14. Rutgers (0-1)
Last Week: George Washington (L, 53-70)
George Washington is solid -- #62 on KenPom entering Sunday -- but Rutgers still had a legitimate opportunity to pick up a quality win thanks to the benefit of playing at home. So did the Scarlet Knights capitalize? No. Not even close. They trailed by double-digits the entire second half and by as many as 22 points at one instance.
Rutgers can make itself comfortable on this list. They won't be moving much, if at all.
This Week: Farleigh Dickinson (Nov. 19); St. Francis-Brooklyn (Nov. 23)
13. Northwestern (1-0)
Last Week: Houston Baptist (W, 65-58)
Last season, Northwestern had one of the oddest statistical profiles in the country. Among 351 D-1 schools, the Wildcats finished 14th in adjusted defensive efficiency and 309th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Since 2002, which is as far back as KenPom's database tracks adjusted efficiencies, only three other teams have had a top-20 offense or defense and the other unit ranked outside the top 300:
Top 20 Unit
(Adj. Efficiency Rank)
Outside Top 300 Unit
(Adj. Efficiency Rank)
|2014 Northwestern||Defense (#14)||Offense (#309)|
|2013 Savannah State||Defense (#16)||Offense (#338)|
|2012 Oakland||Offense (#18)||Defense (#329)|
|2010 Saint Peter's||Defense (#18)||Offense (#308)|
So it's no surprise that the goal for Northwestern this season is to improve its offense.
Unfortunately, for the Wildcats, they did not have the offensive start they wanted against Houston Baptist, one of the worst teams in the nation on both ends of the court. In their first six possessions, they made only 1-of-7 shots, turned over the basketball twice, and watched themselves fall behind Houston Baptist, 12-2. The Wildcats were able to cut the deficit to only three points by halftime, but they scored just 28 points on 31 first-half possessions for a not-so-good 0.903 points per possession, especially against a team that was 313th in adjusted defensive efficiency last season.
But Northwestern avoided a humiliating upset in its season opener because its 7-footer took over the game. After a first half in which he converted only 1-of-5 shots and 1-of-2 free throws for three points, Alex Olah exploded for 18 points in the second half, knocking down 5-of-8 field-goal attempts, including his only three-pointer, and 7-of-9 from the charity stripe. His production pushed Northwestern to 37 points on 28 second-half possessions for an excellent 1.321 points per possession -- 0.418 points per possession better than in the first half, which is a significant difference.
Can Olah be the catalyst that makes Northwestern's offense respectable? We'll see.
This Week: at Brown (Nov. 17); North Florida (Nov. 20); Elon (Nov. 22)
12. Penn State (2-0)
Last Week: Morgan State (W, 61-48); Fordham (W, 73-54)
Penn State didn't have the best of seasons in 2013-14, finishing with a losing record for the third straight year, but one thing the Nittany Lions did quite well was hold onto the basketball. Last season, Penn State ranked 39th in the nation in offensive turnover percentage at 15.9 percent, and this was due in great part to the calming presence of former All-Big Ten first-team selection and fifth-year senior point guard Tim Frazier. He played 87 percent of the team's available minutes, which was in the top 100 among all individual players, so, as the point guard, it was mostly on him to get Penn State's offense into its sets and avoid turnovers, which he did as you can see.
However, for the first season since what feels like 2002, Penn State is without Frazier, so there have been questions about how the offense would run without him on the hardwood. Through the first two games, it's been sloppy. Penn State recorded 18 turnovers on 64 possessions for a ghastly rate of 28.1 percent against Morgan State and 14 turnovers on 70 possessions for a rate of 20.3 percent against Fordham. Total, that is an offensive turnover rate of 23.9 percent, which is eight percentage points more than Penn State's rate last season. If the Lions want to have their first winning season since 2011, they need to clean up the mess on offense.
