*Records updated through the end of Sunday, December 7th.
14. Northwestern (5-3)
Last Week: Georgia Tech (L, 58-66); at Butler (L, 56-65)
We have a new resident in the Big Ten basement: Northwestern! This was a week the Wildcats would like to forget. They dropped both games, losing what was considered to be a tossup to Georgia Tech before putting up an admirable but unsuccessful fight against Butler in Indianapolis. Accordingly, Northwestern is on a three-game losing streak, with all three opponents currently in the KenPom Top 100. This isn't much of a shock.
What is a shock is how Northwestern has competed this season. Sure, the Wildcats were expected to be in the Big Ten's bottom tier, but it didn't necessarily mean they'd be bad. It likely meant they'd be a solid team stuck in a great conference. But that hasn't been the case. Instead, Northwestern's stock has been plummeting. They opened the season ranked at No. 77 on KenPom, and, just three-plus weeks later, they have fallen to No. 133:
(Data Source: KenPom)
The good news is that they should turn this three-game losing streak into a five-game winning streak before Big Ten play begins. The Wildcats have the benefit of hosting five straight home games against teams outside the KenPom Top 100. The bad news, though, is that they'll continue to fall on KenPom unless they win these games by sizable margins.
This Week: Mississippi Valley State (12/14)
13. Rutgers (4-4)
Last Week: at Clemson (W, 69-64); at Seton Hall (L, 54-81)
Congratulations, Rutgers! You are no longer the worst team in the Big Ten ... for now.
I'm giving Rutgers the slight edge over Northwestern this week. Whereas the Wildcats have been fairly predictable, playing down to inferior competition while struggling against the KenPom Top 100, the Scarlet Knights are on the roller-coaster ride from hell. One game, the Knights are blown out by Saint Peter's at home. The next, they take down Vanderbilt on a neutral court. Then Virginia suffocates them to the tune of 26 points. Then they follow that up with a road victory against Clemson before Seton Hall takes them to the woodshed. Up and down. Up and down. But at least Rutgers has the ups, even if only for the briefest of moments, which is why they earned the bump.
Plus, Rutgers has a win against the KenPom Top 100, which is one more than the number that either Ohio State and Michigan State can claim at this point in time:
|Rank||School||Record vs. KenPom Top 100||Highest Ranked Win|
|1||Indiana||2-0 (1.000)||#45 SMU (74-68)|
|2||Wisconsin||4-1 (.800)||#16 Oklahoma (69-56)|
|3||Maryland||2-1 (.667)||#20 Iowa State (72-63)|
|Michigan||2-1 (.667)||#28 Syracuse (68-65)|
|Purdue||2-1 (.667)||#44 BYU (87-85, OT)|
|6||Illinois||1-1 (.500)||#12 Baylor (62-54)|
|7||Iowa||1-2 (.333)||#14 North Carolina (60-55)|
|Minnesota||1-2 (.333)||#47 Georgia (66-62)|
|9||Rutgers||1-3 (.250)||#84 Vanderbilt (68-65)|
|10||Ohio State||0-1 (.000)||#109 Marquette (74-63)|
|Penn State||0-1 (.000)||#120 Akron (78-72)|
|Nebraska||0-2 (.000)||#102 Florida State (70-65)|
|Michigan State||0-3 (.000)||#109 Marquette (79-68)|
|Northwestern||0-3 (.000)||#166 North Florida (69-67)|
(Data Source: KenPom)
This Week: New Hampshire (12/9); vs. Manhattan (12/14)
12. Penn State (8-1)
Last Week: Virginia Tech (W, 61-58); at Marshall (W, 73-69)
It doesn't happen often, but, every once in awhile, I actually get something right:
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:
Penn State's Key Second-Half Runs (Last Five Games) Opponent Game ClockBefore PSU Run ScoreBefore PSU Run PSU Run Game ClockAfter PSU Run ScoreAfter PSU Run ScoreEnd 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
So guess what happened in Penn State's game against Virginia Tech last week?
