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Big Ten Weekly Review: Kinda Halfway-there edition

Well, we're sorta at the halfway point in Big Ten play, so I went ahead and listed each teams' per-possession performance alongside my ramblings about how strong or weak each teams seems to be right now. Speaking of per-possession performances, I'd to take a moment and mention one of my weekly must-reads over at Basketball Prospectus, John Gasaway's (or TAFKATBTW) Tuesday Truths have a marvellous run-down of pace, per-possession efficiency (and efficiency margins, of course), and a bit of commentary on Big Ten basketball in the state of Indiana.

It was sort of a slow week, with many teams only playing one game, but there was a bit of movement in my updated standings, below the jump:

1. Ohio State (7-2) W v. PSU, v. Michigan

Two double digit home wins have the Buckeyes now on a nice four-game streak going into Saturday's game at Wisconsin. Furthermore, Matta has time to prepare for whatever faces them in Madison this time around.
The Buckeyes are atop the tempo-free stats, as well, with only Michigan State and Indiana's offense to equal them, and noone near their stout defense. And how about Lenzelle Smith, Jr.? First he kills IU with an unexpected offensive explosion, and then kills Michigan by nabbing 12 rebounds, eight (8!) offensive, and chipping in 17 points (no threes!). It seems just unfair to have an extra horse like that in the stable, so to speak.

Points Per Possession: 1.11 (tie-2nd)
Opponents Points per Possession 0.83 (1st)

2. Michigan State (6-2) W v Minnesota

Even though the Spartans only played one home game last week, I'm comfortable returning them to the number 2 spot. Their tempo-free stats are as gaudy as OSU's, although the two teams have yet to play. While I'm also comfortable predicting that OSU is the better side, I think that Tom Izzo's club is currently the only other Big Ten team I am confident that will get through the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. I'm very interested to see if the top-notch offensive numbers can continue for the Sparties.

Points Per Possession: 1.15 (1st)
Opponents Points per Possession 0.96 (tie-2nd)

3. Michigan (6-3) W@ Purdue L @ OSU

The offense and defense are solid, but Michigan just didn't have the horses to hang with Ohio State in Columbus. And who does? Salvaging a road split by edging Purdue on the road was pretty important, as the Wolverines have yet another road game at Michigan State this weekend. Along with the MSU game, tomorrow's hosting of Indiana should show where the Wolverines are exactly in this second tier of teams. Also, reserve big man Jon Horford appears to be finally able to return from injury, in good news for Michigan fans.

Points Per Possession: 1.04 (tie-4th)
Opponents Points per Possession 1.01 (5th)

4. Wisconsin (6-3) W v. Indiana

The Badgers held off Indiana at home, but they shouldn't feel too good about it. UW needed the calls they got (and I'm not complaining, just noting that they needed them) to hold off IU at home, and honestly look vulnerable going into the backstretch. Combining this with a narrow win at Illinois, it appears the momentum they had recaptured in January may be fading, and 5 of their next 7 games are on the road. Additionally, one of the home games is hosting Ohio State this weekend, so I wouldn't buy stock in Bo Ryan's club at this point.

Points Per Possession: 1.03 (tie-6th)
Opponents Points per Possession: 0.96 (tie-2nd)

5. Indiana (5-5) L@Wisconsin, W v. Iowa

Another week, another home win and road loss for the Hoosiers. However, IU appears to be getting it together a little bit, and it has a lot to do with Verdell Jones III. AJ posted a nice article about his performance earlier, but the thing that really jumps out at me is that over the last five games is that Verdell's assist/turnover ratio is a pretty decent 2.3:1.
I don't know if he's ever been so efficient. Also, the last five games, starting in the second half against OSU, is really where the the adjustments of Indiana's players to Big Ten basketball have started to show up. And scoring over 100 points against a conference team without a three-point barrage is really impressive, and rare. But, that defense...

Points Per Possession: 1.11 (tie-2nd)
Opponents Points per Possession 1.10 (tie-9th)

6. Purdue (5-4) L v. Michigan, W @ Northwestern

After a two-point loss at home, the Boilers went out posted a two point road win over a slumping NU team. The surprising thing here is that the Boilers have actually been able to put together a decent offense this year, which I thought would be their chief challenge. No, the challenge appears to be that the defense is now thoroughly sub-par, and Robbie Hummel is finding himself at center to make room for the under-sized but effective DJ Byrd to play at the four-spot. This has become a small team, and it's hard to play good defense in this league when you're undersized. Terone Johnson had perhaps the game of his young life in Welsh-Ryan arena, and appears to finally be rounding into shape as a capable off-guard.

