn’t seem to get a stop in the first half of Maryland.

It looked like it was merely going to be a scare when MSU took a seven-point lead late, but then for the second straight game in Breslin, the road team made bigger plays to close the game.

We’re used to growth throughout the season for Tom Izzo teams, but it’s hard to find it right now. Outside of Winston and Tillman, there’s no consistency and shooting remains a struggle. This team still isn’t very good in the half-court.

This week: at Nebraska

Iowa (BM: 6 seed)

After yet another road game where the Hawkeyes got blitzed by the opponent’s outside shooting – this time it was IU – they picked up a huge win at Minnesota on Sunday. Considering CJ Fredrick was out and Joe Wieskamp had his worst scoring night of the year, it was an impressive win in a way we’re not really used to Iowa winning.

It doesn’t sound like Fredrick’s ankle sprain is one that should keep him out for too long, which is a positive all things considered. Also, it should be stated again that Luka Garza is awesome.

This week: home for Ohio State

Ohio State (BM: 6 seed)

The Buckeyes have now won five of six and are starting to make those analytical measures that have believed in them look smart, even through a rough January. That slide was almost solely due to poor offense, but OSU seems to have found its groove again.

They don’t really bombard people with threes, but I can’t imagine there’s many more consistent groups from the outside. They’ve shot under 30% from the perimeter just one time all season, while also going over 50% only twice (the last one was Dec. 7).  That’s remarkably consistent.

This week: at Iowa, home for Maryland

Michigan (BM: 7 seed)

I guess the best way I can describe Isaiah Livers’ impact on Michigan is in gambling terms. In the three games he’s been back – when Vegas spreads are getting tighter by the day – Michigan has covered the spread by 12, 19.5, and 16 points. There was a brief scare in the second half of the Indiana game that he was hurt yet again, but luckily that was put to rest when he checked back in. I’m sure it’s hard for any Michigan fan to feel  comfortable when Livers does anything remotely awkward with his body.

We’ll see just how good the Wolverines are with Livers this week, as they hit the road against a couple of good home teams.

This week: at Rutgers and Purdue

Wisconsin (BM: 8 seed)

Not much to report on this week with the Badgers, as they won their only game at Nebraska. They shot a bunch of threes and made nearly half of them.

This week: home for Purdue and Rutgers

Rutgers (BM: 8 seed)

It was another fine week for the Scarlet Knights. They weren’t very competitive at Ohio State, but they were able to make it look better than it was and only ended up losing by six.

They took advantage of an Illinois team without Ayo Dosunmu and added another notch on their perfect home record belt. Ron Harper Jr. isn’t the most consistent player on the roster, but when he’s on, you expect him to make every shot he takes.

I thought about writing that Rutgers was close to a lock for the tournament even if they lose out because the last five games of the season are so tough for them. But looking at it more, the Scarlet Knights only have two Q1 wins and still just one (1) win away from their home floor. I spent my Sunday researching the last five years of tournament teams and the fewest amount of away/neutral wins for an at-large team that I could find was four (4). That was one team. Everyone else has at least five and a lot of them have at least eight.

I’m not saying Rutgers isn’t going to make the tournament or shouldn’t make it (they’d be comfortably in now according to almost every bracketologist), but they would be an anomaly on that front and may affect their seed more than is being reflected in current projections.

This week: home for Michigan, at Wisconsin

Illinois (BM: 8 seed)

After winning seven straight, the Illini have now lost four straight and Ayo Dosunmu is hurt. The possibilities felt endless a couple of weeks ago and now it’s starting to appear again like Illinois will be aiming to pull an upset if they can even make the second round of the tournament.

Scoring has been all over the board for most of this season, but defensively they’ve seen a dip lately in Champaign. They’ve been getting beat around the rim more often lately and on a related note, Kofi Cockburn only has one block in the last four games.

This week: at Penn State, home for Nebraska

Purdue (BM: 11 seed)

After shooting 27-50 (54.0%) from three last week, Purdue shot just 8-37 (21.6%) from behind the arc this week.

After giving up 13-46 (28.3%) from three last week, the Boilers gave up 23-46 (50.0%) from three this week.

That’s an 87-point swing in a week’s time. Not that much else was different really, at least statistically. I’m not sure there’s much else to say. They are a model of inconsistency.

This week: at Wisconsin, home for Michigan

Indiana (BM: 11 seed)

Prior to that home game a few weeks ago with Maryland, the Hoosiers rated 31st in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. Just six games later, they now rate 67th and probably had their worst effort of the season on Sunday at Michigan.

The weekday domination of Iowa at least showed some life and that the Hoosiers weren’t going to go on another extended dreadful spell like they did last year over 13 games, but there is work to do. No easy games coming up.

This week: at Minnesota, home for Penn State

Minnesota (BM: Second Four Out)

The Gophers aren’t dead yet, but Sunday’s home loss to Iowa was a killer, setting Minnesota back to 12-12. They still have four Q1 wins and no bad losses, but going .500 overall isn’t going to cut it. An undefeated week is a must this week.

This week: home for Indiana and at Northwestern

Northwestern (BM: N/A)

Losers of nine straight.

This week: at Maryland, home for Minnesota

Nebraska (BM: N/A)

Losers of ten straight.

This week: home for Michigan State, at Illinois

2019-20 Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 8

 

1. Maryland (KP: 8 / BM: 2 seed)

I tweeted on Friday night after Maryland won at Illinois that it felt like they had just won the Big Ten. That was probably an early declaration with eight games left on their schedule and the way this league has consistently flipped in a week’s time, but the Terps have been the one team in the league where you feel like you know what you’re going to get.

I don’t think this is probably the most talented team of the Mark Turgeon era in College Park, but it’s inarguable that its his best team at not beating itself. All of the focus is on the win at Illinois, but this point was most apparent at home against Rutgers. They struggled to score, but they didn’t turn the ball over too much, made free throws, didn’t send Rutgers to the line, and rebounded well enough.

Really good teams win even when they don’t have much going for them offensively and that was what Maryland showed Tuesday. Friday in Champaign showed what Maryland can be at its best, which is a great team.

This week: home for Nebraska, at Michigan State

2. Penn State (KP: 14 / BM: 4 seed)

I thought it was criminal that Penn State wasn’t even mentioned among the Top 19 teams that the selection committee revealed on Saturday. The one knock on Penn State’s resume is a two-point neutral site loss to Ole Miss back in November. The final score was the only lead Ole Miss had all game and Penn State was dominating for most of the game. They Nittany Lions are essentially being punished for six bad minutes in November and the fact that they’re Penn State basketball, which carries way less weight than some teams seeded above them.

Anyway, Penn State basketball won at Michigan State – who was seeded above them – this week and as I was watching them, I didn’t even feel like the Nittany Lions played that well in the second half. Penn State played smarter and tougher than MSU in the Breslin Center and that is quite the sentence to write.

Almost more impressive than the win in East Lansing was that they showed no letdown over the weekend against Minnesota, even without Myreon Jones in the lineup.

This week: at Purdue, home for Northwestern

3. Illinois (KP: 27 / BM: 7 seed)

It’s been a tough couple of games for the Illini, but it’s worth noting that a team like Maryland is a less than ideal matchup for Illinois. To score on Maryland, you pretty much have to be able to shoot efficiently outside because their interior defense is so good. That’s not Illinois. Maryland’s also one of the few teams in the league that has the driving ability and shooting ability to break down the Illinois defense, especially on the road.

So while the Illini stock appears to be declining, they’ve got a great chance to get back on track this week with another marquee win over Michigan State in Champaign and can double up by pulling out yet another road win against a Rutgers team that seems to be trending down.

This week: Michigan State at home and Illinois on the road

4. Purdue (KP: 13 / BM: 9 seed)

Call it a homer pick to have them this high, but they’ve now beaten the #5 and #6 teams in the rankings by a combined 65 points in their two meetings. Yes, both were in Mackey. But the biggest knock on Purdue has been that they have been bipolar in their home/road splits, but that’s slowly been changing and now the Boilers have pulled two straight out on the road.

Not only have they won two straight on the road, but the one this weekend at IU involved winning at one of the toughest environments in the league, winning a rivalry game, winning a rivalry game when both teams really needed it, and winning a rivalry game when the rival brings back their legendary coach for the first time in 20 years and so many legends that he coached. And they did it with relative ease.

The blowout of Iowa was impressive, but it’s the third or fourth time we’ve seen that from Purdue at home. The fact that they continued a similar level of offensive balance and steady shooting on the road a few days after the blowout indicates a potential outlook change for the rest of the season. We’ll see. It doesn’t get any easier the rest of the way.

This week: home for Penn State, at Ohio State

5. Michigan State (KP: 10 / BM: 5 seed)

The Spartans had a similar three-game losing streak at almost the exact same time last year and they responded by winning 14 of their next 15, winning a share of the regular season Big Ten championship, winning the Big Ten Tournament, and making the Final Four.

That’s the positive spin. The negative spin is that there weren’t many holes in the Spartans’ resume before that losing streak last year. This is not the first time there have been some doubts about this year’s Spartans.

I’ve said it multiple times now, but it just feels like a really top-heavy team right now. That Big Ten-winning, Final Four-making team last year had Aaron Henry as like the fifth option offensively. This year he’s the third option and I’m not sure that Henry has improved all that much. It’s also worth noting that even though he’s still a great player, Cassius Winston hasn’t been quite as effective this year for whatever the reason, and there are many legitimate ones, both on the court and off.

This week: at Illinois, home for Maryland

6. Iowa (KP: 18 / BM: 6 seed)

Credit to the Hawkeyes for responding to the midweek humiliation at Purdue by blowing the doors off of Nebraska. But with that said, the question remains: are we anywhere different than where we’ve always been with Iowa basketball under Fran McCaffery?

The superb offense remains, but so does the lackluster defense and so does the antics surrounding the head coach. The offense is elite, but if you can’t figure out a way to guard a guy like Evan Boudreaux – all due respect – you have some real problems when the games start to mean more.

Wednesday was a reminder of why McCaffery teams have never made the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament and of why this team unfortunately may not be any different. This is a big week.