This Week: vs. Charlotte (Nov. 20); South Carolina/Cornell (Nov. 21); TBD (Nov. 23)
11. Purdue (2-0)
Last Week: Samford (W, 80-40); IUPUI (W, 77-57)
Entering the season, the talk about who would be the Big Ten's most impactful freshman centered on a trio of Buckeyes (D'Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, and JaeSean Tate), Indiana's James Blackmon, Jr., Michigan's Kameron Chatman, and Maryland's Melo Trimble. However, a candidate we may have excluded from these talks resides in West Lafayette.
His name is Vince Edwards.
Edwards, who was ranked 122nd in the 2014 recruiting class according to 247 Sports' composite rankings, arguably had the best opening weekend of any Big Ten freshman, although Russell and Blackmon lived up to their billing. After notching 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting and eight rebounds in only 17 minutes of action in the opener against Samford, Edwards posted a game-high 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting, eight rebounds, three blocks, and a steal in an all-around performance against IUPUI. It's only two games against two less-than-stellar opponents -- Samford is ranked 321st on KenPom, while IUPUI is 329th -- but it seems the Boilermakers may have found a diamond in the rough in Edwards.
This Week: Grambling State (Nov. 20)
10. Indiana (1-0)
Last Week: Mississippi Valley State (W, 116-65)
Indiana fans couldn't have been more satisfied with the whooping the Hoosiers inflicted on Mississippi Valley State, particularly how they did it. At various points last season, Indiana was inept offensively, mostly thanks to a roster stocked with players that struggled to knock down jumpers and tended to cough up the basketball, which is why the Hoosiers were 127th in adjusted offensive efficiency. So to see Indiana surge for 116 points and 1.43 points per possession -- both figures higher than anything the offense produced last season -- in a 51-point romp over the Delta Devils must have given the Hoosier faithful some hope to be optimistic that an Indiana resurgence is near.
However, I would tell those fans to be a bit cautious before chugging the Kool-Aid. The astounding 75.4 eFG% and 77.8 2FG% Indiana registered against Mississippi Valley State may be a mirage. One reason why the Hoosiers had such trouble converting shots last season, especially around the rim, was because 12.4 percent of their shots were swatted away -- an offensive block rate ranked 331st in the nation. Why do I mention this? The shooting percentages that Indiana just had against Mississippi Valley State were against a team whose tallest player among those that played at least 10 minutes on Friday evening was 6-foot-6. Simply, the Delta Devils didn't provide any sort of test in the interior, so it'd be wise to withhold judgment on Indiana's offense until it faces a defense with length.
This Week: Texas Southern (Nov. 17); SMU (Nov. 20); Lamar (Nov. 22)
9. Illinois (2-0)
Last Week: Georgia Southern (W, 80-71); Coppin State (W, 114-56)
It's too early to designate which Big Ten team will be the #ChaosTeam this season, but Illinois has certainly thrown its hat in the ring. In their season opener on Friday, the Fighting Illini could not pull away from a Georgia Southern team that was ranked 263rd on KenPom before the matchup. Illinois opened up an 11-point lead early in the first half, but the Eagles knotted up the score at 31 apiece at halftime. Then, in the second half, Illinois led by 10 points a few different times, but, with 4:29 left in the contest, Georgia Southern was only a three-pointer away from drawing even. The Eagles could not get any closer, though, because Illinois went 10-for-10 from the free throw line in the final 4:09. It was a win for Illinois, but it left our friends at The Champaign Room a bit uneasy.
So did Illinois have the same problem against Coppin State yesterday? Uh, no:
#Illini scored most points (114) & posted largest margin of victory (58) since dropping 121 in 69 pt win over Chicago State on 12/18/1993.— Illinois Basketball (@IlliniHoops) November 17, 2014
Further, the 1.45 points per possession Illinois averaged against Coppin State was the second-most efficient offensive output the Illini have had in a game since Deron Williams, Luther Head, Dee Brown, Roger Powell, and James Augustine were patrolling the hardwood and seeking a national championship in 2005.
Like I said: #ChaosTeam candidate.
