A ranking of the Big Ten basketball teams, with reviews and commentary on the last week's worth of games.
The new number one. The Wolverines fended off a late rally from a shorthanded WVU team in NYC, making Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins openly complain about the lack of effort some of his players are putting in. It’s looking like their unbeaten status won’t be tested until they travel to Ohio State on January 13th, unless Northwestern is able to spring some sort of road trap first (which is not likely). For sticking with a relatively small line-up, Michigan is getting pretty decent numbers for defensive rebound percentage, trailing only Penn State among conference teams in that category. Which is good for them, because that’s the only defensive statistic in which they really excel.
2. Indiana (9-1) L v. Butler 86-88 OT (n.)
The disappointing December loss, a staple of Crean’s tenure at Indiana (except last season), raised its ugly head as IU got nipped in OT by a tough Butler squad playing as tough and smart as the Bulldogs’ NCAA runner-up squads. I was infuriated by Yogi Ferrell’s turnovers, but then he comes up with the huge three to send it to overtime. And then in OT he throws a bounce pass instead of the high lob to a cutting Zeller, and Butler is able to steal it and come down and take the lead. IU’s defense has taken its lumps this week, but the last three Butler shots were hit by three guys who were 8-for-26 before each of those shots. Yes, you don’t want Rotnei Clarke ever shooting the ball, but a 25 footer with Oladipo oh-so-close to blocking it is probably the shot you would accept. Chase Stigall had a beautiful ball fake before stepping up to hit his three, but he was shooting 1-for-6 in that game, and has hit only 26.1% of his threes this year after hitting only 28.4% last season (on 176 attempts!). You can understand IU thinking of him as a guy that was going to be looking to pass the ball. And that turnaround jumphook from Barlow was a simply nice shot that’s hard for anyone to bother, and it took a really friendly bounce. Now, Indiana needs to work on rebounding, securing the ball with two hands, etc. There is work to be done. But in my eyes, the Hoosiers still look pretty good.
3. IIllinois (12-0) W vs. Eastern Kentucky 66-53, W v. Norfolk St. 64-54
After hitting 11-of-26 on threes (42.3%) to win at Gonzaga, the Illini have returned home to post identical 6-of-23 (26.1%) shooting marks from long distance in wins over EKU and Norfolk St. I mentioned in my efficiency stats last week that the only real improvement to be seen under Groce’s tenure was in Brandon Paul, and Luke Winn over at SI details how this is happening.
Essentially, Groce is doubling Paul’s pick-and-roll sets, and this has helped Paul’s shooting percentages rise and his turnovers drop dramatically. We’ll see if this holds up in conference play, but for now, kudos to Groce.
4. Minnesota (11-1) W v. North Dakota State 70-57
Ok, so Trevor Mbakwe is still coming off the bench, and played only 21 minutes against NDSU. He also posted 14 points and 18 rebounds in those 21 minutes. Rodney Williams threw down a 360 dunk en route to a 19 point, 6 rebound night, and the deep bench got to play in the last minute. The Lafayette game later this week should be a laugher, so we shouldn’t find anything out about the quality of this club too soon. I will say, I’m a still little concerned about their turnover percentage and their outside shooting, but I like the options they have on defense. To counterpoint myself, however, Ken Pomeroy's ratings actually ranks their offense (12th nationally) as slightly better than their defense (18th). Hmm. I assume this is due to excellent offensive rebounding, and the higher FG% and FT rates that usually accompany that success, but this bears watching.
5. Ohio State (8-1) W vs. Savannah St. 85-45, W vs. UNC-Asheville 90-72
Frankly, this feels too low for the Buckeyes now, but booting Minnesota and Illinois lower when they haven’t lost seems unfair. The Buckeyes had their way with UNC-A, but LaQuinton Ross had a terrible game, missing all four threes and turning the ball over 6 (!) times in 23 minutes. The occasional bad game from a super-sub shouldn’t hurt OSU over the long haul, though. The more curious development has been Aaron Craft scoring less than 4 points/game after starting the first five games with 13.6 average. He hasn't been needed, but you've got to wonder what happens when he is.
