14. Northwestern (10-8, 1-4 B1G)
Last Week: Illinois (L, 67-72); at Michigan (L, 54-56)
This is how last week's Big Ten Hoops Power Rankings kicked off:
Last week may end up being the most perplexing week of the Big Ten season, but some things will never change. Northwestern, a program that's never been invited to the NCAA Tournament and has it engrained in its DNA to torture its fans, suffered another heartbreaking loss. The Wildcats went into the Breslin Center, where road wins are few and far between, and buried a season-high 12 three-pointers at a 48-percent clip. Teams that shoot like that aren't supposed to lose. ... But Northwestern cooled off in overtime, converting 1-of-9 jumpers, and let a golden opportunity to capture a signature win at [MSU] go to waste.
So what happened this past week? Northwestern suffered more heartbreak.
Three days after a second-half rally fell just short at home against rival Illinois, Northwestern had another chance to earn its second Big Ten win. The Wildcats fought back from a 14-point deficit on the road against Michigan and, trailing by two points in the final seconds, had possession with a chance to send the game to overtime or even win in regulation. Freshman Bryant McIntosh received a pass on the left wing, gave a shot fake that put Michigan center Max Bielfeldt in the air, and drove right past him. With Northwestern center Alex Olah sealing off Caris LeVert in the paint, McIntosh had a clear lane to the rim. All he needed to do was lay it in. But this is what happened:
That's a really, really tough way to lose a basketball game.
Henry Bushnell of Inside NU, the Northwestern site at SB Nation, wrote a great piece about how, regardless of whether McIntosh's shot went in or not, this season is about the process for Northwestern and competing, not necessarily about results. But, for this process to, well, progress, the frequency of these heartbreaking losses must lessen.
This Week: Ohio State (1/22); at Maryland (1/25)
13. Penn State (12-6, 0-5 B1G)
Last Week: at Indiana (L, 73-76); Purdue (L, 77-84)
Penn State may be fizzling, but D.J. Newbill is still sizzling.
Despite that Penn State has opened the Big Ten season with five straight losses, Newbill remains one of the conference's best players. He still leads the Big Ten in scoring at 21.7 points per game, and, this past Saturday against Purdue, he put on an absolute show, scoring 37 points. It didn't matter whether Newbill attacked the rim, where he made all six of his shots and drew numerous fouls, or pulled up from midrange, Purdue couldn't slow him down. Newbill's 37 points were the most scored by a Big Ten player this season, surpassing his own mark of 35 points, which he tallied against Charlotte in November. And the Penn State star now owns four of the Big Ten's 10 best scoring performances:
|1||D.J. Newbill, PSU||Purdue||58.7%||12-19||1-4||10-11||37|
|2||D.J. Newbill, PSU||vs. Charlotte||48.5%||10-22||4-11||3-5||35|
|Shavon Shields, NEB||Nebraska-Omaha||87.5%||8-12||4-4||7-8||35|
|4||D'Angelo Russell, OSU||Sacred Heart||66.7%||8-13||4-8||4-5||32|
|Caris LeVert, MICH||NJIT||77.8%||5-10||6-8||4-4||32|
|6||Andre Hollins, MINN||Rutgers||80.6%||4-8||7-10||2-2||31|
|Melo Trimble, UMD||vs. Arizona State||81.8%||3-5||4-6||13-14||31|
|8||D.J. Newbill, PSU||at Wisconsin||66.7%||9-15||2-3||5-8||29|
|Rayvonte Rice, ILL||Oregon||71.9%||4-9||5-7||6-8||29|
|D.J. Newbill, PSU||Akron||70.8%||7-9||1-3||12-15||29|
No matter how many Big Ten games Penn State loses, Newbill is still must-see TV.
This Week: at Michigan State (1/21); Rutgers (1/24)
12. Rutgers (10-9, 2-4 B1G)
Last Week: at Maryland (L, 65-73); at Minnesota (L, 80-89)
Rutgers' offense has begun to show signs of life.
