14. Rutgers (2-1)
Previous Rank: 14
Last Week: Farleigh Dickinson (W, 61-44); St. Francis-Brooklyn (W, 76-73)
Did Rutgers earn its first two wins of the season? Yes.
Was either Rutgers' opponent in the KenPom Top 200 when they played? No.
Did Rutgers need one of those two opponents to miss a potential game-winning triple in the final seconds to escape with a victory on its home floor? Yes.
Let's move on.
This Week: Saint Peter's (11/25); vs. Vanderbilt (11/28); vs. Virgina/La Salle (11/29)
13. Northwestern (4-0)
Previous Rank: 13
Last Week: at Brown (W, 69-56); North Florida (W, 69-67); Elon (W, 68-67)
Thanksgiving is in three days, and, if there's something Northwestern basketball should be thankful for when they gather around the table to feast on turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pie (yumm!), it's that the Big Ten added Rutgers this past summer. Otherwise, it'd be the Wildcats in the Big Ten's basement, not the Scarlet Knights.
Don't let Northwestern's undefeated record fool you. A closer look at how Northwestern has tallied its four wins reveals that the Wildcats have been mostly unimpressive. While their road win at Brown is better than it seems on paper, the Wildcats barely squeaked by Houston Baptist, North Florida, and Elon, which are No. 335, No. 247, and No. 261 on KenPom, respectively, within the comfy confines of Welsh-Ryan Arena. Just this week alone, Northwestern needed a 15-6 run in the final 3:40 and a step-back Tre Demps jumper with 2.5 seconds left to edge North Florida and an 8-0 run in the final 3:35 of regulation to force overtime and stave off Elon's upset bid. That's concerning.
So, yes, the Wildcats are 4-0, but they are one of the worst 4-0 teams in the nation:
|KenPom Rank||School||Best Win|
|4||Wisconsin||78-54 vs. #76 Boise State|
|6||Virginia||59-42 vs. #57 George Washington|
|8||Texas||71-57 vs. #29 Iowa|
|9||Gonzaga||72-56 vs. #45 SMU|
|17||UCLA||77-63 vs. #118 Long Beach State|
|22||Oklahoma State||82-68 vs. #213 Milwaukee|
|35||Indiana||74-68 vs. #45 SMU|
|48||Creighton||65-63 vs. #28 Oklahoma|
|63||Northern Iowa||79-77 (OT) at #109 Stephen F. Austin|
|64||North Carolina State||68-65 vs. #147 South Florida|
|68||Northeastern||76-73 at #81 Florida State|
|69||Saint Mary's||83-71 vs. #78 New Mexico State|
|101||Northwestern||69-56 at #214 Brown|
|166||Army||74-71 at #192 Saint Francis-Brooklyn|
|182||Central Michigan||75-63 vs. #240 Youngstown State|
This Week: vs. Miami-Ohio (11/25); vs. Virginia Tech/Northern Iowa (11/26)
12. Penn State (4-1)
Previous Rank: 12
Last Week: vs. Charlotte (L, 97-106); vs. Cornell (W, 72-71); vs. USC (W, 63-61)
Speaking of Big Ten teams that need every possible second to beat far inferior opponents, let's talk about Penn State's late-game heroics against Cornell this past Friday at the Charleston Classic. Entering that game, Cornell was No. 296 on KenPom, and Penn State was projected to overwhelm the Big Red by a score of 75-62. However, with 14 seconds remaining, the Nittany Lions found themselves down, 71-67, after Cornell made two pressure-packed free throws. It looked over for Penn State, which owned no timeouts and needed two quick scores and a stop to win or send the game to overtime. In fact, according to KenPom, Cornell's win probability at this point was 92.1 percent.
And then a miracle occurred.
Penn State inbounded the ball and pushed it up the floor hurriedly. Then, John Johnson -- a 31.8-percent three-point shooter last season -- received a pass on the left wing and fired a contested three-pointer that fell through the cylinder with 4.8 seconds remaining:
Penn State pressured the inbounds pass immediately after the made three, forcing the Big Red to call their final timeout before they were whistled for a five-second violation.
