Levy’s B1G Layup Line: Week 7

Posted by Adam Levy on January 8th, 2016

After a two week holiday hiatus, the Layup Line is back and better than ever. Conference play has finally begun, and the Big Ten is already off to an interesting start. Four teams are undefeated (Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio State), and four are still winless (Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, Rutgers). There has been lots of good, lots of bad and lots of ugly, so let’s dive right into the nitty gritty of the last two weeks.


A: Iowa Hawkeyes

Fran McCaffery's Team is Firing On All Cylinders (USA Today Images)

Fran McCaffery’s Team is Firing On All Cylinders (USA Today Images)

Sure, Indiana and Ohio State are also 3-0 in Big Ten play but neither has wins as impressive as that of Iowa. How the Hawkeyes scored 50 points in the second half against the best defensive team in the nation is beyond explanation, but it happened. And if we forget about Denzel Valentine, Buddy Hield and Ben Simmons for a moment, Jarrod Uthoff has been the best player in the country. If March Madness started tomorrow, Uthoff would likely be a First Team All-American. Offensively, the Hawkeyes currently rank 11th in efficiency, eighth in turnover percentage, 39th in effective field goal percentage and 21st in three-point percentage. Defensively, they rank 36th in efficiency, 10th in opponents’ free throw rate, 32nd in opponents’ three-point percentage and fifth in block percentage. No disrespect to Mike Gesell and Peter Jok and their to-this-point stellar seasons, but this team would not be nearly as effective without Uthoff. It most certainly could not have beaten Purdue in the fashion it did without his 25-point, four-block effort.

Oh, and Iowa also beat Michigan State and Nebraska handily. It’s high time to buy stock in the most underrated team in the country.

B: Diamond Stone


If there is such a thing as freshman jitters, Diamond Stone had ‘em. The Maryland center is now a completely different player than the one we witnessed in the first month of the season — a huge development for a team with serious Final Four aspirations. As of last week, Maryland is one of six major conference teams scoring more than a point per possession on post-ups (1.02 PPP); last season it managed just 0.75 PPP in those situations. Mark Turgeron can thank Stone for that, a player who is coming off a sweep of the Big Ten’s weekly awards (Player and Freshman of the Week) and an epic 39-point, 12-rebound performance in a comeback win against Penn State. It’s Diamond’s world right now.

C:  Purdue Boilermakers

After receiving a couple of As and dominating its first quarter at Layup Line University, Purdue has since regressed. A road win at Wisconsin was nice, but to get outscored 50-26 at home in the second half against Iowa on Saturday is simply unacceptable for a team with designs on the top 10. It’s becoming a familiar refrain in these parts, but Purdue’s guard play has to improve if it’s going to do anything substantial this season. This is a senior-laden team whose seniors are struggling, but the Boilers still have the tools to make a deep NCAA Tournament run, and an entire half-season to figure it out. Thursday night’s shellacking of Michigan was a great start.

D: Illinois Fighting Illini

An 0-3 record would typically qualify as an F but the Illini get a pass after a very tough draw to start league play: vs. Michigan, at Ohio State; vs. Michigan State. Schedule notwithstanding, this team is still really, really bad at several aspects of the game: it can’t defend anyone, doesn’t block shots, cannot shoot and struggles to grab offensive rebounds. A subpar shooting team that can’t even give itself second chance points is generally not a good team. The irony, however, is that Illinois ranks fifth in the nation at protecting the ball – a 14.0 percent turnover percentage – even without a true point guard playing meaningful minutes (sorry, Jaylon Tate). Weird. It has been obvious from the start that Illinois is heading nowhere this season, and with a likely beatdown from Purdue to come on Sunday, it might be time to officially begin planning for next November in Champaign. Whether John Groce will be doing the same is a different and open question.

F: Tim Miles

Tim Miles, Sweater Vest Notwithstanding, Is Failing His Team This Season (USA Today Images)

Tim Miles, Sweater Vest Notwithstanding, Is Failing His Team This Season (USA Today Images)

The 2013-14 season seems like forever ago. Tim Miles, in his second year in Lincoln, coached a gritty Nebraska team to its first NCAA Tournament in 16 years. With a beautiful new stadium, practice facility and a promising young basketball coach, Cornhuskers basketball appeared in good shape. Nebraska returned all of its key players last season and was projected to finish in the top-four of a grueling Big Ten. By season’s end, however, things could not have gone much worse as Miles’ team put together one of the most underachieving seasons of any college basketball team in recent memory, finishing 5-13 in conference play and missing the NIT. They ended the season on a nine-game losing streak.

Unfortunately for Miles, the conference play hangover seems to have carried into this season. Nebraska is off to an 0-3 start in Big Ten play, which includes a pair of defeats on its home floor (to Northwestern and Indiana). There’s no immediate help on the horizon either. Miles has a relatively weak recruiting class coming in next year AND will lose his best player, Shavon Shields, to graduation. Unlike just two short years ago, the foreseeable future does not look bright in Nebraska, but with consecutive games against Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois on the docket, the team has an opportunity to cool off the hot seat that Miles is sitting on.