This Week: Austin Peay (Nov. 21)
8. Maryland (1-0)
Last Week: Wagner (W, 82-48)
During the offseason, Maryland's roster was ravaged by attrition, losing five players, all of whom played at least a third of the available minutes at their position last season, to transfer: Seth Allen (Virginia Tech), Charles Mitchell (Georgia Tech), Nick Faust (Long Beach State), Roddy Peters (South Florida), and Shaquille Clear (Texas). The impact of their departure was substantial as noted by our buddies at Testudo Times:
The five transfer players contributed:
36.4 points per game, good for 51 percent of the points Maryland averaged last season (71 points per game).
7.7 assists per game, good for 64 percent of the assists Maryland averaged last season (12 assists per game).
15.8 rebounds per game, good for 41 percent of the rebounds Maryland averaged last season (38 rebounds per game).
3.4 steals per game, good for 56 percent of the steals Maryland averaged last season (7 steals per game).
1.9 blocks per game, good for 47 percent of the blocks Maryland averaged last season (4 blocks per game).
7.3 turnovers per game, enough for 56 percent of the total turnovers averaged last season (13 turnovers per game).
Yet, despite a bunch of fresh faces on the bench, Maryland did what it was supposed to do in its opener, routing Wagner by a score of 82-48, as two of the few returners, Dez Wells and Jake Layman, led the Terrapins with 18 and 16 points, respectively, while McDonald's All-American Melo Trimble chipped in 13 points in his collegiate debut.
And what really stood out about this new mix of Terps was their ability to get to charity stripe. Maryland shot 41 free throws and posted a free-throw rate of 93.2 percent (41 FTA / 44 FGA), which is the Terrapins' highest free-throw rate since they attempted 46 free throws against Northeastern on November 15, 2007 (97.9 pct.). If they can continue to get to the line at a high frequency, the Transferred Five will be forgotten in no time.
This Week: Central Connecticut State (Nov. 17); Fordham (Nov. 20)
7. Michigan State (1-0)
Last Week: at Navy (W, 64-59)
Well, well, well. What to do with the Spartans?
The buzz surrounding Michigan State during the offseason was interesting to say the least. You see, the Spartans lost Adreian Payne and Keith Appling to graduation, Gary Harris to the NBA, and a valuable Kenny Kaminiski to transfer, while not having nearly the same caliber of talent leftover after Tom Izzo swung and missed on a few blue-chip prospects the past few recruiting cycles. Yet, although no one picked Michigan State to make a Final Four run or contend for a national championship, many still predicted the Spartans would have a top-four finish in the Big Ten because "It's Tom Izzo."
And it's not a bad argument given Izzo's illustrious track record.
But Michigan State's opener suggested Izzo alone may not be enough. The Spartans went on the road and took on Navy, which was 302nd on KenPom beforehand and hadn't beaten a ranked team since David Robinson was lacing up his sneakers in Annapolis. And, yet, even after the Midshipmen's best player, Worth Smith, left in the first half with a knee injury, the Spartans needed a career performance from Travis Trice (25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) just to muster 0.98 points per possession and squeak by Navy for a 64-59 win. Denzel Valentine, who many hope leaps from role player to offensive creator to compensate for the absence of Payne, Appling, and Harris, was a no-show. Branden Dawson, who tallied 10 points and four rebounds in the first half, completely disappeared after the intermission. And no other Spartan contributed more than six points.
Yes, it's only one game, it's early, and Navy coach Ed DeChellis seems to cast a curse over Michigan State each time his team faces the Spartans dating back to his days at Penn State, but, unless Trice has completely overhauled his game and can pour in 15 to 20 points on a nightly basis, I just don't know where the offense will come from this season.
Oh, and Michigan State faces Duke, who put 113 and 109 points on the scoreboard in its first two games this season, in the Champions Classic tomorrow night. Yikes.