The situation was pretty simple for Cornell. All the Big Red needed to do was inbound the basketball, take the foul that Penn State had no choice but to give, make their free throws, and prevent Penn State from dribbling the length of the court and hoisting a reasonably makeable shot at the buzzer. Do that, and Cornell wins. Sounds easy enough.
Yet, when both teams reappeared on the court after the timeout, Cornell's inbounder could not find an open teammate to pass to. With no timeouts and a potential five-second violation hanging over his head, the inbounder chose to chuck a long pass to a mass of people near halfcourt, praying that a player wearing a white uniform would get to it first.
They did not, which led to this:
What a wild finish for Penn State. How wild? Here's the win probability chart:
Accordingly, we have an early contender for Big Ten Comeback of the Year.
This Week: Akron (11/25); at Bucknell (11/28)
11. Purdue (3-0)
Previous Rank: 11
Last Week: Grambling State (W, 82-30)
Purdue hosted the worst D-1 team in the nation according to KenPom. This happened:
Nothing more needs to be said. Have fun in Maui this week, Boilermakers.
This Week: vs. Kansas State (11/24); vs. Arizona/Missouri (11/25); vs. TBD (11/26)
10. Illinois (3-0)
Previous Rank: 9
Last Week: Austin Peay (W, 107-66)
It feels wrong to rank Illinois at No. 10 on this list, but it speaks to the depth of Big Ten basketball. And the reason why it feels wrong is because Illinois' offense has gone gangbusters in its last two games. I wrote in last week's power rankings that the 114 points Illinois scored against Coppin State were the most the Fighting Illini had scored in a single game since they dropped 121 against Chicago State in 1993. Illinois then followed that up by posting a measly 107 points against Austin Peay in a 41-point rout last Friday.
So just how stellar were these two offensive performances from Illinois? Since their run to the national championship game in 2005, the Illini have played in 313 games. Yet the offensive explosions from the Illini that we just witnessed in their past two games -- 1.45 points per possession vs. Coppin State, 1.43 points per possession vs. Austin Peay -- were their second and third most efficient offensive performances in that 10-year span:
Is this the kind of offensive displays we should expect to see from Illinois this season? I'm not sure. The Illini unleashed this offensive fury against lower-level opponents. I want to wait and see what they are able to do against better competition, starting this week when they'll play either Baylor or Memphis in the Las Vegas Invitational.
If this keeps up, though, expect a big boost in these rankings for the Illini soon.
This Week: Brown (11/24); vs. Indiana State (11/27); vs. Baylor/Memphis (11/28)
9. Indiana (4-0)
Previous Rank: 10
Last Week: Texas Southern (W, 83-64); SMU (W, 74-68); Lamar (W, 85-72)
James Blackmon, Jr. is the real deal.
The 20th-ranked prospect in the 2014 recruiting class according to 247 Sports was expected to make an immediate impact on an Indiana team in desperate need of shooting and scoring after its abysmal offensive output last season. But I don't believe many people, if anyone, thought Blackmon would have an impact of this magnitude this fast:
|Opponent||Minutes||Off. Rating||Usage Rate||Points||2PM-A||3PM-A||FTM-A||Rebounds||Assists||Turnovers||Blocks||Steals|
|Mississippi Valley State||28||139||26||25||4-6||3-4||8-9||4||1||4||0||1|
|Averages||32.0||145.2||22.6||22.8||11-22 (50.0%)||16-25 (64.0%)||21-23 (91.3%)||5.5||0.8||1.8||0.0||0.5|
Those are incredible numbers. Blackmon's scoring average of 22.8 points per game is second in the Big Ten behind only Penn State senior D.J. Newbill (23.6). His offensive rating of 145.2 is second-best among any Big Ten player with a minimum usage rate of 20 percent, trailing only Illinois' Rayvonte Rice (152.2). And his effective field goal percentage (74.5 pct.) is fourth in the Big Ten, but it's more impressive because he's attempted at least 74.1 percent more shots than any of the three players ahead of him.
