14. Rutgers (6-5)
Last Week: St. Francis-PA (L, 68-73)
Rutgers needs to stop scheduling teams with the word "Saint" in their name. The Scarlet Knights have hosted three schools with the word "Saint" in their name, all of which are outside the KenPom Top 150, and the results have not been favorable. Rutgers barely eked out a 76-73 win against Saint Francis of New York (No. 228 on KenPom) in November before suffering losses to Saint Peter's (No. 169 on KenPom) the following game and Saint Francis of Pennsylvania (No. 151 on KenPom) this past Saturday.
Good news: Rutgers doesn't face another team with word "Saint" in its name.
Bad news: it doesn't matter; the losses will still continue to pile up.
This Week: Sacred Heart (12/23); at Monmouth (12/28)
13. Northwestern (7-4)
Last Week: Central Michigan (L, 67-80); Western Michigan (W, 67-61)
Northwestern rarely is in a hurry. The Wildcats are 333rd out of 351 D-I teams in adjusted tempo and 294th in the percent of initial shots taken in transition (17.2 pct.). This isn't necessarily a negative as there are teams that are very efficient offensively while moving at a snail's pace (see: Wisconsin). But Northwestern isn't Wisconsin. The Wildcats' offense, which is 182nd in adjusted efficiency, is much better in transition (101st in eFG% in transition) than in the half court (224th in eFG% in non-transition). Northwestern should speed things up to have more chances for quick, easy buckets.
One way to do that would be to force more steals, which is something Northwestern really struggles to do. In fact, the Wildcats' defense steals the basketball on only 5.6 percent of its opponents' possessions, which is the sixth-worst rate in the nation. Accordingly, there is no team in the country that has a lower percentage of its initial shots taken in transition after a steal than Northwestern, which is too bad because the Wildcats are actually the best in the Big Ten at finishing when those situations do arise:
(Source Data: Hoop-Math)
So get in passing lanes and pick up the pace, Northwestern. Might do you some good.
This Week: Illinois-Chicago (12/22); Northern Kentucky (12/27)
12. Penn State (11-1)
Last Week: vs. Drexel (W, 73-68)
Penn State is the perfect example why records can be deceiving. The Nittany Lions are 11-1, which is their best start since they opened 13-0 in 1995-96, but I would argue that this Penn State team isn't even as good as the one that was 8-4 at this point last season. In fact, I'm not the only one who believes this to be true. On this date last season, KenPom ranked Penn State at No. 74, while Penn State currently is No. 92 on KenPom. The reason for this is because not all wins are created equal. The Lions have feasted off one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country (#307 on KenPom) and habitually played down to the level of their opponents (eight of their wins during this nine-game streak have been decided by no more than eight points). Sure, maybe I should give Penn State more credit for not losing to a far inferior opponent, which has become the hot new trend in the Big Ten, and earning an impressive home win over George Washington, but I want to wait and see if Penn State can keep adding wins during Big Ten play first.
This Week: Dartmouth (12/22)
11. Nebraska (6-3)
Last Week: No Games
Nebraska had last week off, preparing for the Diamond Head Classic which begins tonight in Honolulu. Hopefully, Tim Miles and the Huskers used this time to fix their offense because it's been a train wreck (200th in adjusted efficiency). In its last outing against Cincinnati, Nebraska mustered only 56 points in a 75-possession game that lasted two overtimes. But Nebraska still won because it owns one of the better defenses (27th in adjusted efficiency). Thus, Nebraska has the most unbalanced team in the Big Ten:
|Rank||School||Adj. Offensive Efficiency Rank||Adj. Defensive Efficiency Rank||Margin|
(Source Data: KenPom)
This Week: at Hawai'i (12/22); vs. Wichita St./LMU (12/23); vs. TBD (12/25)
10. Purdue (8-4)
Last Week: vs. Notre Dame (L, 63-94)
There were many reasons why Notre Dame clobbered Purdue, 94-63, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday, but one was that the Irish did an excellent job keeping Purdue off the glass. The Boilermakers are one of the tallest teams in the nation thanks to their twin towers, 7-foot A.J. Hammons and 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas, and, accordingly, one of the better teams at hauling in offensive rebounds. However, against Notre Dame, Purdue could manage only five offensive boards for a rate of 13.9 percent, which is 23 percentage points below its season average. And what was even more surprising was that neither Hammons nor Haas had a single offensive rebound, which was a first for both of them this season. With so few opportunities for second-chance points, Purdue had no chance to keep pace with the third-best offense in the country, which led to the lopsided result.
