14. Rutgers (10-11, 2-6 B1G)
Last Week: Michigan (L, 50-54); at Penn State (L, 51-79)
Just two weeks after its shocking upset of Wisconsin, Rutgers has slipped back into the Big Ten cellar. Last week was an opportunity for Rutgers to garner not just one but two wins, hosting a depleted Michigan squad before traveling to a then-winless-in-Big-Ten-play Penn State. However, the Scarlet Knights lost to both. They allowed Michigan to cobble together a comeback in the final eight minutes after leading by six points and were blown out of the water by Penn State, losing to the Nittany Lions by 28 points.
Once again, Rutgers' offensive woes were the culprit. In both games last week, Rutgers failed to exceed 0.900 points per possession, averaging 0.875 versus Michigan and 0.811 at Penn State. This was ninth and 10th times that Rutgers has fallen short of that mark:
|2||at Seton Hall||73||54||0.740|
|6||at Penn State||63||51||0.811|
With each passing day, Rutgers' upset of Wisconsin seems stranger and stranger.
This Week: Michigan State (1/27); at Indiana (1/31)
13. Northwestern (10-10, 1-6 B1G)
Last Week: Ohio State (L, 67-69); at Maryland (L, 67-68)
I really don't know how Northwestern fans do it. I really don't know how they can continue to cheer on their Wildcats knowing that their program is cursed. In each of the last two power rankings, I wrote that Northwestern seems to have it engrained in its DNA to torture its fans with heartbreaking losses. Guess what? It happened TWICE.
On Thursday, despite leading by as many as 11 points in the first half, Northwestern trailed Ohio State by three or four points for most of the final three minutes. Because Ohio State missed the front end of three one-and-one's and threw the ball away on another possession, Northwestern had multiple chances to cut Ohio State's lead to one point or one possession. However, the Wildcats missed six straight shots, including three layups, one of which that should have been whistled for goaltending, and, by the time they were able to cut into Ohio State's lead, there wasn't enough time left for them to launch a game-tying or game-winning shot. Northwestern fell by a score of 69-67.
However, the trauma of Northwestern's loss to Ohio State paled in comparison to what happened on the road against Maryland. Northwestern had this game won. The Wildcats led the Terrapins, 61-50, with 4:21 left and had possession. All Northwestern needed to do was hold onto the ball and make its free throws. If the Wildcats did that, they'd secure an enormous upset win. But, once Maryland turned up the full-court pressure, Northwestern panicked, and the Terrapins capitalized. Thanks to three Northwestern turnovers early in the shot clock and a missed free throw on the front end of a one-and-one by Bryant McIntosh, who otherwise played a marvelous game with 21 points, Maryland went on a 16-4 run in a four-minute span to take a 66-65 lead with 21 ticks left.
Northwestern still had one last shot to redeem itself, but then this happened:
Dez Wells, who somehow sprinted full speed across the lane, jumped in the air, reached back with one hand to grab Melo Trimble's missed three, and still put up a shot off the glass before falling backwards to the ground, stole this win from Northwestern.
It's the kind of loss you can't believe happened to your team. Unless your team is cursed:
|Jan. 11, 2015||at Michigan State||L, 77-84 (OT)||-7|
|Jan. 14, 2015||Illinois||L, 67-72||-5|
|Jan. 17, 2015||at Michigan||L, 54-56||-2|
|Jan. 22, 2015||Ohio State||L, 67-69||-2|
|Jan. 25, 2015||at Maryland||L, 67-68||-1|
This Week: Purdue (1/31)
12. Penn State (13-7, 1-6 B1G)
Last Week: at Michigan State (L, 60-66); Rutgers (W, 79-51)
Penn State earned a small bump to No. 12 because the Nittany Lions wrecked Rutgers and are no longer on a six-game losing streak like Northwestern is. The Lions got off the schneid and earned their first Big Ten victory with a 79-51 rout over Rutgers. Penn State accomplished this by producing its best offensive performance of the season with 1.256 points per possession. D.J. Newbill did what he always does, pouring in 23 points in an efficient manner, but, on Saturday, he had two sidekicks in Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner. Taylor had his best game of the year, recording 16 points on 11 shot equivalents, six rebounds, and four assists, and Garner drained 3-of-4 threes en route to 13 points. These are the contributions Newbill needs from his teammates on a consistent basis.
