John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.
A Look Back
The national narrative about the Big Ten has been about the “tiers” in the conference. Last week, those tiers were even more pronounced as the top teams kept on winning and the middle and bottom ones battled it out. In the process, Illinois – a classic example of this philosophy – escaped with a solid home win over Michigan State, but a disappointing loss to Ohio State and Iowa got its first conference win of the season over Indiana. The top teams will start battling it out this week, as Ohio State welcomes Purdue on Tuesday for what will be the “Game of the Year” thus far in conference.
Those middle teams are ones you have to know come March. That’s when the true depth of the conference will be on display and teams like the Illini, Michigan State, Minnesota and maybe a Penn State or Northwestern will be trying to prove they belonged in the discussion all along.
- Team of the Week: Ohio State: A big victory over Illinois on the road was the best win by any Big Ten team last week. The Buckeyes also took care of business against Iowa and now just have to beat Purdue at home and Northwestern on the road to enter February with a shot at perfection intact.
- Player of the Week: Jared Sullinger, F, Ohio State: With his team facing a tough situation at Illinois, the freshman put Ohio State on his back and carried them to an important road victory. He scored 27 points, including 13-15 shooting from the free throw line, grabbed 16 boards and blocked three shots. That was the follow-up to a ho-hum game against Iowa where he notched just 13 points and nine boards. It’s becoming hard to describe Sullinger’s day-to-day work. This Tweet from Monday afternoon summed up his ranks amongst NCAA freshmen very succinctly.
- Newcomer of the Week: Josh Gasser, G, Wisconsin: I’m cheating a bit here by not giving both weekly awards to Sullinger, since he is technically a freshman even if he doesn’t play like one, but I wanted to highlight Gasser’s triple-double against Northwestern. In the 78-46 victory on Sunday at Welsh-Ryan Arena he had ten points, 12 rebounds and ten assists. That’s a heck of a day, and the first in Badger history.
1. Ohio State (20-0, 7-0) – Jon Diebler is second in the nation in offensive rating according to Ken Pomeroy at 138.5. He’s shooting 47.6 percent from three-point range and is committing just 1.1 fouls per 40 minutes. No one has benefited more from DeShaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger patrolling the middle than this 6’6 senior shooting guard.
2. Wisconsin (15-4, 5-2) – After Sunday’s demolition of Northwestern, the Badgers have the second best offense in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy. Wait, let’s repeat that: Wisconsin has the second best offense in the country. Bo Ryan knows his offense is built upon solid principles, which is what made this article all the more amusing. Can we all agree the Wisconsin offense isn’t “struggling” anymore? (Not that it ever really was.)
3. Purdue (17-3, 6-1) – How Penn State lost a 6’10 forward that was the best player on the court at the end of a critical game, I’ll never know, but JaJuan Johnson knocked down the game-winner and Purdue got two home victories last week. Johnson has scored 20-plus points in each of his last four games and hasn’t scored fewer than 15 since December 7 against Valparaiso. Oddly, his rebounding totals are down lately. He grabbed seven boards combined against Penn State and Michigan State last week.
4. Michigan State (12-7, 4-3) – Tom Izzo must have an ear-to-ear grin on his face now, because while his team lost two games last week, they’ll get healthy with a three-game stretch against the bottom third of the conference. Of course if they lose one of those games I don’t want to be anywhere near that locker room.
5. Illinois (14-6, 4-3) – Oh, what might’ve been for the Illini. Illinois was up eight with under 13 minutes to play against Ohio State, but it failed to contain Jared Sullinger down the stretch. Demetri McCamey was 2-11 from the floor in the game and scored five points to go along with five assists and four turnovers. It’s a good thing Jereme Richmond and Bruce Weber have straightened things out, because it was the superstar freshman’s play that kept the Illini in it with 18 points, on 9-12 shooting, and 10 boards.
6. Minnesota (15-4, 4-3) – While Minnesota won its only game on the court last week it came at a terrible price. The Gophers will be without starting point guard Al Nolen for at least four weeks due to a foot injury, and possibly the rest of the season. Nolen is going to have surgery on Wednesday and will do anything to get back on the court, but for now, Tubby Smith is going to have to deal with this latest blow to his backcourt. The team was already thin at the guard spot after the transfer of Devoe Joseph.
