Fresh from the conference's "successful" defense of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge (they didn't lose, after all), here's the third week's worth of action in Big Ten games.
1. Indiana (7-0) W v. Ball State 101-53, W v. UNC 83-59
Pleasant Surprises: The Hoosiers have had an opportunity to stumble, and didn't. What can I even say? They look great.
Areas of concern: They've done very well, especially when you consider that they've been short-handed. But they've not played on the road yet, and won't until New Year's Eve. How this great defense, shooting and team play translate to the road in conference games is really the last open question.
2. Michigan (6-0) W v. Pitt 67-62 (n.), W v. Kansas State 71-57 (n.), W v. NCSU 79-72
Pleasant Surprises: Michigan is a good bet for a final four team. They had a great week, beating three quality opponents, and their offense looks superb right now. Nik Stauskas is shooting unbelieveably well, and Glenn Robinson III is hitting the glass nicely for an undersized four.
Areas of concern: Michigan did need a friendly home whistle to make sure that NCSU didn't have a chance to come back in the closing minute. Was it the right call, yeah maybe. Would they get that call in a NCAA tourney game? Almost certainly not. They also play their very first road game at Bradley on Saturday, so how they play on the road in conference games may be an issue to watch.
3. Ohio State (1-0) W v. UMKC 91-45, L @ Duke 68-73
Pleasant Surprises: Even in losing, the Buckeyes looked more impressive than they should have, giving Duke real problems in Durham. The Buckeye defense is formidable, and they're shooting 43.2% from three as a team. Furthermore, OSU is not turning the ball over and looks like they have adequate depth so far with a solid eight-man rotation. Coach Matta's team may or may not be a Final Four-worthy team, but at this point, they definitely seem like they will contend.
Areas of concern: In the second half against Duke, they got pasted for 50 points, and had a hard time getting their shots to fall. It's hard to play at Duke, but I'm really interested to see how their offense holds up in a late December match-up against Kansas. It's a cupcake schedule between now and then, but the Jayhawks should give us a better idea how good OSU's offense is against quality defenses.
4. Minnesota (7-1) L v. Duke 71-89 (n.), W v. Memphis 84-75 (n.), W v. Stanford 66-63 (n.), W @ Florida State 77-68
Pleasant Surprises: I wasn't very high on Minnesota before the Florida State game, as they got blasted by Duke, needed Andre Hollins to go off for 41 points to top Memphis, and a major mental lapse from Stanford who fouled on a halfcourt shot at the buzzer allowed the Gophers to eke out two wins. But that FSU win was pretty impressive. Minny came out and hit their threes early, and that gave them confidence to hold off the Seminoles down the stretch for a quality road win. This looks like Tubby's best team in some time.
Areas of concern: As I mentioned, the Gophers hit their threes early, but only shot 35% overall on threes against FSU. They just as easily could've had losses to Stanford and Memphis, and Duke just simply didn't miss against the Gophers. So, while OSU has an offense that I'm not confident in against quality opponents, I'm really wondering about Minny's defense at this point in the season. This bears watching.
Pleasant Surprises: Gary Harris and Travis Trice showing up in uniform and contributing at Miami. Harris had 12 points and 8 rebounds, and Trice went 3-for-3 behind the arc. Also, even though it was a loss, it must have been a little surprising to have your opponents swarm the floor when you're only the #13 ranked team. That must've been how the Indiana players felt at Nebraska last winter.
Areas of concern: It's only one very understandable loss on the road, but Izzo does have to be concerned that the pieces he has may not be fitting together all that well. Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne are probably better as center-combo than as twin towers, and I'm not sure if Branden Dawson is a three or a four, and which guards fit best with Keith Appling and Harris: Trice, Brandan Kearney, or Denzel Valentine? I'm confident that Izzo will come up with the answers, tho, he always does.
6. Illinois (8-0) W v. Gardner-Webb 63-62, W v. Georgia Tech 75-62
Pleasant Surprises: Going un defeated in their first eight games has been quite impressive. The Illini certainly haven't lacked for late-game heroics, hitting two big threes to avoid to defeat. Most recently, John Groce's came back a little sluggish against Gardner-Webb, needing a three-pointer from Tyler Griffey with six seconds left (and a late miss from their foes) to avoid a big letdown loss on their home floor. They've bounced back nicely to rise to 8-0, with Joe Bertrand starting to assert himself again. Bertrand in particular went on an amazing run with a "Dr. J" esque move to put the Illini over the Yellow Jackets.
Areas of concern: According to the Champaign Room, it's a serious lack of aggression from centers Sam McLaurin and Nnanna Egwu that allows opponents to dominate around the rim. They also note that the free-throw shooting must improve, and the turnovers have to be trimmed as well.
7. Purdue (3-3) W v. UNC-Wilmington 66-40, W @ Clemson 73-61
Pleasant Surprises: Winning at Clemson should be pretty good for the NCAA tourney resume, as long as the Tigers' center Milton Jennings does eventually return. If I knew Jennings was going to miss the Purdue game.... I still don't know that I would've picked Purdue, but I would've had that game in the toss-up category. Give the Boilers credit, they came out and played defense, and with DJ Byrd finally putting on a shooting show (5-for-5 on threes)
Areas of concern: The depth of the bigs. It may sound silly with the Boilers having six players 6-8 or bigger, and also with frosh center AJ Hammons is starting to figure out the college game, but coach Painter is minimizing the minutes of his forwards and centers in favor of Byrd and the Johnsons. Consider that Byrd, along with Anthony, Terone, and Ronnie Johnson are all playing 25+ minutes/game while only AJ Hammons saw more than 15 minutes in the last two games. Sandi Marcius, Donnie Hale, and Jay Simpson are falling right out of the playing rotation despite the already-limited minutes for Jacob Lawson and Travis Carroll.