This week: at Indiana and Minnesota

7. Rutgers (KP: 33 / BM: 7 seed)

The Rutgers bandwagon is starting to lose quite a bit of steam, but I’m not ready to jump off yet. They played Maryland close in College Park, but it still resulted in a loss and still maintained a run of the Rutgers offense struggling away from Piscataway. It should also be noted that five of their seven worst defensive showings have been away from home.

That’s not surprising with a team that’s still pretty young, but after two losses and one of the two worst teams in the league coming to town, you’d expect them to respond in a big way. That didn’t happen. The Scarlet Knights were trailing for double digits most of the way Sunday night at home against Northwestern. Credit to them for rallying, but it wouldn’t have happened without the raucous RAC crowd and the Wildcats’ respectable commitment to melting down in the final minutes of a game.

Rutgers is still firmly in the tournament at this point, but they need to quit playing with fire or things will start to get anxious.

This week: at Ohio State, home for Illinois

8. Wisconsin (KP: 32 / BM: 8 seed)

Over the last six games or so, the Badgers have increased their reliance on perimeter shooting. For the first 18 games, their 3PA/Poss rate was 36%. Over the last six games, it’s been 44%. This is largely a result of losing Kobe King’s driving and mid-range game.

You saw the mixed results of this new “philosophy” this week. They went 7-29 from three at Minnesota and never had a chance at winning the game. They went 12-32 at home against Ohio State and never really had a chance at losing the game.

I don’t know how to feel about Wisconsin. After winning at Ohio State and Penn State early in the Big Ten season, they have the look of a team that’s going to have some severe home/road splits with the increased reliance on making perimeter shots.

This week: at Nebraska

9. Ohio State (KP: 11 / BM: 7 seed)

The Buckeyes got their best win in nearly a month-and-a-half with the victory in Ann Arbor, even though it wasn’t pretty. Kaleb Wesson, Duane Washington, and Kyle Young combined for 52 points and the rest of the team could only muster nine. But OSU also held Michigan to only 58 points on their home floor. It was reminiscent to the start of the year when they were dominating every opponent on that end of the court.

But it didn’t last long, as they gave up 1.15 points per possession to Wisconsin, which is a hell of a lot to give up to the defense-first Badgers.

This week: home for Rutgers and Purdue

10. Michigan (KP: 24 / BM: 8 seed)

The Wolverines went 1-1 in home games against their rival schools, but the win over MSU illustrated how much better they can be with Isaiah Livers back in the lineup.

Livers had played just over a half of basketball in the past 11 games, a stretch in which his team was just 5-6 without him.

Juwan Howard put Livers in the starting lineup and the junior responded with 14 points on 5-10 shooting, 4 rebounds, a couple of blocks, and a steal.

Livers wasn’t the only one that played well. In fact, nearly every Wolverine played well. Guys like Jon Teske and Eli Brooks struggled to shoot the ball, but combined for 17 rebounds. Zavier Simpson was excellent offensively and played a huge part in making Cassius Winston an inefficient, high-volume shooter. The list goes on and on.

This week: at Northwestern, home for Indiana

11. Minnesota (KP: 31 / BM: First Four Out)

The home blowout of Wisconsin made for a good day for the Gophers, but if they’re going to get an NCAA Tournament bid, Minnesota really needs to string a few wins together. They’ve only won three games in a row once this season and are sitting at an overall record of 12-11.

Now’s a good time to start.

This week: home for Iowa

12. Indiana (KP: 45 / BM: 11 seed)

The only game this week was the aforementioned State of Indiana basketball reunion in Bloomington on Saturday. The way the current Hoosiers played, it was almost as if no one told them that it was a big deal and they should at least pretend to care.

Just a couple of weeks ago, IU was rolling against Maryland and looking like they might contend for the top of the conference. Since they blew that lead against the Terps, it’s been all downhill. They need to turn things around quickly because four of the next six are on the road.

13. Northwestern (KP: 117 / BM: N/A)

They almost won again, so they move up in the highly competitive 13/14 debate.

This week: home for Michigan, at Penn State

14. Nebraska (KP: 138 / BM: N/A)

Losers of eight straight.

This week: at Maryland, home for Wisconsin

2019-20 Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 7

Contenders

1. Illinois (KP: 24 / BM: 6 seed)

It wasn’t a pretty week for the Illini, but they remain on top due to their road wins so far this year. They grinded out the win over Minnesota, but it showed once again that physical, more athletic teams can cause some issues for the Illini offense. Luckily, they can do the same to those opponents at the other end.

While they had a better showing against Iowa, defensively they couldn’t match up. The Hawkeyes were able to spread them out and beat them inside and out with all of their skill.

But we’ve gone way too long now without mentioning the greatest streak going in basketball right now. Da’Monte Williams has started nine straight games, averaged 19 minutes a game, and has scored a grand total of zero (0) points. He’s only attempted 12 shots in that time frame. Talk about commitment to your role.

This week: home for Maryland

2. Maryland (KP: 10 / BM: 3 seed)

You could reasonably make an argument for any of the Top 3 teams to be #1 and Maryland’s might be that they’ve been the steadiest team from the beginning of the year until now and they’ve got the most rock-solid resume in the league.

The 82 points obviously stood out in their bout with Iowa this week and Anthony Cowan played probably his best game of the season, perhaps his career.

But he may not have even been the best player on the floor for the Terps as Jalen Smith decidedly won the matchup with POY favorite Luka Garza (who won the matchup in Iowa City).

Smith had 18 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 blocks in 38 minutes, while helping to get Garza in foul trouble and keeping him off the floor for 16 minutes. Garza still got 21 points (still below his average), but only had 4 rebounds.

This week: home for Rutgers, at Illinois

3. Michigan State (KP: 9 / BM: 4 seed)

The Spartans did what you’d expect to Northwestern in East Lansing, but they once again came out flatfooted on the road. Tom Izzo’s group fell behind by 19 at Wisconsin before rallying to nearly win in Madison, but ultimately falling short.

There’s no shame in losing at the Kohl Center, but…there’s a little shame in going down 19 when Brad Davison was suspended and Kobe King had just quit the team.

There were some odd things about that game, however. I’m fairly confident that Xavier Tillman won’t miss that many bunnies around the rim again in a game. Also, apparently Gabe Brown was ill and was limited to just 3 minutes.

But still, Aaron Henry still seems to be in a bit of a funk and the bench – outside Rocket Watts – still isn’t giving them much.

The team who proves itself the most on the road is going to win the league and MSU has failed to prove they’re going to be that team this year.

This week: home for Penn State, at Michigan

4. Iowa (KP: 13 / BM: 5 seed)

The Hawkeyes lost at Maryland, but still were in it nearly the whole way despite Luka Garza struggling with foul trouble. Sunday showed that a physical force in the middle like Kofi Cockburn doesn’t mean Luka Garza still isn’t going to get his. Luka hit a career-high four threes and still led the Hawks with 25 points.

It wasn’t Joe Toussaint’s best week, but Iowa’s backcourt is pretty solid evidence that you can win with young guards, even when they don’t have the flashiest recruiting rankings. Toussaint is a true freshman and was ranked 293rd in 247’s composite rankings with Iowa being his only high-major offer.

His backcourt mate – CJ Fredrick – was 242nd in the rankings a couple of years ago. Fredrick is third on the team in scoring with 11.6 PPG and proof that maybe you can in fact improve by redshirting and not playing in games for a full year.

This week: at Purdue, home for Nebraska

Sleepers

5. Penn State (KP: 16 / BM: 6 seed)

Pretty damn good week for the Nittany Lions. They were in complete control at home against IU despite a somewhat underwhelming scoring night. Maybe the most important stat of the game was that Penn State only allowed IU to shoot 10 free throws, a place the Hoosiers live.

There was no sign of a letdown/look-ahead spot for the Lions when they went to Nebraska, as they blew the doors off the Huskers in Lincoln.

Penn State isn’t the sexiest team in the league – it’d help if they got more fan support – but they’re a Micah Potter white-hot performance away from being a half game out of first place.

This week: at Michigan State, home for Minnesota

6. Rutgers (KP: 29 / BM: 7 seed)

Despite a poor rebounding performance and an out-of-left-field 19 points from Jahaad Proctor, the Scarlet Knights were able to hold off Purdue’s rally during the week.

For someone who’s a diehard Purdue fan and also a huge fan of Steve Pikiell, this was a poignant moment. Four years ago in the last year of the dreadful, sobering, downright pathetic era of Eddie Jordan coaching Rutgers basketball, Purdue won at the RAC by FIFTY (50) points. Their 11th man had a double-double. Their not-good point guard had 7 offensive rebounds, 7 of the 27 they had as a team.

Flash forward four years and I entered the same game between the same two programs and I just assumed Purdue was going to lose and was somewhat surprised they had a chance at the end.

This Boiler team isn’t as good as that one a few years ago, but they’re still a bubble team. It’s much more of a credit to just how far Rutgers has come as a program in Pikiell’s four years.

No, they didn’t play well Saturday against Michigan, but the fact it only mildly impacted Rutgers’ solid NCAA Tournament resume is why Pikiell will have my nonexistent Coach of the Year vote in March.

This week: at Maryland, home for Northwestern

A Jumbled Mess of Sometimes Good, Sometimes Terrible, Often Mediocre Teams

I’ve decided there’s no way you can differentiate between these six teams, so I’ve decided to be a coward and put them all in a tie and order them alphabetically. If you just rank them by recent performances, you’re almost guaranteed to look stupid in a week’s time.

T7. Indiana (KP: 41 / BM: 10 seed)

Indiana looks bad right now because they just played two road games against two good teams, but they’re about to play two home games and there’s a decent chance they win both.

The fabric of IU this year has basically been getting a ton of rebounds and shooting a bunch of free throws. They didn’t get the free throws at Penn State and didn’t win the rebounding battle at Ohio State and they both resulted in a loss.

The concerning thing for the Hoosiers is that both of those things can carry over to the road, but they haven’t really translated consistently.

This week: home for Purdue

T7. Michigan (KP: 25 / BM: 8 seed)

Things were looking a little bleak heading into last week, but suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly things are looking like they might be turning around.

The unexpected part was due to the Wolverines playing both games away from Ann Arbor, Isaiah Livers still being out, and Zavier Simpson still facing suspension.

The Wolverines ended the week with two wins, one on the road and one “neutral” game that was considered a “home” game for UM despite them playing a New Jersey team in NYC.