This Week: Gardner Webb (12/22)
9. Michigan (6-5)
Last Week: SMU (L, 51-62)
All of my thoughts on Michigan can be found in my post-SMU column. To summarize: Michigan's ice-cold shooting, especially from downtown, has been the catalyst for this current four-game losing streak. After making 42.6 percent of their threes in their first eight games, the Wolverines have made only 22.9 percent of them in their last three games. This wouldn't be a huge problem in they were staying away from the three-point bombs, but three-pointers have accounted for an absurd 55 percent of their field-goal attempts in these past three games. Accordingly, Michigan has failed to exceed 0.8 points per possession in each of its past three games, which has been rare in recent years:
This Week: Coppin State (12/22)
8. Michigan State (8-4)
Last Week: Eastern Michigan (W, 66-46); Texas Southern (L, 64-71)
Michigan State became the newest Big Ten team to be the victim of an embarrassing upset in these opening weeks. The Spartans, who were without star forward Branden Dawson due to a fractured wrist and thus tried a weird mix of lineups, fell at home in overtime to Texas Southern, a team that entered the matchup with a 1-8 record and ranking of No. 283 on KenPom. It is a loss that may not only be the worst in Tom Izzo's 20-year career at Michigan State but also the biggest upset loss in all of college basketball this season. Yes, maybe even bigger than NJIT's win over Michigan:
|Date||Big Ten School||Sub-100 Opponent||Result||Margin in Ranking|
|Nov. 24||#35 Indiana||#151 Eastern Washington||88-86, EWU||116|
|Nov. 25||#128 Rutgers||#241 Saint Peter's||68-50, Saint Peter's||113|
|Dec. 6||#20 Michigan||#293 NJIT||72-70, NJIT||273|
|Dec. 6||#38 Purdue||#194 North Florida||73-70, NF||156|
|Dec. 9||#38 Michigan||#132 Eastern Michigan||45-42, EMU||94|
|Dec. 10||#61 Nebraska||#199 Incarnate Word||74-73, UIW||138|
|Dec. 17||#131 Northwestern||#179 Central Michigan||80-67, CMU||48|
|Dec. 20||#162 Rutgers||#163 St. Francis-PA||73-68, St. Francis||1|
|Dec. 20||#12 Michigan State||#283 Texas Southern||71-64, TSU||271|
(Data Source: KenPom)
This Week: The Citadel (12/22)
7. Illinois (9-3)
Last Week: Hampton (W, 73-55); vs. Missouri (W, 62-59)
A step-back, buzzer-beating three to sink your rival? You do you, Rayvonte Rice:
This Week: Kennesaw State (12/27)
6. Iowa (8-4)
Last Week: vs. Northern Iowa (L, 44-56)
Iowa continues to do that thing where they beat the piss out of inferior competition (see: wins vs. Hampton, North Dakota State, Northern Illinois, Longwood, UMBC, and Alcorn State by more than 20 points) but falter against quality opponents (see: losses to Texas, Syracuse, Iowa State, and Northern Iowa, all of which are in the KenPom Top 50). Though the Hawkeyes do have the one exception, which was their surprising 60-55 win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill on December 3rd, they are still only 1-10 in their last 11 games against teams in the KenPom Top 75 dating back to last season. I'm waiting for the day this Iowa squad proves it can defeat good teams on a consistent basis.
This Week: North Florida (12/22)
5. Minnesota (9-2)
Last Week: Seattle (W, 92-57)
Minnesota quietly is rounding into a very good basketball team. The Gophers have won their past six games and have done so in dominating fashion, albeit against not-so-good opponents. After a 66-62 win against better-than-you-would-expect Georgia and a 15-point road win at Wake Forest, the Gophers have rattled off four straight victories against teams outside the KenPom Top 200 by at least 20 points. Accordingly, Minnesota has seen its own KenPom rank jump up from No. 42 to No. 22 during this span. And the Gophers might see that rank inch up a bit more after this week, when they should add two more wins to their streak with games against Furman and UNC Wilmington.
