Big Ten Power Rankings: March 2 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on March 2nd, 2013

In this week’s power rankings, we give each team a grade for the month of February. This week’s voters were Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan.

  1. Indiana Hoosiers: For awhile there, it looked like Indiana had secured itself as the top team in the country in a year when it’s been very difficult to figure out who the top team really is. However, the Hoosiers showed that they’re human this week, falling to Minnesota in Minneapolis. Victor Oladipo and Jordan Hulls played well, but IU was dominated inside by Minnesota’s stellar front court, led by Trevor Mbakwe. The Hoosiers certainly have the potential to win the National Championship, but they need to prove themselves against teams that rebound well. Grade: Before this game, Indiana likely deserved an A- for the month, with the loss to Illinois as the blemish. However, the Minnesota loss drops the Hoosiers to a B+ for February.

    IU on Top For Now (USA Today)

    IU on Top For Now (USA Today)

  2. Michigan State Spartans: The Spartans have dropped two straight but their performances against Indiana and Ohio State — while not impressive — are not entirely worth fretting about. They’ve been in position to win both games (one of them on the road) and if Keith Appling was playing the way he’s played all season, it’s highly likely that they would have. They’re going through the tough stretch of schedule that most every team in the conference has hit at some point. We’ll find out soon enough how they emerge. Grade: The Spartans get a B+ for February, given the way they climbed in the standings and in the polls by taking care of business all the way up to the Michigan blowout. Their performance against the Hoosiers and Buckeyes was good, but not enough so to win.
  3. Wisconsin Badgers: Bo Ryan’s team continues to take care of business in the Big Ten and wait for the showdown in East Lansing against Michigan State. If the Hoosiers drop another game in the conference, don’t be surprised to see the Badgers beat the Spartans win the conference title. If that happens, this season might be Ryan’s best since he arrived over a decade ago in Madison. Grade A Except for their loss to the Gophers, Ryan’s team has done very well in February. The win over Michigan will help them in terms of seeding in the NCAA tournament but they proved that they can hang with the top teams in the country. Nobody outside of the Big Ten can take them lightly in March just because they don’t have the star power that Michigan or Indiana has. Ben Brust continues to be a great rebounding guard and he can make a serious case for the best perimeter defender in the Big Ten.
  4. Ohio State Buckeyes: If Aaron Craft turns out to be the Buckeyes’ second scorer behind Deshaun Thomas, that could be a real good thing for Ohio State. To have scoring potential in your primary ballhandler and leader is a valuable thing, and Craft has been known to have great judgment on both ends of the floor. If he can perform the rest of the way like he did against Michigan State, the Buckeyes could have a reliable scorer and a floor general rolled into one. Grade: The Buckeyes were busy this month, with losses to Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin, but they got things back on track by the end with a couple necessary wins against Minnesota and Michigan State. They got a scare against Northwestern but took care of business when they had to. We’ll give them a B. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Power Rankings: February 8 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on February 8th, 2013

In this week’s power rankings, we take a look at each team’s biggest concern. Voters this week were Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan.

1. Michigan Wolverines: Last weekend’s Michigan-Indiana game was supposed to be the game of the year. However, the Michigan-Ohio State game later in the week may have taken the cake. The Wolverines fought off some early adversity in that game and came back to beat the Buckeyes in overtime. Michigan’s remaining schedule isn’t too tough — Indiana still has to come to the Crisler Arena — and the Wolverines should be able to retain the top spot as long as they don’t slip up too much, since the Hoosiers have a much tougher remaining schedule. Biggest concern: Michigan probably has the best backcourt in the country, and while the frontcourt may have been better than we’d anticipated — Jordan Morgan, Glenn Robinson III and now even Mitch McGary have stepped up nicely — but there are still questions as to whether they can compete against top big men. Cody Zeller had a very good game against the Wolverines at Assembly Hall, and Michigan is still unproven at guarding top big men.

2. Indiana Hoosiers: Indiana had the opportunity to grab the No. 1 spot in our power rankings after becoming the No. 1 team in the polls. However, Indiana failed to seize the moment, dropping to Illinois by collapsing in the final minutes Thursday night. It was quite the meltdown for a Hoosiers team that looked like it was in control early, but allowed the Illini to hang in the game for too long until the late run. This likely won’t be the last loss for Indiana, which has a tough schedule from here on out. Biggest concern: The biggest concern here has to be consistency. Indiana has so many weapons that it is perfectly capable of winning on any given night. However, it’s rare that all those weapons play well together — the Michigan game was an exception. The Hoosiers must be more consistent in order to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.