PSU trails VT, 39-34, with 11:57 left. Look for PSU to rattle off a 12-2 run in the next few minutes. https://t.co/4sHO6RtbHs— Drew Hallett (@DrewCHallett) December 4, 2014
Forty seconds later, Penn State found itself down, 42-34. How did the Lions respond? They reeled off a 19-2 run over the course of the next 7:04, turning an eight-point deficit into a nine-point lead with about four minutes remaining. It was just enough for Penn State to once again fend off a bad loss, holding on to beat a weak Hokies team, 61-58.
So, yes, Penn State made me actually look good for once, but, as I wrote in last week's power rankings, this is a bad habit that the Lions need to kick quick.
This Week: Duquesne (12/10); George Washington (12/14)
11. Purdue (6-2)
Last Week: North Carolina State (W, 66-61); North Florida (L, 70-73)
There's a historic upset that we'll unfortunately need to address later in this column, but it wasn't the only major upset that shot down a Big Ten team this past Saturday. Purdue, whom I claimed last week could be "one of the more intriguing Big Ten teams to watch this season," also was stunned by a low-major program. The Boilermakers were seeking to cap a second straight solid week after they took home a victory against North Carolina State in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. However, North Florida had other ideas.
Purdue had everything under control through the first 34 minutes of the contest. Their defense was smothering North Florida's offense, limiting the Ospreys to only 48 points on 56 possessions (0.857 PPP). Consequently, Purdue had led by as many as 13 points and owned a nine-point edge with six minutes left. It seemed Purdue had this in the bag.
But we've watched enough college basketball to know it doesn't work that way:
|Team||Points - First 34 Minutes||PPP - First 34 Minutes||Points - Last 6 Minutes||PPP - Last 6 Minutes|
North Florida's offense rose from the dead in the last six minutes. The Ospreys failed to score on only two possessions in this span, tallying 25 points and averaging a whopping 1.667 points per possession in the process. The offensive outburst was led by North Florida's Jalen Nesbitt. The 6-foot-6 senior didn't register a single point in the first 34 minutes, but, in those critical final six minutes, he poured in 12 points on 3-of-4 shooting. And it was just enough to carry North Florida to a 73-70 upset victory over Purdue.
Just when the Boilermakers start to get things rolling, they Purdon't all over themselves.
This Week: IPFW (12/8); Arkansas State (12/10); at Vanderbilt (12/13)
10. Nebraska (5-2)
Last Week: at Florida State (W, 70-65); Creighton (L, 55-65)
Walter Pitchford's stats last season:
|Min. %||PPG||ORtg||Poss %||eFG%||2PM-A||3PM-A||FTR||FTM-A||OReb %||DReb %||Ast %||TO %|
|58.0||9.2||121.1||18.3||58.0||59-109 (54.1%)||48-117 (41.0%)||21.7||34-49 (69.4)||5.8||18.0||5.2||6.8|
Walter Pitchford's stats this season:
|Min. %||PPG||ORtg||Poss %||eFG%||2PM-A||3PM-A||FTR||FTM-A||OReb %||DReb %||Ast %||TO %|
|52.6||5.9||71.2||21.3||38.5||5-14 (35.7%)||9-34 (26.5%)||25.0||4-12 (33.3%)||3.2||11.7||6.5||21.7|
I don't know where he disappeared to, but I thought I'd try to help Nebraska find him:
This Week: Incarnate Word (12/10); Cincinnati (12/13)
9. Indiana (7-1)
Last Week: Pittsburgh (W, 81-69); Savannah State (W, 95-49)
We may need to reevaluate what we think of Indiana soon. The Hoosiers just submitted a very nice week for their resume, adding a second KenPom Top 50 win with an 81-69 victory against Pittsburgh and blowing the doors off of Savannah State as they should. And the home loss to Eastern Washington may not be as damaging as we first thought. The Eagles are creeping upwards and now sit just outside the KenPom Top 100.
Tonight will be a major test for Indiana. The Hoosiers square off against Louisville in Madison Square Garden. Although a win should not be expected from Indiana -- the Hoosiers are an 11-point underdog -- how they compete against what is considered to be one of the best and most athletic teams in the nation may provide us with more than just a glimpse at how they will perform in the Big Ten this season.