During the first few games of the Big Ten season, it seemed Rutgers had less chance of scoring than a nun at a convent. In its first three conference games, Rutgers averaged 0.789 points per possession and not once scored more than 50 points. The reason for this dearth of scoring was simple: Rutgers couldn't make shots for the life of them. In those three games, Rutgers made 38-of-108 two-pointers (35.2 pct.) and 10-of-44 threes (22.7 pct.) for an awful eFG% of 34.9 percent. This low level of output didn't seem sustainable, but it left people wondering if Rutgers' offense would enjoy any success in the Big Ten.
The following three games have been a much different story for Rutgers' offense. In games against Wisconsin, Maryland, and Minnesota, Rutgers averaged 1.065 points per possession, which allowed the Scarlet Knights to upset the Badgers (!) for their program's first-ever win against an AP Top 5 team and hang tight with the Terrapins and Gophers on the road. It helps when a team starts knocking down shots. In those three games, Rutgers made 64-of-120 two-pointers (53.3 pct.) and 16-of-40 threes (40.0 pct.) for an exceptional eFG% of 55 percent. The catalyst for this change has been Myles Mack, who has averaged 22 points per game during this stretch thanks to 12-of-26 shooting (46.2 pct.) from behind the arc. If Mack and the rest of the offense maintain their rhythm, Rutgers could pick up two wins this week (vs. Michigan, at Penn State).
This Week: Michigan (1/20); at Penn State (1/24)
11. Nebraska (10-7, 2-3 B1G)
Last Week: at Wisconsin (L, 55-70)
This was written about Nebraska in last week's power rankings:
However, Nebraska's defensive ranking is inflated and will burst soon. Why? Nebraska's defensive success relies on its opponents struggling to make shots particularly from behind the arc. Nebraska's opponents have made only 27.6 percent of their threes, which, on the surface, would make Nebraska's three-point defense the 15th-best in the nation. But the truth is that defenses have little control over their opponent's three-point percentage. Instead, it's a lottery, and defenses just need to hope that the other team doesn't heat up on that day. The only way for defenses to protect themselves from that risk is to limit the number of three-pointers the offense takes. Yet Nebraska doesn't do that. In fact, 38.6 percent of Nebraska's opponents' shots are threes, which is the 58th-highest rate. So, at some point just due to natural regression, the Huskers' opponents will start draining a much-higher percentage of their threes, and, because those opponents will be able to shoot so many of them, Nebraska's defense will be torched in the process.
Guess what happened? In Nebraska's only game last week, which was against Wisconsin, almost half of the Badgers' field-goal attempts were from downtown. And, just like I said, Nebraska wasn't going to continue to win the three-point lottery each game. The Badgers burned the Huskers from deep, burying 11-of-21 three-pointers (52.4 pct.), and torched Nebraska to the tune of 1.289 points per possession. Yes, Wisconsin employs one of the nation's best offenses, but don't be surprised if Minnesota and Michigan State, both of which are top-50 three-point shooting teams, do something similar to NU this week.
This Week: Minnesota (1/20); Michigan State (1/24)
10. Minnesota (12-7, 1-5 B1G)
Last Week: Iowa (L, 75-77); Rutgers (W, 89-80)
Teams that lose lots of close games shouldn't continue to lose most of their close games. When a game is decided by one or two possessions, whether a team wins or loses doesn't alter how that team performed in that game. In most cases, it's a fortunate shot, an unlucky call, or a bad bounce that determines which team wins and loses. There's a sense of randomness, which is why a team rarely loses a vast majority of its close games.
Minnesota must feel like the exception, not the rule.
