14. Rutgers (9-6, 1-1 B1G)
Last Week: Northwestern (L, 47-51); Penn State (W, 50-46)
Congratulations, Rutgers! You won't be winless in the Big Ten this season.
When it was announced Rutgers, a program that hasn't had a winning season since 2006, would join the Big Ten, which had been college basketball's best conference for four years running, the idea the Scarlet Knights would finish with an 0-18 conference record in their inaugural Big Ten season wasn't out of the realm of possibility. Sure, the actual odds of a winless Big Ten season for Rutgers was only 0.4 percent according to KenPom's projections, but the Knights were projected to be a favorite in only one game: the conference opener against Northwestern at home. And, when the Wildcats won by a 51-47 score, Rutgers' best chance at a Big Ten win slipped through its fingers.
Though the home loss to Northwestern is why Rutgers sits at the bottom of these rankings, the Knights had another opportunity to redeem themselves. On Saturday, they hosted Penn State, which was one of only three remaining games in which KenPom gave them more than 40-percent odds to win, and they didn't want to waste this chance. Rutgers rushed out to an 11-1 lead in the first six minutes, and, though it was a brutal game for both offenses with neither averaging more than 0.8 points per possession, it was a lead that Rutgers never relinquished. The Knights held on to beat Penn State, 50-46, which they should savor because the rest of the schedule doesn't look promising:
This Week: at Nebraska (1/8); Wisconsin (1/11)
13. Northwestern (10-5, 1-1 B1G)
Last Week: at Rutgers (W, 51-47); Wisconsin (L, 58-81)
Last Tuesday's matchup between Northwestern and Rutgers, who are clearly the Big Ten's two worst teams, was the only one we'll see between these two schools unless they meet in the Big Ten Tournament. This is a good thing for college basketball fans because, as I wrote in the foregoing section, it was ugly. Ugly. For example, with 10:50 remaining, Bryant McIntosh hit a jumper to give Northwestern a 44-35 lead. The Wildcats wouldn't score another point until McIntosh made a free throw with 29 seconds left. Yes, that's 10:21 later. And, despite the length of this scoring drought, McIntosh's free throw extended Northwestern's lead to 45-41. That a team went 10:21 in the second half without a point and still emerged victorious says everything you need to know about this slopfest.
This Week: at Michigan State (1/11)
12. Nebraska (8-5, 0-1 B1G)
Last Week: Indiana (L, 65-70)
Last season was the first season that Nebraska played in Pinnacle Bank Arena. Not only was the venue shiny and brand-new, it was one of the most difficult places for visiting teams to earn a victory. The Huskers were 15-1 at Pinnacle Bank Arena, earning four wins against teams that finished in the KenPom Top 50, including Final Four-appearing Wisconsin. And their only home loss was to Big Ten-winning Michigan by one point after Derrick Walton, Jr. converted this acrobatic layup with 22 seconds left.
However, it's been a much different story this season. Nebraska has regressed, and, as a result, its home-court advantage has dissipated. During the non-conference season, the Huskers dropped home games to Creighton and Incarnate Word, teams ranked No. 95 and No. 195 on KenPom, respectively, and, last week, they lost their Big Ten home opener to Indiana. Accordingly, Nebraska is only 5-3 at Pinnacle Bank Arena this season, and I wouldn't be surprised if a fourth loss is added when Illinois comes to Lincoln on Sunday.
This Week: at Iowa (1/5); Rutgers (1/8); Illinois (1/11)
11. Penn State (12-3, 0-2 B1G)
Last Week: at Wisconsin (L, 72-89); at Rutgers (L, 46-50)
In my most recent set of rankings two weeks ago, I ranked Penn State at No. 12 even though the Nittany Lions had an 11-1 record. This is an abridged version why:
The reason for [Penn State's low rank] is because not all wins are created equal. The Lions have feasted off one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country ... and habitually played down to the level of their opponents .... 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, ... but I want to wait and see if Penn State can keeping adding wins during Big Ten play first.
Penn State fans were not pleased with my low rank of the Lions. For example:
Ranks Penn State 12th, 6-5 Michigan 9th. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ RT @MaizenBrew: http://t.co/nShUJ3S7Wd— Black Shoe Diaries (@BSDtweet) December 23, 2014
You should read the comments from PSU fans here, too.
