14. Rutgers (3-3)
Last Week: Saint Peter's (L, 50-68); vs. Vanderbilt (W, 68-65); vs. Virginia (L, 26-45)
Another week, another "Oh, that's so Rutgers" moment. Two, actually.
And they sandwich what was a respectable neutral-site win against Vanderbilt, too.
The first occurred on Tuesday when Rutgers hosted Saint Peter's on its home court. The Peacocks were winless and ranked at No. 241 on KenPom beforehand. This was supposed to be a tuneup game for the Scarlet Knights in preparation for the Barclays Center Classic in which they would be participating later in the week. However, if it was a tuneup game for anyone, it was for Saint Peter's. The Peacocks used a 19-2 run midway through the first half to claim a double-digit lead they would never relinquish. The end result for Rutgers was an 18-point home loss to a team it was projected to beat by eight points. No matter how you slice it, it was an embarrassing effort and performance.
The second occurred on Saturday, just one day after Rutgers notched a potential top-100 win over the Commodores, when the Scarlet Knights challenged top-10 Virginia. This was not a game that the Knights were expected to win by any means, but, at halftime, they held on to an 18-17 lead against the Cavaliers. So Rutgers was able to hold onto its minuscule lead and pull off the major upset, right? Wrong. Virginia held Rutgers to just eight points in the second half. Eight points. In one half. This meant Rutgers mustered only 26 points in the game. 26 points. In one game. That had a shot clock. It matches the fewest points one team has scored in a game between two D-1 schools this season:
(Data Source: College Basketball Sports-Reference)
But what's crazy is that this wasn't even Rutgers' worst offensive performance in the 2014 calendar year. Last season, on March 13th, the Knights averaged only 0.419 points per possession in a 92-31 loss to Louisville in the AAC Tournament, which is much worse than the 0.483 points they averaged per possession against Virginia. The only reason why Rutgers scored more points against Louisville is because that game had 74 possessions, which was a whopping 20 more than the number Rutgers and Virginia had on Saturday.
Stay tuned to see if there's another "Oh, that's so Rutgers" moment to recap next week.
This Week: at Clemson (12/1); at Seton Hall (12/6)
13. Northwestern (5-1)
Last Week: vs. Miami-OH (W, 55-46); vs. Northern Iowa (L, 42-61)
Last week, I wrote that, despite being unbeaten, Northwestern hadn't played well:
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.
Well, we don't need to worry about Northwestern being unbeaten anymore.
After another close win against yet another inferior opponent -- Northwestern escaped after being tied with Miami (OH) with six minutes left -- the Wildcats squared off with Northern Iowa for the Cancun Challenge championship. Despite being a mid-major, Northern Iowa was considered a near-top-50 team, meaning this was by far the most difficult opponent Northwestern had yet to face. The Wildcats put up a fight in the first 10 minutes, grabbing an 18-14 edge. However, the Panthers then exploded for a 17-0 run in the next nine minutes, and it was too much for the Wildcats to overcome. Northern Iowa coasted in the second half and led by as many as 22 before it was all said and done.
It was the first of what could be many losses for Northwestern, including maybe two more this week when the Wildcats face two top-100 foes, unless their offense, which was one of the worst in the nation last season and has failed to crack a point per possession in each of the last three games, finds a solution and starts putting the ball in the hoop.
This Week: Georgia Tech (12/3); at Butler (12/6)
12. Penn State (6-1)
Last Week: Akron (W, 78-72); at Bucknell (W, 88-80)
Similar to Northwestern, Penn State has made a habit of playing lesser opponents close. Each of the Lions' past five opponents is ranked below them on KenPom, with four outside the top 100, and all five of those games were decided by single digits. And, with a little digging, I discovered another trend: in all five of those games, Penn State trailed or was tied with its opponent near the midway point of the second half and needed to string together a pivotal run thereafter to either win in regulation or at least force overtime:
Before PSU Run
Before PSU Run
After PSU Run
After PSU Run
End of Regulation
|Charlotte||7:24, 2nd Half||70-59, Charlotte||14-5||1:37, 2nd Half||75-73, Charlotte||83-83, Tied|
|Cornell||8:57, 2nd Half||57-49, Cornell||10-2||5:16, 2nd Half||59-59, Tied||72-71, PSU|
|USC||9:01, 2nd Half||49-43, USC||15-5||2:22, 2nd Half||58-54, PSU||63-61, PSU|
|Akron||11:35, 2nd Half||52-48, Akron||15-4||6:28, 2nd Half||63-56, PSU||78-72, PSU|
|Bucknell||6:04, 2nd Half||66-66, Tied||15-4||2:39, 2nd Half||81-70, PSU||88-80, PSU|
While it seems like a positive that Penn State has demonstrated fortitude with its back against the wall, it's certainly a negative that Penn State has needed to demonstrate it so frequently thus far. This isn't to say the Lions should have routed all five of these foes, but a quality team wouldn't have dug itself a hole in each one. Penn State needs to kick this habit fast. Not only will the Lions not always be able to produce such critical runs against inferior competition, which would result in bad losses, the better opponents they'll face once Big Ten play begins will often prevent such runs from even starting.