6. Michigan State (9-2) W v. Tuskegee 92-56
Well, the Spartans picked a good game to cough up the ball 22 times and shoot 5-for-18 from three, drilling the D-II Tuskegee in a commenorative game. MSU beat down the competition by grabbing 60 (!) rebounds, 16 offensive, and shooting 27-of-32 free throws. Of course, shooting 27.8% from three isn’t so far off of the Sparties’ season mark of 32%, but the turnover rate of 25.2% has to have Izzo a bit nervous. It's a good time of year for Izzo to work out the kinks of getting Gary Harris and Travis Trice back into the rotation, though.
7. Wisconsin (7-4) W vs. Green Bay 65-54
If Wisconsin handles Milwaukee and Samford, then they’ll be 9-4 going into conference play with no bad losses. The problem is, they don’t have any particularly great wins either. It’s hard to say whether Badger fans should be alarmed or not. This squad isn’t shooting particularly well, especially from the free-throw line (62.4%), and that could really cost them in close games in the Big Ten. Ryan’s never missed the NCAA tournament at Wisconsin, but it also looks like the program is in a bit of a slump at the moment.
8. Iowa (9-2) W vs. Northern Iowa 80-73 (n.)
Hawkeye fans declare themselves the best team in Iowa (um, yay?) with the neutral-site win over UNI following the win over Iowa State. The win over a solid Northern Iowa team was keyed by good outside shooting, as Marble went off for 30 and Mike Gesell posted 23, with each of them hitting four threes. Even Josh Oglesby tossed in a couple of treys. McCaffrey’s club is actually looking much better than it did at this point last season, and if they can approach .500 again in conference play, they may well have an argument for getting on the NCAA bubble.
9. Northwestern (8-3) W vs. Texas State 72-68
They rallied (scoring the last 12 points of the game) to be Texas State at home, but lost Drew Crawford for the year earlier in the week. I know Crawford wasn’t playing well, but the ‘Cats postseason hopes hinged on him bouncing back. I hope that Carmody is right, and Northwestern can get Crawford a medical redshirt season. But that may be the stake in the heart of NU’s postseason hopes, unless someone else (Nikola Cerina?) comes out of nowhere to step up like crazy.
10. Purdue (4-6) L v. Notre Dame 68-81 (n.)
The good news was that Raphael Davis finally broke out in the second half of the ND game, getting 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting (4-of-5 on FTs). From the 10:22 mark to the 3:18 mark in the second half, he personally outscored the Irish 19-9. However, the Boilers were down 22 points when he started hitting, so he turned a blowout loss into an acceptably bad loss to a good team. Painter simply has to find a way to get his guys to start making some shots. They’ll get a chance to regroup tonight against a Ball State team that’s not very good this season.
11. Penn State (6-4) W v. Delaware State 80-76 OT
The Lions gutted out a tough win at home over Delaware State, but a win is a win in the post-Frazier days in Happy Valley. A home game with New Hampshire next Sunday looks like the last game that Chambers will have this year that might fall into the should-win category. The Lions did a lot well against in the OT win, hitting 38.9% of their threes, 49.1% of all FGs, outrebounding their foes on both ends of the floor, and getting to the line 31 times. They didn’t shoot those free throws great (67%) and turned the ball over 11 times, but in a 72-possession OT game, that’s not terrible (I calculate it at a 15% turnover rate). And they still barely prevailed. Against Delaware State.
12. Nebraska (6-3) L @ Oregon 38-60
The loss at Oregon is to be expected, sure, but on the heels of the Creighton loss, the Huskers are averaging a mere 40 points per game in back-to-back 22-point losses. Furthermore, while Oregon looks like a possible NCAA tournament squad right now, they would have to really fight to crack the top seven in the Big Ten. There could be some really dark days ahead this winter for coach Miles. On the bright side, freshman wing Shavon Shields finally got some extensive playing time, notching 30 minutes.