This Week: vs. Duke (Nov. 18); Loyola Chicago (Nov. 21)
6. Minnesota (0-1)
Last Week: vs. Louisville (L, 68-81)
Minnesota dropped its season opener, but it won't drop them on this list because it came at the hands of Louisville in The Battle Between the Fighting Pitino's (Hey, did you know Rick and Richard are related? Because I needed ESPN to tell me they were father and son 34 times before it finally sunk in). The Gophers started strong, holding onto a 14-10 lead after the first eight minutes or so, and seemed like they were prepared to take the Cardinals down to the wire in the Armed Forces Classic in Puerto Rico.
But then the whistles took over.
What Minnesota was not prepared for was the length and athleticism Louisville possesses, especially in the form of a certain player named Montrezl Harrell, who was terrifyingly good. This forced the Gophers to foul, foul, and foul some more, which put Louisville in the bonus midway through the first half and allowed the Cardinals to go on a 19-2 spurt with the help of 12 free throws. By game's end, the Gophers had committed 32 fouls -- three more than they have in any other game since the 2010-11 season -- and sent Louisville to the free-throw line an absurd 42 times. Minnesota was never able to recover, and its bid for an upset victory went up in smoke.
Nevertheless, if Minnesota doesn't hack on every play, this team can do some damage.
This Week: Western Kentucky (Nov. 18); Franklin Pierce (Nov. 20); UMBC (Nov. 22)
5. Iowa (1-0)
Last Week: Hampton (W, 90-56)
Roy Devyn Marble, who averaged 17 points per game with a team-high 27.3-percent usage rate last season, graduated, leaving many to wonder which Hawkeye would step up and become Iowa's go-to player this season. Naturally, all eyes stared at Aaron White, the 6-foot-9, efficient forward that was named to the All-Big Ten third team last season. And when I say, "Efficient," I mean efficient. Last year, White had the third-highest individual offensive rating among all Big Ten players that used at least 20 percent of a team's possessions (122.7), trailing only Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky (124.2), who's the leading candidate to win Big Ten Player of the Year this year, and Michigan's Nik Stauskas (124.1), who was taken eighth by the Sacramento Kings in the 2014 NBA Draft.
The question, though, was whether White could sustain his offensive efficiency while increasing his usage rate, which is a difficult task to perform because, when a player is tabbed to shoulder more offensive responsibility, he is more inclined to create more, which leads to turnovers, and take tougher shots at the end of the shot clock. Nonetheless, White didn't seem to have a problem handling this role after one game. In only 21 minutes against Hampton, White earned an individual offensive rating of 169 while using a team-high 32 percent of Iowa's possessions, recording a stat line of 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting, seven rebounds, six assists, two steals, one block, and zero turnovers. It's hard to have a more impressive performance to demonstrate that someone can excel as a team's go-to offensive player than the one White had against the Pirates.
We'll see if White can continue to be super-efficient in the coming weeks.
This Week: North Dakota State (Nov. 17); vs. Texas (Nov. 20); Syracuse/Cal (Nov. 21)
4. Nebraska (1-0)
Last Week: Northern Kentucky (W, 80-61)
Terran Petteway was the Big Ten's lead scorer last season, during which he averaged 18 points per game. However, this didn't mean his style of basketball, or Nebraska's in general for that matter, was efficient. The Huskers were only 112th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency because they relied heavily on Petteway to generate points all by himself -- his usage rate was 31.7 percent, which was 25th among all players, and Nebraska's team assist rate (42.3 pct.) was 338th in the nation. Accordingly, the Huskers' offense would break down often and stagnate occasionally, which is why many want to see the Huskers run an offense other than "Get the ball to Petteway" this season.
I didn't have an opportunity to watch this game -- I won't be able to watch every Big Ten basketball game this season. I know, I know, how dare I? -- but, after I examined the box score, it seemed like Nebraska's offense in the opener against Northern Kentucky resembled the one it ran last season. Petteway once again led the Huskers with a large usage rate (28 pct.) while the team as a whole registered only 10 assists on 23 made buckets (43.5 pct.). However, the offense ran without little hiccup because Petteway drained 6-of-9 shots he took from beyond the arc, which is uncharacteristic as Petteway made only 32.7 percent of his three-pointers last season, and the Huskers took 30 trips to the free-throw line, connecting on a healthy 26 of them. But, unless Petteway has transformed into a 40-percent three-point shooter or Nebraska has planned to parade to the charity stripe all season, this offense will sputter in the Big Ten like it did last season.