Penn State needs to learn to take and protect early leads. This week's a good opportunity.
This Week: Virginia Tech (12/3); at Marshall (12/6)
11. Indiana (5-1)
Last Week: Eastern Washington (L, 86-88); UNC Greensboro (W, 87-79)
Last Monday, Indiana sought to extend its streak of 43 straight non-conference home wins, which dated back to a loss to Loyola (MD) on December 22, 2009, when Eastern Washington arrived in Bloomington. The Eagles were expected to be pesky and not just lie down to be rolled over in Assembly Hall, but this was supposed to be another win for the hometown Hoosiers. What made the Eagles a potential problem in some people's eyes, though, was their propensity to fire three-pointers -- nearly half of their field-goal attempts are from behind the arc. If they got hot, Indiana could be in trouble.
People were right that Indiana was in trouble, but they were right for the wrong reasons. What sunk the Hoosiers was not Eastern Washington's three-pointers, but the Eagles' proficiency for not only getting to the rim but finishing once they got there, too. Despite not featuring a heap of height -- no member of their regular rotation is taller than 6-foot-8 -- the Eagles are sixth in the nation in two-point field-goal percentage at 59.2 percent. And it certainly showed against Indiana as 40 of Eastern Washington's 46 two-point attempts were at the rim and the Eagles converted 25 of them:
(Data Source: Shot Analytics)
This is why Eastern Washington snapped Indiana's streak of 43 straight non-conference home wins with an 88-86 victory in Assembly Hall, and this reflects what may be a serious issue for the Hoosiers. After the decision by 6-foot-10 freshman Noah Vonleh to declare for last summer's NBA Draft, the Hoosiers were left with a huge crater in the front court, which could negatively impact rebounding and ... wait for it ... rim protection. And it's showing thus far. Right now, Indiana is 261st nationally in two-point defense as opponents have made 51.6 percent of their twos. Not only is this the worst such percentage in the Big Ten, the next worst two-point defense in the Big Ten belongs to Minnesota, who's allowed opponents to make only 45.3 percent of their twos.
I'm just not sure how Indiana can fix this problem. The only big man Tom Crean seems to have faith in to play center is the 6-foot-9 Hanner Mosquera-Perea, but, from what I've watched, I don't believe he can solidify this position all by himself. Plus, if Mosquera-Perea gets into foul trouble, Crean might be forced to play a lineup consisting of only guards and wings. This is not ideal when your two-point defense is already lacking. Accordingly, this will be an area opponents will be able to exploit all season, which is why I predict Pittsburgh's 6-foot-9 forward Michael Young (14.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 61.0 2FG%) will have a big game against Indiana in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge tomorrow.
This Week: Pittsburgh (12/2); Savannah State (12/6)
10. Nebraska (4-1)
Last Week: Nebraska-Omaha (W, 80-67); Tennessee-Martin (W, 75-64)
Nebraska tumbled four spots in this week's power rankings not because the Huskers were horrid last week but because other Big Ten teams looked much better against stronger competition in showcase games. And that's Nebraska's problem right now. As that's happening, the Huskers haven't been overtly impressive in their previous three games. They lost to Rhode Island, a fringe top-100 team, in overtime on the road before having a little trouble in home wins against Nebraska-Omaha and Tennessee-Martin.
This next week is an important week for the Huskers. They have another road contest against a borderline top-100 team in Florida State today before hosting instate opponent Creighton, a top-50 program, on Saturday. Two wins this week would go a long way to showing that Nebraska was deserving of the praise bestowed on them in the preseason.