By the way, Minnesota and Rutgers — you both could be in this space, too. We’ll let you off the hook this time, but start playing like Division I teams or the Layup Line will be handing you your Fs soon.


Ohio State is Playing Much Better Over the Past Few Weeks (USA Today Images)

Ohio State is Playing Much Better Over the Past Few Weeks (USA Today Images)

  1. Ohio State’s Improvement: Remember when Ohio State lost to UT Arlington (home), Louisiana Tech (home), Memphis (neutral) and Virginia (home)… consecutively? Maybe you do, but you know who doesn’t? Thad Matta‘s young Buckeyes. Ohio State is scorching hot right now, having won seven games in a row and nine of its last 10. You’re looking at a defensive juggernaut that ranks 12th nationally in opponents’ effective field goal percentage, 31st in free throw rate and sixth in block percentage. The win over Kentucky on December 19 could prove to be the turning point of Ohio State’s season, but as long as the Buckeyes continue to play typical Matta defense, they’ll surprisingly find themselves in the hunt for a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
  2. A Beast from the Mideast: Big Ten fans, meet Dererk Pardon, an Ohio native who rejected offers from college basketball mainstays Dayton, Pittsburgh and Xavier to play for – you guessed it – Northwestern. The 6’8”, 250-pound freshman didn’t play a minute in purple and white until Alex Olah went down with a foot injury. What has he done since that point? 28 points and 12 rebounds against Nebraska; eight points on 4-of-5 shooting and six rebounds against Maryland; nine points, 14 rebounds and two blocks against Ohio State. He has snagged 15 offensive rebounds, made 19-of-30 shots and blocked four attempts in three Big Ten games – basically his first three real games at the collegiate level – and plays with a level of energy and intensity certain to make his coach, Chris Collins, happy. Pardon is going to be a force for years to come in this league. It’s too bad he needed an injury from one of Northwestern’s star players to prove his worth.


James Blackmon, Jr.'s Injury Really Hurts Indiana (USA Today Images)

James Blackmon, Jr.’s Injury Really Hurts Indiana… Or Does It? (USA Today Images)

  1. James Blackmon Jr.’s Season-Ending Knee Injury: Sad stuff for a 19-year-old kid who had his third knee surgery in four years Tuesday and second knee surgery in six months (the first on his right knee). Also sad for an Indiana team in desperate need of a respectable NCAA Tournament seeding, as it loses its second-leading scorer (15.8 PPG). Blackmon is also third in the league in three-point field goals made per game (2.8) and seventh in three-point field goal percentage (46.3%). In his two seasons with the Hoosiers, Indiana has gone 21-0 when he shoots 47.0 percent or higher from the field. On the other hand, Indiana loses arguably its worst perimeter defender and it is clearly a much better defensive team when he’s not on the floor. The Hoosiers have improved their defensive efficiency ranking from #125 to #85 nationally since he last played. Make no mistake, the loss of Blackmon Jr. is a very tough pill for Tom Crean‘s squad to swallow, but are we absolutely sure the Hoosiers are not a better team without him? The jury is officially out.
  2. Troy Williams’ Turnover Issues: The Hoosiers may have won their first three Big Ten games but their lack of value ascribed to offensive possessions will bite them against good opponents. Troy Williams is the worst offender of the bunch. Over the past seven games, his turnover totals are 5, 4, 4, 4, 7, 4, and 2, and he has committed more than four turnovers in nine of Indiana’s 15 games this season. For a kid with legitimate NBA aspirations, his Big Ten-leading 3.2 turnovers per game (in only 26.1 minutes per game, mind you – good for 4.8 turnovers per 40 minutes) screams low IQ and untrustworthy ball handler, causing his draft stock to plummet. Sure, Indiana loves to run and turnovers correlate with a high number of possessions, but this team can be as brutal to watch as it can be exciting because the players simply don’t take care of the ball. Williams qualifies for the “brutal to watch” category far too often.



Biggest takeaway: So much for my Northwestern praise a couple weeks ago. I was hammered on the Wildcats’ Kool-aid for two months, but the hangovers got to be too much. It’s time to get off their wagon for now, as Northwestern’s high from a cupcake non-conference schedule (rated 339th nationally) is finally wearing off. I went to Welsh-Ryan Arena on Saturday night to see the Wildcats get annihilated by Maryland, and then watched Ohio State go on a 14-6 run in the final six minutes Wednesday to hand Northwestern a second Big Ten loss. Since the start of conference play just two weeks ago, Chris Collins’ group has already dropped from #45 to #67 in the KenPom ratings. Fortunately for everyone involved, a date with Minnesota on Saturday awaits. It’s time for the ‘Cats to right the ship.

Adam Levy (12 Posts)

Adam Levy is an analytics consultant by day and Big Ten columnist for Rush The Court by night. He is also the founder, editor, and writer at chicitybs.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChiCityBS.

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