Big Ten Power Rankings: February 23 EditionPosted by Deepak Jayanti on February 23rd, 2013
In this week’s power rankings, we take a look at the best player off the bench on each team. Voters this week were Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan.
- Indiana – This year, it’s tough to confidently pick out who the best team in the country really is. However, Indiana has separated itself from the pack better than anyone at this point especially after its win at Michigan State. Victor Oladipo has continued his outstanding run, which will likely result in All-America honors, and Cody Zeller has really picked it up recently, as well. He’s been much more aggressive, especially on offense, and that was true of this performance against Michigan State. The supporting cast has stepped up, especially with its shooting, and overall, this team looks like the most complete team in the country right now. Best player off the bench: On the Indiana-Michigan State broadcast, Will Sheehey was referred to as the best sixth man in the country. I’m not sure I agree with that analysis, especially since he’s been streaky, but he’s been solid recently and hit all nine of his shots against Nebraska, an Indiana school record for most shots made without a miss. If Sheehey’s shooting well, it’s tough to stop the Hoosiers.
- Michigan State – That loss to Indiana, albeit at home, doesn’t do enough to drop the Spartans out of the #2 spot in the rankings after Michigan’s only victory was a narrow home win against Penn State. The Spartans had the game against the Hoosiers in hand, but were outscored 9-1 down the stretch and gave it away. Whether that makes Tom Izzo and Michigan State feel better or worse about the loss, it’s hard to say. But there’s no rest for the weary. They absolutely must rebound, and quickly, if they want to still have a shot at the conference title. Best player off the bench: This almost doesn’t apply to the Spartans, who have become more and more short-handed since Travis Trice went down. But he’s back, and he is the most valuable player off the bench. He allows Keith Appling and Gary Harris to get a rest, and takes some of the ball-handling pressure off freshman Denzel Valentine. His 3-point shooting is also valuable to a Spartan group that doesn’t typically shoot it well.
- Michigan – Ever since losing to Michigan State, Michigan has been out of sync. Trey Burke has played well, but the young guys — particularly Nick Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III — have really struggled. Stauskas and Robinson were very impressive during non-conference season, but they’ve struggled since the competition has gotten better. The Wolverines clearly have talent, but that talent hasn’t produced as of late. The real tests will be when Indiana and Michigan State come to the Crisler Center. Best player off the bench: It has to be Mitch McGary. The freshman wasn’t nearly as good as counterpart Robinson heading into Big Ten season, but he’s steadily improved and shown promise for the Wolverines down low. That’s greatly needed for a frontcourt that has struggled for much of the past month.
- Wisconsin – It doesn’t take long during a game for Bo Ryan’s team to make a statement at home against the top teams. After the first TV timeout, it was clear that the Buckeyes were going to get hounded by the Badgers’ defense and this has been a consistent theme at the Kohl center for the road team. They should roll through the next few games but can’t afford to look ahead to the road game in East Lansing against the Spartans. Best player off the bench: This one is easy – Sam Dekker. Dekker may not even be the best player off the bench for Ryan but he may be their best scoring option, averaging 9.2 PPG. The freshman has excellent confidence his jumper and moves without the ball very well when he comes into the game to provide a shot of energy to his teammates.
- Ohio State – The Buckeyes’ inability to beat elite squads (Minnesota doesn’t count any more, as impressive as that win was this week) will definitely be cause for concern once the NCAA Tournament rolls around. But we’ve said it before: You cannot sleep on Ohio State. That trip to Columbus this weekend will be as difficult as ever for Michigan State, and the Buckeyes have the opportunity to play spoiler the rest of the way. They could easily win three of their last four to take some momentum into the Big Ten Tournament, or they could split them and float in without any real identity. Best player off the bench: There are a number of role players who really haven’t provided the kind of spark Thad Matta was looking for this season, but Evan Ravenel has performed nicely in his new role as a bench player. The senior forward has never been much of a scorer, and has averaged only around 10 MPG in his career, but his veteran presence off the bench is important for this Buckeyes group that at times lacks leadership.
- Illinois – After big wins over Indiana and Minnesota, the Illini had to take care of business against teams that they were “supposed” to beat; and they did exactly that against Northwestern and Penn State. After winning five in a row, it’ll be interesting to see if they can carry the momentum against Michigan in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines have been vulnerable lately but the Illini should be able to do better than their prior game against John Beilein’s team when they lost 74-60. Best player off the bench: Even though he has started in a few games lately, Joseph Bertrand has been primarily a player off the bench and has been very good in that role. He has averaged 8.2 PPG and leads the team with 4.5 RPG. Bertrand has a nice floater in his offensive arsenal and consistently attempts to break his man down from the high post to attack the basket.