This Week: at Florida St. (12/1); Creighton (12/7)
9. Purdue (5-1)
Last Week: vs. Kansas St. (L, 79-88); vs. Missouri (W, 82-61); vs. BYU (W, 87-85)
The team I was most intrigued to watch this past week was Purdue. I know, I couldn't believe it either. But it was the first opportunity to get a taste of what the Boilermakers are made of this season because there wasn't much to glean from their first three games, all of which ended in 20-plus-point home blowouts against teams outside the KenPom Top 300. Plus, it gave me an excuse to watch the Maui Invitational, which is considered one of the two most prestigious holiday tournaments along with the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Also, as Travis Miller at Hammer and Rails noted, it was a chance to see if this Purdue squad could earn some quality wins at a neutral venue, which is something the past two Purdue teams, both of which finished with losing records, were unable to do:
For two seasons this team has struggled in the early season neutral site games. In fact, our only victory on a neutral floor in the past two seasons before heading out to Maui was last year over Siena. Purdue was 0-2 in the 2012 2kSports classic, lost to Notre Dame in at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and lost to Nebraska in the B1G tourney. Last season Purdue was 1-2 in the Old Spice Classic, lost to Butler in Indianapolis, and to Ohio State in the B1G tourney.
So how did Purdue perform? Surprisingly well.
After a forgettable first half in their quarterfinal matchup with Kansas State, which saw them trailing by 15 at the break, the Boilermakers outplayed their opponents the remainder of the tournament. They clawed their way back to within five points of the Wildcats with 3:21 left in regulation, but, unfortunately, it was too little, too late to complete the comeback. Nonetheless, Purdue took whatever it figured out in the second half against Kansas State with them into their game against Missouri the following day as the Boilermakers boat-raced the Tigers thanks to a 25-point halftime advantage.
This set up a significant showdown with BYU, a team that should have beaten San Diego State two days earlier. The Cougars are not only a probable NCAA Tournament team but also possibly the toughest non-conference opponent Purdue would face this season. So a win would have been a big boost to the Boilermakers' resume. The game was a well-played, back-and-forth affair, with both teams averaging over a point per possession and no team leading by more than eight points the entire way. It was so close, in fact, that it had to be decided in overtime. Generally, this is where the previous two Purdue teams would squander the chance for a quality win on a neutral floor. But not this team:
A.J. Hammons' jump hook secured not only an 87-85 overtime win against BYU but also a 2-1 record in the Maui Invitational for Purdue. It's still too early to make an official judgment, but this year's Boilermakers team, which employs two seven-footers in Hammons and freshman Isaac Haas and has one of the deepest rotations in the country -- Purdue is ninth nationally in percentage of minutes allocated to the bench -- may just be one of the more intriguing Big Ten teams to watch this season. Keep an eye out.
This Week: North Carolina St. (12/2); North Florida (12/6)
8. Iowa (5-2)
Last Week: Pepperdine (W, 72-61); Northern Illinois (W, 70-49); Longwood (W, 77-44)
Iowa did what it was supposed to do last week, beating up on three overmatched opponents in Pepperdine, Northern Illinois, and Longwood, which were ranked No. 131, No. 206, and No. 346 on KenPom, respectively, when each game took place. Accordingly, I have very little that is interesting to say about these respective games. Good job, Iowa.
However, because I've started talking about KenPom ranks yet again, let's take a peek at Iowa's upcoming opponent: North Carolina. The Hawkeyes drew the Tar Heels as their foe in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and have the displeasure of needing to travel to the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill to participate. It should go without saying how important a road game at North Carolina is, but this is a win Iowa could really, really use. Why? Well, North Carolina currently is No. 12 on KenPom, and it's been a long time since the Hawkeyes have taken down a top-75 team. In fact, Iowa is winless in its previous eight games versus teams ranked in the KenPom Top 75 dating back to last season:
|Feb. 22, 2014||#13 Wisconsin||Home||L, 74-79|
|Feb. 25, 2014||#58 Minnesota||Away||L, 89-95|
|Feb. 27, 2014||#69 Indiana||Away||L, 86-93|
|Mar. 6, 2014||#19 Michigan State||Away||L, 76-86|
|Mar. 8, 2014||#72 Illinois||Home||L, 63-66|
|Mar. 19, 2014||#11 Tennessee||Neutral||L, 65-78 (OT)|
|Nov. 20, 2014||#15 Texas||Neutral||L, 57-71|
|Nov. 21, 2014||#19 Syracuse||Neutral||L, 63-66|
(Data Source: KenPom)
Will that drought extend to nine straight losses? We'll find out on Wednesday.