Simpson is also now back. I always love to see the reactions when an indefinite suspension lasts only one game. It exposes those who don’t have great control of the English language, specifically the difference in the terms “indefinite” and “infinite.” Couple key letters in there.

In more good, less condescending news, Brandon Johns has now scored 14+ in three of the last four games. He didn’t reach that mark in his first 44 career games.

This week: home for Ohio State and Michigan State

T7. Minnesota (KP: 38 / BM: First Four Out)

The Gophers were within one with less than two minutes to go at Illinois, but couldn’t finish the deal. It’s far from time to panic for Minnesota, but every close road loss feels like a major missed opportunity to score a resume win in this league. That one might’ve been at the top of the page at season’s end.

They need Marcus Carr to get out of this mini-slump he’s been in and really need Payton Willis to get healthy. I’ve written before about the needed growth from players not named Oturu and Carr. Willis is one of the most important on the team. He started the season as one of the most productive players, but lost time due to injury has kind of derailed his season.

This week: home for Wisconsin, at Penn State

T7. Ohio State (KP: 12 / BM: 7 seed)

The Buckeyes played their best game of 2020 with a rather easy win over IU at home, despite DJ Carton taking some time off for his mental health.

Winning two games in a row is great, but the best part might be how well Justin Ahrens has played in those two games, with back-to-back double-figure scoring efforts.

Which brings us to our next fun stat of the week: it’s only the second and third time Ahrens has scored in double figures in his career. The only other time?

*checks notes*

*checks notes again*

*checks multiple box scores to confirm this is actually true*

It’s true. The only other time in the previous 39 games of his career that Justin Ahrens had scored in double figures was against Iowa last year…who went to the NCAA Tournament…and Ahrens scored TWENTY-NINE (29) points. He scored 85 in the other 38 games.

This week: at Michigan and Wisconsin

T7. Purdue (KP: 28 / BM: 11 seed)

Purdue has now at least reached the stage where they play well in at least some stretch of their road games. They made it a game late in Piscataway, but were down 17 at one point. They really didn’t play well for nearly 37 minutes in Evanston, but were able to pull things out with a great 3.5 minutes to finish.

I don’t know, man. The same team doesn’t show up twice in a row. Jahaad Proctor came out of nowhere with 19 at Rutgers, then stunk again at NW before hitting one of the biggest shots of the game. Eric Hunter was the steadiest guy all year, hit a slump, got benched, and played well on Saturday. Isaiah Thompson has scored in double figures many times this year, but never even close to twice in a row.

I could go on. It’s the whole team.

This week: home for Iowa, at Indiana

T7. Wisconsin (KP: 30 / BM: 8 seed)

Drop three of four, have Kobe King quit, have Brad Davison get suspended, beat Michigan State. The natural order of things, obviously.

You got to see both sides of the Badgers offensively. The first half displayed the team that looks pretty damn good when everybody’s making shots, even without two of their best shot-makers, previously.

The second half displayed a team that goes nearly seven minutes without scoring, stops making shots, can’t get run-outs, and can’t get any second chance opportunities.

But the entire game showed that the Badgers can hold one of the league’s best offenses to just 63 points, which is why they’re comfortably in the tournament at the moment.

This week: at Minnesota, home for Ohio State

The Cellar

13. Nebraska (KP: 136 / BM: N/A)

This was always going to be a rough season for Nebraska, but it’d be nice if the bright spots at least stayed bright. Cam Mack shines, but unfortunately he seems to have a punctuality problem. Mack had 19 points and 9 assists against Michigan, but was late again for a team function and didn’t start against PSU. He responded with his worst game of the season: 0 points and 3 turnovers.

This week: at Iowa

14. Northwestern (KP: 120 / BM: N/A)

The Wildcats deserved the win on Saturday against Purdue, but folded in the last 3.5 minutes and let another one slip away.

In better news, Jared Jones appears to be getting better, another good sign for the youth movement in Evanston.

This week: at Rutgers

 

2019-20 Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 6

I finally decided to actually rank the teams myself now that we’re about halfway through and we’re starting to develop a hierarchy. KenPom ranking and current Bracket Matrix projections in parentheses.

1. Illinois (KP:  22 / BM: 6 seed)

It’s obviously somewhat controversial to put the Illini in pole position over Michigan State given that the Spartans beat Illinois by 20 in East Lansing. But since that game, Brad Underwood’s group have rattled off six straight wins and included in that stretch is road wins at Wisconsin, Purdue, and Michigan. The Illini will get their chance at retribution over the Spartans in a couple of weeks when MSU visits Champaign.

The Illini picked up two of those road wins this week and they did it with Alan Griffin playing all of three minutes. Griffin is one of the best players in the league that comes off the bench and on more than one occasion has been the catalyst for wins.

Once thought to be a lottery pick last year, Ayo Dosunmu had fallen off so much that it was a question of whether he would even be drafted were he to leave after this year. The consistency concerns are fair enough and the outside shooting hasn’t been ideal. But when Ayo is good, he’s one of the best. His last five games: 19.2 PPG, 54% FG, 40% 3FG, 95% FT, 5.0 RPG, and 5.4 APG.

This week: home for Minnesota, at Iowa

2. Michigan State (KP:  7 / BM: 3 seed)

Long thought to be the favorite in the conference, the questions were starting to mount on whether the Spartans were just like everybody else with their road struggles. They were beaten on the glass in Bloomington and were fortunate that the game was winnable late due to IU’s struggles from the free throw line.

But the Spartans showed a champion’s mindset by bouncing back with one of their best performances of the season on Sunday at Minnesota.

Tom Izzo sent a message to his team by giving freshmen Rocket Watts and Malik Hall the start in Minneapolis. Watts played his third straight game without a turnover and added 10 points. Hall went 3-3 from the field, 1-1 from the free throw line, and added six rebounds, three of them offensive. Aaron Henry didn’t get the start for the first time in 35 games and Marcus Bingham didn’t get his start for the first time in 15 games and only played five minutes.

We’ll see how all four guys respond going forward because you would think the lineup stays the same after the way they played Sunday.

This week: home for Northwestern, at Wisconsin

3. Maryland (KP:  10 / BM: 4 seed)

A potentially disastrous week turned in to a great one for the Terps. Maryland was down 15 at one point to Northwestern and down six with less than a minute-and-a-half to Indiana. They won both. On the road.

This is obviously a big coup for the Terps, but fantastic finishes are often necessary because of deficiencies elsewhere. For starters, you should probably never be down 15 to Northwestern if you want to be a real contender for the Big Ten title and you also don’t want to squander a 14-point lead at Indiana – one of the toughest venues to win in the league – and nearly blow the best road game Maryland has played this year.

But all the credit goes to Maryland for making the plays they had to and they scored two road wins and are now just one game outside of the conference lead about halfway through.

Jalen Smith kind of finished ugly with the postgame antics at IU, but it seemed out of character for him and it doesn’t take away that he was PHENOMENAL this week. He averaged 27 and 11 on 63/55/88 shooting and added three blocks and three steals.

This week: home for Iowa

4. Iowa (KP:  14 / BM: 5 seed)

Iowa held home court this week and – no surprise – it was on the back of Luka Garza, who had 49 points, 31 rebounds, and seven blocks in the two games this week.

That last figure – the blocks – is probably the biggest difference in Garza this year. In 22 Big Ten games played last year, Garza registered a block in only seven (7) of them. He’s now recorded a block in his last eight Big Ten games and averaged 2.0 in that stretch. He also hasn’t been charged for more than three fouls in the same stretch.

It was two home wins this week for the Hawkeyes and it wasn’t the prettiest, but they also came against two of the more defensive-minded teams in the league.

This week: at Maryland and home for Illinois

5. Rutgers (KP:  26 / BM: 7 seed)

Even though they lost at Iowa, the competitiveness of the Scarlet Knights once again showed that they’re not just a good team at the RAC. The middle of the second half was less than ideal at home against Nebraska, but Rutgers pulled it out late.

I guess in hindsight, the lull at home was fairly predictable on Saturday. Rutgers was ranked for the first time in forever, they played well Wednesday at Iowa and lost, and they were coming home – where they’ve dominated – and they were expected to roll, a position this program hasn’t been in very often. They got out to a sizable lead and relaxed a bit.

But even in the struggle to put Nebraska away, I came away impressed with Rutgers. Ron Harper scored 29 at Iowa and then could only muster two on Saturday. But Akwasi Yeboah – the Stony Brook transfer – stepped up with a season-high 20 points. Also, Geo Baker, who’s still trying to get right after his injury, hit the game-winner.

I’ve said it but I’ll say it again, Rutgers…RUTGERS…is one of the deepest teams in the league.

This week: home for Purdue, Michigan in NYC

6. Penn State (KP:  24 / BM: 6 seed)

Well, the only game of the week was a road win at Michigan in which they pretty much owned the game, so consider it a big success for the Nittany Lions.

Curtis Jones is far from a consistent player, but when he’s on, he wins games for Penn State and he did that up in Ann Arbor.

I don’t know how to evaluate Penn State offensively. Lamar Stevens and Myreon Jones are the consistent players in the rotation. Outside of that you just have a collection of guys that might score zero, might score 18, and not a lot of guys who give you a consistent 10.

They’re a hard read. Dangerous enough to beat anybody in the league and vulnerable enough to lose to anybody in the league, no matter the location.

This week: home for Indiana, at Nebraska

7. Indiana (KP:  38 / BM: 8 seed)

I’ll be honest, I couldn’t tell you what really happened at the end of that Maryland game that caused IU to let the lead slip away. News was just breaking that Kobe died and focus drifted away from the game. I’m sure whatever transpired was less than ideal.

What I do know is that the first 18.5 minutes of the second half were stellar for the Hoosiers after a lackluster first half. They also played a great game on Thursday at home against MSU.

It has to continue on the road, but you’ve started to see a bit of a transformation in the IU offense. After six straight games of not scoring a point per possession, they’ve now done it for three straight games. Obviously, freshman Jerome Hunter had his most productive game of the season against the Terps and it was a big boost. Armaan Franklin has also started to assert himself a bit after barely getting any minutes against OSU and Rutgers.

