14. Rutgers (10-15, 2-10 B1G)
Last Week: at Illinois (L, 54-66); Ohio State (L, 60-79)
Rutgers added two fresh entries to this unsightly list this past week:
|2||at Seton Hall||73||54||0.740|
|7||at Penn State||63||51||0.811|
On a totally unrelated note, the Scarlet Knights have lost their last eight games.
This Week: Purdue (2/12)
13. Northwestern (10-13, 1-9 B1G)
Last Week: at Nebraska (L, 60-76); at Wisconsin (L, 50-65)
Do you know what's worse than losing eight in a row? Losing nine in a row.
Northwestern still is better than Rutgers, though that's no compliment, but the bottom may be falling out for the Wildcats. In the earlier stages of this nine-game losing streak, the Wildcats scratched and clawed, always making their opponent sweat in the closing minutes. In fact, there was a five-game stretch, some of which were against the likes of Michigan State, Ohio State, and Maryland, where each game was decided by no more than five points or in overtime. Northwestern -- being Northwestern -- lost all five because they're cursed. However, Northwestern hasn't been nearly as competitive in its past three games. Purdue and Nebraska won comfortably after opening the second half with a 21-4 and 22-5 run, respectively, and Wisconsin sprinted out of the gate with a 21-4 lead and never looked back. One must wonder if the successive soul-crushing losses took their toll and robbed the Wildcats of their spirit to keep fighting. We may have a good idea if that's the case after Northwestern hosts both Michigan State and Iowa this week.
This Week: Michigan State (2/10); Iowa (2/15)
12. Nebraska (13-10, 5-6 B1G)
Last Week: Northwestern (W, 76-60); at Penn State (L, 43-56)
Nebraska again demonstrated that the dichotomy between its performances at home and on the road is stark, particularly on offense. The Huskers torched Northwestern to the tune of 132.3 points per 100 possessions in a 16-point home win last Tuesday. Of course, Nebraska then fell flat on its face a few days later when it traveled to State College and scored only 17 points in the first 25 minutes of action in what would be a 13-point road loss to Penn State. Nebraska's scoring rate against the Nittany Lions: 69.5 points per 100 possessions -- almost half of the rate it posted against Northwestern earlier in the week.
Here's how this dichotomy looks over the course of an entire season for the Huskers:
|Site||Games Played||Record||Possessions||Points Scored||Points Scored Per 100 Possessions|
These are raw numbers, so the difference between the two scoring rates likely is inflated given that Nebraska has faced tougher competition on the road than at home. But the raw difference is large enough to paint the picture here regarding Nebraska's offense.
This Week: Wisconsin (2/10); at Purdue (2/15)
11. Penn State (15-9, 3-8 B1G)
Last Week: at Maryland (L, 58-64); Nebraska (W, 56-43)
Penn State may be only 3-8 in the Big Ten, but the Nittany Lions have rediscovered their mojo after dropping their first six conference contests. Not only have they earned victories the past few weeks, winning three of their prior five games, but they have been playing much better basketball as evidenced by their recent record against the spread. Penn State has covered the spread in each of those five games -- and each of its last six in fact! -- and, as a result, the Lions have shot up from No. 122 to No. 81 on KenPom in that time. With the Lions trending upwards, they have the potential to surprise either Ohio State or Maryland -- two teams vying for second place -- with an upset win this week.
This Week: at Ohio State (2/11); Maryland (2/14)
10. Michigan (13-11, 6-6 B1G)
Last Week: Iowa (L, 54-72); at Indiana (L, 67-70)
Michigan had a rough go of it on defense last week, and we should have seen it coming. You see, at the midway point of the Big Ten season, Michigan had the best defensive efficiency in conference play. However, the Wolverines' rank in KenPom's defensive metric, which adjusts for the opponent, didn't budge much. This was an indicator that Michigan's defense had performed as it should against crappy offenses, not that it had become the best defense in the Big Ten. And this was reflected last week when Iowa's No. 22 offense ran layup lines against Michigan, scoring at a rate of 138.4 points per 100 possessions, and Indiana's No. 5 offense registered 117.7 points per 100 possessions. Now Michigan is ninth in defensive efficiency in Big Ten play, which seems about accurate.