This Week: Central Arkansas (Nov. 18); at Rhode Island (Nov. 22)
3. Ohio State (1-0)
Last Week: UMass-Lowell (W, 92-55)
D'Angelo Russell began his campaign to be named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year in fine fashion in the opener against UMass-Lowell (16 points on 7-of-14 shooting, six assists, four rebounds, three steals), exhibiting that he will be the Buckeye that replaces LaQuinton Ross' production on the offensive end of the court. But, if Ohio State wants to solve its offensive woes, the Buckeyes were 128th in adjusted offensive efficiency last season, they need someone to be the Robin to Russell's Batman.
Hello, Sam Thompson?
"Slam" Thompson has always been respected for his high-flying ways and masterful dunks, but, otherwise, he has not been considered to be an offensive threat -- he averaged only 7.9 points per game last season. But the senior may be attempting to alter his reputation in his final season in Columbus. Thompson tallied 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 2-of-4 from downtown, four rebounds, and two assists against the River Hawks on Friday. Is this the type of offensive output we should expect to see consistently from Thompson? Land-Grant Holy Land seems to think so.
But don't worry. Either way, Thompson will still live up to his nickname:
This Week: Marquette (Nov. 18); Sacred Heart (Nov. 23)
2. Michigan (1-0)
Last Week: Hillsdale (W, 92-68)
Before tipping the season off against Hillsdale, Michigan celebrated last season's Big Ten championship by passing out rings to the players and coaches and raising a banner to the Crisler Center rafters for the third straight season:
Another one to the rafters. https://t.co/MJ2xoNkk7L— Michigan Basketball (@umichbball) November 15, 2014
And the distraction of the pregame festivities caused Michigan to start the season sluggish, falling behind its D-II opponent, 15-6, after the first five minutes or so.
But, then, Michigan's "Big Three" of Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Jr., and Zak Irvin took over. All three scored at least 20 points -- Walton (22), Irvin (21), and LeVert (20) -- marking the first time the Wolverines boasted three 20-plus-point scorers in one game since Tim Hardaway, Jr., Trey Burke, and Evan Smotrycz did so against Oakland on December 10, 2011. In fact, Michigan's Big Three stuffed the stat sheet, combining for 63 points on 20-of-32 shooting (10-of-16 2FG, 10-of-16 3FG), 13 rebounds, 13 assists, three steals, and only two turnovers, while LeVert flirted with recording the fourth triple-double in program history (20 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds).
Although Michigan fans would like to see one of the freshmen step up and make a consistent contribution in the front court down the road, whether it be Kameron Chatman, D.J. Wilson, Mark Donnal, or Ricky Doyle, it certainly pleased them that the trio of LeVert, Walton, and Irvin looked like All-Big Ten players as many projected.
This Week: Bucknell (Nov. 17); Detroit (Nov. 20)
1. Wisconsin (2-0)
Last Week: Northern Kentucky (W, 62-31); Chattanooga (W, 89-45)
Bo Ryan and Wisconsin did what they always do to overmatched opponents during non-conference play -- suck the soul out of their lifeless bodies:
|Opponent||Offensive Efficiency (PPP)||Defensive Efficiency (PPP)||Efficiency Margin|
The Badgers dominated both Northern Kentucky and Chattanooga from start to finish as top-five teams should. But don't expect the same to happen this week as Wisconsin will receive challenges from two under-the-radar teams in Green Bay (KenPom #77) and Boise State (KenPom #62). Nonetheless, the Badgers are still the class of the Big Ten.
This Week: Green Bay (Nov. 19); Boise State (Nov. 22)