Points Per Possession: 1.04 (tie-4th)
Opponents Points per Possession 1.07 (8th)

7. Minnesota (4-5) W v. Illinois, L @ MSU

The Gophers have now gone 4-1, although the loss at Michigan State showed that this still isn't a team to pencil into the Big Dance just yet. The road games this week at Iowa and Nebraska should really shine some light on whether Minny is a team that has just benefitted from timing and schedule, or whether they have managed to re-define themselves post-Mbakwe into a real second-tier Big Ten team (which I mean as a complement).

Points Per Possession: 1.02 (8th)
Opponents Points per Possession 1.02 (6th)

8. Illinois (4-4) L @ Minnesota

In one of those cruel irony finishes, Meyers Leonard (who has been the defensive stalwart for the Illini this season) foolishly fouled Austin Hollins while allowing him to finish the play at the end of regulation, giving the Golden Gophers the chance to redeem their season-opening loss at Illinois. I think Illinois is still the better bet than Minnesota to get at an at-large bid, but they also could totally play themselves out of contention for the second time in three years.

Points Per Possession: 0.98 (tie-9th)
Opponents Points per Possession 0.99 (4th)

9. Nebraska (3-6) W @ Iowa

Another first for Doc Sadler's club, who got a honest-to-goodness conference road win, beating down the slumping Hawkeyes. They now look like they are the best of the bottom tier, although they certainly won't challenge for an at-large spot this season. Bonus per-possession note - According to my back-of-the-napkin talley, in the conference games that Diaz and Talley have played, the Huskers have scored 0.95 points per possession (good for, well, still last, but a tie with Penn State for last) and their opponents have only scored 1.02 points per possession (good for a tie 6th place in the conference). It doesn't move them up a lot in either standing, but it would put their current efficiency margin at a much more competitive 9th (-0.07), rather than dead last.

Points Per Possession: 0.88 (12th)
Opponents Points per Possession 1.05 (7th)

10. Northwestern (2-6) L v. Purdue

It was another bad week for Northwestern, with a disappointing home loss to a beatable Purdue squad. Sippin' on Purple has been harping on this, but Carmody has got himself into a jam by having too few scholarship players. So, frosh Tre Demps is taking a medical redshirt year, JerShon Cobb & Alex Marcotullio have been unavailable/unhelpful
also due to injuries, but when redshirted forward Michael Turner was obviously not ready for Big Ten play - this left NU with only 7 scholarship players, plus walk-on Reggie Hearn. Now they've got Hearn playing big minutes, and Luka Mirkovic and (rarely) Nick Fruendt coming off the bench. It's way too much to ask four starters to essentially go the distance every game in this too-tough conference.

Points Per Possession: 0.98 (tie-9th)
Opponents Points per Possession 1.10 (tie-9th)

11. Iowa (3-6) L v. Nebraska, L@Indiana

Trying to find a silver lining about a home loss to Nebraska and a road blowout loss to the Hoosiers? Iowa is only the second conference team to score as many as 89 points in Assembly Hall in the Tom Crean era. In fact, only the Evan Turner-led Ohio State (Jan.31, 2009) and John Wall-led Kentucky (Dec.12, 2009) teams have ever managed this feat. This, of course, is all far overshadowed by the total collapse of the Hawkeye defense right back to its lowly pre-conference form.

Points Per Possession: 0.88 (tie-6th)
Opponents Points per Possession 1.14 (12th)

12. Penn State (2-7) L @ OSU

The cruelest cut here is not that the Nittany Lions lost a blowout at OSU, but that Billy Oliver is experiencing concussion-like symptoms. He's had a history of concussion problems, which has doctors watching him closely and makes it very probable that his season is over. Oliver, of course, was the key reason that PSU was able to blow away Purdue and start scaring opponents into providing enough space for Frazier to operate. Jon Graham, Ross Travis and Sasa Borovnjak's all have various good qualities to contribute, but Oliver's presence was very helpful for the PSU offense.

Points Per Possession: 0.95 (11th)
Opponents Points per Possession 1.10 (tie-9th)