This Week: at Illinois (2/12)
9. Illinois (16-8, 6-5 B1G)
This Week: Rutgers (W, 66-54); at Michigan State (W, 59-54)
Illinois did great last week, beating Rutgers at home before earning a resume-enhancing win at Michigan State as Malcolm Hill continued to demonstrate that he's an All-Big Ten player (17.0 PPG and 5.5 RPG last week). However, this space will be used to discuss a call that almost robbed Illinois of its win at Michigan State. Leading by three points with 33 seconds left, Illinois sent Travis Trice to the free-throw line for a one-and-one bonus. Just after Trice shot the first free throw, Jaylon Tate went to box out Trice in case of a miss. Right before the ball was about to get to the rim, Tate put his behind into Trice's groin in a manner that could be deemed excessive. Here's a photo of the sequence:
Though a personal foul could have been whistled on Tate in the moment, the officials did not do so. However, the officials -- led by "TV" Teddy Valentine -- were urged by Tom Izzo and the displeased Izzone to check the monitor, which they did. And then, after the review, the officials assessed a "dead-ball contact technical foul" on Tate, awarding Michigan State with two additional free throws AND possession of the basketball.
But look at the photo above again: Tate began to box Trice out before Trice's free throw reached the net. This was a live play, not a "dead-ball contact" foul. Therefore, the refs did not have the authority to call a technical foul on Tate in that situation. But, because the officials missed what would have been a debatable personal foul on Tate initially, it seems they decided to make it up by assessing a technical foul on Tate, which is absurd. Two wrongs don't make a right, and, in this case, the second wrong put Michigan State in a better position than it would have been if the officials had called only a personal foul.
Nonetheless, Illinois survived the bad call because the Spartans missed their freebies.
This Week: Michigan (2/12); at Wisconsin (2/15)
8. Minnesota (15-9, 4-7 B1G)
Last Week: Purdue (W, 62-58)
Minnesota has rebounded from its 0-5 start to the Big Ten season by winning four of its next six games, none of which were bigger than its four-point win over Purdue on Saturday. At halftime, the Gophers trailed the Boilermakers by four points and needed a spark after Purdue closed out the final eight minutes or so of the first half on an 18-6 run. And Minnesota's press, which has been a staple of its turnover-generating defense, did the trick. Minnesota's press rattled Purdue for the first 10 minutes of the second half, and, as a result, the Boilers turned it over eight times in 17 possessions, which fueled a 21-2 scoring run for the Gophers. Now holding a 15-point cushion against Purdue, the Gophers just needed to hang on for the final 10 minutes, and they barely did as Maurice Walker blocked Vince Edwards' potential game-tying layup in the final seconds.
This Week: at Iowa (2/12); at Indiana (2/15)
7. Indiana (17-7, 7-4 B1G)
Last Week: at Wisconsin (L, 78-92); Michigan (W, 70-67)
It's no secret that Indiana is a very imbalanced team. The Hoosiers are fifth in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency and 264th in adjusted defensive efficiency out of 351 D-I teams. Our friends at The Crimson Quarry -- SB Nation's Indiana site -- took a look at this imbalance and tried to determine what it means for the rest of Indiana's season:
That being said, this year's team has made me wonder how other teams with great offenses and not-so-great defenses (outside the KenPom top 100) have done in the tournament in recent years. Thus, I looked back to 2009 to see the results of the teams that had these characteristics.
So yeah, that's not a great sign even if we do make the tournament. Only one team with a sub-100 KenPom rating on defense advanced past the sweet 16, and that team had both a #1 offense, a wizard coach, and got bailed out of its Sweet 16 game on a bad call (but might have also made the final 4 if not for one of Aaron Harrison's bajillion clutch three-pointers last year). In addition, there have been two other teams prior to 2009 that had top-10 offenses and sub-200 defenses on KenPom - 2008 IUPUI, which had the #10 AdjO and #218 AdjD, and 2003 BC, with its #4 AdjO and #201 AdjD. However, neither of these teams made the NCAA tourney, meaning that teams with top-10 offenses and sub-200 defenses have only made the tournament once in four tries since 2002. Not good odds for our team that is living and dying by the three.