- Minnesota – This is a wrong time to be slumping offensively and the Gophers have struggled to score over the past two games, scoring just 51 and 45 points. Andre Hollins scored just 14 points during those losses and needs to be more assertive on the offensive end if the Gophers have any hope of gaining some momentum as they enter March. They are not on the bubble right now but a couple of games with just 50 points and they may be falling further in the standings. Best player off the bench: At this juncture of the season, the bench could help the Gophers put some points on the board and senior guard Julian Welch could be the answer. Welch is an experienced guard who has averaged 3.2 PPG but is capable of making a couple of shots and handling the offense in the half-court. Having four years of college experience helps too and he can step up to lead the Gophers through this tough stretch of the season.
- Iowa – Don’t look back now but the Hawkeyes may be on the a roll. After winning three straight, they have two games against Nebraska and Purdue. They could be riding a five-game winning streak a week from now. Fran McCaffery’s team has a chance to make a serious run at the tournament if they continue to win at home. Best player off the bench: Junior wing Zach McCabe has averaged 6.2 PPG to play a key role for the Hawkeyes. He provided valuable minutes against Minnesota and Wisconsin on the road especially if freshman Anthony Clemmons was having trouble on defense. Expect McCabe to be a key part in the Hawkeyes’ surge over the next few weeks.
- Purdue – It will have been eight days since the Boilermakers last played when they host Northwestern on Sunday, and that’s exactly what Purdue needs. They’ve dropped three straight but can get back on track with a win against the Wildcats. It’s a young group that Matt Painter has, and you can bet he spent a lot of the time off between games focusing on what his own players can do better. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to practice for the Princeton offense. Best player off the bench: Donnie Hale is an intriguing freshman big man who comes off the bench and has the opportunity to be part of a very talented frontcourt down the road alongside A.J. Hammons. When he’s assertive and gets good minutes, he gets high-percentage looks and is a menace on the glass. Just another positive for the Boilermakers down the road.
- Northwestern – Remember last week when an undermanned Northwestern team nearly beat Ohio State in Columbus? It seems like ages ago. Since then, the Wildcats have suffered home blowouts at the hands of Illinois and Wisconsin. Nobody expected Northwestern to be great without three of its four best players — Drew Crawford, JerShon Cobb, and Jared Swopshire — but it was hard to see the Wildcats being this bad. They’ve struggled mightily to get any offense inside or get any rebounds, and recently the shooting has gone cold. Best player off the bench: Considering that NU only had two scholarship players on the bench for the Ohio State game — it’s up to three with Alex Olah’s return, though he was a starter before his concussion — there isn’t much to choose from. We’ll go with Alex Marcotullio, who has struggled in his last few games, but gave the Wildcats a boost with his three-point shooting and tough defense off the bench in games earlier in conference season.
- Nebraska – Nebraska continues to fight in the Big Ten, but it just can’t get over the hump. After being blown out against Indiana, the Huskers game Michigan State all it could handle. Now, Tim Miles’ squad has a chance for a nice win against an Iowa team that has been inconsistent on the road. Nebraska has been playing good defense for the most part and really slown the game down, but the Huskers have struggled to make shots and don’t have the offense to keep up with the better teams in the conference. Best player off the bench: There aren’t many choices here, but we’ll go with Andre Almeida, who missed all of last season with an injury, but has given the Huskers a solid inside presence at times this year. He certainly isn’t a great big man, but he’s been adequate at times — though inconsistent — which was really all Nebraska could hope for this year.
- Penn State — The Nittany Lions are certainly not the most talented team in the Big Ten, but you can’t fault their effort this year. They gave Michigan a fight in Ann Arbor this week, and exposed some of the Wolverines’ defensive flaws along the way. That said, I really cannot see a way that the Nittany Lions pull out a victory before Big Ten play is over. Maybe at Northwestern? Maybe. Best player off the bench: Brandon Taylor has started 18 games for Penn State this season, but he’s been coming off the bench lately, so we’ll bestow the honor upon him. He still averages more than 20 MPG, scores 6 PPG and is one of the Nittany Lions’ best 3-point threats.