This Week: at North Carolina (12/3); UMBC (12/6)
7. Minnesota (4-2)
Last Week: at St. Johns (L, 61-70); vs. Georgia (W, 66-62)
Minnesota was in the NIT Season Tip-Off last week, pining for a meeting with the mighty Gonzaga Bulldogs in the championship game. To get there, though, the Gophers needed to defeat St. John's, a top-50 team on KenPom, on its home court in Madison Square Garden in the semifinals first. The Gophers were in a great position to earn the victory, leading by nine at halftime and a score of 59-54 with just over six minutes remaining.
However, that's when Minnesota's offense completely folded:
|Possession||Game Clock||2PM-A||3PM-A||FTM-A||TO||Points Scored||Resulting Score|
|5||3:11||0-1||0-0||0-0||0||0||61-59, St. John's|
|6||2:09||0-0||0-0||0-0||1||0||65-59, St. John's|
|7||1:57||0-0||0-2||0-0||0||0||66-59, St. John's|
|8||1:38||0-0||0-1||0-1||0||0||66-59, St. John's|
|9||1:27||0-0||0-0||0-1||0||0||66-59, St. John's|
|10||1:14||1-1||0-0||0-0||0||2||67-61, St. John's|
|11||0:36||0-0||0-1||0-0||0||0||67-61, St. John's|
|12||0:30||0-0||0-0||0-2||0||0||69-61, St. John's|
|13||0:21||0-0||0-1||0-0||0||0||70-61, St. John's|
|Total||5:52||1-3||0-6||0-4||4||2||16-2, St. John's|
In its final 13 offensive possessions, Minnesota converted only 1-of-9 field-goal attempts, missed all four free throws, and committed four turnovers, scoring only two points in that time. That's correct: two points in 13 possessions for an awful average of 0.154 points per possession during the most critical stretch of the game. This not only allowed St. John's to turn a five-point deficit into a nine-point lead, but it also cost Minnesota a quality road win and a shot to upset the ranked Bulldogs in the championship game.
This Week: at Wake Forest (12/2); Western Carolina (12/5)
6. Illinois (6-0)
Last Week: Brown (W, 89-68); vs. Indiana St. (W, 88-62); vs. Baylor (W, 62-54)
Last week, I regrettably listed Illinois at No. 10, explaining that, while I was impressed with its offensive outbursts against Coppin State and Austin Peay, I wanted to wait and see how Illinois did against tougher competition before shooting them up the rankings.
Guess what? No Big Ten team had a better week than the Fighting Illini.
Illinois crushed both Brown by 21 points at home and Indiana State by 26 points in the semifinals of the Las Vegas Invitational, setting up an opportunity to cap a perfect week with a win against Baylor, the No. 13 team on KenPom at the time, in the Las Vegas Invitational championship game. After a first half deficient in scoring, the Illini fell behind the Bears, 25-21, at halftime. However, the second half was a much different story. The Illini opened the second frame with a 13-4 spurt to take a lead they would never give back as Illinois cruised the rest of the way, beating Baylor, 62-54.
As a result, Illinois jumped 17 spots to No. 23 in KenPom's rankings:
(Data Source: KenPom)
And Illinois has an opportunity to make another push in KenPom's rankings tomorrow when the Fighting Illini fly down to Coral Gables to clash with Miami (FL), the No. 21 team on KenPom, in a battle between two unbeatens. It should be a doozy of a game.
This Week: at Miami-Florida (12/2); American (12/6)
5. Maryland (7-0)
Last Week: ASU (W, 78-73); ISU (W, 72-63); Monmouth (W, 61-56); VMI (W, 95-77)
Like Illinois, Maryland was another Big Ten school that had a splendid week on the basketball court. The Terrapins earned two top-100 wins by knocking off both Arizona State and Iowa State in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic before flirting with a little disaster with two more-dramatic-than-necessary victories against Monmouth and VMI. Accordingly, it was a 4-0 week, meaning that Maryland is a perfect 7-0 to start the season, which is the Terrapins' best start since opening with an 8-0 record in 2006-07.
But the perfect week didn't come without a price. Maryland star Dez Wells suffered a fractured wrist during the Terrapins' 72-63 win against Iowa State in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. The school announced on Friday that Wells is expected to miss four weeks, which could sideline him for the remainder of the non-conference slate.
The question is who will step up in Wells' absence (16.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 29.9 usg%, 103.5 ORtg). It's not so much that Wells is an efficient scorer, but he's someone who has dominated the ball in this offense. Thus far, it appears the burden will be placed on talented true freshman Melo Trimble. His stats in the two games since Wells' injury:
(Data Source: KenPom)
We'll see if Trimble's ready for the challenge of Virginia's No. 3 defense on Wednesday.