This Week: Minnesota (1/28); at Illinois (1/31)
11. Illinois (13-8, 3-5 B1G)
Last Week: Purdue (W, 66-57); at Minnesota (L, 71-79)
Kendrick Nunn has earned lots of deserved recognition now that he is scoring almost double the number of points he scored before Rayvonte Rice was sidelined (16.7 PPG to 8.7 PPG), but the other Illinois player that has come on strong lately is Leron Black. Black is a 6-foot-7 freshman that was ranked in the top 50 as a recruit for his elite athleticism, and he has already shown off that athleticism on the glass. In his last three games, he has averaged 10.3 rebounds in 25 minutes per game, and the teams he did this against this past week (Purdue and Minnesota) are two of the 20 tallest teams in the nation. If Black had played enough minutes earlier in the season to qualify, his defensive and offensive rebounding rates (25.0 pct. and 10.9 pct.) would be third and 10th in the Big Ten, respectively. With the extended minutes he is sure to receive for the rest of the season, Black should continue to demonstrate that he is one of the Big Ten's best rebounders despite being undersized. And, in that time, if Black can learn to attack the rim more rather than settle for midrange jumpers, he could become quite the asset for Illinois.
This Week: Penn State (1/31)
10. Minnesota (13-8, 2-6 B1G)
Last Week: at Nebraska (L, 49-52); Illinois (W, 79-71)
After enduring a troubling shooting slump right when the Big Ten season started, Andre Hollins is now scorching hot. In his last three games, Hollins has averaged 26.7 points and six rebounds per game. And, of course, the senior sharpshooter has racked up most of these points by lighting up from downtown. In these three games, Hollins has made 16-of-26 three-pointers for a rate of 61.5 percent. That's a remarkable stretch for a shooter who was draining 36.4 percent of his threes beforehand. Hollins' hot shooting has led Minnesota to its first two Big Ten wins after opening the conference season with five straight losses, but the Gophers cannot expect Hollins to remain this hot from deep:
This Week: at Penn State (1/28); Nebraska (1/31)
9. Nebraska (12-7, 4-3 B1G)
Last Week: Minnesota (W, 52-49); Michigan State (W, 79-77)
Nebraska had one of the better weeks in the Big Ten last week, edging both Minnesota and Michigan State by no more than three points. These were important wins for a team that is attempting to rebound from a disappointing non-conference season, and, in fact, the Huskers have now won four of their last five games after an 0-2 conference start:
|Jan. 8 ,2015||Rutgers||W, 65-49||+16|
|Jan. 11, 2015||Illinois||W, 53-43||+10|
|Jan. 15, 2015||at Wisconsin||L, 55-70||-15|
|Jan. 20, 2015||Minnesota||W, 52-49||+3|
|Jan. 24, 2015||Michigan State||W, 79-77||+2|
However, do you notice something in common with all four of those Nebraska wins? They were all home games for the Huskers. While Nebraska hasn't protected its home floor as well this season (9-3 home record) as it did last season (15-1 home record), Nebraska still has been much better in Lincoln than when in a hostile environment (1-4 true road record). This by no means is unusual -- almost every team is much better at home than on the road -- but it's important to mention this week because, if Nebraska wants to continue its winning ways, it will need to do so on the road. Both of the Huskers' contests this week are outside of Lincoln as they will travel to Michigan and Minnesota. If they don't win one of those, any perceived progress made by Nebraska will dissipate.
This Week: at Michigan (1/27); at Minnesota (1/31)
8. Michigan (12-8, 5-3 B1G)
Last Week: at Rutgers (W, 54-50); Wisconsin (L, 64-69)
One of the more notable streaks ended with Michigan's overtime loss to Wisconsin.
Before Saturday night, Michigan had won every game it had played against a Big Ten opponent that was decided by single digits since the start of the 2013-14 season. This wouldn't be a big deal if, during this span, Michigan mostly blew out its Big Ten brethren and owned only a few down-to-the-wire wins. This would be perfectly normal and a sign of a dominant program that had enjoyed a little luck along the way. But it's very unusual for a team to reel off a long string of tight wins without suffering a close loss. The idea is that a team can't continually win by slim margins because, at some point, a bad bounce, bad call, or just bad luck in general will be enough to swing the victory to the opponent.