And he's only a true freshman. It's still early, but Blackmon is the real deal.
This Week: Eastern Washington (11/24); UNCG (11/28)
8. Maryland (3-0)
Previous Rank: 8
Last Week: Central Connecticut State (W, 93-57); Fordham (W, 66-50)
Jake Layman has been Maryland's most consistent scorer in the infant stages of the season. Sure, Dez Wells is a much more dynamic scorer, leading Maryland with an average of 17.7 points per game, but Layman is the only Terrapin to reach double digits on the scoresheet in all three games, registering 14 points per game in the process.
The source of Layman's consistency has been his shot selection:
|Season||eFG%||% of Shots - At Rim||FG% - At Rim||% of Shots - 2PT Jumpers||FG% - 2PT Jumpers||% of Shots - 3PT||FG% - 3PT|
This is a very small sample size -- Layman's fired only 20 shots this season -- but, unlike last season, he's making a concerted effort to get his 6-foot-9 body to the rim. And it's rewarded him well. He's made all 11 shots he's taken within six feet of the basket, including all 10 dunks and layups. If Layman can continue to be aggressive and look for higher-percentage shots near the bucket, while cutting out the long two-point jumpers, he will be the stable secondary scorer Maryland needs to complement Wells.
Of course, it never hurts when you get free runs at the rim in transition:
Throw it down, big man. Throw it down.
This Week: vs. ASU (11/24); vs. ISU/Alabama (11/25); Monmouth (11/28); VMI (11/30)
7. Iowa (2-2)
Previous Rank: 5
Last Week: North Dakota State (W, 87-56); vs. Texas (L, 57-71); vs. Syracuse (L, 63-66)
Iowa had an opportunity to knock down a game-winning shot in the final seconds, and, once again, Iowa failed to do anything positive with it.
In the third-place game of the 2K Classic, Iowa had possession, trailing Syracuse by one point with 14 seconds remaining. Just a few minutes earlier, the Hawkeyes were staring at a 15-point deficit, and, now, they needed only one bucket -- or two made free throws -- to steal a win away from the ranked Orange and avoid an 0-2 record in New York City.
The Hawkeyes inbounded the basketball from the sideline and made a few swift passes around the perimeter before Adam Woodbury possessed the rock in the corner. Woodbury spotted Aaron White cutting through Syracuse's 2-3 zone from the elbow to the nearside block. He tried to thread a pass inside to White, but he never located Syracuse freshman Chris McCullough, who was helping from the weakside underneath. McCullough came across the paint and beat White to the spot for the interception, preventing Iowa from even getting a shot on the iron. Iowa was forced to foul to extend the game and never had another legitimate chance to win or send it to overtime.
These things happen. No team can expect to execute flawlessly in every competitive, end-of-game situation. This isn't something Iowa should worry about, right? Right?
Yet again, Iowa fails in a late-game scenario. Last time Iowa hit a shot to win/tie in the last 30 seconds, George W. Bush was president.— Ryan Murphy (@mtxemurph) November 22, 2014
I stand corrected, Marble hit that shot to tie Tennessee last year. So, drop the stat to the final 15 seconds and it applies.— Ryan Murphy (@mtxemurph) November 22, 2014
Iowa last made a shot to win or tie a game in the final 15 seconds when Cyrus Tate's layup at the buzzer lifted the Hawkeyes over Kansas State, 65-63, on November 28, 2008.
That was six years ago. While such a drought is unlucky, it's also quite worrisome.
This Week: Pepperdine (11/24); Northern Illinois (11/26); Longwood (11/29)
6. Nebraska (2-1)
Previous Rank: 4
Last Week: Central Arkansas (W, 82-56); at Rhode Island (L, 62-66)
I wrote this in last week's power rankings about Terran Petteway:
Terran Petteway was the Big Ten's leading 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.
