14. Rutgers (6-11, 0-4 B1G)
Last Week: at Maryland (L, 63-88); Nebraska (L, 56-90)
Through two weeks, there have been eight Big Ten games decided by 20 or more points. Rutgers has been on the wrong end of three of them, losing to Wisconsin by 22 points, Maryland by 25 points, and Nebraska by 34 points. Do I need to say anything more?
13. Minnesota (6-10, 0-4 B1G)
Last Week: at Penn State (L, 77-86); Northwestern (L, 52-77)
Last week, I discussed how much of a red flag it was that Minnesota allowed Michigan State and Ohio State to make 56.4 percent of their two-pointers. It got worse. The Gophers permitted Penn State to finish 21-of-34 twos (61.8 pct.) and Northwestern to convert 17-of-25 twos (68.0 pct.) this past week. Accordingly, they remain last in two-point defense in Big Ten play (59.9 pct.), and only Rutgers comes close to that hideous mark (57.7 pct.). Minnesota has multiple problems, but, if opponents can continually slice through its defense for easy baskets, Minnesota won't win many Big Ten games this year.
12. Penn State (10-7, 1-3 B1G)
Last Week: Minnesota (W, 86-77); at Michigan State (L, 65-92)
The three-point line hasn't been friendly to Penn State during the Big Ten season. Not only has making threes been a chore for the Nittany Lions' offense (26.4 pct.), Big Ten opponents have rained threes on them, too (46.5 pct.). The Lions are last in both categories. Further, it's not just that opponents are making a high rate of their threes. They're also dropping in a high volume of them. The last three teams that Penn State has faced -- Michigan, Minnesota, and Michigan State -- each has sunk at least 10 threes. As a result, Penn State has been outscored, 120-57, from behind the arc in just four Big Ten games. That's a 15.8-point per-game margin, and it's been tough for PSU to overcome.
11. Nebraska (9-8, 1-3 B1G)
Last Week: at Iowa (L, 66-77); at Rutgers (W, 90-56)
He's been overlooked because of Nebraska's struggles, but Kansas transfer Andrew White has been sterling in his first season with the Huskers and is coming off of a 28-point, nine-rebound performance against Rutgers. Not only is White the team's leading scorer (17.4 PPG), he's the sixth-best scorer in the Big Ten behind Kendrick Nunn, Jarrod Uthoff, Malcolm Hill, Denzel Valentine, and Caris LeVert -- all players contending for spots on the All-Big Ten first team. And what separates White from teammate Shavon Shields (15.2 PPG) is his superb shooting. White has made 60.9 percent of his twos and 44.3 percent of his threes for a 64.0 eFG% -- third-highest in the conference. This has elevated White's offensive rating to 122.2, making him one of the most efficient offensive players in the Big Ten. If he keeps this up, he'll be a sleeper candidate to be All-Big Ten.
10. Illinois (9-8, 1-3 B1G)
Last Week: at Michigan State (L, 54-79); Purdue (W, 84-70)
While most Americans spent their Sunday evening watching the NFL playoffs, Illinois landed the most surprising result of the Big Ten season. The Illini didn't just beat a Purdue team that was 14-2 and ranked #4 nationally on KenPom. They beat them badly, upsetting the Boilermakers by a score of 84-70 at home. How the heck did this happen? It started with the performances of Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn, who both played liked the All-Big Ten players they are capable of being. Hill recorded 30 points on 9-of-15 shooting, eight rebounds, and three assists, while Nunn poured in 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting. When these two guys can produce like that on the same night, Illinois can beat even the nation's best teams. Unless you were watching football, you saw it on Sunday.
9. Wisconsin (9-8, 1-3 B1G)
Last Week: at Indiana (L, 58-59); Maryland (L, 60-63)
Games that come down to the final one or two possessions will begin to haunt Wisconsin fans, if they haven't already. While Wisconsin did beat VCU by one point back in November for the 2K Classic, six of the Badgers' eight losses have been by no more than six points, and five have been by three points or fewer, including both last week to Indiana and Maryland. This is why Wisconsin still ranks 63rd on KenPom. If a few bounces go the other way or Melo Trimble misses a three at the buzzer, UW may have a better record. But those things have happened as Wisconsin fights to stay above .500.