This week: at Penn State and Ohio State

8. Minnesota (KP:  39 / BM: 11 seed)

High peaks and low valleys for the Gophers this past week. On Thursday they scored a huge road win at Ohio State, who somehow still maintains high status in the NET rankings.

Unfortunately, Minnesota followed that up with a fairly non-competitive loss at home to Michigan State. It’s not a bad loss, but it’s certainly a missed opportunity for a team firmly on the bubble to pick up a Quad 1 win while in the friendly confines of Williams Arena.

The good thing for Minnesota is that they have two great players in Daniel Oturu and Marcus Carr. The bad thing for Minnesota is that those two are now responsible for nearly 60% of the team’s scoring in league play. Obviously, they’ve shown they can win some games like that, but you also saw Sunday what can happen when one of those guys doesn’t play well. Carr went 3-14 and only scored 11 points. Gabe Kalscheur stepped up with 15, but outside of Carr, Kalscheur, and Oturu the Gophers only got seven points from the rest of the roster.

This week: at Illinois

9. Purdue (KP:  23 / BM: 11 seed)

Purdue does this cool thing where they only play in 2OT games or participate in a blowout, where they’ve been on each end of the blowout on multiple occasions recently.

True to form, they were blown out early this week (again by Illinois) and then blew out Wisconsin at home Friday. It’s hard to know what to expect with them.

This week dealt two surprises. The negative: apparently simply playing in Mackey Arena no longer means Purdue is going to win the game, as was thoroughly proven by Illinois, who bullied the Boilers in their own building.

Friday’s positive surprise: maybe Evan Boudreaux is back? The Dartmouth transfer started his Purdue career off with double-figure scoring efforts in six of his first eight games. That quickly faded and Boudreaux registered 11 DNPs last year, most of them healthy scratches.

This year hasn’t gone much better for him until he was a spark against MSU, knocking down three three-pointers. And after the blowout to Illinois, Matt Painter rewarded Boudreaux for his practice effort with a start against Wisconsin. Boudreaux responded with his first double-double as a Boilermaker.

This week: at Rutgers and Northwestern

10. Wisconsin (KP:  32 / BM: 8 seed)

Hard to imagine a worse week for the Badgers. Here’s a recap:

  • Lost by 19 at Purdue, a game in which they trailed by as many as 28
  • Kobe King surprisingly didn’t make the trip to Iowa because of “personal reasons”
  • Those “personal reasons” sound like his personal issues with the team
  • Micah Potter may have a serious injury
  • Brad Davison may be addicted to nut punches and will probably be reviewed for a possible suspension
  • The latest Davison cup check came at the worst possible time in the game
  • The Badgers blew a 12-point lead with 7 minutes left and lost at Iowa

Not an ideal time to play the conference leader.

This week: home for Michigan State

11. Ohio State (KP:  13 / BM: 8 seed)

I’m still dumbfounded by the steep decline in the Buckeyes’ season, but at least they were able to pull things out at Northwestern thanks to Justin Ahrens and DJ Carton making some big plays off the bench, while some of the more experienced guys continue to struggle with inconsistency.

I’m still not convinced the ship is turned back around just yet. In their last eight games, the only victories are against the two bottom teams in these rankings.

This week: home for Indiana

12. Michigan (KP:  30 / BM: 9 seed)

Michigan might’ve had a worse week than Wisconsin. To recap:

  • They kind of got blown out at home by Penn State
  • They got Isaiah Livers back for the Illinois game!
  • Livers re-aggravated his groin injury against Illinois
  • Ayo Dosunmu hit a contested game-winner for Illinois
  • The Wolverines have lost four straight
  • Team captain and point guard Zavier Simpson is now suspended indefinitely
  • UM is 0-5 in true road games and now have to try to win their most winnable road game left without Simpson and probably Livers

This week: at Nebraska, Rutgers in NYC

13. Nebraska (KP:  131 / BM: N/A)

After four of their last five were on the road, the Huskers head back home to play potential spoiler.

This week: home for Michigan and Penn State

14. Northwestern (KP:  113 / BM: N/A)

I don’t have much to say on the Cats. They’re not terrible, but pretty young and inexperienced. If you’re a Northwestern fan, you’re hoping this group of freshmen and sophomores grow together like the McIntosh/Law/Lindsay/Skelly/Pardon group did.

This week: at Michigan State, home for Purdue

2019-20 Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 5

This week’s cop out for ranking teams comes to you via the Bracket Matrix, which currently has TWELVE (12) Big Ten teams in it. That seems kind of unrealistic to maintain, but you never know. If everyone keeps beating Nebraska and Northwestern and wins their home games, all 12 will end up with a lot of quality wins.

1. Michigan State (BM: 3 seed)

In rather predictable fashion, the Spartans jumped all over Wisconsin on Friday night after four days off following last weekend’s blowout loss.

Maybe the most noteworthy aspect of the game is that Gabe Brown, Aaron Henry, and Rocket Watts all had efficient games and all three scored in double digits. It was made necessary due to the second straight poor outing from Cassius Winston offensively.

To me, that trio is the difference in determining just how far the Spartans are going to go this year. Winston will be fine. Xavier Tillman pretty much always gives them production. Besides Watts, the rest of the bench (and Marcus Bingham) aren’t ready to give them much in terms of scoring besides the occasional outburst.

If Brown, Henry, and Watts keep scoring like they did on Friday, they can contend for a national championship.

The Spartans currently hold the sole lead of the conference, but things are about to get a lot tougher for them. Eight of their remaining 13 games are on the road.

This week: at Indiana and Minnesota

2. Maryland (BM: 4 seed)

A pretty solid week for the Terps, but it could’ve been a great week if not for a very unfortunate set of back-to-back BLOB plays.

Even though the Terps couldn’t finish the job up in Madison, there were some positives. For starters, Anthony Cowan played his best road game in quite some time. Also, Aaron Wiggins went 3-6 from deep and carried the hot shooting over to the Purdue game at home.

Jalen Smith is also still very good at basketball.

Saturday was a good win for Maryland, but it did reaffirm a concerning trend with the offense. Before that first pair of Big Ten games in December, they were 7th in offensive efficiency. A month later before Big Ten play started up again, they were 22nd. As I write this a little over two weeks later, they’re 44th.

They started out on fire Saturday from three, scoring 28 points the first 12 minutes. But Purdue was able to make it a three-point game late because the Terps only managed 29 points over the remaining 28 minutes.

In Madison, they got 47 points from three guys. The rest of the team scored only seven on 14 shots.

An elite defense will allow Maryland to still win a lot of games, but if the offensive trend doesn’t flip, their ceiling is limited.

This week: at Northwestern and Indiana

5. Iowa (BM: 5 seed)

The Hawks were the big winner of the week with a relatively easy road win at Northwestern and the exciting victory at home Friday night over Michigan.

What an absolutely dominant year for Luka Garza. He scored 60 points this week on 20-32 shooting, 4-6 from three. He put up 77 points in two meetings with the Wolverines this year. He’s currently #1 in KenPom’s NPOY rankings.

I’ve always been a fan of Garza’s. He was good when he set foot on campus, but his toughness and intensity stood out that first year on a team that lacked both of those things. He has to be leading the country the last few years in number of bloody noses/lips/ears.

Garza isn’t necessarily doing anything different this year or been more efficient, other than I guess be a bit more aggressive – and most importantly – stayed on the floor. He’s playing more than 30 minutes per game. He’s also improved as a defender while at the same time stayed out of major foul trouble for the most part.

Speaking of defense, the Hawkeye team has quietly improved a decent amount lately. They’re not as consistent as they need to be, but they’ve moved up 54 spots in defensive efficiency rankings since they gave up 103 to Michigan in Ann Arbor. While you’d like them to be more consistent on that end of the floor, it’s a lot better than consistently sucking all the time like recent years.

This week: home for Rutgers

4. Ohio State (BM: 6 seed)

If there were any thoughts that the Nebraska game was a “get right” game, all those feelings were probably gone by halftime on Saturday. The Bucks were blown out by a Penn State squad that they had previously beaten by 32 a month-and-a-half ago.

I’m not sure what to say about the Buckeyes right now. Offense had been their issue, now they finally start scoring again – although they did most of their damage in Happy Valley after they were already down big – and then they give up 90 to the Nittany Lions.

The good news is they’ve got two very winnable games this week and they absolutely need them before this rough patch starts to define their season.

This week: home for Minnesota, at Northwestern

5. Michigan (BM: 6 seed)

The Wolverines lost their only game of the week at Iowa, but the offense continues to shine even with Isaiah Livers out. Livers is expected to return soon.

The 83 they scored in Iowa City was thanks in large part to the 25-piece Eli Brooks put up. Brooks has been the biggest revelation of the season for the Wolverines. He played in a lot of the games the last couple of years, but always just seemed to kinda be running around without ever doing much. This year Brooks has scored at least 24 on four different occasions. Consistency is the next step. He’s also only scored two points in three outings.

Besides, ya know, losing, the negative side is that the defense hasn’t been traveling very well for Juwan Howard’s team. Shooting comes and goes on the road, but the consistent lack of defense by Michigan on the road indicates that maybe they’re just not a good defensive team.

This week: home for Penn State and Illinois

6. Wisconsin (BM: 7 seed)

Brad Davison saved the week with two outstanding plays late to put Maryland away.  Davison is not a favorite of opposing fans, but even Minnesota fans had to tip the cap on the way he finished out that game.

It’s probably best not to put too much stock in the Friday night game in East Lansing. It’s hard enough to play Michigan State at the Breslin Center. Throw in four days of prep for Tom Izzo after they got their brains beat in the last game and it’s nearly impossible to win that game.

The big question right now: Can Greg Gard figure out a way to play Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter at the same time? The question exists because those two are undoubtedly among the five best players on the team and ideally you’d like to play your five best players at the same time.

It doesn’t seem very possible right now. Potter has been a big help offensively, but he just got benched at the end of the Maryland game because he was such a liability defensively. The offense would probably improve a little bit with both him and Reuvers on the floor, but a lot of teams in the league are going to exploit the hell out of a defense with the two of them together. Fours are way too versatile now.

This week: home for Nebraska, at Purdue

7. Rutgers (BM: 7 seed)

YOUR NATIONALLY RANKED RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS

I have never been bashful about my love for the Steve Pikiell era at Rutgers and I feel nothing now but complete vindication. I love this team.

