14. Rutgers (4-7)
Last Week: Monmouth (L, 67-73)
On Sunday, Rutgers was a 10.5-point underdog.
To a team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
It wasn't much a surprise, though, because Monmouth, who's become beloved for its amazing choreographed bench celebrations, is not your typical team from the MAAC. The Hawks are 8-3 with road or neutral-site wins against UCLA, Notre Dame, USC, and Georgetown and are 54th on KenPom. Not only does that put Monmouth in contention for the best team in New Jersey, that's 208 spots higher than where Rutgers stands.
The only surprise on Sunday was that Rutgers beat the spread.
13. Minnesota (6-5)
Last Week: Chicago State (W, 70-52)
Minnesota snapped its three-game losing streak with a 70-52 win versus Chicago State, who's #332 on KenPom. There's not much to say about this game, so let's take this opportunity to highlight 6-foot-6 freshman Jordan Murphy, who grabbed 18 boards against the Cougars and unexpectedly has become the Big Ten's best rebounder this year:
|Rank||Player||Total Rebound %||Offensive Rebound %||Defensive Rebound %||RPG|
|1||Jordan Murphy (Minnesota)||21.3||15.8||26.0||8.5|
|2||A.J. Hammons (Purdue)||20.1||13.8||24.9||8.0|
|3||Caleb Swanigan (Purdue)||17.5||8.2||24.7||9.3|
|4||Ethan Happ (Wisconsin)||16.9||11.6||22.3||8.3|
|5||Robert Carter (Maryland)||16.3||7.3||25.1||6.5|
12. Illinois (7-5)
Last Week: South Dakota (W, 91-79)
Due to injuries -- Leron Black being out indefinitely with a hurt right knee is the latest -- and early upsets, the season already has gone very south for Illinois. However, for Illini fans searching for any positives, one is that Malcolm Hill has performed well in his new role as the go-to scorer, averaging 18.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 4.0 APG and recording an offensive rating of 117.0 and a usage rate of 25.6 percent. In fact, Hill just had an outstanding game in Illinois' 91-79 win over South Dakota, registering 34 points on 10-of-16 shooting, 11 rebounds, five assists, three blocks, and two steals. In the last five-plus seasons, only one other player in the nation has had a game with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, three blocks, and two steals. That player is LSU's Ben Simmons, who had a 43-14-7-5-3 against North Florida earlier this month and is projected to go first in the 2016 NBA Draft. I would say that is quite the club for Hill to be a member of.
11. Penn State (8-3)
Last Week: at Drexel (W, 63-57)
Penn State had a road date with Drexel on Saturday, and, though the Dragons were 1-7 and outside the KenPom top 200 before the contest, KenPom viewed the matchup as a near coin-flip. And, in the first 15 minutes, that projection appeared to be misguided because Drexel dominated the Nittany Lions and took a 32-15 lead. Drexel was poised to earn its second win of the season, it seemed, because the Dragons' odds of beating Penn State at that point were 91.6 percent. However, PSU had a different plan. The Lions rallied, using a 17-3 run in the middle of the second half before holding off the Dragons at the end. It was a resilient comeback for an outfit that has lots of room for improvement.
10. Nebraska (7-5)
Last Week: Samford (L, 58-69)
Before Sunday, Nebraska had compiled a solid resume. The Huskers had two decent wins (#51 Rhode Island and #80 Tennessee), fought hard in two losses to top-25 teams (#11 Miami-FL and #19 Cincinnati), and owned no bad losses. However, they must have felt it was necessary to be like much of the rest of the Big Ten and pick up a loss that blemishes their resume. Nebraska was outscored, 25-8, in the first 10 minutes of the second half by Samford and couldn't recover, losing to the Bulldogs by 11 points at home. Accordingly, Nebraska is the eighth Big Ten program to lose to a team outside the KenPom top 100:
|Big Ten School||Losses to Teams Outside KenPom Top 100|
|Illinois||#121 North Florida|
|Indiana||#104 Wake Forest|
|Minnesota||#112 Temple and #195 South Dakota|
|Ohio State||#113 Louisiana Tech|
|Penn State||#136 Duquesne and #197 Radford|
|Rutgers||#104 Wake Forest and #220 St. John's|
|Wisconsin||#133 Milwaukee and #194 Western Illinois|
9. Wisconsin (7-5)
Last Week: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (W, 64-49)
After last season's run to his second straight Final Four and first national championship game appearance, Bo Ryan mulled over the idea of retirement, revealed in June that he planned to retire after this season, and backed away from that assertion in August. No one other than Ryan knew when he'd step away from the bench, and that was the case when he surprised everyone by announcing his retirement, effective immediately, in his press conference after Wisconsin's 64-49 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Based on Ryan's comments, it seems that Ryan wanted to retire after last season but decided against it because Greg Gard, Ryan's long-time assistant and whom Ryan wants to be his successor, spent the summer with his father, who was diagnosed with cancer and passed away this fall. Now, Gard has the time to handle the burden of being a Big Ten head coach, so Ryan stepped down and Gard will be the interim for the rest of the season. Whether Wisconsin removes the interim tag remains to be seen because it's likely that the Badgers will gauge the interest of Tony Bennett, a former assistant under Ryan who's built Virginia into a top program. But Gard will have his chance to impress the school.
