Another quick look at the week's results from Big Ten basketball teams, with rankings and commentary
You'll have to forgive the dearth of data this week, I'm trying to shift the rankings back a little earlier in the week to make space for other posts (IU Soccer, perhaps?) right now, and it wasn't a particularly busy week for the conference. Still, there were some surprises (What is up with you, Northwestern?) that have caused some movement.
1. Indiana (8-0) W v. Coppin State 87-51
Pleasant Surprises: Well, despite starting out with a slew of turnovers and missing their first nine shots, the Hoosiers blew out Coppin State. Will Sheehey is on fire lately, averaging 17.3ppg and shooting 70% overall (50% from three), over the last three games to go with 5.7rpg and 2.3apg. But when you've got five players averaging double-figure scoring with Remy Abell shooting 83.3% on three-pointers off the bench, there's a lot to like here.
Areas of concern: It's pretty much only the strength of the schedule at this point. There's been a couple of good games: Georgetown and North Carolina, but no true road games and a fair amount of cupcakes. That's been something of a relief given the Hoosiers' early interior depth problems, but will this schedule be enough to prepare IU for the rigors of the conference schedule?The answer is almost certainly no, but the Hoosiers do have enough veterans on hand that a soft schedule may not be an issue. Just a piece to watch.
2. Michigan (7-0) W @ Bradley 74-66
Pleasant Surprises: The Wolverines notched a true road win in their first attempt by taking down the Braves. Jordan Morgan posted a double-double, and the rest of the starting lineup is averaging double figures. The guy everyone is talking about is freshman Nik Stauskas, who was expected to maybe be a Stu Douglass replacement off the bench, and is simply shooting lights out from everywhere: 62.1% on threes, 52.2% on twos, and 95.7% on frees.
Areas of concern: They beat Bradley only by eight points, who had lost at South Florida by 19. Any road win is a good road win, so I'm not worried about the margin of victory by any means, but the Wolverines also aren't separating themselves from the pack, exactly. Michigan fans are very excited by this team's current ranking (#3) and are looking to prove that this is the best Big Ten team. They've got some good wins, but I'm not 100% sold on this squad as a Final Four team yet. I'll be more reassured if I can see that the bench is producing solidly as well, which I've not seen too much of outside of Mitch McGary.
3. Minnesota (8-1) W @ North Florida 87-59
Pleasant Surprises: The Gophers are on track to have their best season of the Tubby Smith era. Granted, North Florida's not very good, but Minny notched 13 blocks to go with 15 steals, and got more offensive rebounds than UNF had defensive rebounds. The Gophers destroyed UNF despite shooting a mere 1-for-13 behind the arc. We'll have to see how quality those Memphis, Stanford, and Florida State wins end up being, but this club looks deep and athletic right now.
Areas of concern: I already mentioned about the quality of the wins, and this takes on extra importance when you look at the rest of the remaining non-conference schedule (South Dakota St., @USC, North Dakota St., and Lafayette). Florida State just went out and lost to Mercer, Stanford had already lost to Belmont at home, and Memphis hasn't really played anyone except Minny and VCU, losing both games. I believe this squad can be very good, but don't forget last year's Gophers entered conference play at 12-1.
4. Ohio State (5-1) W v. Northern Kentucky 70-43
Pleasant Surprises: How about the previously-never-used swingman LaQuinton Ross busting out for 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 3-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc against the Northern Kentucky Norse? I love the NKU name, too: not the Norsemen, but just the Norse. Awesome.
Areas of concern: Offense. The offense totally stalled against Duke in the second half, and then Buckeyes returned home to shoot 7-of23 on threes (30.4%) and 16-of-38 on twos (42.1%) against NKU. If LaQuinton Ross hadn't been on hand, this might've been a downright scare. Perhaps this was just a mere letdown game, but watch the shooting percentages of this team going forward.
5. Michigan State (6-2) W v. Nicholls State 84-39
Pleasant Surprises: As expected, Adreian Payne has moved to the bench, ending the two-towers experiment for now. And Michigan State still dominated on the boards while cutting down on their turnovers, which would be really great news... if they hadn't been playing Nicholls State. The Spartans are healthy, and should have time to get used to the new lineups before conference play starts, so Izzo's club is relatively well positioned for success.
Areas of concern: The next challenge of any kind is a home game with Texas, who lost by 13 to Chaminade, and then lost in OT to Southern California, who just got beat by Nebraska. So Izzo may not have a real test of the new line-up until conference play kicks off on New Year's Eve at Minnesota. That will be one to watch.
6. Illinois (8-0) Idle.
Pleasant Surprises: The jump to #13 in the rankings was a pleasant surprise. I think that's a bit much, but still, it's good for the conference right now.
Areas of concern: Nothing new, obviously, and I'll have more to say when I finish crunching my efficiency statistics.
7. Wisconsin (5-3) W v. California 81-56
Pleasant Surprises: A really good beatdown of a quality (and formerly undefeated!) opponent is always good news. Traevon Jackson seems to be settling in at point guard, and Sam Dekker is getting more minutes off the bench. Also, Mike Bruesewitz's bounceback from a bad game to post 8 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 steals was particularly noteworthy.