Geo Baker was back this week, but clearly not fully 100% and they still got two wins at the RAC.

A road trip to Iowa this week is a good test. It’s an elite offense on the road and we’ll see how elite the Scarlet Knight defense is away from the RAC.

This week: at Iowa, home for Nebraska

8. Penn State (BM: 8 seed)

It was an important week for Penn State and they responded in a big way. They didn’t end up pulling out the win at Minnesota, but it was a strong showing. They followed it up by running Ohio State out of the BJC.

Lamar Stevens gets all of the headlines for the Nittany Lions. He’s a good player, but flawed, and has essentially been the same guy for four years.

Myreon Jones is the best example of why Penn State is on pace to make the tournament for the first time in a while. Jones got spotty minutes as a freshman and didn’t exactly make the most of them. He shot less than 30%.

As a sophomore, Jones is the best offensive player on the team and the biggest reason why the Nittany Lions have made the jump from NIT bubble team to damn near tournament lock.

This week: at Michigan

9. Illinois (BM: 9 seed)

I always want to believe that this Illinois team is good, a dangerous threat to the best teams in the country and then they give up 1.16 points per possession at home to a Northwestern team that doesn’t even have one of their best offensive players. We’ll see how good they are this week.

This week: at Purdue and Michigan

10. Indiana (BM: 9 seed)

Any road win is a good win in this league and IU got one at Nebraska after the offense looked kind of dreadful at Rutgers. The win at Nebraska was huge because KenPom has them favored in only one of the next eight games they play. This week might set the tone for the rest of the season.

This week: Michigan State and Maryland at home

11. Purdue (BM: 11 seed)

I don’t know if Purdue is the most volatile home/road team or if it’s just because I watch every second of every Purdue game, but I feel like they are. No player epitomizes this better than Sasha Stefanovic. Here’s his home/non-home splits:

3PM 3PA 3P% PPG
Home 30 57 0.526316 13.8
Road/Neutral 10 42 0.238095 5.9

That’s a pretty staggering difference. This is not meant as a blaming of Stefanovic for Purdue’s struggles on the road. At least he’s good somewhere. Most of the team is inconsistent regardless of location or bad everywhere. Their only real hope as an offense is that SS figures it out away from Mackey Arena. I don’t think they can count on Nojel Eastern scoring 14 points everywhere, like he did at Maryland.

This week: home for Illinois and Wisconsin

12. Minnesota (BM: 11 seed)

I really want to believe in the Gophers, but it’s now mid-to-late January and their only win away from Williams Arenas is a neutral/pseudo road game with Oklahoma State, who has lost 8 of their last 10.

They honestly played a pretty good game at Rutgers for the most part with one big exception: you can’t give up 20 offensive rebounds.

Great opportunity this week to prove something.

This week: at Ohio State and home for Michigan State

13. Nebraska (BM: N/A)

Their only job is to not screw things up for the rest of the conference by stealing victories.

This week: at Wisconsin at Rutgers

14. Northwestern (BM: N/A)

Same.

This week: home for Maryland and Ohio State

2019-20 Big Ten Power Rankings (Kinda): Week 4

I’m throwing in the towel. I have no idea how to possibly rank these teams this year and it’s for a good reason. Nearly all of them are good!

If I were to put together rankings – based on results, eye test, or a combination of both – anyone could easily poke holes in the order because at this point so much is uncertain and we have so much more to learn. A simple game using the transitive property leaves any set of rankings open to get bludgeoned.

In recent years, there’s been fairly clear tiers to the conference. There’s usually four of five tiers and the top tier has three or four teams, and a lot of times, the winner of the conference is just the one team in that top tier who plays the easiest schedule.

This year? Best of luck finding the tiers. 12 of the 14 teams are legitimately good and would either be in the NCAA Tournament today or would be one of the first few cut.

So I’m waving the white flag. I don’t really have a rankings. I’ll just let KenPom do it for me and I’ll provide the commentary.

Nothing better to show off the craziness of the league than pointing out KP ranks OSU second in the league (eighth in the country) and the Buckeyes are currently 1-4 in Big Ten play, tied for dead last. Also, all five teams who were ranked going into the weekend lost.

I know I used to have a segment in here about the five best games to watch this week. At times it was pretty difficult to find five games worthy of your time. Now? Just watch all of the games.

1. Michigan State (KP: 5)

It looked like the Spartans may have been separating themselves from the pack a bit, as they were on a three-game winning streak, winning each game by at least 16.

But it may have been a bit of fool’s gold. Home court advantage has never been more apparent in the league and MSU had played four of their first five at home, with the lone road game being a fairly tight game at last place Northwestern.

MSU is probably still the best team in the league, but Sunday showed that they’re not just going to waltz their way to another conference title. They’ve got eight more road games to go.

Tom Izzo teams have always been elite at getting out in transition, even after made buckets by an opponent. This team has done that more than ever, playing at the fastest pace by far of any Izzo team.

It’s worked well. They entered the game at Purdue as the most efficient offense in the country. But Sunday’s game showed what can happen if they aren’t able to get in transition and are forced to play in the half court. Purdue turned it over just six times and only a few were of the live-ball variety. It resulted in just four fast break points for the Spartans and a total of 42, 20 points below their previous season low.

This week: home for Wisconsin

2. Ohio State (KP: 8)

The Buckeyes might be the toughest team to pin down this year. The analytics love them and so did everybody else up until about two weeks ago.

The defense has been pretty great wherever they go, but offensively they’ve hit a slump. They’ve shown enough this year to make you think they can get out of it, but four straight games of poor outings does make you start to wonder.

For 12 games, they shot 41% from three and they were shooting a lot of them. The last four? Just 29% from distance. Turnovers have always been a bit of an issue, but that’s only amplified recently. Maybe the most telling statistic is that OSU is shooting just 37.6% from two-point range in these four straight losses. Obviously it’s just four games, but for context, the worst season-long two-point percentage in the country is 39.1%. Shout out to Alcorn State.

Working in OSU’s favor is that they’re about to hit probably the softest part of their conference schedule. Nothing is easy this year in the Big Ten, but the Buckeyes need to get right in these next five games.

This week: home for Nebraska, at Penn State

3. Maryland (KP: 12)

The Terps have clearly solidified themselves as a great team in College Park, but the book is still out on them away from the Xfinity Center. They’re 0-3 in true road games, looking listless at Iowa, after trailing at Penn State nearly the whole way and losing at Seton Hall without the Pirates’ best two players earlier in the year.

A big part of that is Anthony Cowan really struggling to be efficient on the road the past couple of years. If that doesn’t change, it’s unlikely for the Terps to get a Top 2 or 3 seed in the tournament. But we’ve seen him do it before when he was an underclassmen.

Probably the bigger question is whether Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins can emerge from their shooting slumps and get closer to last year’s numbers when they were freshmen. The two of them shot a combined 41% from three-point range last year – at a high clip –  and are now shooting just 27%. Those guys are essentially shooting 1.4 more threes per game and making 14 percent less. Not ideal for efficiency.

This week: at Wisconsin and home for Purdue

4. Purdue (KP: 17)

What a difference a week makes. Last Sunday, Purdue lost 63-37 to Illinois. The 37 points were the lowest total in 71 years for a Purdue team. Cut to a week later and Purdue wins 71-42 over Michigan State.

It goes without saying that the Boilers are neither as bad as they looked at Illinois or as good as they looked at home against MSU. The discrepancy between the two does loudly illustrate how different they can be depending on where they’re playing.

But it’s worth noting that Purdue did play a pretty good game start-to-finish at Michigan and probably should’ve won if they make just one more play in multiple key situations. But the asterisk on that one is that the Boilers got 36 points and 20 rebounds from Trevion Williams, which is not exactly something you can count on every night. The jury is still out on Road Purdue.

This will never be a great offensive team, but if the Boilers just start to get something from their role players on the road like they did against MSU, they can be a good one.

This week: at Maryland

5. Iowa (KP: 19)

Quite an interesting week for the Hawkeyes. It started with a dreadful outside shooting performance at Nebraska, which resulted in a loss against the Jervay Green-less Huskers. Iowa had incredible success inside, but still opted to shoot 33 three-pointers and only managed to make four (12%). It was the most efficient game from two-point range all season, yet they also set a new high for three-point attempts at the same time. Not ideal.

But the bounceback game in the form of a 67-49 win at home against Maryland was an impressive response. And they did it with defense. The Hawkeyes only shot 38% from the floor and had 18 turnovers, but they were responsible for the Terps worst offensive performance of the year. Add in the 44-32 advantage Iowa enjoyed on the glass and it was a rather gritty win, the type of win that there hasn’t been enough of in recent years in Iowa City.

This week: at Northwestern, home for Michigan

6. Michigan (KP: 21)

It’s hard to evaluate Michigan based on their recent results because they’re missing what might be the most important part of their offense in Isaiah Livers, who has taken nearly five three-pointers a game and hit half of them. Zavier Simpson makes the whole offense go, but Livers brings a different element.

It’s too early still to make judgments on Juwan Howard, but the Wolverines are clearly different than years past. Luke Yaklich’s presence helped make UM an elite defensive team after years of lackluster defense. The D has reverted back to its old ways without Yaklich and John Beilein, but there is a brisker pace in Ann Arbor under Howard and the offense has a ton of upside if they get back to full strength.

Their November isn’t what we thought it was when it was happening, but this is still a really good team that needs to get healthy. They’ve got upperclassmen leadership and underclassmen with a lot of skill.

This week: at Iowa

7. Wisconsin (KP: 22)

Around Thanksgiving time, the Badgers were horrible. They lost neutral-site games against Richmond and New Mexico, two teams unlikely to compete in their mid-major conferences. They also got blown out by NC State, who will likely miss the tournament.

That seems like a really long time ago now because Wisconsin has been great the past couple of weeks. They let a late lead slip away against Illinois, but they’re responsible for two of the five road wins in league play this year. They also added in a blowout at Tennessee. They’ve moved up 30 spots in KP’s rankings the last five games.

The shift has largely came defensively. This is never going to be a great offensive team and they already had a good defense, but they’ve been playing at an elite level the past couple of weeks.

