Big Ten Christmas Wish List: Buckets, Defense & a Little Good Fortune

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 21st, 2017

As Santa’s elves wrap presents and non-conference play comes to an end, let’s examine which Big Ten hopefuls could use a little magic from the jolly man in the big red suit.

The defensively-stout Scarlet Knights need guys like Geo Baker to make more shots. (Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Rutgers (10-3): All I want for Christmas is… a shooter (or two). The Scarlet Knights picked up their biggest win in years on Saturday, upsetting intrastate rival Seton Hall, 71-65, at the RAC. Steve Pikiell called it “a very good day for Rutgers Nation” as his team held the Pirates to just 0.89 points per possession, their worst offensive performance of the year. Now if only Pikeill’s group could put the ball in the basket. While the Scarlet Knights rank 27th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, their offense is by far the Big Ten’s worst, ranking 219th in efficiency despite a low turnover rate. The problem? Shooting, plain and simple. Rutgers ranks 334th in effective field goal percentage (44% eFG), including paltry numbers from outside the arc (29.4% 3FG), inside the arc (44% 2FG), and at the free throw line (65% FT). More than anything else this holiday season, Pikiell could use some consistent shooting, whether it be from top-scorer Corey Sanders — who shot a very good 9-of-16 FG against Seton Hall — or fellow guard Geo Baker, who’s quietly been one of the league’s best freshmen. If the Scarlet Knights can improve those shooting numbers, their days in the Big Ten cellar might soon be over. Especially considering their stout defense. 

  • Northwestern (8-4): All I want for Christmas is… a win in Norman. Two things about Northwestern are abundantly clear: it underperformed for much of non-conference play, and it’s been playing much better basketball in recent weeks. After losing four of its first nine games, the Wildcats have now won four straight, including victories over Chicago State and Valparaiso by an average of 49.5 PPG and a road win at DePaul. Unfortunately, those early struggles have left Chris Collins’ team with no significant NCAA Tournament-quality wins; Northwestern currently ranks 70th in the RPI with zero wins against the top 100. Luckily, there’s still time for a Christmas miracle. In their last major non-conference match-up of this season tomorrow, the Wildcats will square off against Oklahoma. A road win would send over the Sooners would that RPI soaring and give Northwestern the type of resume boost it so badly needs.  

Michigan could use some clarity at point guard. (UM Hoops)

  • Michigan (10-3): All I want for Christmas is… a point guard. Michigan has been solid this season, especially when you consider all it lost from last year’s Sweet Sixteen team. Among those departures was All-Big Ten point guard Derrick Walton, who ranked among the league’s best in offensive rating, true shooting percentage and assist rate. He also played nearly 35 minutes per game, providing the steady hand that enabled John Beilein’s offense to thrive; the Wolverines finished the season ranked fourth nationally in offensive efficiency. This year, minutes have been split between three point guards — Zavier Simpson (18.5 MPG), Eli Brooks (15.5 MPG), and Jaaron Simmons (10 MPG in 11 games) — which seems to be contributing to Michigan’s offensive regression. To be sure, nobody expects any one of them to produce like Walton, but there’s no denying that Beilein’s system — predicated on set plays and smart decision-making — tends to work better with a consistent face at the helm.
  • Wisconsin (5-7): All I want for Christmas is… a healthy lineup. Prior to its home game against Marquette on December 9, Wisconsin announced that starting point guard D’Mitrik Trice (9.4 PPG) and freshman Kobe King (5.2 PPG) would both be out indefinitely with injuries. The Badgers lost by 19 points and, as it turned out, King was lost for the season. What’s more, freshman Brad Davison — charged with point guard duties in Trice’s absence — has been battling a shoulder injury virtually all season long. Wisconsin had a young and inexperienced backcourt to begin with; now that their depth has been severely challenged, the Badgers are struggling to keep their heads above water, even with Ethan Happ doing work in the paint (16.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 3.3 APG). If Greg Gard has one wish this holiday season, it is for Trice to get healthy, Davison’s shoulder to fully heal, and no one else, for the love of Kris Kringle, to get hurt.
  • Indiana (6-6). All I want for Christmas is… some perimeter defense. Two days after picking up its biggest win in the Archie Miller era, Indiana was blasted at home by 20 points against in-state mid-major Fort Wayne. If the result sounds familiar, that’s because Indiana State — also an in-state mid-major — crushed the Hoosiers by 21 on opening night this season. In both contests, the visitors hit 17 three-pointers and scored well over 1.2 points per possession. On the season, in fact, Indiana ranks 332nd nationally in defensive three-point percentage, with opponents scoring nearly 40 percent of their points on 41.3 percent shooting from behind the arc. While those numbers can in part be attributed to bad luck, the Hoosiers have been slow to rotate and run shooters off the three-point line in many of their losses. Blame Miller’s pack-line defense, blame Tom Crean, blame who you may — the fact is that Indiana could use some sharper, more aggressive perimeter defense. 
Tommy Lemoine (249 Posts)


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