3. Michigan State: This is a team Tom Izzo and Michigan State fans can be proud of, and one that’s built from the Spartan basketball blueprint. They don’t rebound as well as past Izzo teams, but they’re tough on defense and they have a certain grittiness that’s allowed them to grind their way through this tough Big Ten schedule. When they’re healthy, they can beat anybody. The problem is, they’re never totally healthy. Biggest concern: This is easy — injuries. The Spartans can’t seem to make it through a game without someone getting hurt. Take Wednesday’s win against Minnesota for example. At one point, Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson, Gary Harris and Keith Appling all were visibly hurting and/or had to leave the game. And Travis Trice is already on the sidelined. The Spartans have no depth, but they’re managing to get by … for now.

4. Ohio State Buckeyes: It may not be showing immediately in the standings, but Ohio State is improving. Their game against Michigan, albeit a loss, was full of encouraging signs — most notably, the heavy scoring output and the distribution across the rotation. When the Buckeyes get scoring from players not named Deshaun Thomas, they’re in great shape. Biggest concern: The balance of scoring. It’s been well chronicled that the Buckeyes don’t have many go-to guys beyond Thomas, so if he has an off night, Ohio State is usually in trouble. This team is loaded with talent, but it’s just a matter of these players recognizing their capabilities and turning it on.

5. Minnesota Golden Gophers: The Gophers took advantage of the Hawkeyes’ inexperience with a clutch win at The Barn on Sunday but at some point, they will need to beat another ranked opponent to secure a good seed in the NCAA tournament. Trevor Mbakwe continues to dominate the glass as he pulled down 14 rebounds against a tough Spartans’ frontcourt of Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne. Biggest concern: Do the Gophers have a player that can consistently generate offense in the clutch? Andre Hollins (14 PPG) may be their closer but he needs to come up big against formidable competition such as Michigan State. Austin Hollins (11 PPG) can only feed off good ball movement but Dre Hollins may be the only guard that can create his own shot – a skill that will be needed over the last few weeks of the season of the Gophers were to lock up a good seed in the NCAA tournament.

6. Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers continue to hang around the top half of the conference standings but they might need another win or two against a top team in the conference in order to crack the top 25 polls and lock a good seed in the postseason. Bo Ryan’s team will have an opportunity on Saturday to take down Michigan. If Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson can limit Trey Burke to three-point shots, they may have a chance to sneak up on the Wolverines. Biggest concern: Badgers’ free throw shooting will be a concern because they don’t win by a huge margin and find themselves in several close games. For example, against Iowa, Ryan Evans (43% FT) was fouled and a miss could have proved costly in a close game. Fortunately for Badgers fans, Evans nailed both of the free throws but opposing teams will force the Badgers to close the games at the free throw line. As a team, the Badgers are shooting 62% from the charity line and this could be a factor down the homestretch in the conference season.

7. Illinois Fighting Illini: The Illini may be the most confusing team in the country right now. After pulling off a stunning upset over the top-ranked Indiana Hoosiers, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Illini lose to Minnesota on the road. But the win over Indiana will keep their NCAA hopes alive because it boosts their resume along with other “good” wins over Ohio State, Gonzaga and Butler. Biggest concern: Can they continue to stay motivated to play hard against Big Ten teams from the bottom tier of the conference? John Groce’s team shows up to compete against Michigan State and Indiana but they will need to consistently take care of business against Penn State, Purdue, Nebraska and Northwestern. They can’t lose one of those games and put themselves in a “must-win” situation against Ohio State or Iowa on the road.

8. Northwestern Wildcats: Northwestern blew out Purdue at home last Saturday, and while the Wildcats are far from an NCAA Tournament team, they’re progressing very well this year. Reggie Hearn turned it on for a career high 26 points against the Boilermakers, but perhaps more encouraging is the development of center Alex Olah. Olah really struggled early in Big Ten play, but he played well in games against Michigan and Purdue. If he continues to develop like this, along with the other freshmen, NU will have a solid team next year, with Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb coming back. Biggest concern: While Olah is playing better, Northwestern has still really struggled inside, especially on the defensive end. Olah isn’t great rebounder and doesn’t alter a lot of shots in the lane, meaning forward Jared Swopshire has had to pick up the slack.