Another factor is obviously the presence of Micah Potter, who was forced to sit out the first semester. Potter played his most minutes of the season (28) on Saturday at Penn State and here’s guessing he sees even more minutes soon. Potter thanked Greg Gard fot the additional PT by scoring 24 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.

This week: home for Maryland, at Michigan State

8. Illinois (KP: 29)

Somewhat under the radar, but the Illini picked up one of the biggest wins of the week when they snuck out a victory up in Madison. Illinois is not a good shooting team consistently, but they had an efficient night at Wisconsin and took care of the ball again, which is a big area of improvement recently.

It’s hard to overstate the impact Kofi Cockburn has had on this team as just a freshman. He’s helped them become an elite offensive rebounding team and kicked up both the interior offense and defense. His presence as a rim protector has helped them at all levels. Every guard on the team is fouling less this year and now opponents are shooting way less free throws per game than they were the past couple years. The guards aren’t gambling as much now for steals because they don’t have to. Credit to Brad Underwood for adapting his philosophy.

Shooting is holding them back from going up another level, but that can change. Both Ayo Dosunmu and Trent Frazier have been reliable threats in the past couple of years. If those two get going from outside, this is a really dangerous team.

This week: home vs. Northwestern 

9. Rutgers (KP: 32)

I don’t know the entire history of Rutgers basketball, but this is by far the best team I’ve ever seen from the program. They’re legitimately good and I’m not even sure they’ve hit their peak yet. It physically pains me to think about how good they could’ve been if Eugene Omoruyi stuck around.

Rutgers has really struggled to shoot the ball (are you picking up this is a common thread in Big Ten basketball?), but best of luck trying to score on them in the half court, especially at the RAC. Myles Johnson has turned into a pretty damn good anchor to the back of the defense and is doing a much better job this year of staying out of foul trouble. It doesn’t hurt that he’s shooting 71% at the other end.

Keep in mind that since Big Ten play started up again, Geo Baker’s been out and they’re still playing this well. Ron Harper Jr. was really starting to figure things out at the end of last season and that’s carried over into this season.

And with Baker out, Texas transfer Jacob Young has really started to turn it on. Caleb McConnell has shown more than a handful of times that he can make a big impact on a game and Akwasi Yeboah has been a steady contributor as a grad transfer.

Rutgers has had one or two stars over the past few years, but not big enough of stars to make them truly competitive in the league. Steve Pikiell now has one of the deeper rotations in the league and it’s really starting to show up in the win column.

This week: home for Indiana and Minnesota

10. Indiana (KP: 33)

The Hoosiers narrowly avoided a bad loss against a shorthanded Northwestern team during the week, but responded nicely by putting away Ohio State late in the second half on Saturday and picked up a quality win in the process.

I feel like we still have a lot to learn about IU because they’ve spent so much time at home so far this season. The good news is we get to find out because the schedule the rest of the way is pretty unrelenting.

I do know that they’re one of the best rebounding teams in the league and their best form of offense so far is shooting a shitload of free throws. I also know that Trayce Jackson-Davis is one of the youngest guys on the team and is the most consistent, steadiest guy on the team and might have the most mature game.

On the negative side, we also know that the Hoosiers don’t shoot it very well and given that most of the data is from home games, it’s not likely to improve with more than half of their remaining games due to come away from Assembly Hall.

This week: at Rutgers and Nebraska

11. Penn State (KP: 36)

Tough week for the Nittany Lions. They got off to a good start at Rutgers, but couldn’t manage enough offense and missed out on a golden opportunity to pick up a road win when the Scarlet Knights were without Geo Baker.

The shooting woes continued against Wisconsin and they trailed at home for the entire game.

This feels like an important time for Penn State. The fans who actually care about the basketball team have been dying to get back to the tournament for the first time in nearly a decade. They put themselves in a great position with a 12-2 start and multiple quality wins and they avoided bad losses, although the Ole Miss loss is trending that way.

They just lost a couple of games that were winnable/they should’ve won. Now they have to go to the Barn and play an OSU team at home that’s desperate to get back on a winning streak. They can’t let things spiral.

This week: at Minnesota, home for Nebraska

12. Minnesota (KP: 38)

The Gophers might be just as good as about anybody in this league, but they’ve probably got the toughest road in order to reaching the NCAA Tournament. The reason: they didn’t start this good and did themselves no favors in the non-conference.

The good news of course is that they will have ample opportunities to rack up some quality wins that they didn’t get in November and December. Also good news: they just got another big win on Sunday.

The early season struggles were fairly predictable after losing Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy, Dupree McBrayer, and Isaiah Washington from last year’s team and losing Eric Curry to injury.

But things have flipped for this team and it’s for two big reasons: Marcus Carr and Daniel Oturu are awesome. Oturu’s the more consistent of the two, but he’s got the ability to dominate the inside of any game and Carr can take over from the perimeter.

If they can get Gabe Kalscheur and Payton Willis heated back up again, they’ll be able to beat just about anyone.

This week: home for Penn State, at Rutgers

13. Northwestern (KP: 104)

Well, Northwestern got a win, but it was against the only team below them and it was at home, which doesn’t get you very far. They need to get Boo Buie back and they need him to be as good offensively as he was right before he got injured.

This week: home for Iowa, at Illinois

14. Nebraska (KP: 131)

Nebraska continues on the path of “occasionally great, otherwise shit” that they’ve been on for a while now. The inconsistency makes sense when you consider they only have one guy back from last year and he was a role player.

They have enough talent to be better than they are, but they fail to do some simple aspects of the game like “rebound” and “make free throws.”

Jokes aside, the Huskers have shown themselves to be a viable threat when any team makes a trip to Lincoln and that still makes them very relevant in the discourse of the league.

This week: at Ohio State, home for Indiana

2019 CFB Season Win Totals: Big Ten West

Once again, I’m picking every over/under regular season win total for all 130 schools in college football. I’ll try to keep the odds/injuries/suspensions as current as possible, but I’m doing this in pieces, so it is what it is.

1* through 5* based on confidence. I’ll be betting anything 3* and higher.

SEC: West / East
Big Ten: East

Nebraska – under 8.5 (-110) – 3*

Alright, let’s do this. We’re going to break this down from three different standpoints: facts, pro-Nebraska, and anti-Nebraska.

Facts: Nebraska went 4-8 last year. They have 12 starters returning, which is right around average. They beat Bethune-Cookman (an FCS team), Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan State (all at home). Illinois and Minnesota had the two worst records in the Big Ten West (Minnesota tied with Nebraska at 3-6) and Michigan State was injury-ravaged and the only stat Nebraska won decidedly was field goal kicking (the only points scored were field goals). They lost home games to Colorado and Troy. Leading rusher Devine Ozigbo and leading receiver Stanley Morgan are gone, as are five of the top six tacklers from last year’s defense.

Pro-Nebraska: In Scott Frost’s last job, he took over an 0-12 team, made them 6-7 the first year, and then went 13-0 in his second year. While they only went 4-8 last year, Nebraska also played Ohio State and Iowa to the wire on the road at the end of the season. Adrian Martinez has the potential to be the best QB in the conference. This is a fact, but technically an opinion: Nebraska’s draw from the East last year was @ OSU, @ Michigan, home against MSU. Their draw this year from the East is: home against OSU and Indiana and @ Maryland. It’s a decidedly easier draw this year.

Anti-Nebraska: Just because Scott Frost made a super-significant jump in Year 2 at UCF does not mean history will repeat itself in an ever-competitive Big Ten West. Last year, Nebraska caught Minnesota in their second straight road game, a week after the Gophers traveled to OSU. Minny also got boat-raced at Illinois a couple weeks later. The week after the Huskers gave up 35 points and 509 yards to Illinois in a win, the Illini lost 63-0 to Iowa. The MSU win deserves an asterisk, the Spartans had a ton of injuries, the weather was terrible, and it really only came down to field goals. Sure, they competed at Ohio State, but OSU lost by 29 the week before to Purdue. The new Husker starters this year aren’t decidedly more talented than the guys they’re replacing.

MLP’s Thoughts: Could Nebraska win 9+ games this year? Absolutely, yes. Is it more likely that they win 8 or less? Absolutely, yes. I understand the excitement over Nebraska this season…to a point. It’s got a little outlandish. They were picked by the media to win the West. It’s possible, but there are a lot of really good coaches (and programs) and all of them – even if by only one year – have been proving it longer than Scott Frost. When you look at it from all angles, Frost is the big reason Nebraska is getting picked to win. They lost to four of the teams picked behind them last year – two of them by two scores or more – and they don’t have an experience advantage. Martinez is awesome, but I never like taking an over when it’s heavily reliant on one player (call it the Justin Herbert rule). Martinez missed one game last year and it was the lost to Troy.

Wisconsin – over 8 (-150) – 1*

It’s hard to bet against Wisconsin at this number due to their consistency as a program, but I can’t remember so many questions around a Badger team. Add in a schedule that appears to be littered with potential one-possession games and it makes for a tough projection.

The #1 question offensively is obviously at quarterback. Alex Hornibrook was mostly awful after September last year and now he’s transferred to Florida State. Jack Coan had a couple decent games to finish the year, but it was clear that the coaching staff really only wanted him to pass when it was absolutely necessary. Coan did make some huge throws in big moments in his start against Purdue.

Coan has the edge heading into a four-way training camp battle for the starting position. It seems most Badger fans would prefer five-star freshman Graham Mertz would win the job, but it’s tough knowing what to expect.

UW also has to replace four starters from their O-Line last year. That’s never easy – especially when two of them were drafted – but all of the guys stepping in have played a lot and the line here is pretty much always good. It helps that they’ll be blocking for the best RB in college football, Jonathan Taylor.

The defense loses four of their top five tacklers. They had quite a few injuries last year, but they regressed in almost every way last year, especially in the front seven. They only had 19 sacks, less than half of the amount they registered the year before. It was also the first time they’ve given up more than 4 YPC in forever. Naturally the PPG allowed rose quite a bit.

You can pencil in home wins against Central Michigan and Kent State. Outside of that, it’s gonna be a grind. They open on a Friday night at South Florida. They have to play Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State out of the East. They have Nebraska and Minnesota on the road. Iowa is always a tough game, but at least it’s at home. They also get Purdue at home, but that’s been a one-possession game the last two years. Illinois has been a doormat for the Badgers, but the Illini at least have the potential to compete this year and the game is in Champaign.