However, Michigan defied this logic for over a year:
|1||Jan. 2, 2014||at Minnesota||W, 63-60||+3|
|2||Jan. 9, 2014||at Nebraska||W, 71-70||+1|
|3||Jan. 18, 2014||at Wisconsin||W, 77-70||+7|
|4||Jan. 22, 2014||Iowa||W, 75-67||+8|
|5||Jan. 25, 2014||at Michigan State||W, 80-75||+5|
|6||Jan. 30, 2014||Purdue||W, 75-66||+9|
|7||Feb. 23, 2014||Michigan State||W, 79-70||+9|
|8||Feb. 26, 2014||at Purdue||W, 77-76 (OT)||+1|
|9||Mar. 8, 2014||Indiana||W, 84-80||+4|
|10||Mar. 14, 2014||vs. Illinois||W, 64-63||+1|
|11||Mar. 15, 2014||vs. Ohio State||W, 72-69||+3|
|12||Dec. 30, 2014||Illinois||W, 73-65 (OT)||+8|
|13||Jan. 6, 2015||at Penn State||W, 73-64||+9|
|14||Jan. 10, 2015||Minnesota||W, 62-57||+5|
|15||Jan. 17, 2015||Northwestern||W, 56-54||+2|
|16||Jan. 20, 2015||at Rutgers||W, 54-50||+4|
|17||Jan. 24, 2015||Wisconsin||L, 64-69 (OT)||-5|
Yes, Michigan had won 16 straight Big Ten games that were decided by single digits.
It was an incredible streak -- one that won't be repeated soon -- but it was bound to end.
This Week: Nebraska (1/27); at Michigan State (2/1)
7. Purdue (12-8, 4-3 B1G)
Last Week: at Illinois (L, 57-66); Iowa (W, 67-63)
Raphael Davis is not a shooter. Well, he's not supposed to be. Davis' offensive role as Purdue's starting small forward is to get to the cup, where he either finishes or draws fouls. Fifty-seven percent of his shots have been within five feet of the rim this season, and he has the fifth-highest free throw rate in the Big Ten among those who qualify.
What Davis hadn't done before this past week was pose as a three-point threat in any way whatsoever. Prior to last week's games against Illinois and Iowa, Davis had tried only 17 threes, of which he had made only two. Further, both of Davis' made threes were in Purdue's first three games of the season, meaning he hadn't knocked down a three since November 20th and had been 0-for-12 from downtown during that stretch.
So imagine the Fighting Illini and Hawkeyes' surprise when Davis not only launched numerous threes this past week but made more than he missed. Davis drilled five of the nine three-pointers he took en route to scoring 14 points against Illinois and a career-high 24 points against Iowa. Usually, opponents zone in on only Kendall Stephens as a three-point specialist, particularly because Purdue has been the worst three-point shooting team in Big Ten play thus far (28.4 pct.), but, after last week, teams may need to keep an eye on Davis in case he becomes more than just a player who gets to the rim.
This Week: Indiana (1/28); at Northwestern (1/31)
6. Iowa (13-7, 4-3 B1G)
Last Week: at Wisconsin (L, 50-82); at Purdue (L, 63-67)
The last two weeks have had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows for Iowa. Two weeks ago, Iowa won both of its games, escaping Minneapolis after Jarrod Uthoff sunk a game-winner and polishing off a season sweep of Ohio State comfortably at Carver Hawkeye Arena. Accordingly, Iowa was 4-1 and, with a road game at Wisconsin on deck, had a chance to make a statement that the Hawkeyes were a legitimate threat to contend for a Big Ten title. But last week could not have been any worse. The Badgers blew the doors off of Iowa, eviscerating the Hawkeyes by 32 points, and then star Aaron White exited with a shoulder stinger early in their game at Purdue, which led to Purdue eking out a four-point win. The Hawkeyes need to level out quickly before descending too much, but another contest against Wisconsin is not what they needed this week.