This Week: Furman (12/22); UNC Wilmington (12/27)
4. Indiana (9-2)
Last Week: vs. Butler (W, 82-73)
Indiana has been a difficult team to pinpoint all season. The Hoosiers beat a solid SMU squad at home only to follow it up with a too-close-for-comfort win against Lamar. Then they do lose to Eastern Washington, but that was before we realized that Eagles are dangerous and would give multiple high-major teams close calls. And then they win five of their next six games, picking up top-100 wins over Pittsburgh and Butler while expectedly falling to Louisville, which is one of nine unbeaten teams remaining. So, at this point, the Hoosiers actually seem like they can do some damage in the Big Ten. Why? Well, only Wisconsin has more wins against the KenPom Top 100 than Indiana:
|Rank||School||Wins vs. KenPom Top 100||Highest Ranked Win|
|1||Wisconsin||4||#15 Oklahoma (69-56)|
|2||Indiana||3||#30 SMU (74-68)|
|Maryland||3||#19 Iowa State (72-63)|
|4||Michigan||2||#36 Syracuse (68-65)|
|Purdue||2||#39 BYU (87-85)|
|6||Illinois||1||#13 Baylor (62-54)|
|Iowa||1||#12 North Carolina (60-55)|
|Minnesota||1||#32 Georgia (66-62)|
|Nebraska||1||#69 Cincinnati (56-55)|
|Penn State||1||#68 George Washington (64-51)|
|Rutgers||1||#72 Vanderbilt (68-65)|
|12||Michigan State||0||#108 Marquette (79-68)|
|Northwestern||0||#135 Western Michigan (67-61)|
|Ohio State||0||#108 Marquette (74-63)|
(Source Data: KenPom)
This Week: New Orleans (12/22); vs. Georgetown (12/27)
3. Ohio State (9-2)
Last Week: North Carolina A&T (W, 97-55); vs. North Carolina (L, 74-82)
One of the Big Ten teams that has yet to defeat an opponent in the KenPom Top 100 is Ohio State. Part of this is because Thad Matta refuses to compile a strong non-conference slate (No. 311 on KenPom) and the other part is that the Buckeyes did not fare well in their only two non-conference contests against top-100 foes. In their first such matchup against Louisville, the Buckeyes trailed by as many as 19 points early in the second half before a late rally made the score look much more respectable. Guess what? The same thing happened in their game against North Carolina on Saturday. The Tar Heels led by as many as 18 points midway through the second frame before Ohio State clawed back to lose by only eight points. Similar to Iowa, the way Ohio State has eviscerated its lesser opponents makes me believe that the Buckeyes are a very good team, but that they haven't been competitive in either of their two red-letter games is a cause for concern.
This Week: Miami-Ohio (12/22); Wright State (12/27)
2. Maryland (11-1)
Last Week: at Oklahoma State (W, 73-64)
This wasn't supposed to happen. Once it was announced that star Dez Wells should be sidelined until the Big Ten season with a broken wrist, Maryland wasn't supposed to accomplish anything notable. The Terrapins were just supposed to somewhat fade away, quietly beating the dregs on their schedule but having little chance at earning wins against either Virginia or Oklahoma State. This was going as planned. But, yesterday, the Terrapins proved that there's much more substance to their team than just Wells.
Without Wells, Maryland strolled into Stillwater as an underdog and snatched a significant win away from Oklahoma State, which was No. 17 on KenPom heading into the contest. The effort was led, of course, by Jake Layman and Melo Trimble, who both have been mentioned frequently in these rankings. Layman continued to demonstrate that he has is one of the most improved players in the Big Ten, posting 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting and a career-high 11 rebounds, while Trimble strengthened his candidacy to be the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year, tallying 15 points, four assists, and four boards. It'll be interesting to see how Wells' return will affect the dynamic of this team.
This Week: Oakland (12/27)
1. Wisconsin (10-1)
Last Week: No Games
Wisconsin didn't play last week, and, no worries, no one is threatening the Badgers' lofty spot at the top of these power rankings. Wisconsin is head and shoulders above the rest of the Big Ten and something drastic will need to happen during the conference season for the Badgers to be dethroned. I mean, using KenPom's pythagorean rating, the gap between Wisconsin and Ohio State, which is rated the second-best team on KenPom, is slightly smaller than the gap between Ohio State and sixth-place Iowa. Says it all.
This Week: at California (12/22); Buffalo (12/28)