Iowa – under 7.5 (+115) – 1*

Iowa’s # of regular season wins since 2008: 8, 10, 7, 7, 4, 8, 7, 12, 8, 7, 8. That’s a 4, four 7s, four 8s, a 10, and a 12. They basically score the same every year and give up the same every year. They’ve returned somewhere between 5 and 8 starters on each side of the ball each of the last seven years.

What I’m getting at is Iowa doesn’t really change that much. The one year they only won four games (2012), it’s true that the offense was bad, but they were 2-5 in close games. Statistically speaking, the two years they had double-digit wins look a hell of a lot like all those seven and eight win seasons. The big difference was they went 9-2 in close games in those two years.

The offense will likely fit in to the typical Iowa range of scoring, but it’ll also likely be near the bottom of the range. A lot is riding on Nate Stanley. The TE duo of Hockenson and Fant are gone, as is his top WR. The running game hasn’t been much to write about for years now. They’re steady, but I wouldn’t exactly call it a weapon.

They lose their top four tacklers and a couple of their top pass rushers. They do return AJ Epenesa, who might be the top DE drafted next year. That lessens the blow of technically not returning any starters on the line. As usual, they’ve got plenty of playmakers in the secondary.

The schedule to me looks like four wins, a likely loss, and seven toss-ups.

Minnesota – over 7.5 (-130) – 2*

At times last year, Minnesota looked like the team that should be building all the buzz heading into this year. At times, they also looked like a team that should be in the cellar of the Big Ten.

But in reality, you could say that about nearly anyone in the country. Almost every team plays 8-10 games at a typical level, one or two games above that level, and one or two games below that level.

Minnesota was a little different. They played about six at a typical level, three above it, and four below it. This is a team that lost by 24 to Illinois, beat Purdue by 31 the next week, lost at home by 10 to Northwestern the following week, and concluded the run by beating Wisconsin by 22 in Madison on senior day. It was only the second time in PJ Fleck’s two years that the Gophers won a road game.

Obviously the hope for Minny this year is a little more stability. It helps that every relevant skill position player is back on offense. QB Zack Annexstad just got a significant foot injury, but it was likely that Tanner Morgan was going to be the starter anyway.

The defense also returns seven starters, but do lose their top two tacklers. Joe Rossi takes over as full-time DC this year after getting promoted toward the end of the year. After Rossi took over last year, the Gophers only gave up 14.8 PPG against four bowl teams.

I’m not sure when Minnesota scheduled the Fresno State series, they were expecting the Bulldogs to be at the level they are, but the Gophers will go to Fresno in Week 2. Fresno does lose a ton of production from last year. The Gophers do get a nice draw out of the East with home games against Penn State and Maryland and a road trip to Rutgers.

Purdue – under 7 (-115) – 1*

It’s hard to know what to expect from Purdue this year. Looking at the roster the past couple of years, no reasonable individual would’ve predicted them to go to back-to-back bowl games. But Jeff Brohm exceeded expectations and they’ve gone 13-13 the past two years. Brohm has also recruited at a much higher level than the previous regime, which has only propelled the expectation machine even higher.

But based on the lack of experience on offense, the increasing difficulty of the Big Ten West, and the challenging non-con schedule, a .500 season would actually be a pretty good season. It just may not be viewed that way.

Only three starters are back on offense. David Blough is gone, but Elijah Sindelar has started eight games in the past and generally does pretty well if he can limit turnovers. The two leading rushers are gone and RB is a big question mark. The offensive line is pretty much always a question mark at Purdue and this year is no different with three starters being replaced.

The defense should be much better with nine starters returning and some talented freshmen that should see the field and a couple may start. They add in DC Nick Holt’s son, Ben, to the LB group. Ben had 116 tackles at WKU last year.

Purdue opens with a dangerous Friday night game at Nevada and follows it up with home games against Vandy and TCU to complete the non-con. That’s a tough one to predict. It could be 3-0. It could be 0-3 again. They do get a pretty good draw out of the East with home games against Indiana and Maryland. They won’t have much of a chance at Penn State, though. Outside of that game, it might be 11 toss-ups.

Northwestern – over 6.5 (+110) – 3*

I think there’s a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the Wildcats this year. If you look at last year in a vacuum, you’d probably come to the conclusion that Northwestern was the luckiest team on the planet. They pulled some rabbits out of hats and somehow went 9-5 and played in the conference title game while only averaging one more point than they gave up. But this is kind of what Northwestern does. They have an impeccable record in close games under Pat Fitzgerald. They went 10-3 in 2016 despite averaging 19.5 PPG.

Clayton Thorson moves on after setting the Big Ten record for 53 starts at QB. That hurts continuity, but they might actually improve in the passing game. Thorson had plenty of experience, but throwing for 6.5 YPA, 17 TDs, and 15 INTs isn’t exactly irreplaceable. Especially when the incoming replacement is formerly the #1 ranked QB recruit in the country.

Isaiah Boswer is back at RB. He was rushed into duty as a freshman after Jeremy Larkin retired and should be better off for it this year. The O-Line needs three new starters, but after giving up 36 sacks and only gaining 3.1 YPC on the ground, it’s not a huge loss.

The top five tacklers are back on defense and so are the top pass rushers. Paddy Fisher is one of the best defensive players in the league. The secondary loses a couple playmakers, but JR Pace is a stud at safety. They should be one of the best defenses in the league again this year.

The opener at Stanford isn’t ideal, but certainly not a guaranteed loss. UNLV and UMass at home should be easy victories. They draw home games with MSU and OSU out of the East, along with a road game at IU.

Illinois – under 4.5 (-120) – 1*

The Illini made significant strides last year offensively, but went the opposite way on defense. They had a couple of great games, but still ended up just 4-8.

The offense could continue the upward trajectory, but QB is a question mark. The Illini have a couple of solid options between Michigan transfer Brandon Peters and stud freshman Isaiah Williams. Peters has been in college football much longer and known as a better passer, but the offense would be a little different than the one they found success with last year. Williams fits much closer to the dual-threat mold that AJ Bush and MJ Rivers ran last year, but he is a true freshman.

Whoever wins the job will be surrounded with experience. Reggie Corbin is back at RB after running for 1,000+ yards last year. Four of the top five pass catchers are back and so are four starters from the O-Line.

10 starters are back on defense and there are a couple of Power 5 transfers to boot. Lovie Smith is taking over as the DC this year. We’ll see if it pays off. It helps that there’s really only one way to go after giving up 39.4 PPG last year.

BEST BET TO WIN BIG TEN

Penn State +1800

To repeat a couple of points from yesterday’s blog, they’ve lost six conference games in the last three years and four of them have come by a combined nine points. They avoid going to Michigan this year, which has been their house of horrors. They have as much or more talent than anybody in the league and yet you can grab them at 18-1.

2019 CFB Season Win Totals: Big Ten East

Once again, I’m picking every over/under regular season win total for all 130 schools in college football. I’ll try to keep the odds/injuries/suspensions as current as possible, but I’m doing this in pieces, so it is what it is.

1* through 5* based on confidence. I’ll be betting anything 3* and higher.

SEC: West / East

Ohio State – over 10 (-130) – 1*

Aside from the Luke Fickell season, it’s been 15 years since Ohio State has lost three regular season games. Obviously, things are a bit different now with Ryan Day taking over. There’s no way of knowing whether Day is any good as a head coach or not. This could be akin to Lincoln Riley taking over for Bob Stoops or it could be a Will Muschamp taking over for Urban Meyer situation. Nobody really knows.

What’s true is that only four starters are coming back on offense. Justin Fields comes in with a lot of hype, but he still has to prove it. He did well in a change-of-pace role at Georgia last year, but a lot is riding on his shoulders this year. The O-Line replaces four starters this year and they didn’t set the world on fire in the run game last season. They also lose three of their top four pass-catchers.

Even if Fields does set the world on fire like OSU is hoping, they’re going to be holding their breath every time he’s knocked down. He’s being backed up by a guy that couldn’t beat out Terry Wilson at UK and Chris Chugunov, a former backup at WVU that’s known for his inaccuracy.

Defensively, the Buckeyes have much more certainty. They return nine starters and 17 of their top 19 tacklers. They had a bit of a slide last year as an inexperienced unit, but now they start 11 upperclassmen and should return to being one of the top defenses in college football.

OSU has a strong schedule, but they get Penn State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin at home. They do have to go to the Big House for The Game, but they’ve won by double digits their last two trips there, so I wouldn’t expect them to be intimidated. Road games with Northwestern and Nebraska won’t be a walk in the park either.

Michigan – under 10 (+105) – 2*

We’ll start with the defense because it’s easy: they’ll be somewhere between very good to elite. They’ve never really been the problem under Don Brown, regardless of who’s been back and who hasn’t. With that said, it’s worth noting that they lose some big playmakers in Devin Bush, Chase Winovich, Rashan Gary, etc.

When the offense is going to show up has always been the mystery under Harbaugh. On the surface, they’ve averaged over 33 PPG in his tenure. That should work when they’ve only given up 17 PPG.

But if you look at the Wolverines 14 losses over the past four years, they’ve only scored 18 PPG in those games. Ten times they’ve been held under 20 (they won one of them). For comparison’s sake, OSU has only had that happen four times in the same time frame.

Much of the blame has deservedly been thrown on Harbaugh’s shoulders for his overly conservative style of offense. It’s a fair criticism. It hasn’t worked well against the best teams on the schedule. They’re 1-9 against Top 10 teams and they’ve only been over that 33 PPG average one time against a Top 10 team.

Last year, Shea Patterson was supposed to be the answer to this problem. Harbaugh finally had a good quarterback. Patterson had a decent season, but still only averaged 200 passing yards per game. He only averaged 6.5 YPA and had 4 TDs and 4 INTs against the three best teams on their schedule, all which resulted in losses.

This year, new OC Josh Gattis is supposed to be the solution. Gattis comes from Alabama and is allegedly bringing their uptempo offense they’ve been using the past few years. This all sounds great and will be great if properly implemented, but this is also the first offense that Gattis has ever controlled on his own. He’s got eight starters coming back, but the offense will be new to all of them.