The Gophers were plagued with horrible luck in their first five Big Ten games, all of which were losses. Four were by a combined 13 points, and Minnesota didn't lose any of those four by more than five points. Further, two of those losses were decided in the final seconds, when Ohio State's Marc Loving and Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff each buried game-winning jump shots. The only conference loss Minnesota suffered by more than five points was a 12-point loss on the road against Maryland, which is arguably the Big Ten's best team. This doesn't sound like a team that should have opened the Big Ten season with five straight losses, and the advanced computers agree with KenPom still ranking Minnesota in its top 50. At some point, this bad luck should subside, so don't be surprised if the Gophers reel off a bunch of wins, even some close ones, in the next few weeks.
This Week: at Nebraska (1/20); Illinois (1/24)
9. Illinois (12-7, 2-4 B1G)
Last Week: at Northwestern (W, 72-67); Indiana (L, 74-80)
Though the Big Ten Player of the Week honor was awarded to Maryland's Jake Layman, Kendrick Nunn may have been a more deserving recipient. In Nunn's previous 12 games before last week, he averaged 8.3 points per game and scored in double digits only three times. But, last week, Nunn exploded for the two best games of his career. He posted a 25 points, five rebounds, and two assists in a road win at Northwestern and followed that with 24 points, two rebounds, and two assists in a close loss to Indiana. Nunn has always been an excellent three-point shooter (45.2 pct. this season), but he was on fire from downtown last week, connecting on 10-of-17 threes (58.8 pct.) total:
With Rayvonte Rice out, Illinois needs more games like this from Nunn.
This Week: Purdue (1/21); at Minnesota (1/24)
8. Michigan (11-7, 4-2 B1G)
Last Week: at Ohio State (L, 52-71); Northwestern (W, 56-54)
Michigan had a disappointing week on the hardwood, getting run out of the gym by rival Ohio State in Columbus and barely eking out a home win against Northwestern. But nothing was worse than the news Michigan received off the court on Sunday afternoon: star Caris LeVert will miss the rest of the season with a fractured left foot.
With LeVert sidelined, Michigan's already inconsistent offense is in serious trouble:
Without LeVert, Michigan's offense will now sink to unthinkable depths (for a John Beilein offense) at a time when the Wolverines could least afford it. Who will replace LeVert's playmaking ability on offense? Walton? Doubtful. Because of his sprained toe, Walton has turned into a jump-shooter. In his last three games, Walton has attempted 25 shots, only four of which were within five feet of the rim. And, when he does get into the paint, his injury has limited his ability to finish (1-of-9 within five feet in Big Ten play).
So what about Irvin? Not only is he dealing with an upper respiratory infection at the moment, along with Spike Albrecht and Ricky Doyle, he is purely a shooter. In six Big Ten games, Irvin has attempted 46 field goals further than 15 feet away from the rim and only 14 shots within five feet, of which he's made only three. And his assist rate is a measly 5.9 percent, with is the same range as Doyle's and Max Bielfeldt's assist rates.
For a full explanation of how LeVert's injury impacts Michigan's season, click here.
This Week: at Rutgers (1/20); Wisconsin (1/24)
7. Purdue (11-7, 3-2 B1G)
Last Week: at Penn State (W, 84-77)
I am an unabashed member of Team Foul.
What is Team Foul? Team Foul is the strategy that, when a team leads by three points and its opponent has possession in the final seconds, that team should foul the opponent before it ever has a chance to launch a game-tying three. The opponent will be forced to shoot no more than two free throws and cannot send the game to overtime at the charity stripe like a three-pointer would. To me, this is the best strategy in this situation.