7. Penn State (10-8, 3-4) – The Nittany Lions were the odd team out on Saturday, so they haven’t played since Wednesday, January 19. What a game that was. JaJuan Johnson had to hit a shot on the Boilermakers’ final possession to eek out the one-point win. That game showed the fight that Penn State has and no team can take them lightly during the rest of conference play. Still, the final play that Ed DeChellis drew up seemed designed for a lot less time. You’d hope to at least get a look at the basket on the final possession.
8. Northwestern (13-6, 3-5) – The Wildcats found out what both sides of a blowout feel like last week against SIU Edwardsville and Wisconsin. Even without star John Shurna, who was resting his injured ankle, and the third string playing the majority of the second half Northwestern ran past the overmatched Cougars, 98-55. Bill Carmody had his players run out the clock the final two possessions rather than score 100 on the obviously overmatched visitors. On Sunday though it was the home team that struggled. Northwestern got down early and never recovered against Wisconsin as the team’s NCAA Tournament hopes were dealt another crippling blow. Teams that blow out the Wildcats take away Drew Crawford. When the sophomore forward doesn’t score Northwestern’s offense struggles a lot and he didn’t score a point in 27 minutes against the Badgers.
9. Michigan (11-9, 1-6) – Tim Hardaway, Jr. has been given the green light for the Wolverines. In two losses last week the freshman attempted 28 shots, an even 14 in each game. He struggled against Northwestern, making three and scoring eight points, but on Saturday he exploded for 20 points against Minnesota in a five-point loss.
10. Iowa (8-11, 1-6) – Freshman Melsahne Basabe’s third 20-point game of the season was enough to carry the Hawkeyes to a 91-77 victory over Indiana and get them out of the conference cellar. This team still doesn’t look like it’ll bother anyone but the bottom tier of the conference, but players like Basabe are pieces to build on for the program’s future.
11. Indiana (10-10, 1-6) – A loss at Iowa probably wasn’t Tom Crean’s idea of a good time. While Christian Watford scored 30 points, Jordan Hulls was held under 10 points for the first time in seven games. Hulls is Indiana’s most efficient scorer and a three-point gunner that has connected on 49.4 percent of his attempts this season. Maurice Creek’s right knee can no longer elude surgery, and he’ll again miss a big chunk of conference play as he gets shut down.
A Look Ahead (all times EST):
- 1/25 – Purdue at Ohio State, 9 p.m., ESPN
- 1/26 – Northwestern at Minnesota, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
- 1/27 – Michigan at Michigan State, 7 p.m., ESPN
- 1/29 – Minnesota at Purdue, 1 p.m., CBS
- 1/29 – Wisconsin at Penn State, 4 p.m., Big Ten Network
- 1/30 – Iowa at Michigan, 4 p.m., Big Ten Network
Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom: We’re starting to see some trends develop in the tempo-free statistics. A couple might be surprising and here are some of the highlights:
- Wisconsin has joined the elite tier of the conference. The Badgers play slowly, so sometimes you don’t see their blowouts as the great feats they are, but Bo Ryan has his team playing at peak efficiency in conference. After Sunday’s blowout Wisconsin is right in the middle of the upper tier behind Purdue (+0.18 efficiency margin per possession) and Ohio State (+0.14) at +0.16 points per possession in conference. That’s a very impressive mark.
- Michigan State’s offense is in trouble as the Spartans rank 10th in the Big Ten in conference offensive efficiency at 1.04 points per possession. The fact that they’re scoring more than a point per possession and still near the bottom also tells you how deadly efficient every team has been this season. Still, Tom Izzo has to find a way to coax some more points out of his team or they’re going to struggle during the rest of conference play.
- You might think that those great offensive efficiencies in Big Ten play are because of teams like Indiana and Iowa, but that’s not true. No Big Ten team is allowing less than a point per possession in conference play. Ohio State leads the way at 1.002.
- The numbers indicate that Ohio State is really lucky to still be undefeated, not just overall but also in conference. Maybe the other shoe drops on Tuesday night against Purdue? On the other side you’ve got Wisconsin and Indiana as the unluckiest. All that said, it seems like this is related to two teams that are moving in different directions. The Hoosiers are playing worse lately and the Badgers better, which is skewing both of their respective numbers.