8. Northwestern (14-3, 2-2 B1G)
Last Week: Ohio State (L, 56-65); at Minnesota (W, 77-52)
Northwestern has a solid team this season (#45 on KenPom) and is vying for its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. However, due to a fluffy non-conference schedule, the Wildcats (#112 RPI) likely need to win at least 11 Big Ten games to be deserving of a spot. Thus, home games against middling conference opponents are ones that they must win. Otherwise, they'll fall short of their mark unless they can surprise some upper-tier teams down the stretch. That's why Wednesday's home loss to the Buckeyes, in which Northwestern couldn't buy a bucket (35.8 eFG%), stung quite a bit. That loss puts Northwestern behind the eight ball because KenPom projects NU to be the favorite in only seven more games. If Northwestern wins only those games, that'll be a 9-9 Big Ten record. NU would need to do some damage in the Big Ten Tournament to go dancing.
But, hey, at least Northwestern achieved this in its road win at Minnesota on Saturday:
Northwestern's 25-point margin of victory is its largest in a Big Ten road game since a 77-20 win at Chicago Jan. 14, 1944. #B1GCats— NU Men's Basketball (@NUMensBball) January 9, 2016
7. Ohio State (11-6, 3-1 B1G)
Last Week: at Northwestern (W, 65-56); at Indiana (L, 60-85)
Ohio State had two road games last week, and neither one was going to be a breeze. I think most Buckeye fans would have been pleased if their team split those games, and that's what Ohio State did by outlasting Northwestern at Welsh Ryan Arena. However, Assembly Hall is no Welsh Ryan Arena, and they probably weren't happy with the beatdown that occurred there. Indiana spanked the Buckeyes, making as many field goals in the first half (18) as Ohio State had points. Accordingly, the Hoosiers held a whopping 30-point lead heading into the intermission and cruised to a 25-point win in the second half. What had to be most frustrating for Ohio State wasn't the result -- Indiana always is a different monster at Assembly Hall -- but its players' body language. Other than JaQuan Lyle, who tallied 29 points and eight rebounds, the Buckeyes looked totally disinterested, like they were just going through the motions. They didn't have that fight, that anger you'd want to see from a team in that situation. But they're young. They'll figure it out.
6. Michigan (12-4, 2-1 B1G)
Last Week: at Purdue (L, 70-87)
Without Caris LeVert, Michigan ran out of steam against Purdue, who used a 21-10 burst in the final five minutes to transform a six-point lead into a 17-point win. The Wolverines were able to hang tough for awhile thanks to their three-point shooting (40.7 pct.) and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman's career night (25 points on 10-of-16 shooting, 4 boards). However, Abdur-Rahkman's teammates couldn't score inside the arc against Purdue's ferocious defense, making just 4-of-23 twos. That's it. Accordingly, U-M converted just 12-of-34 twos (35.3 pct.) as a team, and, as UM Hoops' Dylan Burkhardt pointed out, the Wolverines' two-point shooting has been a barometer for their success:
Two-point shooting serves as a barometer for Michigan's success. https://t.co/GVFW4teAUu pic.twitter.com/N9IllOCaQW— Dylan Burkhardt (@umhoops) January 8, 2016
5. Indiana (14-3, 4-0 B1G)
Last Week: Wisconsin (W, 59-58); Ohio State (W, 85-60)
Last Tuesday, Indiana announced that its second-leading scorer, James Blackmon, Jr., is expected to miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on his right knee. Blackmon already had missed the last two games, and now the Hoosiers had to get used to not having such a versatile scorer at their disposal. However, it's no secret Blackmon is an enormous liability on the defensive end, and, with Collin Hartman and OG Anunoby getting more minutes in his stead, Indiana's defense seemingly has improved. It wasn't too long ago that IU was outside the top 100 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Now they're 71st after holding their last three opponents (Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Ohio State) each to under one point per possession and to one of their respective five worst offensive outings for this season. Even Crimson Quarry's Kyle Robbins has written about it.