So what happened this week? This happened:
Maybe I'm not off my rocker.
This Week: Michigan (1/6)
10. Michigan (8-6, 1-1 B1G)
Last Week: Illinois (W, 73-65); at Purdue (L, 51-64)
One reason why Michigan is 2-5 in its last seven games? Its Big Three is missing:
For my full thoughts on Michigan and this sobering development, read this.
This Week: at Penn State (1/6); Minnesota (1/10)
9. Michigan State (9-5, 0-1 B1G)
Last Week: Maryland (L, 66-68)
Michigan State doesn't have a top-25 resume, but the computers love the Spartans (No. 22 on KenPom) nonetheless. This is because all five of the Spartans' losses have been by no more than 10 points, four have been to teams in the KenPom Top 25, and three have been in overtime. Accordingly, per KenPom, no Big Ten team has had worse luck:
|Big Ten Rank||School||KenPom Luck Rating (Rank)|
However, this bad luck for Michigan State isn't your typical bad luck. Typically, bad luck is associated with losing lots of close games due to bad bounces, etc. But the Spartans are suffering some of it because their legendary head coach, Tom Izzo, has had a not-so-legendary season. Izzo had some very odd rotations against Texas Southern and his end-of-game strategy against Maryland last week cost Michigan State a much-needed victory.
The Spartans had a home win over the Terrapins in the bag. Leading by two points with 16 seconds left in regulation, Gavin Schilling pulled down a rebound and dished an outlet pass to Bryn Forbes, who appeared to have a breakaway layup that would have made it a two-possession game. But Izzo called a timeout, which led to Maryland putting Matt Costello on the free-throw line, where he made only one. Thus, it was only a three-point game rather than a four-point game with 11 seconds left, and Maryland needed only one shot to send it to overtime. There is some debate about whether a team, when on defense with a three-point lead in the final seconds, should foul before the opponent can launch a game-tying shot and send them to the charity stripe for two harmless free throws or play it out and hope the opponent misses from distance. However, I'm a firm, firm believer that the right move is to foul. Izzo didn't tell his team to foul, and, with a few seconds left, Dez Wells buried a game-tying three. The Spartans then lost in double overtime.
Give credit to Wells for making the contested triple to force overtime, but, if Izzo doesn't feel the need to be a control freak after Schilling's rebound, allow timeout-less Maryland to draw up a play by calling a timeout of his own after Costello's second free throw, or provide Wells a chance to tie things up, Michigan State would be 1-0 in the Big Ten.
This Week: Indiana (1/5); at Iowa (1/8); Northwestern (1/11)
8. Purdue (10-5, 2-0 B1G)
Last Week: Minnesota (W, 72-68); Michigan (W, 64-51)
Though they benefited from having two home games last week, the Purdue Boilermakers are the most surprising 2-0 team in the Big Ten, defeating Minnesota and Michigan after suffering three straight losses to Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, and Gardner-Webb. Yes, Gardner-Webb. So how did the Boilermakers do it? Second-half resiliency:
In the first half against Minnesota and Michigan, Purdue trailed by a combined 19 points. In the second half, the Boilermakers outscored them, 86-50, total. The odds of this continuing this week, when Purdue goes to Madison to face Wisconsin and hosts Maryland, are slim, so Purdue will need to start fast if it wants to pull an upset in either.
This Week: at Wisconsin (1/7); Maryland (1/10)
7. Illinois (10-5, 0-2 B1G)
Last Week: at Michigan (L, 65-73); at Ohio State (L, 61-77)
On the other hand, Illinois has been the opposite of Purdue:
The Fighting Illini were not able to sustain their effort for all 40 minutes in their first two road games. After leading Michigan by six points and Ohio State by one point, the home teams then outscored Illinois, 88-57, total in the second half and overtime. Road wins are never easy to come by, but Illinois allowed two quality opportunities slip away.