9. Purdue Boilermakers: The Boilermakers are a good team that can give any team in the conference fits on any given night, but they’re not much more than that. They either don’t play consistently well or they just can’t seem to get over the hump to consistently contend night and night out. When you have that much trouble scoring the ball, you’ll find that to be the case. Biggest concern: The problem with these team always has been, and always will be scoring. They can compete on the glass with anybody in the Big Ten, let alone the country, but when you rank 233rd nationall in PPG (65.2) and 261st in field goal percentage (41 percent), there’s a whole lot of room for improvement.

10. Iowa Hawkeyes: You have to feel for the Hawkeyes after two close losses to Minnesota and Wisconsin. Fran McCaffery’s team is trying their best to crack through the top half of the Big Ten but keep falling short but kudos to the head coach for keeping his team together. They can regain their confidence by beating teams that they are “supposed” to beat such as Penn State, Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue over the next two weeks. Biggest concern: Devyn Marble’s recent slump is a big concern for the Hawkeyes. He was benched during critical minutes against Minnesota (0 points) and Wisconsin (2 points) on the road because he hasn’t been able to find any rhythm offensively. The offensive slump and lack of minutes is clearly affecting Marble and it shows during the games. He turned the ball over during the final minute against the Gophers and let Ben Brust cut towards the basket for a wide-open layup against the Badgers. The young Hawkeyes’ season is not done but they need Marble to play a role in their turnaround over the next few weeks.

11. Nebraska Cornhuskers: Nebraska has taken its lumps this year, but the Huskers have shown promise and hung with some solid teams. That was the case again this week, as Nebraska stayed close with Ohio State. The Huskers get Penn State this weekend in what could be their final chance to get a win; the last stretch of schedule — at Indiana, vs. Michigan State, vs. Iowa, at Wisconsin, at Illinois, vs. Minnesota, at Iowa — is brutal. However, Nebraska certainly has the ability to surprise some teams. Biggest concern: The Huskers have done a nice job defensively this year, but they’ve really struggled to score. They slow the game down, which keeps them close to more talented teams, but they don’t have the shooting to win at the end of games.

12. Penn State Nittany Lions: The Nittany Lions came dangerously close to that first Big Ten win with their last game at home against Purdue, but just couldn’t pull it out. But they’ve got another good chance at the first win when they travel to Nebraska this week. Otherwise, they may never see that win at all. Biggest concern: How about staying motivated? Patrick Chambers has to look for ways to keep his guys engaged despite getting beat every time they take the floor. They’re not competing for anything this year, but they have to find a way to make these games matter. Play the role of spoiler.

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Big Ten Power Rankings: Focus On Areas Needing Improvement

Posted by KTrahan on January 18th, 2013

This is the tenth installment of our weekly Big Ten Power Rankings which we will publish each Friday. This week’s voters were Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan of the Big Ten Microsite.

In this week’s Big Ten power rankings we discuss each team’s week and look at the area each team needs to improve the most.

1. Michigan — After the loss to Ohio State, there were questions as to whether this young Michigan team could win big games on the road. That question was answered with a very impressive win at Minnesota. The Wolverines jumped out early and built on their lead in the second half, using stifling defense to turn the Gophers over and get points in transition. The loss to the Buckeyes was disappointing, but Michigan almost came back and won that game, and the Wolverines still looked like the better team at times. Wisconsin is technically leading the conference now, but Michigan looks to be in the best shape to win it. Area most needing improvement: It’s really tough to fault the Michigan frontcourt after how it played against Minnesota, but that group still needs to be more consistent after a weak showing against Ohio State. The Wolverines are guard-oriented and have a number of impressive shooters, but they still need to have stability inside.

John Beilein's Club Appears to be the Class of the Big Ten

John Beilein’s Club Appears to be the Class of the Big Ten

2. Minnesota — Should the Gophers be ranked ahead of Indiana despite losing to them in Bloomington? Minnesota’s three losses came to Duke, Michigan and IU, each of which definitely deserves to be ranked in the top 10 in the nation. But Indiana’s losses came to Butler and Wisconsin, two very good teams but not necessarily great at this point of the season. Because we are purely using that argument, the Gophers edge the Hoosiers slightly in this week’s power rankings. Area most needing improvement: Tough to pick a specific area of improvement for the Gophers but if we are really nitpicking, they could use more production from their bench. Maverick Ahanmisi (4.3 PPG) and Julian Welch (3.3 PPG) can give more breathing room to the starting guards during the tough Big Ten season by contributing more during the “easier” games. But most of it is out of their control because head coach Tubby Smith prefers a very tight rotation during the important games.