This Week: Wisconsin (1/31)
5. Michigan State (13-7, 4-3 B1G)
Last Week: Northwestern (W, 66-60); at Nebraska (L, 77-79)
Tom Izzo's recent Michigan State teams haven't always had the best free-throw shooting teams, but they have always been serviceable. That hasn't been the case this season. The Spartans have converted only 63 percent of their free throws this season, which is good for last in the Big Ten and 326th out of 351 D-I teams. And these free-throw shooting woes have cost Michigan State wins that could have put them safely in the NCAA Tournament field rather than on the bubble. For example, in Michigan State's two-point loss to Nebraska on Saturday, the Huskers made 29-of-37 free throws (78.4 pct.) while the Spartans made 15-of-25 free throws (60.0 pct.). This wasn't an off day for MSU. It was just another reminder that a better free-throw shooting team would have won:
|Date||Opponent||Result||Michigan State FTM-A||Opponent FTM-A|
|Dec. 3, 2014||at Notre Dame||L, 78-79 (OT)||5-9 (55.6%)||20-25 (80.0%)|
|Dec. 20, 2014||Texas Southern||L, 64-71 (OT)||12-21 (57.1%)||17-26 (65.4%)|
|Dec. 30, 2014||Maryland||L, 66-68 (2OT)||19-28 (67.9%)||26-32 (81.2%)|
|Jan. 24, 2015||at Nebraska||L, 77-79||15-25 (60.0%)||29-37 (78.4%)|
This Week: at Rutgers (1/27); Michigan (2/1)
4. Indiana (15-5, 5-2 B1G)
Last Week: Maryland (W, 89-70); at Ohio State (L, 70-82)
Before tip-off in the bout between Indiana and Maryland, I predicted that the Hoosiers would hand the Terrapins their third loss. There were a few different reasons why I made this prediction, but one was that Indiana had one of the best outside shooting teams in the nation and Maryland's lofty three-point defense was an inflated balloon waiting to burst. And, boy, oh boy, did the Hoosiers pop the heck out of that balloon. Led by Yogi Ferrell (7-of-8 3FG), Indiana hit 15-of-22 threes for astounding rate of 68.2 percent. The Hoosiers simply couldn't miss, and, anytime Maryland tried to make a run and cut into the lead, Indiana dropped another triple and crushed Maryland's spirits.
Accordingly, Indiana's shot chart from that game is just absolutely beautiful:
Indiana finished with 1.388 points per possession, which was Indiana's third-best offensive performance against a Big Ten opponent in the past decade, and an eFG% of 75 percent, which was Indiana's best shooting night against a Big Ten opponent since 2003.
Indiana still isn't as good as some proclaimed after it walloped Maryland -- like I predicted last week, the Hoosiers lost by double digits to Ohio State in Columbus -- but it was the perfect opportunity for the Hoosiers to showcase how much their offense has improved since last season and that they are capable of bombing any team on any night.
This Week: at Purdue (1/28); Rutgers (1/31)
3. Ohio State (16-5, 5-3 B1G)
Last Week: at Northwestern (W, 69-67); Indiana (W, 82-70)
D'Angelo Russell should just pack up his bags and head to the NBA right now.
Russell has been one of the nation's best freshmen all season, averaging 19.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 1.8 steals per game while posting a very high offensive rating (118.8) despite shouldering much of the offensive burden for Ohio State (29.8 usage rate). But what the talented freshman has done in his last four games has been nothing short of eye-popping. In his last four games, Russell has averaged 25.8 points with an eFG% of 67.4 percent, 7.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. What?! That's insane!
Not only is Russell scoring in a myriad of ways, he's demonstrating that few players in college basketball, if any, have better vision than he does, including teammate Shannon Scott, who has the highest assist rate in the Big Ten. I mean, look at these passes:
Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky is still the leading candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year, but, if any player is going to challenge Kaminsky for the honor, it's Russell.
This Week: Maryland (1/29)
2. Maryland (18-3, 6-2 B1G)
Last Week: at Indiana (L, 70-89); Northwestern (W, 68-67)
Maryland was in serious trouble. After being run out of Assembly Hall on Thursday, the Terrapins were staring at an 0-2 week as Northwestern was on the verge of pulling off an enormous upset in College Park. With 4:21 left and possession of the ball, the Wildcats led the Terrapins, 61-50. At this moment, Maryland had only 5.6-percent odds to win:
But the Terrapins rallied and capped the improbable comeback with this putback.
This Week: at Ohio State (1/29)
1. Wisconsin (18-2, 6-1 B1G)
Last Week: Iowa (W, 82-50); at Michigan (W, 69-64)
With Frank Kaminsky healthy and Maryland losing to Indiana, Wisconsin reclaimed its right to the Big Ten throne this week. And, given how Wisconsin's offense has performed in conference play, there may not be another Big Ten team that will be able to steal away the crown. Through seven Big Ten games, the Badgers are scoring 1.264 points per possession. To put in context how incredible this is, the second-best offense in Big Ten play, Ohio State, is averaging 1.115 points per possession, meaning the gap between Wisconsin and Ohio State is larger than the gap between Ohio State and Nebraska, which is 13th in offensive efficiency in Big Ten play. Further, there's no team in the entire nation that has been more efficient offensively in conference play than the Badgers. With Wisconsin essentially scoring at will, the Badgers may be able to run away with this race.
This Week: at Iowa (1/31)