Five Stars From the Past Week:
Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State – averaged 24.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.0 blocks in two wins
James Palmer, Nebraska – 28 points and 8 rebounds in a win over Wisconsin
Vincent Edwards, Purdue – averaged 13.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 6.0 assists in two wins
Charles Matthews, Michigan – averaged 13.5 points and 9.0 rebounds in two wins
Bruno Fernando, Maryland – averaged 13.0 points and 9.5 rebounds in two games
Five Games to Watch This Week:
Nebraska at Minnesota, Tuesday, 9:00 PM EST, BTN
Maryland at Penn State, Wednesday, 6:30 PM EST, BTN
Ohio State at Purdue, Wednesday, 8:30 PM EST, BTN
Purdue at Michigan State, Saturday, 4:00 PM EST, ESPN
Michigan an Wisconsin, Sunday, 1:00 PM EST, CBS
1. Purdue (KenPom: 3 / BracketMatrix: 1 seed)
Not the prettiest week of basketball, but the streak lives on for the Boilermakers. They’ve now won 19 in a row.
But they’ve certainly come back down to Earth a bit the past couple of weeks. And I think it’s fair to have some questions. Was most of January just a product of some unsustainable shooting against vulnerable competition? Did they peak too soon? Are they wearing down after basically starting the season in August with their trip to the World University Games?
Let me answer my own questions. First of all, there was a five game stretch in there where Purdue was hitting 55% of its threes and they were shooting a lot of them. They’re a great shooting team, but not even the Warriors could keep that going.
I don’t know that peaking too soon is a real thing. There are peaks and valleys in every season, for every team, everywhere.
It’s possible that they are wearing down. It’s also possible that they’re one of many teams that have been struck by the flu bug and it’s temporarily hindering their play.
Maybe it’s a team adjusting to playing with a target on its back the size of Texas. I don’t know
It’s all tough to figure out, but we’ll all get some answers this week.
This week: home for Ohio State, at Michigan State
2. Ohio State (KenPom: 14 / BracketMatrix: 5 seed)
The scheduling gods (the Big Ten office) set up Indiana like a fat hog waiting to be slaughtered by the Buckeyes, but credit to OSU for taking a commanding early lead and never letting up. They took advantage of the Hoosiers lack of a frontcourt and held a parade around the rim.
Sunday was not as businesslike. First of all, it was announced a couple hours prior to the game that Kam Williams had been suspended for a violation of team rules.
They followed that announcement up with an incredibly sloppy first 10 minutes against Illinois at home, falling behind by as many as 15 points. However, they did go on a 19-0 run to finish off the first half before ultimately pulling away in the second.
But even with the feeling of a win, you have to be concerned about Williams. His shooting is an important piece for an offense that has quite a few players that do a lot of operating 15 feet and in. With Kam’s absence, you now get increased minutes for Andre Wesson and Musa Jallow, who have combined to go 5-23 from three-point range against the Big Ten.
I don’t know what Williams did (although “violation of team rules” isn’t usually hard to figure out), but either way it’s a bad look for a senior. Especially a senior that’s playing on a team in contention for a league title and has a game this week that’s going to go a long way in determining the winner of said league title.
This week: at Purdue, home for Iowa
3. Michigan State (KenPom: 5 / BracketMatrix: 3 seed)
The Spartans notched two wins this week, but much like the two teams ranked above them, it wasn’t always pretty.
Wednesday’s victory over Penn State can only be described as a “Breslin Center Win”. The Nittany Lions thoroughly outplayed the Spartans 25-30 minutes until MSU made a couple of plays. At that point the Spartan faithful took over and created a tsunami of noise that ended with a sudden 15-point lead late in the game for the home squad. Very few teams can withstand such things on the road and the often discomposed Nittany Lions aren’t one of them.
MSU was largely in control for all 40 minutes of their trip to Bloomington, but the outcome of the game was still very much hanging in the balance in the last few seconds. And it really all boiled down to one issue: defensive rebounding. It was the second time this season the Spartans have given up 25 offensive rebounds in a game, with the other being Duke at the start of the season.
As bad as it was on Saturday night, I don’t think it’s a huge issue moving forward. They’ve had a few outlier games like that, but they consistently do it to opponents on the other end.
This week: at Iowa, home for Purdue
4. Michigan (KenPom: 24 / BracketMatrix: 8 seed)
A couple Thursdays ago, Michigan shredded Purdue’s defense in a narrow loss at Mackey Arena. This week, they barely managed a point per possession against the two most disappointing teams of the Big Ten.
But they ultimately won both games, further reinforcing their need for defense to lead the way.