3. Wisconsin — The Badgers are rising  fast through the rankings. If you weren’t convinced with their dominant win over the Illini, you should be after the stunner that they pulled off in Bloomington. But we’ll still keep them ranked at No. 3 for now because of their losses early in the season. Having said that, if they beat Iowa on the road, we may bump them up over Indiana. Area most needing improvement: This one is easy for the Badgers — free throw shooting. Ryan Evans is shooting 38% from the line and as a team and the Badgers as a whole shoot 62%. That is just unacceptable and very unusual for a Bo Ryan-coached team that’s known for their disciplined approach to the game.

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Big Ten Power Rankings: Week Three

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 23rd, 2012

This is the third installment of our weekly Big Ten Power Rankings which we will publish each Friday. This week’s voters were Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan of the Big Ten microsite.

John Groce’s Illini look like a revamped group that will compete in the Big Ten.

  1. Indiana (5-0): Indiana solidified its No. 1 ranking by winning the Legends Classic in New York. The Hoosiers were pushed to overtime against Georgetown, but they came out on top thanks to the stellar play of Jordan Hulls. IU certainly didn’t look polished against the Hoyas and there could be some bumps in the road, but the Hoosiers took care of business as expected, therefore they still deserve the top billing in the Big Ten and the country.
  2. Michigan (4-0): Like the Hoosiers, the Wolverines were pushed to the limit by an unranked but very tough Big East team. Jamie Dixon’s Panthers are a hardy group that are trying to make their way back into the NCAA Tournament this season. The Wolverines held off Pitt in their first true test of the season by grinding it out and playing great defense. But we still don’t know a lot about this team, and likely won’t learn a lot more when they face Kansas State Friday night. We may have to wait for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge game against NC State to properly evaluate this team. Until then, we still think that the talented Wolverines are the second best team in the conference.
  3. Ohio State (3-0): The Buckeyes have been good but not great in the early going, disposing of some lesser foes in just three games so far. They’ll get a great chance to show what they’re made of against Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but until then, this team needs to show more that it can separate itself from lesser opponents. Because we have a small sample to evaluate them against the rest of the Big Ten, they are slotted as the third best team in the conference at this point. Read the rest of this entry »
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Introducing the Preseason Big Ten Power Rankings

Posted by KTrahan on November 9th, 2012

This is the first installment of our weekly Big Ten Power Rankings, which will go out each Friday. This week’s voters were Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan of the Big Ten microsite.

1. Indiana Hoosiers: The top-ranked team in the country gets the top spot in our power rankings. The Hoosiers are stacked, returning a majority of last year’s starters, including national player-of-the-year candidate Cody Zeller. Christian Watford, Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey and Jordan Hulls also return, making this one of the deepest, most talented team in the country. Zeller will get most of the hype, but the guards will be just as important to the Hoosiers’ success. The pieces are finally in place for Tom Crean’s squad to make a National Championship run.

The Hoosiers and Wolverines Populate the Top of Our Power Rankings (AP Photo/T. Ding)

2. Michigan Wolverines: The Wolverines have talent across the board and will come at your from every single position on the floor. Trey Burke is one of the top point guards in the country and will lead a talented group of freshmen that is being hyped by some as the next “Fab Five.” That group is overshadowing star guard Tim Hardaway Jr., who should have another solid year. If Burke can assert himself as a leader and facilitator in the halfcourt sets, expect Michigan to produce a 30-win season.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes: The Buckeyes return one of the Big Ten’s best defenders and floor generals in Aaron Craft, and a lethal post presence in Deshaun Thomas. Outside of Craft, Thomas and Lenzelle Smith Jr., there isn’t a lot of experience, but this is one of the most talented teams in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes are counting on Sam Thompson and Amir Williams to step up in their first year of significant playing time, with Thompson taking on the role of scorer. Williams should be helpful on defense. With great athletes and a deeper-than-normal bench, Thad Matta has plenty of weapons.

4. Michigan State Spartans: The Spartans didn’t impress in exhibition play, but Branden Dawson looks fantastic in his return from ACL surgery and Tom Izzo’s group has the athleticism to run on both ends of the floor. Michigan State doesn’t have a true leader at this point like it had last year with Draymond Green. However, Keith Appling, Derrick Nix and Dawson all are in position to take on that role. Add in talented freshman Gary Harris, and MSU, while flying under the radar, could climb back to the top of the Big Ten. However, scoring may be an issue.

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