Bad news for the Huskers: they're still running the "Get the ball to Petteway" offense.
In Saturday's road overtime loss to Rhode Island, Nebraska scored only 62 points in 77 possessions for a horrid 0.805 points per possession. A key reason for this offensive inefficiency is because, once again, Nebraska relied on Petteway way too much. While he scored 15 points, he needed 20 shot equivalents to do it, making only five of the team-high 18 shots he jacked up. It also didn't help that Petteway committed an excessive eight turnovers, but the real problem is that he's shooting, shooting, and shooting some more:
Not only does Petteway's shot rate of 40.1 percent nearly double the next highest such rate on the Nebraska roster, it's the sixth highest in the nation and by far the highest in the Big Ten. The second-highest shot rate in the Big Ten belongs to Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell at 32.7 percent, which is more than seven percentage points fewer than Petteway.
Look, Petteway can be a great scorer, but he's a volume scorer at best. If the Huskers' offense even wants to have a chance at being somewhat efficient this season, Petteway needs to pass the ball to his teammates -- his assist rate is only 5.4 percent, which is 79th among the 93 Big Ten players that qualify. Sure, it hurts that some of his teammates have started the season in serious shooting slumps -- Walter Pitchford, a 41-percent three-point shooter last season, has made only one of his first 11 shots from behind the arc -- but Petteway needs to give them an opportunity to actually, you know, shoot.
Until then, Nebraska's offense will have the same problems it had last season.
This Week: Omaha (11/25); Tennessee-Martin (11/28)
5. Michigan State (2-1)
Previous Rank: 7
Last Week: vs. Duke (L, 71-81); Loyola-Chicago (W, 87-52)
Travis "Obie" Trice, real game, no gimmicks.
Not anymore at least. Last season, though he started 33 games, Trice averaged only 22.8 minutes per game and was essentially a low-usage, three-point specialist -- 58.9 percent of his shot attempts were released from downtown. This season, though, as a senior, Trice seems to have taken the next step, becoming the offensive catalyst that the Spartans need after Keith Appling, Gary Harris, and Adreian Payne all left East Lansing to play pro basketball. Through three games, he's averaged 17.7 points, 6.7 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per game, while recording an offensive rating of 139.3 on a usage rate of 24 percent. And he's done this by shooting more shots inside the arc than outside.
What stands out most about Trice's improvement is not his sudden versatility but just how clean his game has been. In Michigan State's first three games, Trice dished out 20 assists -- his 36.8-percent assist rate is third in the Big Ten among those who qualify -- while turning over the basketball only three times. That is an assist-to-turnover ratio of 6.7, which, as you can see in the following chart, is quite superb:
|1||Ahmad Starks, Illinois||9||1||9.0|
|2||Travis Trice, Michigan State||20||3||6.7|
|3||Jaylon Tate, Illinois||13||2||6.5|
|4||Caris LeVert, Michigan||18||3||6.0|
|Spike Albrecht, Michigan||12||2||6.0|
|6||Shannon Scott, Ohio State||41||7||5.9|
|7||Richaud Pack, Maryland||9||2||4.5|
|8||Traevon Jackson, Wisconsin||14||4||3.5|
|9||Deandre Mathieu, Minnesota||23||7||3.3|
|10||Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell, Indiana||22||9||2.4|
Notice that a name not on this list is Denzel Valentine, whom many believed would be the one to fill the void as Michigan State's primary offensive creator. While Valentine has done a more than fine job finding his teammates for open looks, totaling 16 assists in three games, he's also given the ball to the other team 13 times. His carelessness with the basketball, often seeking to make a riskier play than necessary, is why he should be relegated to the Spartans' secondary ball-handler, while the offense flows through Trice.
