Woo-hoo! The Big Ten just came off a weekend in which I thought might’ve cost the conference eight losses (OSU@Kansas, Kentucky@IU, UNLV@Wisconsin, MSU@Gonzaga, Iowa@Iowa State, Oakland v. Michigan, Nebraska@TCU, PSU@Duquesne), but instead posted a 5-3 record in those games and has 6 -count them- six ranked teams today! Even more worrisome going into the weekend was that the preceding week a number of clubs had barely eked out wins over what should have been gimmes (specifically Purdue, Illinois, & Nebraska), and Penn State & Iowa had already lost. Penn State and Iowa would go on to lose again, with Ohio State joining them for reasons listed below. But overall, there were a number of nice wins for the Big Ten who is beginning to pull away from the pack and become the clearly best conference in country. Standings after the jump.
I didn’t run any efficiency numbers this week as I didn’t expect too much change (for example, NU didn’t even play). So, this week I go through the teams and look at a little their losses and try to identify their best wins.
1. Ohio State (8-1)
Best W Florida, Duke
L @ Kansas
The loss at Kansas was really interesting in that Thad Matta rested his star, Jared Sullinger, rather than risk his health. Kansas’ coach Bill Self played his star, Tyshawn Taylor, who was subsequently announced to be going out of action for three for surgery. Self got the win his club desperately needed, while Matta certainly didn’t need another quality win, and the loss would have the qualifier next to it henceforward that Sullinger didn’t even play. Most people wouldn’t penalize them for this loss, and I won’t either. Frankly, Matta can probably rest Sullinger until the home game versus Northwestern two weeks from now.
2. Wisconsin (8-2)
Best W - UNLV, @BYU
L Marquette, @UNC
I would’ve dropped the Badgers if they’d been only average this week, but they beat a solid UNLV at home for their best win to date after crushing Green Bay. Their best game of the season is still probably the loss that they let get away at North Carolina, if they’d just shot a wee bit better there, they’d have a serious statement win. And one serious concern going forward is that this club seems to rely on hot outside shooting (from Ben Brust, Josh Gasser, etc.) for offense moreso than any previous Bo Ryan club I can recall. Even the team they had a couple of years ago with Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon still had Hughes’ posting up on a lot of plays. As it is, I’m not betting against Bo Ryan any time soon.
3. Indiana (9-0)
Best W - Kentucky, @NCSU
What else could be said about that win over Kentucky? How about this- Christian Watford played tough defense on a preseason All-American, and went into the lane in crunch time to make a solid pro move to give the Hoosiers the lead back momentarily, all before hitting the three that won the game. Onions! Certainly, relying on outside shooting and not locking up the defensive boards are concern points. Yet, I would still say that this Hoosier team is different from the past three years, in some really good ways. Now, we’ll see how they react to success when they face Notre Dame this next weekend. Given a win over UK, I would’ve previously put money on ND for the upset before they lost Tim Abromaitis for the year. Still, it should be a dangerous game - highly winnable - but dangerous.
4. Purdue (9-2)
Best W- Iona, Temple
L @Xavier, n-Alabama
The Boilers made up for an anemic home win vs. Western Carolina with a brutal pounding of Eastern Michigan. And after that amazingly display of foolishness by the Musketeers this weekend, I sure found myself wishing that Purdue had
not pulled it out at Xavier. What a bunch of jackasses -who lets the players go speak to the media after a brawl like that? Anyway, that loss at Xavier did demonstrate in a perfect microcosm that Purdue with Robbie Hummel is a very dangerous team, and Purdue without Hummel is going to struggle. The Boilers have got good wins over Iona and Temple, and no bad losses - they look to be solid in conference play again.
5. Michigan State (8-2)
Best W @Gonzaga,
L n-UNC, n-Duke
Michigan State jumps back into the national consciousness as Draymond Green ends his scoring troubles dropping 34 on Gonzaga. Even better, Derrick Nix and Adriean Payne chipped in to shut down the paint against the strong Zags, in Spokane. I’m still not sold on this team’s depth or their perimeter crew (I think they went 4-for-24 from the field in the win), but if Keith Appling, et al, can just keep opposing defenses honest, the Spartans are headed to yet another Big Dance.
