Levy’s Layup Line: Week 9

Posted by Adam Levy on January 29th, 2016

What a strange season it has been for the Big Ten this year. This is the most top-heavy Big Ten conference we’ve seen in quite some time, as evidenced by the insane blowout rate (victories by 20+ points). For as long as KenPom has been around, there has only been one season in which blowouts have occurred in more than 20 percent of games (2013). This season? 16 of 59 games have resulted in blowouts – good for 27.1 percent, the highest rate of any league in the country. So what the heck is going on? It’s Week 9 of the Layup Line.


A: Yogi Ferrell and Ethan Happ

Viewed as an afterthought in the wake of being destroyed by Duke back in December, the Indiana Hoosiers have engineered an incredible turnaround, in large part thanks to Yogi Ferrell. Since the start of Big Ten play, the senior point guard is averaging 20.3 points, 5.6 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 3.1 threes and shooting 55.6 percent from distance. He continues to put this team on his back when they need it most, hitting big shot after big shot and smoothly setting up teammates for easy looks. In fact, he’s done the latter so many times in his career that he became Indiana’s all-time assist leader last week. It’s clear that Ferrell is quite salty about being left off of the Midseason Top 25 Wooden Award List, and his performance in Madison was nothing short of incredible. If only his frontcourt could stop…

Yogi Ferrell Has Been Dynamic For The Hoosiers (USA Today Sports)

Yogi Ferrell Has Been Dynamic For The Hoosiers (USA Today Sports)

Ethan Happ, who earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors for the second consecutive week. He completely had his way with Indiana’s bigs on Tuesday night, getting to the rim with ease and showing off great footwork and underrated quickness in the post. As of Monday, he ranked third in the conference with 8.1 rebounds per game and second with over two steals per game. From Brian Butch to Jon Leuer to Jared Berggren to Frank Kaminsky to Ethan Happ, the story of the unheralded Wisconsin big man never seems to end. Enjoy another three years of this kid, Badger fans.

B: Iowa Hawkeyes

What an incredible first half of conference play the Hawkeyes have had. Sweeps over both Michigan State and Purdue with a win over Michigan sprinkled in. Had it not been for Maryland snapping its nine-game winning streak, Iowa would have earned itself an A+ this week. This team has been a revelation in 2016, convincing many that they are the best team in the Big Ten and a deserved favorite to win the conference. With just over a month left in the regular season and a very weak back-end of the schedule upcoming, it’ll be interesting to how much more this offensive powerhouse can excel in transition and in catch-and-shoot situations.

C:  Michigan State Spartans

It had been a tough go of it for the Spartans, as they were off to their worst conference start since 2003 at 3-4. Three straight losses to Iowa (home), Wisconsin (road) and Nebraska (home) left a lot of people confused, but then Tom Izzo went all Tom Izzo and deployed a flawless game plan to beat Maryland on Saturday night. Another near triple-double from Denzel Valentine, a soaking wet shooting night from Bryn Forbes and a heroic and emotional performance from Matt Costello will do that. A 31-point shellacking of Northwestern didn’t hurt either. No matter what happens between now and March, you can bet the rent that Sparty will be standing tall come tournament time and will, once again, prove to be a serious Final Four threat.

F: Northwestern Wildcats

So much for the ‘Cats punching their first ever tournament ticket this season. A road win over Maryland last week would have been an enormous get for a team lacking in even decent wins, but they couldn’t seal the deal and lost a heartbreaker in overtime. Northwestern has now lost four in a row (the last two by over 30 each) and six of their last eight by a margin of 16.7 points. A road date at Iowa also looms on Sunday. It’s a tough life for Evanston residents right now.

F: Minnesota Golden Gophers and Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Not sure what else to say about these atrocities anymore. The two worst teams in the conference are a combined 0-17 in conference play. KenPom projects Rutgers to lose every game from here on out and Minnesota to win two of their remaining games against – you guessed it – Rutgers. Rumor has it that many Scarlet Knight and Golden Gopher fans would prefer to watch a 10-hour Nickelback/Creed concert than waste two hours watching their teams. That’s how bad it’s gotten for the Big Ten basement dwellers.