This Week: Santa Clara (11/24); vs. Rider (11/27); vs. GT/Marquette (11/28); TBD (11/30)
4. Minnesota (3-1)
Previous Rank: 6
Last Week: WKU (W, 76-54); Franklin Pierce (W, 109-57); UMBC (W, 69-51)
Like it felt wrong to rank Illinois at No. 10, it feels wrong to rank Minnesota this high. I'm not sure Minnesota is the fourth-best team in the Big Ten. The Gophers had a fine week, beating all three substandard opponents they faced, but it wasn't extraordinary or worth writing about. They sit this high in this week's rankings only because they have defeated the teams they were supposed to by a relatively wide margin, while their only loss was to a top-10 team outside the continental United States. This is not something the schools ranked just below Minnesota can claim. Nonetheless, Minnesota may be No. 4 on this list, but the gap between them and Illinois (No. 10) is very thin.
But, as I was digging through Minnesota's box scores, I noticed that the Gophers notched 1.433 points per possession in their blowout win over D-2 program Franklin Pierce. That Minnesota demonstrated such offensive efficiency against an overmatched opponent didn't surprise me, but what caught my eye is that there have been multiple instances in just the first week and a half of the season where Big Ten schools have averaged over 1.40 points per possession. In fact, there have been seven such games in this short season, which already matched the number the Big Ten had in all of the 2012-13 season:
It must be noted these offensive performances are happening against the dregs of college basketball and don't necessarily represent an improvement in offensive potency, especially once the Big Ten slate arrives. Nonetheless, these are still hints that the Big Ten may be boasting some explosive offenses this season. And, with numerous body-bag games still left to be played during the non-conference portion of the schedule, we may see quite a few more games in which Big Ten schools exceed 1.40 points per possession.
This Week: vs. St. John's (11/26); vs. Gonzaga/Georgia (11/28)
3. Ohio State (3-0)
Previous Rank: 3
Last Week: Marquette (W, 74-63); Sacred Heart (W, 106-48)
No matter what Shannon Scott does, he'll always be known as the player Ohio State chose to recruit over the Columbus-born-and-bred Trey Burke, who would become the consensus National Player of the Year, lead Michigan to its first national championship game appearance since 1993, and become an NBA Draft lottery selection in 2013.
But, two seasons later, Scott is trying everything in his power to leave a different legacy.
This season, Scott has transformed from a defensive specialist with a broken shot into an assist maestro. During his first three years in Columbus, Scott never averaged more than 3.8 assists per game in a season. After his first three games this season, Scott has tallied an astonishing 41 assists for an average of 13.7 assists per game. Yes, you read that correctly: 13.7 assists per game. Not only is that the best average in the nation, it's three assists more per game than current runner-up Brett Comer from Florida Gulf Coast -- though, Comer's assist rate (64.2 pct.) beats Scott's (56.0 pct.). And, in the process, Scott set the Ohio State single-game record for most assists, dishing 16 (!) to his teammates as the Buckeyes broke Sacred Heart, 106-48. Other Ohio State assist records are trembling.
But what's even more impressive is just how many players Scott has assisted in getting into the flow of the offense. He isn't recording these assists by feeding two or three players over and over again. Rather, Scott has found easy looks for almost everyone on the Ohio State roster. To borrow a concept from Luke Winn's power rankings at Sports Illustrated, I mapped out the number of assists Scott has dealt to each Buckeye:
Scott has handed out assists to nine different Buckeyes, with Kam Williams (8), Marc Loving (8), and Sam Thompson (7) being his favorite targets. In particular, Scott seems to prefer to find Loving on the perimeter -- all six of Loving's made threes this season have been assisted by Scott -- and Thompson in the interior -- all seven assists from Scott to Thompson have resulted in two-pointers, with most being dunks or layups. And, in the first two games, Scott didn't connect with Russell once, but he found Russell four times last night, helping Russell pour in a whopping 32 points. That connection will be strong.
With 28 points and 41 assists, Scott's accounted for 123 points, which is 45.2 percent of the 272 total points Ohio State has scored. I would be stunned if Scott maintains this pace, especially once Ohio State begins seeing stiffer competition on the court, but, if he somehow does, he'll no longer just be known as the guy Ohio State took over Burke.