The Wolverines get Ohio State and Michigan State at home this year. It’s better than the alternative, but Harbaugh is 0-4 against OSU and MSU at home, so take it for what it’s worth. They’ve also got tough home games against Notre Dame and Iowa. On the road, they’ll face Wisconsin, Penn State, and Indiana, who’s played them tough every year.

The Wolverines very well might be favored in every game this year. They were last year as well. It’s worth noting that UM has never won as an underdog under Harbaugh and only twice when they were favored by less than five. That’s a 2-9 record. They’ve lost as a favorite nine times in four seasons.

Penn State – over 8.5 (-110) – 3*

Based on hype, predictions, and betting odds, you would think that the Big Ten East is merely a two-team race between the rivals listed above. You could profit nearly quadruple the amount on Penn State’s odds to win the division than you would on either OSU or Michigan.

But consider the fact that the Nittany Lions have only lost six Big Ten games the past three years and four of those losses have come by a combined six points. Michigan has lost seven in the same time frame. OSU only three, but Urban Meyer is not walking through that door. PSU has nearly an identical number of starters returning and have recruited at very similar levels the past few years.

So why the win-and-a-half difference between PSU and the favorites? Is it the schedule? No. Phil Steele rates UM’s schedule as the 9th most difficult, OSU the 17th, and PSU the 42nd.

The Nittany Lions do have to replace Trace McSorley, but McSorley wasn’t all that great last year due to injury anyway. Sean Clifford is a talented guy, played well in the spring, and apparently isn’t a stiff in the pocket. The offense is young as a whole with only one projected senior starter, but they are loaded with talent.

Defensively they had some guys move on to graduation and the NFL Draft, but based on who’s filling those spots it wouldn’t come as a surprise if they were closer to the 2017 defense that only gave up 16.5 PPG. Micah Parsons might be the best linebacker in the conference as a sophomore.

They do have to travel to OSU, MSU, Minnesota, and Iowa, but they avoid the trip to Ann Arbor this year, the Big House being the only place Penn State has gotten their asses kicked the past few years. Michigan might be the only close contest they play in Beaver Stadium this year.

Michigan State – over 8 (-115) – 1*

It’s hard to have a lot of faith in the Spartan offense right now. They only averaged 18.7 PPG last year. Nine starters are back though, including the entire offensive line. One of those nine is not Felton Davis, however. Davis got hurt in the Michigan game last year. In games he finished they averaged 26.2 PPG. Nothing impressive, but two touchdowns better than the 12.3 PPG they put up without him. Davis played less than half the season and still finished with the second-most receiving yards and the most receiving TDs.

So where do the Spartans go offensively? Mark Dantonio began with an unprecedented move by rearranging his entire offensive staff. Just gave them all different jobs. Call me a skeptic, but I don’t think that’s gonna solve a lot.

From a more positive angle, all five starting offensive linemen are back and MSU has a shiny new toy at running back in Anthony Williams. I’m not sure any of these things will make a huge difference, but if the offense can just get back to averaging in the mid-20s, they’ll be a pretty good team.

Why? The defense should be one of the best in the country. They only gave up 17 PPG last year and return eight starters. They only gave up 2.6 YPC (!!!) on the ground and their entire starting D-Line is back, as well as leading tackler, LB Joe Bachie.

The schedule didn’t break the best for MSU this year. They obviously have to play the other big three in the East and only get one of them at home (Penn State). They also draw road games with Wisconsin and Northwestern in their crossover games. By nature, the Spartans are kind of always in close games with decent teams, so home games with Indiana, Arizona State, and Maryland are must wins. They can’t afford another slip-up like the 9-6 loss to Nebraska last year.

Indiana – under 6.5 (-125) – 4*

You know, as much as college football changes every year, things pretty much stay the same. Every year 3,000 players move on and a new 3,000 move in, coaches are moving all over the country, and conferences may even realign. But at the end of the day, Clemson and Alabama are going to be playing for the title, Lee Corso is going to don the headgear every Saturday morning, and Indiana is going to win somewhere between 4-6 games. As Bill Connelly points out, it’s happened 11 times in 14 years.

So when you see their win total set above that range you have to ask yourself, “Why?” The Hoosiers do have 13 starters coming back, but that’s nothing extraordinary. They’ve had more and they’ve had less and they ended up in relatively the same spot.

The skill guys on offense are probably the strength of their team and they certainly have some good ones. But ever since Nate Sudfeld left after the 2015 season, it seems like IU has had a never-ending QB competition going on and it still hasn’t resolved itself. The O-Line is replacing three starters. Similar to the record, the offense has been remarkably consistent since Sudfeld left, averaging 25.8, 26.8, and 26.4 PPG the last three seasons.

Defensively, they’ve got seven starters back, but do lose their top two tacklers. But overall depth is on the defense’s side. They had a significant drop-off in pass rush last year though and that needs rectified. They’ve also been pretty consistent the last three years, allowing 27.2, 25.3, and 29.9 PPG.

Given the consistency of the win total, offensive, and defensive production, IU’s trend line is as flat as you can find in college football. Which still leaves me curious on how this win total is over the trend line.

The last frontier is the schedule. The non-con is three tomato cans, but that doesn’t really move the needle much. To increase their bowl chances and combat playing in the Big Ten East, the Hoosiers frequently schedule easy in the non-con. They’ve only lost one game outside Big Ten play in the last four years, so a 3-0 record doesn’t put them ahead of schedule.

They have road games with Penn State, Michigan State, Nebraska, Purdue, and Maryland and home games with Ohio State, Michigan, and Northwestern. They’ll beat Rutgers at home, but you still have to find three wins out of those eight I just listed. They might be small favorites in two of them and will likely be double digit dogs in a few of them.

This seems like a good time to point out that IU hasn’t beaten a Big Ten team with a winning conference record since 2008.

Maryland – under 4 (+105) – 2*

I guess we can start with new boss Mike Locksley, who is 3-31 as a head coach. That’s an unavoidable fact. I’m not even going to get into the off-the-field stuff Locksley was involved with at New Mexico. It’s not really relevant to this season.

His OC is Scottie Montgomery, who takes the job after going 9-27 in three years as ECU’s head coach. His offense got progressively worse every year that he was there. He kept playing Gardner Minshew on-and-off his first two years up until the last four games of the 2017 season when Minshew lit it up just enough to be recruited by Power 5s as a grad transfer, choose Washington State, throw for nearly 4,500 yards, win the hearts of America with his mustache, and be invited to the Heisman ceremony.

In all fairness, Scottie did pretty well as Duke’s OC prior to the ECU job.

Jon Hoke is the DC after spending the last three years as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ secondary coach. As a fan of the Bucs, I can assure you that secondary was horrendous. They finished 26th, 32nd, and 22nd in pass defense in Hoke’s three years. This is only Hoke’s second year in college football since 2001. He was the co-DC (not the play-calling kind) for an average South Carolina defense in 2015.

The Terps only return nine starters and play a Top 15 schedule.

So, yeah, not over the moon about Maryland’s squad this year.

Rutgers – under 3 (-105) – 3*

Rutgers opened 2018 with a 35-7 win over Texas State. After that, they lost 11 straight games by a combined 22.1 PPG, only scoring 11.5 PPG themselves. They threw for five touchdowns all year, while managing 22 INTs. Not an ideal ratio. In positive news, they were never shutout.

Defensively, they really weren’t that awful. That’s not to say they were good by any means, but the pass defense is in the average range. Unfortunately, they’ve only got five starters coming back on that side of the ball, so they may regress.

They should beat UMass and Liberty at home, but you can’t take much for granted here. This is a team that got its doors blown off by Kansas and Buffalo last year. Outside of that, I think the only winnable games are at Illinois and home against Maryland. Minnesota and BC at home have the potential to at least maybe be close.

2019 Big Ten Tournament Betting Preview

THE FORMAT

All 14 teams make the field, Top 10 get byes, Top 4 get a double bye. All games played on a neutral floor in Chicago. Starts on Wednesday and is the last game played on Sunday before the selection show.

First three rounds are on BTN, with the semis and championship game being played on CBS.

THE BRACKET

THE ODDS

Favorite

Michigan State +190

Other Contenders

Purdue +250

Michigan +350

Wisconsin +650

Darkhorse Candidates

Maryland +1550

Indiana +3300

Penn State +5000

Iowa +6000

Minnesota +6600

Ohio State +10000

Unfortunately Irrelevant

Nebraska +15000

Illinois +30000

Rutgers +30000

Northwestern +30000

WHO TO BACK

NCAA Bracket Maximizer

Excluded: Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Iowa, Minnesota (probably)

The Big Ten has been a little crazy over the last few weeks with some of the mid-level teams arguably playing even better than the Top 5.

Ohio State is currently playing themselves out of the field thanks to Kaleb Wesson’s suspension and it might be for the best in terms of the NCAAT. They’ve never been the most entertaining team to watch and they didn’t pick up a single victory over the Top 5 in the league.

Indiana certainly has the program cache and the starpower to make things interesting. From a basketball standpoint, I would’ve said they were a drag a couple weeks ago, but they suddenly started playing some entertaining offense again and I can get on board with that version of the Hoosiers.

Penn State is on a tear right now and capable of beating anybody when they’re locked in defensively.

Illinois might be the most fun pick, though. They create some chaos defensively. Big Giorgi has an infectious personality. Ayo Dosunmu is a potential lottery pick. And Trent Frazier has a little bit of crazy in him and is a great shooter, which can make for some crazy shotmaking at times. But they might’ve hit their peak a few weeks ago.

Best Bet

Michigan +350

Based on the way John Beilein is talking, it sounds like Charles Matthews will most likely be back soon. Of the Top 4 teams that get double byes, I think the Wolverines have the best draw. They’re either playing Iowa, Illinois, or Northwestern in the quarters. All three are ice cold. They’re not guaranteed to have to face Purdue because the Boilers either have to play Minnesota – a terrible matchup for them – or Penn State, who is red hot.

Obviously the first two games against Michigan State didn’t go well, but I hardly think it’s because they’re incapable of beating the Spartans. It’s also hard not to like Beilein here. He’s won the last two BTTs and has obviously had a lot of success in the NCAAT. He’s great in these scenarios.