4. Purdue (14-3, 2-2 B1G)
Last Week: Michigan (W, 87-70); at Illinois (L, 70-84)
Not only did Purdue have its worst defensive performance of the season by far as Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn carried Illinois to 1.20 PPP, the Boilermakers allowed the Illini's four-guard, 163rd-ranked defense to stifle their offense to the tune of 1.00 PPP. How did this happen? Two things stand out. First, Purdue caught the turnover bug again, giving up the ball 16 times (22.9 pct.). Most of these were unforced errors as Illinois stole the ball only five times. It was just Purdue shooting itself in the foot. And, speaking of shooting, the second thing is that Purdue fell into Illinois' trap of firing jumpers. Caleb Swanigan, A.J. Hammons, and Isaac Haas had major size mismatches to their liking, but they took only 19 of Purdue's 60 field-goal attempts because Illinois sagged off the three-point line. And, unlike against Michigan earlier in the week, the Boilermakers weren't able to punish their opponent from deep, draining only 7-of-22 threes (31.8 pct.). Add it all together, and you create a recipe for beating Purdue -- a great team stumbling of late.
3. Michigan State (16-1, 3-1 B1G)
Last Week: Illinois (W, 79-54); at Penn State (W, 92-65)
Denzel Valentine returned to the hardwood in Michigan State's Sunday snoozer against Penn State, but his presence wasn't necessary. The Spartans had a dominant week, crushing Illinois, who didn't have Kendrick Nunn as he was attending the birth of his first child (congrats, Kendrick!), by 25 points and Penn State by 27 points in University Park. There's not much to say about the Spartans other than that it's impressive that they have been able to chug along without their best player. Sure, they lost their first game of the season without him, but falling to Iowa in Iowa City is nothing about which to be embarrassed. Now Valentine is back in time for MSU to exact revenge on Iowa (Thurs.).
2. Maryland (15-1, 4-0 B1G)
Last Week: Rutgers (W, 88-63); at Wisconsin (W, 63-60)
Thanks to Melo Trimble's game-winning three at Wisconsin, it's time to update this stat:
|November 24, 2014||vs. Arizona State||W, 78-73|
|November 28, 2014||Monmouth||W, 61-56|
|December 30, 2014||at Michigan State||W, 68-66 (2OT)|
|January 25, 2015||Northwestern||W, 68-67|
|February 4, 2015||Penn State||W, 64-58|
|February 11, 2015||Indiana||W, 68-66|
|February 14, 2015||at Penn State||W, 76-73|
|February 19, 2015||Nebraska||W, 69-65|
|February 24, 2015||Wisconsin||W, 59-53|
|March 8, 2015||at Nebraska||W, 64-61|
|March, 13, 2015||vs. Indiana||W, 75-69|
|March 14, 2015||vs. Michigan State||L, 58-62|
|March 20, 2015||vs. Valparaiso||W, 65-62|
|November 17, 2015||Georgetown||W, 75-71|
|December 30, 2015||Penn State||W, 70-64|
|January 9, 2016||at Wisconsin||W, 63-60|
In the last two seasons, Maryland is 15-1 in games decided by no more than six points.
Some of this can be attributed to straight luck and fortuitous bounces. However, some of it also must be attributed to Maryland's free-throw shooting. Last season, the Terrapins were 14th in the country at the line, making 75.6 percent of their freebies. This season, they are 15th, sinking 75.8 percent of them. Their ability to make free throws at such a high rate makes it difficult for team to make late rallies in close games. However, there are times when things don't go according to plan, like when Maryland missed the front end of not one but two (!) one-and-ones against Wisconsin, which allowed the Badgers to tie the game at 60 points apiece with 23 seconds left after an Ethan Happ three-pointer.
But then Trimble did this:
1. Iowa (12-3, 3-0 B1G)
Last Week: Nebraska (W, 77-66)
For the second straight game, Jarrod Uthoff needed only 16 field-goal attempts to post 25 points, but that's not even what amazes me the most about him recently. In three Big Ten games, Uthoff has swatted away 15 shots. Yes, he's averaging not one, not two, not three, not four, but five blocks per Big Ten game right now. The number of players in the nation that are averaging more blocks per conference game than him? Zero. What's so interesting about Uthoff's blocking prowess (15th nationally in blk%) is that he's not a prototypical rim protector. He's 6-foot-9, which gives him the length to contest shots, but he's much more perimeter-oriented than a big that just sits on the block or in the paint. Blocks aren't supposed to be natural for players like that. But Uthoff isn't ordinary.