The key tonight for Indiana will be how its offense fares against that pressing, suffocating Louisville defense. After last season, during which Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh were basically the only two Hoosiers that could consistently make shots, Indiana looks like it could be an offensive juggernaut this season. At the moment, the Hoosiers are third nationally in eFG% (60.5 pct.) and in the top 10 for both 2P% (57.4 pct.) and 3P% (43.9 pct.). But will they be able to shoot these percentages tonight against Louisville, which is second nationally in defensive eFG% (35.3 pct.)? Tune in to find out.
This Week: vs. Louisville (12/9); Grand Canyon (12/13)
8. Minnesota (6-2)
Last Week: at Wake Forest (W, 84-69); Western Carolina (W, 84-64)
It's still early, but Minnesota may have its best defense in at least a few years. Since its season-opening loss to Louisville, Minnesota has yet to allow an offense exceed one point per possession. And, even then, the Cardinals managed to record only 1.03 points per possession against the Gophers. Currently, Minnesota is ranked 26th in adjusted defensive efficiency, which would be its best ranking since the 2008-09 season.
The source of Minnesota's defensive success seems to be its ability to generate turnovers. The Gophers have forced opponents to cough up the basketball on 28.3 percent of their possessions, which is the best in the Big Ten and the third-best in the nation:
(Data Source: KenPom)
This Week: North Dakota (12/8); Southern (12/10)
7. Michigan (6-2)
Last Week: Syracuse (W, 68-65); NJIT (L, 70-72)
I initially believed that this section would be dedicated to Spike Albrecht's brilliant second-half performance against Syracuse, during which he slithered into the Orange's vaunted 2-3 zone to dish some Harlem Globetrotters-like dimes ...
... and drained the decisive three-pointer with 30 seconds left to sink Syracuse:
Related: you should read Alex Cook's excellent piece on Albrecht at MGoBlog.
But then this happened on Saturday:
I've already provided my thoughts on this historic upset in my new Five Takeaways column that'll be posted after each Michigan basketball game, but I would stress this to Michigan fans: I believe this upset was an anomaly -- re-watch some of the shots NJIT made in the final minutes if you can stomach it -- more than a reflection of a down year.
Although, it may not seem that way when Michigan travels to Tucson this Saturday.
This Week: Eastern Michigan (12/9); at Arizona (12/13)
6. Michigan State (6-3)
Last Week: at Notre Dame (L, 78-79); Arkansas-Pine Bluff (W, 85-52)
Michigan State is one of those teams that represents the dilemma of rankings teams based on resume and record versus quality of the team. You see, the Spartans are 6-3 -- all six wins are against teams outside the KenPom Top 100 and all three losses are to teams in the KenPom Top 100. You know who has a similar resume? Northwestern.
But no one with a brain equates the Spartans and the Wildcats. We know this because we have seen the Spartans compete, and ultimately fall short, against title contenders Duke and Kansas on neutral sites and a top-50 Notre Dame in South Bend, and the Wildcats need last-second runs to hold off Elon and North Florida. These teams are miles apart.
So, although I will continue to poke fun at the fact that Michigan State may not register its first top-100 win until the Big Ten season begins, the Spartans shouldn't worry. This team has its flaws, but Michigan State will be one of the top teams in the Big Ten, where the Spartans will have plenty of opportunities to pad their resume with big wins.
They just need to wait a few weeks first.
This Week: Oakland (12/14)
5. Maryland (8-1)
Last Week: Virginia (L, 65-76); Winthrop (W, 82-62)
Any chance Maryland had to beat Virginia, one of the best teams in the country, flew out the window once its best player, Dez Wells, suffered a fractured wrist against Iowa State back on November 25th. So the Terrapins won't be punished on this list for their loss to the Cavaliers, even if the game was played in College Park.
Although Wells may be sidelined for the rest of Maryland's non-conference slate, keep an eye on Jake Layman in the meantime. The 6-foot-9 junior is putting together an incredible campaign through the first month. He's scored in double digits in every game and, accordingly, is averaging 15.2 points per game. But what's impressed me most is that he's scoring more efficiently (2013-14 off. rating: 109.7; 2014-15 off. rating: 120.1) despite having significantly more of the offense run through him (2013-14 usg. rate: 18.2; 2014-15 usg. rate: 24.8). He's an early candidate for the most improved player in the Big Ten.