I'm not going to miss Ryan on the sideline, and I mean that as the sincerest form of flattery. I often joked that Ryan must have sold his soul to Satan because it was absurd that he could lead a program full of three-star recruits to no worse than a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten for 14 straight seasons. But the truth is that Ryan is an excellent coach that ran his system and knew how to get the right players and have them flourish in it. Sometimes, that meant having a soul-crushing defense that murdered the sport of basketball. Other times, that meant having the most efficient offense college basketball has seen this millennium. But, all the time, it meant that Wisconsin would win and win.
I wish Ryan the best of luck in retirement, during which he'll have more time to dance:
8. Ohio State (6-5)
Last Week: Northern Illinois (W, 67-54); vs. Kentucky (W, 74-67)
With 12 minutes left in its game against Northern Illinois last Wednesday, Ohio State was stuck in a 44-44 tie with the Huskies. The Buckeyes were staring at the possibility of losing to NIU and a top-10 Kentucky in the same week to drop to 4-7, ensuring that they would have a losing record entering the Big Ten season. However, Ohio State rounded into shape to finish off the Huskies, 67-54, before stunning everyone and knocking off the Wildcats, 74-67, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Saturday. Though this Buckeyes team is young -- they're 346th out of 351 D-I teams in experience per KenPom -- they're not short on talent. There are lots of heralded recruits on this roster, so there will be times when Ohio State can put it all together and look like it can beat any team in the country. However, the Buckeyes aren't at a point where they can put together that effort on a consistent basis. Until then, they won't be a team that will be dancing come March.
7. Northwestern (11-1)
Last Week: Mississippi Valley St. (W, 78-48); at DePaul (W, 78-70 [OT]); Sacred Heart (W, 103-67)
Last night in a rout against Sacred Heart, Northwestern scored 103 points in 68 possessions for an average of 1.52 PPP. Not only is that the Wildcats' best offensive performance of the KenPom era, it's their best in that span by a significant margin:
|Rank||Date||Opponent||Northwestern Points||Possessions||Northwestern PPP|
|1||December 21, 2015||Sacred Heart||103||68||1.515|
|2||January 20, 2011||SIU Edwardsville||98||69||1.418|
|3||November 20, 2007||Illinois-Benedictine||95||67||1.415|
|4||November 22, 2008||Brown||73||52||1.397|
|5||December 3, 2007||Arkansas State||88||63||1.393|
6. Michigan (9-3)
Last Week: Northern Kentucky (W, 77-62); Youngstown St. (W, 105-46)
Michigan had triple-doubles in back-to-back games. That doesn't happen very often:
On Tuesday against Northern Kentucky, Caris LeVert tallied 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. In Michigan's next game against Youngstown State on Saturday, Derrick Walton followed with a 10-point, 11-rebound, 13-assist effort. Clearly, it's the first time in program history that Michigan has had a triple-double in back-to-back games, and according to STATS, U-M is only the second school to accomplish the feat since 1996-97:
According to STATS, UM is the second school since 1996-97 to have triple-doubles in back-to-back games. Robert Morris did it in 2008.— Dave Hogg (@Stareagle) December 20, 2015
When Robert Morris did it in 2008, both triple-doubles were attained by the same player, Tony Lee, who became the sixth player in D-I history to record triple-doubles in consecutive games. We'll see if Walton becomes the seventh on Wednesday vs. Bryant.
Even if Walton doesn't, he and LeVert became the second and third Big Ten players to post a triple-double this season. The only other one is Michigan State's Denzel Valentine, who had a triple-double against Kansas (29-12-12) and another against Boston College (29-11-10). I guess the Mitten State is the place to be looking for triple-doubles this year.