It’s weird. With Jaaron Simmons and Eli Brooks getting less minutes, the Wolverines play with four capable shooters on the floor at all times and five when Jon Teske isn’t on the floor. Yet they’re only a slightly above-average shooting team. They’re just as likely to shoot 20% out there as they are 50%.
John Beilein loves to have the interchangeability 1-5 on his offense. It makes them very difficult to guard, but this group doesn’t seem to have settled into roles offensively, at least in terms of production. Charles Matthews is still the only guy that you know is going to score double figures, but he’s also not quite potent enough to go get 30 when others aren’t performing.
It’s the best defensive team Beilein has had, but it’s still difficult to trust this team. For better or worse, his teams have always been at their best with potent offense. And those teams have always been led by a Trey Burke, or Nik Stauskas, or Derrick Walton, or even a Kevin Pittsnogle. Matthews is a very good player, but he seems at least a year away from that status.
This week: at Northwestern and Wisconsin
5. Nebraska (KenPom: 60 / BracketMatrix: ORV)
The Big Ten’s Great Hope for a fifth tournament team scratched one out in Madison in their only action of the week. The situation was dire midway through the second half, but they responded to a monster dunk by Khalil Iverson in an incredibly mature way for a team without a ton of experience together. The Huskers kept attacking the basket and turned some defense into offense and ended the game +20 in the scoring column over the last 10 minutes of the second half.
It’s easy to feel good about the Huskers right now. The bad news? They almost have to be perfect the rest of the way. I suppose they could afford a slip-up along the way, provided that they compensate with a victory over one of the Top 4 during the conference tournament. While their play warrants consideration for the dance, the lack of quality wins is deservedly under a microscope.
Tuesday is big. Minnesota has been a disaster and it won’t be a quality win for the Huskers, but the Gophers are one of the few teams in the league who can match the Huskers’ quickness and athleticism.
This week: at Minnesota, home for Rutgers
6. Penn State (KenPom: 44 / BracketMatrix: N/A)
After winning at Ohio State, it looked like the Nittany Lions might be in line to knock off another of the Big Ten’s elite when they held a 12-point lead in the second half at Michigan State. But the Lions quickly reverted back to their old ways after the Spartan crowd got going. They were a -27 over the next 14 minutes.
It’s a common theme for Penn State. They often lack the composure they need in late-game situations and it’s ultimately going to be the difference of whether they make the NCAA Tournament or not. Even in their big win against the Buckeyes they let a nine-point lead vanish in the blink of an eye.
They still have a semi-decent chance to make the tournament, by the way. They’ve got home games with Ohio State, Michigan, and Maryland remaining and road games against Purdue and Nebraska. It’s hard to put much faith in the young group, but they’re capable of beating anybody.
This week: home for Maryland, at Illinois
7. Maryland (KenPom: 39 / BracketMatrix: Second Four Out)
Despite the injuries piling up, the Terps gave it a run at Purdue this week, but ultimately fell short. They’re going to have to win a couple road games down the stretch here if they want to hang around in the NCAA Tournament conversation.
This week: at Penn State, home for Northwestern
8. Northwestern (KenPom: 76 / BracketMatrix: N/A)
They’ve won three out of four now, which keeps the season alive. However, it’s far from enough. The lack of scoring punch doesn’t feel like it’s going to change and they haven’t had an identity defensively all year.
This week: home for Michigan, at Maryland
9. Indiana (KenPom: 92 / BracketMatrix: N/A)
Jan. 19th to Feb. 3rd was the time frame where Indiana had the chance to change their season. Despite some admirable efforts, it still ended with a 1-5 record. The effort is there. The offensive skill level is not.
This week: at Rutgers, home for Minnesota
10. Illinois (KenPom: 94 / BracketMatrix: N/A)
Two solid efforts this week. Still not worthy of discussing.
This week: home for Wisconsin and Penn State
11. Wisconsin (KenPom: 98 / BracketMatrix: N/A)
Still playing with a lot of effort. Still losing.
This week: at Illinois, home for Michigan
12. Iowa (KenPom: 103 / BracketMatrix: N/A)
Still can’t/won’t guard a soul.
This week: home for Michigan State, at Ohio State
13. Minnesota (KenPom: 90 / BracketMatrix: N/A)
Isaiah Washington is getting to play again – and playing well – but Amir Coffey is out again and the Gophers just keep losing games. Only suspense left to the season is if Richie Pitino gets to keep his job when it’s over.
This week: home for Nebraska, at Indiana
14. Rutgers (KenPom: 138 / BracketMatrix: N/A)
Great effort from Corey Sanders and Geo Baker on Saturday, but if you lose by 31 to Illinois, you get the cellar.
This week: home for Indiana, at Nebraska