Levy’s Layup Line: Week 12

Posted by Adam Levy on February 26th, 2016

Need proof that the Big Ten is as watered down as it’s ever been? Only 15 – yes, 15 – of the 107 conference games played this year have been won by four points or less, or ended in overtime. That means just 14.0% percent of Big Ten games have been considered “close” – the third lowest percentage of all 32 Division I conferences. As sad as it is that the regular season is nearing its end, it’s nice to know that we soon won’t have to hear, see or think about Rutgers, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Nebraska and Penn State basketball until next fall. It’s Week 12 of the Layup Line.

Tom Izzo

Another year, another ho-hum top of the line finish for Tom Izzo and Michigan State. (Getty)


A: Michigan State Spartans

Deja vu for Tom Izzo’s boys. They hit a rough patch in mid-January, then destroyed seven of their next eight opponents. The Spartans completely worked Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio State over the past couple of weeks and should have no issue running the table from here on out. Denzel Valentine has quietly put himself right back into the NPOY conversation, Matt Costello has solidified himself as the best rebounder in the conference (also 10th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage), and the Spartans, as a whole, are shooting a nation-best 43.2 percent from three. This team is going to the Final Four. You heard it here first. Or probably 101st, but whatever. In Izzo we trust.

A: Indiana Hoosiers

Back in December, if you thought Indiana was going to win a Big Ten title after its performances in Maui and at Duke, you were just lying. Nobody had that pick – not with Maryland and Michigan State coming in with those preseason expectations of theirs. But here we are on February 26, and Indiana is coming off a huge week after a home win over rival Purdue (only committed four turnovers for a 6.5 percent turnover rate – the lowest ever rate in a Big Ten game in the entire Tom Crean era in Bloomington, per Luke Winn) and a 27-point shellacking of Illinois in Champaign. Indiana is now 13-3 with a two game lead and two games left against Iowa and Maryland – both of whom are tied for second. Win one and the Hoosiers win at least a share of the title; win both and the title is theirs outright. Indiana control its own destiny.

D: Maryland Terrapins

Been saying it all year and will say it again: the Maryland Terrapins are overrated. Don’t get me wrong – they are very good – but something’s just not right when you watch them play, and the computers agree. It’s hard to fathom how a team with talents like Melo Trimble, Rasheed Sulaimon, Jake Layman, Robert Carter and Diamond Stone can leave you wanting more, but then you look at the numbers, and it all makes sense: they’re turning the ball over on 19.5 percent of their possessions (260th nationally, 13th in-conference) and only turning opponents over on 16.4 percent of possessions (285th nationally, 12th in-conference). Dig even deeper, and you’ll find that not only is Trimble’s conference-only turnover rate up from 16.1 percent last season to 20.4 percent this season, but his free throw rate (the ration of free throws to field goal attempts) is also down from 71.0 percent to 46.7 percent. How do the Terrapins plan on beating good teams deep in March when they’re coughing the ball up once in every five trips down the court and not forcing opponents to do the same on the other end? Say what you want about road losses in the Big Ten, but losing at Minnesota exposed just how weak Maryland might be. There is no value being placed on protecting the basketball right now, and it doesn’t help that their point guard and the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year seems to have lost a lot of last year’s confidence. We’ll find out soon enough what this team is made of.

Despite having prime time talents like Melo Trimble, something is missing with Maryland. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Despite having talents like Melo Trimble, something is missing with Maryland. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