Areas of concern: Wisconsin does have three losses, two to quality foes, but the Virginia loss at home really makes one want more data as to the quality of this team. Are the Badgers just inconsistent, or are they much worse than we thought they would be at this point in the season? December 8th's match at Marquette should provide some clarity.
8. Purdue (3-4) L v. Xavier 57-63
Pleasant Surprises: I guess the fact that they were still in the game with a chance to win despite some very, very bad shooting? There's not a like to lot about a disappointing home loss, immediately on the heels of a surprising road win in the ACC-B1G challenge. If they need DJ Byrd to be shooting literally lights-out every time they face a team that has postseason hopes, they aren't going to win a lot of games. Terone Johnson did have a pretty good line with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 assists versus Xavier.
Areas of concern: Well, there's the 0-for-17 performance from behind the arc. You could start with that. And then the Boilers still only shot 65% on free-throws, and under 50% on twos. This simply isn't a good shooting team, so they will have rely on ball control and rebounding to get enough chances to win games. I am confident that the Boilers will bounce back somewhat, and that's why I have the only conference team with a losing record ranked in the middle tier of Big Ten teams. But it is looking more like a very up-and-down year for Purdue.
9. Iowa (6-2) W vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 88-59
Pleasant Surprises: The change-up to utilize two freshman point guards (Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons) worked pretty well, but this was against Texas A&M-CC. Not the biggest or toughest competition, and any line-up that Fran McCaffrey threw out there would've been sufficient. Still, Clemmons and Gesell combined for 9 assists and only one turnover in the blowout, so it's a lineup that is probably worth another look.
Areas of concern: The Hawkeyes don't seem to know who they are yet, and a lot of that has to do with having a lot of inconsistent production in the line-up. We know Aaron White and Roy Devyn Marble are going to produce on any given night, but guys like Eric May have long been question marks, and now there's three freshmen in the starting line-up, which is almost never good for efficiency or consistency. Heck, Melsahn Basabe dominated Texas A&M-CC with some aggression that been not been seen for a while. That's good, but where's that attacking mindset been?
10 Nebraska (6-1) W v. USC 63-51
Pleasant Surprises: Ray Gallegos is officially a solid go-to scorer, and broke this one open just before the half. USC didn't do themselves any favors, but Gallegos seized his opportunities to score 11 points in a row just before the half, giving the Huskers an eight-point cushion. He is now shooting 41.8% from three (while shooting almost 8 attempts/game!), which is stunning, given his shooting line from 2010-2011 (32.3%FG/57.1%FT/14.3%3ptFG). With Dylan Talley and Brandon Ubel steadily producing, maybe the Huskers can stay out of the cellar this year. Also, nice to see freshman Shavon Shields start to get some minutes off the bench coming back after an injury.
Areas of concern: Center Andre Almedia's game has been one step forward and one step back all season. He followed up his dominant performance at Wake Forest with a foul-and-turnover-filled 15 minutes. It was nice that he scored 8 points and had 3 blocks in his limited minutes, but I'm sure coach Tim Miles would like to see him be able to play for at least 10 more minutes a game.
11. Penn State (4-3) W v. Penn 58-47
Pleasant Surprises: Hey, a win is a win. They don't have too many more opportunities to post wins before becoming massive underdogs in most conference games. How'd they beat Penn? The Lions hit the boards and went to the free-throw line, and Jermaine Marshall is showing some leadership as a senior. He's averaging 20ppg, 3.3rpg, and 2 steals/game in the post-Frazier matches, but more interestingly he's boosted his FTA to 9.7 per game. Before Frazier got injured, Marshall was only shooting 0.8 FTA/game, which is an increase of roughly oh... a billion percent. Very impressive.
Areas of concern: Turnovers and shooting. Against Penn, the Lions still only had 8 assists and 11 turnovers, and shot 5-of-16 from three (31.3%) and 40% overall from the field. Coach Chambers is starting to get the scrappiness he needs out of guys like Ross Travis, DJ Newbill, and frosh Brandon Taylor, but he needs Newbill, et al, to take care of the ball, because there's not enough shooters here.
12. Northwestern (6-2) L v. UIC 44-50
Pleasant Surprises: Let's not mince words: the 'Cats are sinking fast. NU came off a very nice little win over Illinois State that had Wildcat fans thinking NCAA tournament contention, and have stunk up Welsh-Ryan arena in back-to-back games. They need to beat Baylor tonight to get back into contention, who could be vulnerable for a let-down game following a great upset win at Kentucky, but since this game is at Baylor, I'm not optimistic.
Areas of concern: Defense, offense, you pick. Northwestern went the last 13:50 of the second half scoring a total of ten points, which is bad enough, but worse when you consider those points came almost totally from Drew Crawford (Reggie Hearn's three-of-six free-throw shooting were the only contributions from the rest of the team in that time). Sure, the defense is bad right now and will probably be helped by the return of Nikola Cerina, but the fact that the offense has been pretty weak *at home* against two teams in a row is a big ol' red flag.