This Week: Campbell (11/26); James Madison (11/28)
2. Michigan (3-0)
Previous Rank: 2
Last Week: Bucknell (W, 77-53); Detroit (W, 71-62)
Michigan's Big Three, consisting of Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, and Derrick Walton, Jr., are expected to be the Wolverines' three leading scorers this season. But just how much of the scoring load will they need to carry?
After taking care of business rather easily against Bucknell last Monday thanks to a flawless first half, at the end of which Michigan led the Bison, 48-19, the Wolverines surprisingly found themselves in a tussle with the Titans of Detroit three days later. At halftime, Michigan trailed Detroit, 28-27, and needed its Big Three to take over the second half and carry the Maize and Blue to the finish line.
The Big Three were up to the task. With 16:35 left, Michigan's Max Bielfeldt snuck in a quick layup from the left block to cut Detroit's lead to 34-33. Over the course of the next 15:08, Michigan scored 32 points, 29 of which were poured in by the Big Three, to turn its one-point deficit into a 12-point advantage before Spike Albrecht sealed the deal with a three-pointer with 1:27 remaining. The second-half spree was spearheaded by LeVert, who tallied 17 points, including 10 straight at one point, and four rebounds during this span of 15:08, while Irvin (8) and Walton (4) chipped in 12 points of their own.
The end result: the Big Three accounted for 55 of Michigan's 71 points against Detroit:
That's 77.46 percent of Michigan's points in one game.
And, though it's early in the season, this isn't an aberration. After Michigan's first three games, the Big Three have accounted for 67.49 percent of the team's points:
While it's reassuring for Michigan that its Big Three, especially Irvin and Walton, have adjusted to their increased scoring roles without any hiccups, it's not ideal in the long run for Michigan to rely on just three players to score over two-thirds of its points. And the occasional outburst from another Wolverine, like Bielfeldt's career-high 18 points against Bucknell, won't be enough. Michigan needs a consistent fourth scorer to take some of the pressure off the Big Three. This likely will fall on one of Michigan's four freshmen in the front court -- Kameron Chatman, D.J. Wilson, Mark Donnal, or Ricky Doyle -- who look lost in the flow of the offense, which is not unusual this early.
The good news is that John Beilein still coaches this team, and substantial in-season improvement is a staple of his program. The bad news, though, is that Michigan will face tougher competition tonight and tomorrow in the Legends Classic than it has yet to face this season, and the Big Three alone may not be enough to win this holiday tournament.
This Week: vs. Oregon (11/24); vs. Villanova/VCU (11/25); Nicholls State (11/29)
1. Wisconsin (4-0)
Previous Rank: 1
Last Week: Green Bay (W, 84-60); Boise State (W, 78-54)
Speaking of Big Threes, Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, and Nigel Hayes proved very quickly that some of the things I write are quite idiotic. For example:
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).
While it wasn't idiotic to state that Green Bay and Boise State are under the radar, it was quite incorrect of me to claim Wisconsin wouldn't dominate both from start to finish.
Because that's exactly what Wisconsin did.
In both games, the Badgers led by double digits in the first half before extending that advantage to at least 20 points by the 10-minute mark of the second half, which prevented any possibility of a comeback by either Green Bay or Boise State. Neither game was remotely competitive, and both ultimately turned into showcases demonstrating why all three of Kaminsky (20 points, 10 rebounds, 7 blocks vs. Green Bay; 26 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks vs. Boise State), Dekker (19 points, 4 rebounds vs. Green Bay), and Hayes (25 points, 11 rebounds vs. Green Bay; 18 points, 5 rebounds vs. Boise State) will be in contention for spots on the All-Big Ten teams at the end of the regular season.
Wisconsin is head and shoulders above the rest of the Big Ten right now. While Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State adjust to new personnel, Wisconsin already seems to be firing on all cylinders just four games into the season, which is why I'm anxious to see how they do in the Battle 4 Atlantis, the best holiday tournament.
This Week: vs. UAB (11/26); vs. Florida/Georgetown (11/27); vs. TBD (11/28)