8. Wisconsin (3-3) L v. Creighton 74-84 (n.), W v. Arkansas 77-70 (n.), L vs. Virginia 54-60
Pleasant Surprises: Looking at the season box score, there's a lot to like here. Ben Brust is of course having a stellar season, shooting 43.2% from three and grabbing 7.9 rebounds/game, and Jared Berggren leads the team in shot-blocking, and is scoring very efficiently (54.5 FG%, 85.7 FT%, 38.9% on threes). Even Sam Dekker is averaging 10.6ppg and has hit 11-of-22 three-point attempts. Furthermore, Traevon Jackson looks to be taking over the starting point guard role (and I've thought for a while he might be the better choice than George Marshall), so maybe the team will start responding positively to the change there, too.
Areas of concern: There's no shame in losing to Creighton in a neutral site game, but losing at home to Virginia is not good. Bucky's 5th Quarter is worried about rebounding, and for good reason. In the last week, UW only outrebounded Arkansas (and narrowly, at that), while Virginia actually doubled them up on the boards 36-18. Bo Ryan always gets things figured, and he definitely has some good pieces here, but they're just not fitting together right now.
9. Northwestern (6-1) W v. TCU 55-31, W v. Illinois St. 72-69 (OT), L v. Maryland 57-77
Pleasant Surprises: Wins against TCU and very decent ISU squad (in OT, no less!) had the Wildcats at 6-0 and dreaming that this might actually be the year. Then came Maryland to Welsh-Ryan arena, and pride goeth before the fall, etc. Still, the Wildcats are 6-1, and Dave Sobolewski is proving that last year's all-B1G freshman team performance was no fluke, shooting better and posting a better assist/turnover ratio so far. Reggie Hearn is having a senior year that every walk-on dreams of, and Alex Olah is a very promising freshman center.
Areas of concern: It's still defense, and in particular,rebounding. Maybe Nikola Cerina can help if he finally get healthy, but goodness - getting whupped 42-15 on the boards? I don't even know how that's possible. Even worse, Maryland got almost half of the offensive rebound opportunities, snagging 10 against NU's 12 defensive rebounds. This was such a pasting that even if NU had shot well from three, say 40%, they still would've lost by eight. Unless Cerina returns very healthy and is able to play long minutes, we can just dust our hands of any NCAA tourney talk for another year.
10. Iowa (5-2) L vs. Wichita State 63-75 (n.), L @ Virginia Tech 79-95
Pleasant Surprises: Uh, most of the surprises were not pleasant this week, as the Hawkeyes lost games that were not close against teams that are not expected to make the NCAA tournament. Aaron White's still scrappy, and freshman center Adam Woodbury did manage to block 3 shots against VT, but securing the paint is starting to look like a genuine long-term problem for Iowa. Positives... uh, Mike Gesell and Roy Devyn Marble have the makings of a very potent backcourt, if they can tune up their efficiency just a bit.
Areas of concern: Defense, perhaps? The Hawkeyes let the Hokies shoot 30 free-throws and a scorching 52.5% from the field, which looks even worse when you realize that includes a 4-for-15 mark from three-point land. Iowa didn't lose this one on turnovers or on rebounding, it was a straight up inability to close down an opponent's scoring. Iowa's got to improve on this end, or they are going to suffer some truly humiliating defeats.
Pleasant Surprises: Winning on the road! Maybe this Tim Miles guy can coach a little? Andre Almedia, who I billed as the next Derrick Nix coming into last season before he took a medical redshirt, looks to be finding his niche, too. despite some real stinkers of games (KSU, for example), Almedia is now averaging 9.7ppg, 5.5rpg, and 2 blocks per game after destroying Wake Forest. Dylan Talley and Ray Gallegos are putting up decent numbers from the wings as well.
Areas of concern: My confidence was not exactly inspired by the narrow win over a meager Tulane team, followed by a second-half collapse against Kent State. The Huskers are still mediocre at best at shooting (46% overall, 67.7% from the line, and 29.8% from three), and are paper-thin with a six-man rotation. Getting that win at Wake Forest, who are not good, and to get to 5-1 is actually rather surprising.
12. Penn State (3-3) W v. Bucknell 60-57, L v. Boston College 61-73
Pleasant Surprises: The Nittany Lions had a nice rallying game to overcome the same Bucknell squad that beat Purdue on their home floor, after the loss of do-everything Tim Frazier. There are a few things to like: Jermaine Marshall's growth as a go-to scorer, DJ Newbill's ability to make plays (although not necessarily finish them), and Ross Travis' fine work in the paint at both ends of the floor. There's some good things.
Areas of concern: You could see in the BC game that PSU has a tiny margin for error. Noone can really have bad games if they are to win, and outside of Jermaine Marshall, noone really acquitted themselves very well. The few players that Chambers has on hand are playing out of position and are having a tough time adjusting, as evidenced by Marshall and DJ Newbill combining for 10 turnovers, and Ross Travis shooting threes. Travis is not an outside shooter (just 7.7% on the season from outside), and needing to make a guy who was a 16.7% three-point shooter jack threes is just wasting possessions.