This Week: North Carolina Central (12/10); USC Upstate (12/13)
4. Illinois (7-1)
Last Week: at Miami-Florida (L, 61-70); American (W, 70-55)
This is an important week for Illinois. Whereas most Big Ten teams are playing cupcakes, barring a few exceptions like Michigan-Arizona and Indiana-Louisville, the Fighting Illini will face two opponents in the KenPom Top 100. The first is tonight when Illinois clashes against Villanova at Madison Square Garden in the Jimmy V Classic; the second is on Saturday when the Illini host Oregon in Champaign. This is a great opportunity for Illinois to add a second quality non-conference win to its resume and prove that beating Baylor in Las Vegas was no fluke. The Illini just need to earn at least one win this week. Beating Oregon would be good. Beating Villanova in New York City would turn heads.
This Week: vs. Villanova (12/9); Oregon (12/13)
3. Iowa (7-2)
Last Week: at North Carolina (W, 60-55); UMBC (W, 77-47)
Iowa rose more than any other team this week for two reasons: (1) the Hawkeyes were one of only four Big Ten teams not to be beaten last week; and (2) one of their wins occurred in the Dean Dome. As I wrote last week, Iowa had lost its previous eight games against teams in the KenPom Top 75. So celebrating a hard-fought victory at North Carolina was a perfect way for Iowa get the monkey off their back.
And, of course, when one's trying to toss the monkey off their back, there always must be adversity. Iowa's two highest usage players, Aaron White and Jared Uthoff, had games to forget against the Tar Heels. Although White managed to score 10 points from the free-throw line, he missed all six of his field-goal attempts, while Uthoff converted only two of his 13 shots. This would spell doom for most teams. But, thanks to superb defense -- Iowa limited North Carolina to 30.3 eFG% -- and Mike Gesell's unexpected 16 points, the Hawkeyes are rolling heading into their in-state showdown with Iowa State.
This Week: Alcorn State (12/9); Iowa State (12/12)
2. Ohio State (6-1)
Last Week: at Louisville (L, 55-64); Colgate (W, 70-50)
In the first edition of these power rankings, I devoted a section to Shannon Scott. In his first three games, Scott dished out 41 assists and set a single-game Ohio State record for most assists (16 vs. Sacred Heart). Although his assist rate at that point was unsustainable, it seemed early on that much of the offense would run through Scott as he set up his teammates for open looks near the rim and around the three-point line.
So, entering last week's high-profile matchup with Louisville, which, as I mentioned in a foregoing section, has a suffocating pressure defense, Scott had eyes directed upon him. People wanted to see if Scott could still direct this offense through the chaos that is Louisville's trapping defense and get the Buckeyes into their sets and plays.
The results, while understandable, were disappointing for Ohio State:
The Cardinals hounded Scott and the rest of the Buckeyes the entire game. Although Ohio State made a late run in an attempt to come back against Louisville, the Buckeyes' offense was rarely in sync. The Buckeyes finished with just 55 points in 66 possessions, which was the only time they've not surpassed one point per possession this season.
Good news for Scott and OSU is few teams are as tenacious defensively as Louisville.
This Week: High Point (12/10); Morehead State (12/13)
1. Wisconsin (8-1)
Last Week: Duke (L, 70-80); at Marquette (W, 49-38)
It's pretty simple: you're not going to win many games when a team does this:
(Data Source: Shot Analytics)
Seventy-five percent from mid-range?! SEVENTY-FIVE PERCENT FROM MID-RANGE?!
Here's the thing: Wisconsin actually didn't do that horrible of a job defensively. The Badgers' defense is known for contesting three-point shooters and forcing them to step inside the line for less efficient jumpers. And that's what Wisconsin did to Duke. According to Shot Analytics, only 20 percent of Duke's shots have been mid-range jumpers this season, while the Blue Devils have launched triples 37 percent of the time. In this game, those percentages were 35.6 and 26.7, respectively. Wisconsin did its job of forcing Duke to take tough mid-range jumpers.
But, if Duke is going to make 75 percent of them, you might as well throw in the towel.
This Week: at Milwaukee (12/10); Nicholls State (12/13)