It was written before the Michigan game, but I recommend you read the whole post.
This Week: at Maryland (2/11); Minnesota (2/15)
6. Michigan State (15-8, 6-4 B1G)
Last Week: Illinois (L, 54-59)
They are free for a reason, Michigan State. You're supposed to make them.
Two weeks after I detailed how the Spartans' free-throw shooting woes had cost them critical wins that would have wiped away any concerns fans may have had about the Spartans' NCAA Tournament chances, Michigan State let another game slip away due to a pitiful performance from the free-throw line. In a five-point home loss to Illinois, the Spartans made only 7-of-18 free throws for a rate of 38.9 percent. No, I'm not pulling your leg. 38.9 percent. Unsurprisingly, it was Michigan State's worst effort from the charity stripe when attempting at least 15 free throws in a game in the past five seasons.
And no sequence better symbolized the impact Michigan State's struggles from the free-throw line have had on the team's NCAA Tournament hopes than when, trailing Illinois by three points with 33 seconds left, the Spartans were awarded four free throws -- a one-and-one bonus after a foul on the floor and two after an awful technical foul was assessed to Jaylon Tate for boxing out Travis Trice on the first free throw of his one-and-one. This was an opportunity to turn a three-point deficit into a one-point lead and then get the ball back with the shot clock turned off. Yet Trice and Bryn Forbes combined to make only two of those four "freebies," and the Spartans could not grab the lead on the ensuing possession when Denzel Valentine missed a jumper, falling short in the end.
Free throws were the reason MSU lost to Illinois, and, if the Spartans don't string some wins together soon, free throws will be the reason they miss the NCAA Tournament.
This Week: at Northwestern (2/10); Ohio State (2/14)
5. Purdue (15-9, 7-4 B1G)
Last Week: Ohio State (W, 60-58); at Minnesota (L, 58-62)
One season after Purdue finished last in the Big Ten with a 5-13 record and Matt Painter found himself squarely on the hot seat, Painter may win Big Ten Coach of the Year:
|Rank||Coach (School)||Actual Wins||Expected Wins||Margin|
|1||Matt Painter (Purdue)||7||4.647||+2.353|
|2||Tom Crean (Indiana)||7||5.217||+1.783|
|3||Fran McCaffery (Iowa)||6||4.456||+1.544|
|4||John Beilein (Michigan)||6||4.939||+1.061|
|5||Tim Miles (Nebraska)||5||4.539||+0.461|
|6||John Groce (Illinois)||6||5.607||+0.393|
|7||Mark Turgeon (Maryland)||7||6.683||+0.317|
|8||Bo Ryan (Wisconsin)||9||8.880||+0.120|
|9||Thad Matta (Ohio State)||7||7.520||-0.520|
|10||Eddie Jordan (Rutgers)||2||2.998||-0.998|
|11||Tom Izzo (Michigan State)||6||7.094||-1.094|
|12||Chris Collins (Northwestern)||1||2.363||-1.363|
|13||Pat Chambers (Penn State)||3||4.497||-1.497|
|14||Richard Pitino (Minnesota)||4||6.560||-2.560|
Painter and the Boilermakers have a great chance to add two more wins this week, too.
This Week: at Rutgers (2/12); Nebraska (2/15)
4. Maryland (19-5, 7-4 B1G)
Last Week: Penn State (W, 64-58); at Iowa (L, 55-71)
Alex Cook of MGoBlog has been ranting -- well, maybe not ranting -- for weeks that Maryland is overrated. And Cook is on to something. Since Maryland steamrolled Michigan State by 16 points at home on January 17th, the Terrapins have not cobbled together one inspiring performance in their last five games. They barely eked out home wins against Penn State and Northwestern, the latter of which they would have lost if the Wildcats didn't collapse in the final minutes, and were blown out on the road against Indiana (by 19 points), Ohio State (by 24 points), and Iowa (by 16 points). And the final margin against Iowa doesn't seem as bad as it actually was -- Iowa led, 22-3, at one point.
