Levy’s Layup Line: Week 11

Posted by Adam Levy on February 12th, 2016

Since 2002, there have only been two seasons when Big Ten home teams won fewer than 60 percent of their conference games (there have in fact been three years when home teams won over 70 percent of their Big Ten games). But that winning percentage has reached a new low this year, as home teams have thus far won only 57.3 percent of the time. With five of the league’s 14 teams as close to guaranteed wins as you can find in a major conference, that number makes sense. Nevertheless, it really highlights the level of disparity and weakness of the Big Ten this season.

It’s Week 11 of the Layup Line.

Michigan State has been a different team with their star back. (AP)

Michigan State has been a different team with their star back. (AP)


A: Denzel Valentine

Long time no-see, Mr. Valentine. How fitting for you to earn yourself some report card love on the eve of Valentine’s Day weekend. For those who haven’t been paying attention, Valentine earned his third Player of the Week honor of the season on Monday after dominating Michigan with a near triple-double (21 points, nine rebounds, eight assists). He followed that up on Tuesday by single-handedly bringing his Spartans back from an 18-point deficit against Purdue on the road, only for Sparty to lose by one in overtime (27 points, eight rebounds, 10 assists). Since that horrific loss to Nebraska on January 20, Michigan State is 4-1 and Valentine is averaging 21.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 7.8 assists and 4.2 threes per game in that span. The chances of him surpassing Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff as the front-runner for the Big Ten Player of the Year are remote, but Michigan State couldn’t care less. All that matters is that it has its star back and as healthy as ever, ready for the stretch run.

A: Corey Sanders

There are some really good freshmen in the Big Ten this season: Thomas Bryant, Caleb Swanigan, Ethan Happ and Diamond Stone, to name a few. Excluding overall team success, a reasonable argument can be made that none are having a better season than Rutgers’ Corey Sanders. The lone bright spot on a truly awful team, Sanders earned his second Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor after averaging 33.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game versus Illinois and Nebraska. He ranks eighth in the Big Ten in points (15.9 PPG), eighth in assists (4.2 APG), first in steals (1.7 SPG) and ninth in minutes (33.4 MPG); among freshmen, he ranks first in points and minutes and is second in assists. If Rutgers wasn’t in jeopardy of going 0-18 in conference play and provided Sanders with a couple of half-decent sidekicks to make them somewhat competent, Sanders would be a shoe-in for Freshman of the Year. Brutal.

B: Mid-Tier Big Ten Teams

(Purdue doesn’t qualify as a “mid-tier” team, but they need to fit into this space, so just go with it). After blowing a three-point halftime lead and losing by 11 at Maryland, Purdue got itself back on track by beating Michigan State at home in an overtime thriller on Tuesday night. If (and that’s a big “if”) Purdue’s perimeter players are actually hitting shots and not relying so much on A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas, this team really is Final Four caliber. Wisconsin played one game this week and took advantage of it. The Badgers beat Nebraska at home pretty easily, and they’re now on a six-game winning streak and have played themselves back into the NCAA Tournament conversation. Maryland, Michigan State and Iowa are their next three opponents. Yikes. As mentioned last week, Ohio State has still yet to beat even a decent Big Ten team. However, the Buckeyes took down Northwestern this week, as all five starters scored in double figures. Still a ton of work left to do just to get onto the bubble radar, and there’s not much time left.

If A.J. Hammons receives the help, Purdue might be Final Four bound. (24/7)

If A.J. Hammons receives the help, Purdue might be Final Four bound. (24/7)

C: Indiana Hoosiers

It was a very eventful week for the Hoosiers, so they’ll get two features this week. If it weren’t for their loss to Penn State, which I’ll touch on later, the Hoosiers would have earned a higher grade after beating Iowa on Thursday night. That victory was an absolutely massive victory that Indiana desperately needed to help strengthen a sketchy resume that now contains two wins against the RPI Top 50. On a night that saw Yogi Ferrell shoot 2-of-12 and Thomas Bryant sit out much of the game with foul trouble, Indiana’s bench stepped up in outscoring Iowa’s by a margin of 28-0. Indiana dominated the boards when Bryant was in the game, and it only committed two more turnovers than the nation’s fourth least-turnover prone team – a big step for a team that typically has serious trouble taking care of the basketball. There were a lot of lead changes, a lot of terrible calls and too much Dickie V for one’s liking, but it was a great game and great team win. The Hoosiers will take this momentum with them to East Lansing on Sunday.