5. Indiana (9-3)
Last Week: vs. Notre Dame (W, 80-73)
As promised last week, Indiana jumps Michigan into the #5 spot for beating Notre Dame, 80-73, in Indianapolis on Saturday. However, for a great deal there, it didn't seem such a move was going to happen. The Hoosiers trailed the Irish by 16 points with 15 minutes remaining, and they were on their way to another underwhelming result away from Assembly Hall. But, as I stopped watching to meet with a friend, things changed:
|Time||Possessions||Indiana Points||Indiana PPP||Notre Dame Points||Notre Dame PPP|
|First 25 Minutes||41||40||0.98||56||1.37|
|Final 15 Minutes||25||40||1.60||17||0.68|
I didn't watch the comeback, so I can't speak as to what exactly was the cause of this massive swing. Nonetheless, that the Hoosiers were able to do it against #25 Notre Dame on a neutral site while their best player, Yogi Ferrell, struggled (8 points on 2-of-7 shooting, 5 turnovers) speaks greatly as to what they're capable of. This was huge for IU.
4. Iowa (8-3)
Last Week: vs. Drake (W, 70-64)
Iowa held off Drake, 70-64, and I don't think you need advanced stats to tell you how embarrassing it'd have been if the Hawkeyes had lost to a rapper with moves like this:
3. Maryland (10-1)
Last Week: vs. Princeton (W, 82-61)
As the non-conference portion of the schedule nears its end, it's clear Maryland is a much better offensive team this season compared to last. The Terrapins have leaped from 58th in adjusted offensive efficiency to 11th, and the reason has been their improved shooting, particularly inside the three-point line. Last season, Maryland was 157th in two-point shooting (48.0 pct.). This season? Maryland is at the top of the list, ranking first in two-point shooting (61.8 pct.). The Terrapins' lethal ability to finish inside the arc propelled them to their 82-61 win over Princeton (20-of-32 twos). And they've been this good because they have four players that shoot better than 60 percent on two-pointers:
|1||Damonte Dodd (Maryland)||21-27||77.8|
|2||Thomas Bryant (Indiana)||50-67||74.6|
|3||Johnny Hill (Purdue)||25-34||73.5|
|4||Robert Carter (Maryland)||46-63||73.0|
|5||Sanjay Lumpkin (Northwestern)||17-24||70.8|
|6||Max Bielfeldt (Indiana)||35-51||68.6|
|7||Michael Finke (Illinois)||31-47||66.0|
|8||Jake Layman (Maryland)||24-37||64.9|
|9||Ricky Doyle (Michigan)||25-39||64.1|
|10||Alex Olah (Northwestern)||55-87||63.2|
|11||Melo Trimble (Maryland)||33-53||62.3|
Good luck defending that.
2. Purdue (11-1)
Last Week: vs. Butler (L, 68-74)
One of Purdue's few offensive weaknesses flared up in its Crossroads Classic matchup with Butler in Indianapolis, and it ruined the Boilermakers' perfect season. Purdue is 147th in offensive turnover rate, losing the ball on 18.2 percent of its possessions. This wasn't supposed to be much of an issue against Butler, though, because the Bulldogs are 226th in defensive turnover rate (17.6 pct.). However, it became Purdue's biggest issue as PU turned over the ball 18 times in 72 possessions (25 pct.). As a result, Butler shot 10 more field goals and 10 more free throws in a game where Purdue shot better from the floor and rebounded just as well. And that was just enough to push Butler to the win.
1. Michigan State (12-0)
Last Week: at Northeastern (W, 78-58)
Michigan State has played like one of the nation's best teams and owns a resume worthy of one. However, that could be put to the test as it was announced on Monday morning that Denzel Valentine will sit out the next two to three weeks after injuring his knee in practice on Sunday. Valentine, who's averaging 18.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG, and 7.1 APG, is having an incredible season and has been considered the front-runner in the National Player of the Year race. There's little doubt that the Spartans will miss his contributions greatly, but, if there ever was a time for him to be absent, it's now even with the Big Ten season only one week away. Based on the timeline, he will miss these five games at most:
|Date||Opponent||KenPom Win Probability|
|December 22, 2015||vs. #73 Oakland||86%|
|December 29, 2015||at #18 Iowa||52%|
|January 2, 2016||at #125 Minnesota||85%|
|January 7, 2016||#114 Illinois||95%|
|January 10, 2016||at #145 Penn State||86%|
The road game at Iowa stands out as one that could pose problems for Michigan State, but that's about it. Even without Valentine, the Spartans should be able to maneuver through this stretch just fine. It helps that MSU is a very deep team -- 11th in minutes allocated to the bench -- and has guys that can step up in his place -- hello, Eron Harris.