So why the regression for Maryland? Two reasons stand out. First, Maryland's three-point defense, which tends to surrender numerous attempts, has been bombed recently. In Maryland's first six Big Ten games, opponents made only 30-of-121 threes (22.9 pct.); in Maryland's next five Big Ten games, opponents have made 44-of-92 threes (47.8 pct.). Second, the Terrapins' offense, which relies heavily on free throws, has not been able to get to the charity stripe nearly as frequently in recent weeks. And an alarming trend has emerged for Maryland, courtesy of Dylan Burkhardt of UM Hoops:
Maryland is 7-0 in Big Ten play with a free throw rate over 40% and 0-4 with a free throw rate below.
If Maryland doesn't fix these problems soon, the Terrapins will continue to struggle.
This Week: Indiana (2/11); at Penn State (2/14)
3. Iowa (15-8, 6-4 B1G)
Last Week: at Michigan (W, 72-54); Maryland (W, 71-55)
At the moment, Iowa is 6-4 in the Big Ten with a conference efficiency margin of minus-0.3 points per 100 possessions. On the surface, this seems very so-so. However, remove the Hawkeyes' two losses to Wisconsin, and their conference efficiency margin skyrockets up to positive-9.0 points per 100 possessions. And this includes a season sweep over second-place Ohio State, an 18-point romp on the road at Michigan, and a 16-point home demolition against second-place Maryland. What does this mean? It means Iowa is 6-4 in the Big Ten despite having played the most difficult schedule yet. But, with the schedule easing up in the final weeks, expect the Hawkeyes to go on a run.
This Week: Minnesota (2/12); at Northwestern (2/15)
2. Ohio State (18-6, 7-4 B1G)
Last Week: at Purdue (L, 58-60); at Rutgers (W, 79-60)
Let's do a blind conference-only statistical comparison:
|Player||GP||MPG||Usg %||Off. Rtg||PPG||eFG%||FT%||RPG||APG||TPG||SPG||BPG|
Since this is in the Ohio State section, Player A is D'Angelo Russell, of course.
Who's Player B? Duke's Jahlil Okafor.
Are we sure Okafor should be the National Freshman of the Year?
This Week: Penn State (2/11); at Michigan State (2/14)
1. Wisconsin (21-2, 9-1 B1G)
Last Week: Indiana (W, 92-78); Northwestern (W, 65-50)
Traevon Jackson was Wisconsin's starting point guard before he fractured his foot, which should keep him sidelined for another two weeks or so, but it doesn't mean he should get his job back when he returns. In fact, it may be in the Badgers' best interest to bring him in off the bench. Why? Wisconsin has been better with Jackson's replacement.
With Jackson out, Bronson Koenig has assumed the point guard duties, and, as a result, Wisconsin's offense is clicking at historic levels. In the six games since Jackson's injury, all of which have been Wisconsin wins, the Badgers have scored an astronomical 132.2 points per 100 possessions. This has caused Wisconsin's adjusted offensive efficiency to soar to 124.8 points per 100 possessions, which would be the best mark by any team in the previous 14 years KenPom has been tracking this metric if the season ended today.
Wisconsin's better with Koenig rather than Jackson as the starter because the offense runs more seamlessly through the Badgers' exceptional big men in Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes, and Sam Dekker. Then, when the defense focuses all of its attention on stopping them down low, they are skilled enough to kick it out to an open Koenig on the perimeter, where he has made 16-of-30 threes (53.3 pct.) in the past six games. On the other hand, Jackson is not nearly the three-pointer shooter Koenig is (28.6 pct.), which limits the spacing of Wisconsin's offense, and tends to be a ball-stopper, meaning he hinders the flow of the offense to run isolation for himself. He bogs down the offense.
However, this isn't a cut-and-dry decision for Bo Ryan. Jackson is a senior and had started in 83 of his last 84 games until he fractured his foot. Further, Jackson has been a confident player that always has been willing to take the big shot or make the big play in the final minute. A decision not to give him back his starting job could crush his confidence and negatively affect his play as the Badgers prepare to make their run at a national championship, so it still may be more wise to reinsert Jackson as the starter.
But there's no doubt Koenig has taken the restrictor plate off of this explosive offense.
This Week: at Nebraska (2/10); Illinois (2/15)