This Week: Virginia (12/3); Winthrop (12/6)
4. Michigan State (5-2)
Last Week: S. Clara (W, 79-52); Rider (W, 77-45); Marquette (W, 79-68); KU (L, 56-61)
Since its scare against Navy in the opener, Michigan State has played much closer to the level expected of them this season. The Spartans competed with a championship contender in Duke before rattling off four straight wins against lesser teams in impressive fashion. Two of those last four wins were in the Orlando Classic, which meant the Spartans had another golden opportunity against a top-tier team yesterday.
This time, it was Kansas.
However, Michigan State just missed, falling to the Jayhawks, 61-56, because, similarly, the Spartans just missed too many shots. Their effective field-goal percentage of 37.3 percent was their lowest since they recorded an effective field-goal percentage of 33.7 percent in a Sweet Sixteen loss to Louisville in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Further, what did in Michigan State was its inability to finish around the rim against Kansas:
(Data Source: Shot Analytics)
Simply, Michigan State is not going to win many games when they make just a tad more than one-third of their shots within five feet of the basket. The two main culprits were Branden Dawson and Travis Trice. Dawson, who generally is quite skilled around the rim, made only two of his eight shots near the tin, while Trice converted only one of his five close-range shots, including a missed dunk. And, as you can see, the missed bunnies were quite significant in a game that was decided by only five points.
This Week: at Notre Dame (12/3); Arkansas Pine Bluff (12/6)
3. Ohio State (5-0)
Last Week: Campbell (W, 91-64); James Madison (W, 73-56)
Last week, I showered Indiana true freshman James Blackmon, Jr. with some praise.
This week, it's Ohio State true freshman D'Angelo Russell's turn.
Through the first five games of his debut season, albeit against substandard opponents, Russell has been nearly lights out. He's averaging 18 points per game, which is the sixth-best in the Big Ten, along with 5.4 assists, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game. Anyone would look at these numbers from a true freshman and be awed. But what stands out most is that he's been remarkably efficient while carrying the scoring burden:
(Data Source: KenPom)
Among all Big Ten players that have played a minimum of 40 percent of their respective team's minutes, Russell is first in usage rate (30.8 pct.) and ninth in individual offensive rating (126.3). The season is still very young and Ohio State has yet to face a top-100 opponent, but this is an extraordinary feat for any Big Ten player, let alone a freshman.
At this moment, a case could be made Russell has been the Big Ten's best player.
This Week: at Louisville (12/2); Colgate (12/6)
2. Michigan (5-1)
Last Week: vs. Oregon (W, 70-63); vs. Villanova (L, 55-60); Nicholls St. (W, 91-62)
If you expected Michigan to drop in these power rankings after suffering a loss, think again. Through the first two-plus weeks of the season, the Wolverines essentially have lived up to my expectations in each game they have played. They overwhelmed their opponents in their first three tune-up games, though it would be fair to state that they beat down Bucknell more than expected while having a little trouble with Detroit. Then, they traveled to Brooklyn for the Progressive Legends Classic, where they controlled Oregon in a competitive contest before losing a tossup to a top-15 Villanova team.
In fact, Michigan probably should be 6-0. First, the Wolverines led the Wildcats, 51-43, with about six minutes remaining, at which point KenPom gave Michigan an 88.1-percent chance to win. However, Villanova ripped off a 9-0 run to get back in the thick of things. Second, the Wolverines led the Wildcats, 55-54, with 31 seconds left with Mark Donnal heading to the charity stripe to extend the lead. If Donnal knocks down just the first of his one-and-one, the worst that probably happens to Michigan in regulation is overtime. But Donnal missed, which allowed Villanova to make the go-ahead bucket with 16 seconds left. Finally, Michigan had the game-winner until this happened:
A beautiful baseline out-of-bounds play that's unseated by unbelievable athleticism.
If one of those three things bounces the other way, Michigan is 6-0 with two top-50 wins, including one over a top-15 squad. I'm sorry, but the Wolverines will need to do much worse before they drop out of the No. 2 spot in these power rankings.
This Week: Syracuse (12/2); NJIT (12/6)
1. Wisconsin (7-0)
Last Week: vs. UAB (W, 72-43); vs. Georgetown (W, 68-65); vs. Oklahoma (W, 69-56)
Wisconsin's undefeated and has four of the Big Ten's 12 wins vs. the KenPom Top 100.
Maryland's the only other Big Ten team with multiple such wins. They have two.
This Week: Duke (12/3); at Marquette (12/6)