6. Illinois (10-0)
Best W v. Gonzaga
Yeah, sixth is pretty low for a 10-0 team. In my mind, someone had to drop, and they're it due to an anemic home win versus St.Bonaventure last week (48-43). The home win over Gonzaga was nice, but since MSU just beat them on the road, clearly that’s a better quality win. And indeed, it’s rather hard to identify the second-best win on the schedule here. I suppose it’s winning at a mediocre Maryland, but it could also be the home win over Illinois State.They’ve got good tests coming up with a game against UNLV and then a trip to red-hot Missouri. They win both of those games, and count me in as a believer for the Illini as a Big Ten contender.
7. Michigan (7-2)
Best W v. n-Memphis, Iowa State
L v. n-Duke, @Virginia
The Wolverines only have two totally reasonable losses on their record, but their early wins in Maui have diminished in value as Memphis has played its way out of the top 25 and UCLA just looks terrible now. Iowa State may well end up being their best non-conference win unless Beilien manages to squeak one out at Arkansas. They are doing an amazing job of converting twos right now, though. They gave up some points Oakland and still pulled out the win, so they haven't played themselves out of the rankings or NCAA contention.
8. Minnesota (10-1)
Best W - Virginia Tech
L v. Dayton
It’s hard to know what to make of this team now. Certainly they’ve played hard since Trevor Mbakwe went down, and Ralph Sampson and Rodney Williams appear to be stepping up as needed. Are the Gophers a team that can still contend for a NCAA spot? If everything goes right from here on out for Tubby Smith’s squad, it’s totally possible. Still, the starters have been consistently inconsistent, the depth might be competent in conference play, or it might not. I’ll say this, they’re winning without Mbakwe, even if it's just against Appalachian State & St. Peter's, and that’s not a bad thing.
9. Northwestern (7-1)
Best W- Seton Hall
Certainly the Wildcats are no worse than Minnesota, but with no games since Baylor brutalized them at Welsh-Ryan, there’s no reason to move them up in the standings. I’m a big fan of John Shurna, but I still don’t like NU’s defense. And when you have big questions in the backcourt and at center, there’s reason enough for serious concern going into Big Ten play. Also, what’s their second-best win? Louisiana State, maybe, or Tulsa? I’d love for them to end the NCAA tourney-less streak, but it’s looking less and less likely.
10. Nebraska (6-3)
Best W @ TCU,
L Wake Forest, Creighton, Oregon
The Huskers have started to rebound since a really bad week. The one-point win over Florida Gulf Coast will cause worry for noone in the conference, but they did notch the bottom tier best road win for this season with a 12-point victory at Texas Christian. The only bad loss on the record is that close one against Wake Forest, but their second-best win is probably South Dakota State. Hmm.
11. Penn State (6-5)
Best W - South Florida
L @Kentucky, Lafayette, Duquesne, @St. Joe’s, Mississippi
They’ve lost three straight (Ole Miss, Lafayette, and Duquesne) and are still not at the bottom of the league? That’s how bad Iowa is - Pat Chambers’ club can at least compete in most of their losses. The second-best win for the Lions is a little hard to determine, but I would guess it was the win over Youngstown State. PSU’s combo of Tim Frazier plus a bunch of three-point lobbers will probably end up in a surprise win over somebody in the conference. I just hope it’s not IU.
12. Iowa (5-5)
Best W - Brown?
L @UNI, @Iowa St, Clemson, Campbell, Creighton
The low quality of Iowa’s wins, and the high margin of victory for their foes, really are quite concerning. I’m sure Iowa will nab some wins in the conference, but even with Melsahn Basabe starting to play a little better, the Hawkeyes just looked increasingly terrible in losses to UNI and Iowa State. Maybe if Basabe and Andrew Brommer rounds into shape, and Devyn Marble takes over the point duties, they might get enough stability to escape the cellar. Maybe.