Eddie Jordan And The Scarlet Knights Are In The Midst Of A Historically Bad Season (USA Today Sports)

Eddie Jordan And The Scarlet Knights Are In The Midst Of A Historically Bad Season (USA Today Sports)


  1. Everything about Nigel Hayes: If you didn’t get to watch the Indiana-Wisconsin game on Tuesday night, you missed quite the performance from Hayes. The Hoosiers threw the kitchen sink at the Badger star all night and it simply did not matter. He did what he wanted when he wanted and took advantage of every matchup presented to him. He was too strong for Troy Williams in the post and too big and quick for anyone else when penetrating from the wing. Hayes converted a ridiculous 17 of 22 free throws on the night (IU shot 18 as a team) – 11 straight down the stretch – en route to a huge 31-point performance. After three straight losses for the Badgers, Hayes has led his team to three straight wins over Michigan State, Penn State and Indiana. If the Badgers are going to be dancing in March, Hayes will be the biggest reason why.
  2. Maryland’s Defensive Improvements: Whatever Mark Turgeon’s selling on the defensive end right now, it’s worth buying. Around a month ago, the Terrapins were hanging right around the top 50 in defensive efficiency; since conference play began, they’ve moved up to 13th nationally and sit at second in the Big Ten. They’re also second in the conference in opponent effective field goal percentage and block percentage, first in opponent three point field goal percentage and fourth in opponent free throw rate. The addition of Robert Carter has done wonders for the Terps, and pairing him in the middle with Diamond Stone has forced teams to play uncomfortably outside the paint. The only knock might be the Terps’ inability to force turnovers, but neither did Wisconsin or Michigan State last season (334th and 312th in defensive turnover rate, respectively). Look how that turned out.


  1. Jake Layman’s Struggles: After toying with the idea of forgoing his senior year for the NBA last spring, it has been a strangely disappointing season for Maryland’s 6’9” forward. His usage, scoring, assist rate and rebound rate are all down, while his turnover rate is up. The three-point attempts are up while the two-point attempts are down. Obviously, the additions of Rasheed Sulaimon, Carter and Stone did him no statistical favors, but there seem to be too many times when Layman just disappears on the offensive end, especially in big games. His struggles in the Big Ten tournament and NCAA tournament last season (7.5 points per game) have carried over to this season (non-factor against UNC, UConn, Wisconsin and MSU), and he has not had a 20-point game since January 17, 2015. Hard to say what Layman’s deal is, but Maryland will need him to pick up his play and consistency if they plan on winning this thing.
  2. The Shadiness Around Caris LeVert’s Injury: If you want to know what the hell is going on with LeVert, surely don’t ask John Beilein. For whatever reason, Beilein has gone Bill Belichick on us, remaining tight-lipped about his star forward’s injury that has kept him sidelined for the past seven games. A “lower left leg injury” is the most detailed report to date, and hearing that there’s as good a chance of it being a one-day issue as a long-term issue is just plain confusing. LeVert is a true NBA talent, but missing 21 of his last 35 games due to injury will leave a bad taste in the mouths of scouts. Here’s to hoping LeVert gets healthy soon and Beilein becomes a little more transparent about what’s happening with his star.



Biggest takeaway: Yours truly did not realize how big of a turnaround Nebraska’s offense has had until diving into the stats. Nebraska’s offensive efficiency over the past three Layup Lines: 190, 157, and 100. Today? 67. Playing Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois in a week’s span will do that for you, but given where this team was just a month ago, it’s very impressive nonetheless. The Cornhuskers have been horrendous at getting to the free throw line and converting once there, but they’re making shots at a high rate, limiting turnovers and giving themselves a second chance on over 30 percent of possessions. They already beat Michigan State on the road, and they won’t roll over for teams like Purdue, Maryland and Indiana, either.

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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