This Week: Maryland (1/7); at Nebraska (1/11)
6. Minnesota (11-4, 0-2 B1G)
Last Week: at Purdue (L, 68-72); at Maryland (L, 58-70)
After an 11-2 start, Minnesota lost its first two games of the conference season -- road games at Purdue and Maryland. If the Gophers want to avoid falling to 0-4 in Big Ten play -- they have tough games against Ohio State and Michigan this week -- they need one of their best offensive players, Andre Hollins, to bust out of his shooting slump:
|Dec. 1st to 21st||18.2||71.6%||54.2% (13-24)||55.9% (19-34)||80.0% (8-10)|
|Dec. 22nd to Jan. 5th||6.5||33.3%||44.4% (8-18)||13.3% (2-15)||80.0% (4-5)|
Hollins wasn't going to shoot 56 percent from three for the remainder of the season, but to make only two of his last 15 threes is a steep drop-off from behind the arc.
This Week: Ohio State (1/6); at Michigan (1/10)
5. Indiana (11-3, 1-0 B1G)
Last Week: at Nebraska (W, 70-65)
If you told me that, in a game played away from Assembly Hall, Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon, Jr. would combine for only 13 points on 4-of-16 shooting (25.0 pct.), I would assume that Indiana lost that game. However, despite poor shooting performances from their two best players, the Hoosiers still beat Nebraska at Pinnacle Bank Arena last week. How? Indiana big man Hanner Mosquera-Perea had his best game of the season. During a decisive 18-5 run late in the second half that gave Indiana a double-digit lead it would never surrender, Mosquera-Perea tallied nine points, two rebounds, and an assist. Accordingly, he finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds -- his first career double-double.
This Week: at Michigan State (1/5); Ohio State (1/10)
4. Ohio State (12-3, 1-1 B1G)
Last Week: Iowa (L, 65-71), Illinois (W, 77-61)
After Ohio State's home loss to Iowa, in which D'Angelo Russell scored 13 points on 4-of-16 shooting, the conversation was that the talented freshman could only feast on mid- and low-majors. You see, in his 10 games against teams in mid- or low-major conferences, Russell averaged 19.6 points (65.1 eFG%), 5.4 assists, and 4.5 rebounds per game. But, against Marquette, Louisville, North Carolina, and Iowa, he averaged only 11.8 points (32.8 eFG%), 5.0 assists, and 5.0 rebounds per game. The criticism was that, when he faced an opposition with similar caliber of players, he would become an inefficient mess on offense. So what did he do against Illinois? He scored 22 points with a 65.4 eFG%.
This Week: at Minnesota (1/6); at Indiana (1/10)
3. Iowa (10-4, 1-0 B1G)
Last Week: at Ohio State (W, 71-65)
With its 71-65 win against Ohio State in Columbus, Iowa now has road victories against North Carolina (No. 8 on KenPom) and Ohio State (No. 18 on KenPom). Do you want to know how many other teams in the nation have at least two top-20 wins in hostile territory? Only unbeaten Virginia. That's it. That's an amazing look for Iowa's resume.
This Week: Nebraska (1/5); Michigan State (1/8)
2. Maryland (14-1, 2-0 B1G)
Last Week: at Michigan State (W, 68-66); Minnesota (W, 70-58)
I recently handed out awards to Big Ten teams and players for their work during the non-conference season. One was "Best Freshman." I gave it to Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell but claimed, for the rest of the season, it would be a two-man race between he and Indiana's James Blackmon, Jr. I was mistaken. I shouldn't have tossed Maryland's Melo Trimble aside because he's very much in contention to be the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year. Last week, Trimble averaged 18.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game. His shooting numbers were lackluster -- he made only 2-of-16 threes -- but what makes Trimble such a unique guard is his ability to get to the charity stripe. He has the 15th-best free-throw rate in the nation, having attempted almost as many free throws (121) as he has field goals (129), and knocks down 87.6 percent of those free throws. And this was evident last week when, in two games, he went to the free-throw line 27 times and made 21 of them. That sounds like a Freshman of the Year candidate to me.
This Week: at Illinois (1/7); at Purdue (1/10)
1. Wisconsin (14-1, 2-0 B1G)
Last Week: Penn State (W, 89-72); at Northwestern (W, 81-58)
Every week, I try to find a new way to describe Wisconsin as a juggernaut. Here's this:
Wisconsin averaged 1.334 points per possession in its first two Big Ten games.
Next best in the Big Ten that played two games: Ohio State's 1.083 PPP.
This Week: Purdue (1/7); at Rutgers (1/11)