Sorting Through the Big Ten’s Murky Middle

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 17th, 2014

There have been 142 non-conference games involving Big Ten teams thus far, and yet it can be reasonably argued that we really don’t know much more than we did before the games tipped off on November 14. What we do know is that Wisconsin is still the clear-cut favorite and Rutgers will probably struggle to stay out of the league basement. That means that the other 12 teams are still clustered together into a large pack. Some have bigger wins than others; some have better offenses than others; while some have a marquee player who can get hot and carry them for a while. This exercise is meant to rank those other teams based on a number of different categories to see which is performing as the best and worst of the bunch right now . I’m no math major, so I simply took a look at twelve key categories and ranked each team accordingly. Some are subjective, some are objective, and it’s by no means perfect. But the categories on which I ranked each team are as follows:

Denzel Valentine is leading an efficient Michigan State offense in scoring so far. (Getty)

Denzel Valentine is leading an efficient Michigan State offense in scoring so far. (Getty)

  • Best Win
  • Worst Loss
  • Point Differential in home games against teams ranked #150 or above
  • Eye Test
  • Schedule Strength
  • Best Player
  • Offensive Efficiency
  • Defensive Efficiency
  • Assist Rate
  • Turnovers
  • Rebounding
  • Three Point Shooting

After crunching the numbers, here are the results.

  1. Michigan State 112
  2. (tie) Ohio State, Illinois 101
  3. Maryland 98
  4. Minnesota 85
  5. Iowa 84
  6. Purdue 79
  7. Indiana 77
  8. Michigan 73
  9. Northwestern 50
  10. Penn State 49
  11. Nebraska 41

Here are some brief takeaways.

  • Michigan State isn’t just a popular pick to finish in the top four because of sentiment. They cleaned up when it came to comparing Big Ten efficiency numbers. They have the best three-point percentage in the country at 45.6 percent. They’ve played the toughest schedule thus far, and while their best win (Marquette) isn’t all that great, all of their losses have come against teams currently in the Top 25. It could be argued that Sparty could have beaten Kansas if Branden Dawson had been healthy; they’re also just now getting Alvin Ellis III back to full health, and freshman Javon Bess is coming back from injury as well. Things should continue to get better. They’ll get another chance to prove their worth against Maryland in their Big Ten opener on December 30.
  • Illinois is still in good shape despite suffering three losses. With Baylor turning out to be better than expected, beating them on a neutral floor ranks as the best Big Ten non-conference win, according to KenPom. Only Michigan State and Michigan have played tougher schedules so far, and they’ve mostly blown out the teams that they were supposed to. If you’re going to play bad teams at home, you should beat these teams by an average of 31.8 PPG like Illinois has. They also rate highly in the admittedly subjective “Best Player” category, as Rayvonte Rice is someone who could definitely carry them to a few victories once conference play starts up.
  • Maryland deserves great credit for battling through injuries. This wasn’t factored into the metrics that were used, but for the Terps to finish third, even though Dez Wells has missed six games and Evan Smotrycz has missed eight, is impressive. They have a big win over Iowa State in the bank, and a subsequent loss against Virginia and its #3 Pomeroy ranking is nothing to lose sleep over. Their 22nd-ranked offense should also improve once the full roster is intact.
  • Penn State finished surprisingly lower than one might have thought for a 10-1 team. The Nittany Lions got high marks for DJ Newbill, but they lost some points based on the fact that none of their efficiency numbers were particularly great. They don’t have an offense or defense that ranks in the top 80 right now, and this hurt them when compared with the other squads.
  • Nebraska is just as much of a mess as its record shows. Speaking of poor efficiency, the Huskers 186th-ranked offense has been very difficult to watch. Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields have to do too much one-on-one play and they end up taking too many difficult shots. Tai Webster hasn’t gotten any better, and Walter Pitchford is only shooting 28.6 percent from distance. The Cincinnati win was a nice start, but even when Leslee Smith and Moses Abraham come back from injuries, it’s looking more and more like last season’s run to the NCAAs was an aberration.
Brendan Brody (307 Posts)

Brendan Brody is in his fourth season covering the Big Ten for RTC. Email him at, or follow him on twitter @berndon4.

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