  1. Jarrod Uthoff’s Closeouts: It’s no secret that Uthoff is one of the best shot-blockers in the country, whose athleticism and length catapult him into a class of his own for a guy his size. But dig deeper, and you’ll find another crazy statistic, courtesy of Luke Winn’s Weekly Power Rankings: Uthoff is so good at closing out on shooters the he has a nation-high 12 blocked three point attempts – a figure that puts him ahead of 342 Division I teams. There’s nothing more deflating as a three-point shooter than getting your shot blocked 30 feet away from the basket. Now it makes sense why Michigan State’s Bryn Forbes only scored five points in two games against Iowa.
  2. Bryn Forbes Against Zones: Speak of the devil, Forbes is shooting a ridiculous 48.7 percent on 6.2 attempts per game from downtown this season – good for 17th nationally. According to Synergy Sports, he has shot 15-of-26 on threes against zones and is a 1.62 points-per-possession scorer overall against zone defense. If you look at Forbes’ game log this season, five of his six worst performances have ended in five Michigan State losses (Iowa twice, Purdue, Wisconsin, Nebraska). That’s not a coincidence, as each of those teams have the luxury of deploying a lengthy wing player with enough versatility to chase him around the perimeter. Michigan State has the pieces to make a Final Four run, but it’s hard to imagine that they’ll go quite as far if Forbes is not at his best. Just don’t play zone if you’re the opponent.
It has been rough sledding lately for Richard Pitino and Minnesota. (USA TODAY Sports)

It has been rough sledding lately for Richard Pitino and Minnesota. (USA TODAY Sports)


  1. Unprecedented Losing Streaks: Minnesota hasn’t won a game since December 16 against Chicago State, KenPom’s 344th ranked team. Its last win against an actual college team (Clemson) came on November 30. Rutgers hasn’t won a game since December 28 against UMass-Lowell, the 308th ranked team. Its last win against an actual college team came on January 11, 2015 — over a year ago — against Wisconsin (sorry, Central Connecticut – you don’t count either). The two Big Ten doormats are now 0-22 in conference play this season. They’ll finally meet up with each other on February 23 in Minneapolis. Please, for the love of god, don’t watch that game.
  2. Indiana’s Loss to Penn State: Indiana was 9-1 in the Big Ten with Penn frickin’ State standing in its way of 10 wins. Coming off its best overall performance of the season, it seemed impossible to believe that the Hoosiers could lose this game. Then they went all Indiana on us and did just that, losing a heartbreaker to the worst shooting team in the conference. Penn State held Indiana to less than a point per trip and the reasons are aplenty. As he does in most of Indiana’s losses, Yogi Ferrell struggled mightily; Thomas Bryant found himself in early foul trouble (a reoccurring theme, by the way) and got next to no post touches; Troy Williams could not be trusted down the stretch and watched his team lose from the bench; and early turnovers, as has been the case much of the time, killed the Hoosiers’ start, turning the ball over on nearly 50 percent of their possessions in the first eight minutes. With Iowa, Michigan State, Purdue and Maryland still left on the docket, Indiana’s chances of winning the Big Ten have taken a significant hit, leaving them squarely on the bubble (even with its win over Iowa). There a numerous opportunities to right the ship over the next few weeks, but a loss to Penn State has left Tom Crean’s squad little margin for error.



Biggest takeaway: During week eight of the Layup Line, Illinois was rated 67th in offensive efficiency. Today, they sit at 144th. As mentioned in last week’s column, the Illini are the worst offensive rebounding team in Big Ten play (and it’s not close),and the fact that they are also the worst two-point shooting team does them no favors at all. When you can’t hit shots and can’t rebound those missed shots, you’re not going to win many games. It’s that simple. Thus, Illinois’ fall from grace over the past month, at least offensively, has been like watching an inexperienced skydiver fall without a parachute. This once proud college basketball program will miss the NCAA Tournament for its third consecutive year, and it’s really quite sad.

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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