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:
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)
This week: home for Maryland and Ohio State