However, this strategy, like any strategy, is not perfect. There are still odd ways that an opponent can overcome the Team Foul strategy and either force overtime or even win in regulation. And Purdue found such a loophole on Saturday against Penn State. The Nittany Lions fouled Jon Octeus near midcourt with 9.4 seconds left, which was too early to commit such a foul. If Penn State allows a few more seconds to run off the clock, there are fewer seconds for something chaotic to ensue after Purdue's free throws. But Octeus proceeds to miss the first free throw, which places Penn State in great shape. If Octeus misses the second free throw, all Penn State needs to do is corral the rebound and make one free throw on the other end to win in regulation. If Octeus makes the second free throw, Penn State will still have a chance to seal it with two free throws as long as they don't commit a turnover on the inbounds pass. Either way, Penn State had better than 90-percent odds to win. But that's not what happened on the second free throw:
Octeus missed the second free throw, but Purdue center A.J. Hammons was able to tip the miss over to Kendall Stephens, Purdue's only three-point specialist. In a flash, Stephens hurriedly dribbled out to the left corner, set his feet behind the three-point line, and threw up a triple. The result? Bang! Just like that, Purdue and Penn State were tied, and the Boilermakers didn't let such a sequence go to waste, winning in overtime.
Purdue was very fortunate that Team Foul isn't a flawless strategy.
This Week: at Illinois (1/21); Iowa (1/24)
6. Indiana (14-4, 4-1 B1G)
Last Week: Penn State (W, 76-73); at Illinois (W, 80-74)
Last Tuesday, Indiana announced that center Hanner Mosquera-Perea would be sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury he suffered during practice the day before. This was bad news for a team that already lacked front-court depth and suffered from poor interior defense. Accordingly, both of Indiana's opponents last week, Penn State and Illinois, took advantage, converting 41-of-70 two-pointers (58.6 pct.) and 22-of-26 shots at the rim (84.6 pct.). Nonetheless, the Hoosiers overcame this setback by lighting up the bucket from deep, draining 20-of-46 threes (43.5 pct.) against the Lions and the Illini. It was enough to win both games, but this surely remains a concern going forward.
This Week: Maryland (1/22); at Ohio State (1/25)
5. Ohio State (14-5, 3-3 B1G)
Last Week: Michigan (W, 71-52); at Iowa (L, 67-76)
You're probably wondering why Ohio State is ranked ahead of Indiana. The evidence you would raise is that the Hoosiers have a better overall record, Big Ten record, three wins against the KenPom Top 30 to Ohio State's zero, and a head-to-head win over the Buckeyes as well. But a deeper dive suggests that Ohio State is still the better team.
If you're a regular reader of my stuff, you know how much I emphasize the importance of margin of victory and the difference between home and road games. Heck, you just saw me investigate Minnesota's margin of victories and defeats earlier. And I'm about to do it again. Despite that Ohio State is only 3-3 in the Big Ten and Indiana is 4-1, the Buckeyes' Big Ten margin efficiency is +0.05 while Indiana's is -0.02. That is not a marginal difference. That is significant. It's an indicator that Ohio State has been much better on a possession-by-possession basis, but Indiana has been much luckier in close games, winning by no more than six points in each of its four Big Ten victories. This includes a three-point win over Ohio State, but that three-point win was at Assembly Hall, where Indiana owns a home-court advantage that is worth a few points. Though Ohio State lost that game, that the Buckeyes kept it so close leads me to believe that they are a better team and predict that they will beat Indiana by double digits at home this Sunday.
This Week: at Northwestern (1/22); Indiana (1/25)
4. Iowa (13-5, 4-1 B1G)
Last Week: at Minnesota (W, 77-75); Ohio State (W, 76-67)
Earning wins at Minnesota and against Ohio State back-to-back is no easy task, which is why Iowa was the most impressive Big Ten team last week. The key to such a successful week for the Hawkeyes is not difficult to identify: high-potent offense. Iowa averaged 1.248 and 1.191 points per possession against Minnesota and Ohio State, respectively, which are the best and third-best offensive performances Iowa has produced this season.
What helps the Hawkeyes is that they have two options that can shoulder the offensive load: Jarrod Uthoff and Aaron White. Uthoff shined against Minnesota, recording a career-high 22 points, five rebounds, and four assists and sinking the game-winner, while White attacked the rim relentlessly against Ohio State, scoring 22 points by making all five of his shots at the rim and drawing enough fouls to take 12 trips to the charity stripe. It makes it very challenging for defenses to stop both weapons in the same game.