F: Iowa Hawkeyes

Once upon a time, the Hawkeyes were 10-1 in the Big Ten and with a light remaining schedule, seemed to have the conference title all but locked down. Three weeks later, they find themselves looking up at Indiana in the standings after arguably the worst four-game stretch that any “top” team has had this season: a road loss to Indiana (understandable), a four-point squeaker over Minnesota at home (a moral loss, if anything), a four-point loss at Penn State (completely unacceptable) and an eight-point home loss to Wisconsin (yikes). The biggest factor in the slump: the Hawkeye bench. Over these past four games, Iowa’s bench, as a whole, has averaged – get this – four points a game. Fran McCaffery’s trust in his reserves is so minimal right now that he has played his starters together 46 percent of the time over the last five games. To put in perspective just how high that is, the top three teams in the Big Ten right now, Indiana, Maryland and Michigan State, are playing their starters together 15.1 percent, 29.6 percent and 19.5 percent of the time, respectively. Not even rail-thin Iowa State has a percentage that high. The Hawkeyes’ once proficient bench, led by Dom Uhl and Nicholas Baer, is a total non-factor right now in every way imaginable. Continued ineffectiveness from those coming off the pine could doom this once promising Hawkeye season.

F: Corey Sanders and Leron Black

Rutgers suspended Sanders for two weeks for a violation of team rules and has since lost three games to three of the four worst teams in the conference (Illinois, Penn St., Minnesota) by an average of 16.7 points. The Knights will play that fourth team (Northwestern) on Saturday, and you can bet the house they’ll lose that game, too. Sanders’ stupidity has all but guaranteed an 0-18 record for one of the worst teams to ever play in the Big Ten, although a home game against Minnesota to end the season still awaits.

As for Illinois, it’s difficult to remember any team having this amount of off-the-court issues in one season, what with the suspensions and injuries dating back to last summer. Unfortunately, those misfortunes seem likely to cost John Groce his job. Leron Black is the latest issue for Groce after he was arrested last week for allegedly pulling a knife on a bouncer at an Urbana nightclub. A conviction could lead to probation or up to three years in prison. Just more bad news in Champaign.

Greg Gard has done a tremendous job and is in line for a full time head coach position. (USA TODAY Sports)

Greg Gard has done a tremendous job and is in line for a full time head coach position. (USA TODAY Sports)


  1. Greg Gard’s Chances of Winning Wisconsin’s Head Coaching Position: Through all the talk about who Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez will hire permanently as his next head coach, interim coach Greg Gard has quietly led his scrappy Badger team to a 10-5 Big Ten record and what could be another top-four finish. Since losing four of five between late December and early January, Wisconsin has won nine of its last 10 games, with wins over Michigan State, Indiana, Maryland and Iowa included in the spurt. The Badgers have all but locked up a tournament bid and should have no problem winning at least two of its next three games. If Gard hasn’t already won this job, then so help me God. Lock him up, Barry.
  2. The Big Ten Tournament Starts in 13 days: There’s nothing to analyze here. As incredible as the NCAA tournament is (and it is incredible), the real fun starts the week before with the conference tournaments. I’m as giddy as a 14-year-old kid playing seven minutes in heaven (what, you didn’t play that game?).


  1. Rapheal Davis Playing Away From Home: This was supposed to be a fun year for Rapheal Davis. He was supposed to lead his team to a deep tournament run (not that he still can’t) and go out on top, or at least somewhere near it. Things started out well, as Davis led the Boilermakers to a 12-1 record and a fringe top 10 ranking heading into conference play. It has been everything but smooth sailing since, and Davis’ home/road shooting splits a big reason why. At home this season, Davis is 26 for 60 (43.3%) from inside the arc and 23 for 48 behind it (47.9%). On the road, those splits plummet to 17 for 43 (39.5%) and five for 26 (19.2%). At this point, you have to think Davis is what he is; fans will just have to pray those treys somehow start falling away from West Lafayette in March.
  2. Bryn Forbes’ Shooting Splits: Crazy stat from the Forde Minutes this week: In Michigan State losses, Forbes is four for 25 from 3-point range (16 percent). When Michigan State wins, he’s 77 for 143 (54 percent). Forbes’ shooting is the bellwether stat for the Spartans; any off games in March could spell doom for a team fast becoming everyone’s tournament darling.



Biggest takeaway: After four months of basketball, we’re back to square one. Michigan State is really, really good. Rutgers is really, really bad. Case closed.

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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