However, if I'm Iowa, I would be concerned that a repeat of 2014 was on the horizon. For much of last season, the Hawkeyes were one of the Big Ten's best teams, but they collapsed down the stretch as their defense fell apart and their offense couldn't compensate. In three weeks of conference play, Iowa is second in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency and second-to-last in defensive efficiency. I'm not predicting that Iowa will implode down the stretch, but the Hawkeyes need to repair their defense fast.
Or they won't be the most impressive Big Ten team often in upcoming weeks.
This Week: at Wisconsin (1/20); at Purdue (1/24)
3. Michigan State (12-6, 3-2 B1G)
Last Week: at Maryland (L, 59-75)
Last Saturday's loss to Maryland in College Park didn't alter Michigan State's place in the Big Ten hierarchy. Both of the Spartans' conference losses are to the Terrapins, and the Spartans own comfortable wins against Iowa (in Carver Hawkeye Arena!) and Indiana -- the only Big Ten losses those teams have suffered. Though the fashion of the second Maryland loss was disappointing for the Spartans, they are still the third-best team in the Big Ten and should expect to go on a winning spree to close the regular season:
But, if there is something for Michigan State to fret about, it's that they allowed another opportunity to earn its first signature victory slip away. The Spartans are 0-5 vs. teams in the KenPom Top 25 (No. 9 Duke, No. 14 Maryland [twice], No. 15 Notre Dame, and No. 18 Kansas). These aren't losses that Michigan State should be embarrassed by at all, but a win or two in these games would have put the Spartans in a much better position come tournament time because the selection committee will favor those that have shown that they can beat elite teams. However, at the moment, Michigan State has only two more opportunities to earn such a win (vs. Ohio State and at Wisconsin). If Michigan State goes 0-for-2 in those games, it doesn't matter how many other Big Ten games they win, the selection committee will penalize the Spartans when the seeding process begins.
This Week: Penn State (1/21); at Nebraska (1/24)
2. Wisconsin (16-2, 4-1 B1G)
Last Week: Nebraska (W, 70-55)
Wisconsin must be relieved to have Frank Kaminsky back.
After a one-game absence due to concussion-related symptoms, in which Rutgers shocked the nation by upsetting Wisconsin at the RAC, Kaminsky further reminded folks that he is the best player in the Big Ten, maybe even the nation. Kaminsky shredded Nebraska's defense, tallying 22 points on 13 shot equivalents thanks in large part to draining four of his five three-point tries. Honestly, even with Traevon Jackson out with a fractured foot, with Kaminsky back, Wisconsin likely is the Big Ten's best team.
This Week: Iowa (1/20); at Michigan (1/24)
1. Maryland (17-2, 5-1 B1G)
Last Week: Rutgers (W, 73-65); Michigan State (W, 75-59)
But, after the whooping Maryland put on Michigan State, I couldn't drop them.
After the Spartans held a 10-5 lead after the first seven minutes, Maryland guard Melo Trimble went on absolute tear. In fact, in the final 13 minutes of the first half, Trimble outscored the entire Michigan State team by himself, 18-16, leading the Terrapins to a 40-26 halftime advantage. By that point, Trimble had already amassed 21 points, knocking down 7-of-11 shots and 5-of-7 threes, none of which drew more "Oooh's" and "Aaah's" than when he broke "Tum Tum" Nairn's ankles with a nasty crossover at the top of the key and buried this triple to close the first half, causing the Comcast Center to erupt:
Dagger. Michigan State never cut Maryland's lead to single digits after halftime.
With Trimble now firmly in the middle of a three-man race for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Jake Layman holding the top spot for the Big Ten's Most Improved Player, and Dez Wells rediscovering his rhythm after sitting out much of the non-conference season with an injury, Maryland is in position to challenge Wisconsin for the Big Ten crown.
This Week: at Indiana (1/22); Northwestern (1/25)