John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.
A Look Back
It’s hard to figure out exactly what’s going on in the Big Ten this season. Ohio State has risen to No. 1 in the country in both polls, but after that it’s tough to tell which team is next. Purdue stumbled on the road at West Virginia, giving the conference yet another black eye in the non-conference, and Illinois had a bit of dysfunction. Those things allowed an old standby, Michigan State, to once again rise to second with two close overtime wins at home. That just goes to show the tightrope act that is conference play this season.
- Team of the Week: Michigan State – The Spartans managed to pull off two dramatic comebacks on their home court in conference in the span of less than a week. Coming back to beat Wisconsin and Northwestern – both in overtime – helps put Tom Izzo’s team right back in the middle of the conference race and might help alleviate some of the concerns about this team playing close games in March.
- Player of the Week: Draymond Green, F, Michigan State: The big reason why Michigan State won both games last week is that Green stepped up, averaging 21.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He also went 17-19 (89.4 percent) from the free throw line, which helped the team in the close ones.
- Newcomer of the Week: Aaron Craft, G, Ohio State: Craft also won the official Freshman of the Week award in the Big Ten and thus became the third Buckeye to win the award. Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas and Craft have swept the award this season. Craft won his after scoring 19 points to help Ohio State hold off Penn State.
- 1. Ohio State (18-0, 5-0) – Behind a trio of Diaper Dandies, the Buckeyes have ascended to the top spot in the conference and the country. They’re playing good basketball, but hanging onto the top spot requires them going into Champaign and pulling out a victory. The play of the freshman has been impressive, but just as notable is how Thad Matta has gotten David Lighty and Jon Diebler to acquiesce to Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger on offense and play important supporting roles.
- 2. Michigan State (12-5, 4-1) – See the Team of the Week and the Player of the Week sections for more on a very successful Big Ten week for the Spartans.
- 3. Wisconsin (13-4, 3-2) – Jon Leuer struggled as the Badgers lost at Michigan State, scoring just ten points on nine shots, but Wisconsin still had a chance to win. Jordan Taylor just needed to get a better look at the basket late. Leuer rebounded though to score 26 points on 16 shots against Illinois. Other player to watch is Keaton Nankivil. The 6’8 senior forward has scored in double figures each of his past five games.
- 4. Purdue (15-3, 4-1) –A poor shooting week from E’Twaun Moore doomed Purdue on the road. He shot 6-18 at West Virginia and scored 14 points and went 2-14 for five points against Minnesota. What has to be more concerning for Matt Painter though was the defense that allowed the Gophers to shoot 52.9 percent from the field.
- 5. Illinois (13-5, 3-2) – Two losses have brought back the dysfunctional team chemistry that plagued the Fighting Illini last season. Freshman Jereme Richmond was held out of the loss to Wisconsin because of missed practice time. Mike Miller over at Beyond the Arc had a bit more to say about it here, though judging by a statement from Richmond on Monday, there shouldn’t be any lingering issues regarding his status.
- 6. Minnesota (14-4, 3-3) – Two wins got Minnesota back on track, but both were at home, and one was against Iowa. Let’s see if Tubby Smith’s team can go on the road and beat someone. No matter where they play, controlling the pace is going to be important. The Gophers haven’t played a game at a pace of more than 65 possessions since Big Ten play started. Last week, the game against Purdue was 70-67 in 58 possessions. On a night when Blake Hoffarber and Trevor Mbakwe both play well, the Gophers will look unstoppable. Hoffarber went off for 26 points against the Boilermakers, but was held to nine points on 2-10 shooting against the Hawkeyes. That’s when Mbakwe picked things up though with 16 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. It doesn’t appear that Mbakwe’s violation of a restraining order has slowed him down at all.
- 7. Penn State (10-7, 3-3) – The Nittany Lions are going through a brutal stretch of four games, but making the most of it. Wins over Michigan State and Illinois instantly boosted their at-large profile and made them a contender in the conference. It hasn’t all been Talor Battle either, the frontcourt of Jeff Brooks, Andrew Jones and David Jackson are forcing opponents to pay attention to them. Jones showed what happens if you don’t against the Illini with a game-winning put-back slam after four players went at Battle.
- 8. Northwestern (11-5, 2-4) – What might have been? Losing in overtime to Michigan State is a big blow to the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament hopes. Northwestern had a chance to win the game even though John Shurna scored just six points. Drew Crawford has been hot lately with 19 points at Iowa and 16 against the Spartans. Because of an extra game on Thursday against SIU-Edwardsville, Northwestern plays three games in six days this week. The Green Bay-Chicago NFC Championship game also upended the schedule and the Wildcats will play Wisconsin at 11:30 a.m. CT.
- 9. Indiana (10-8, 1-4) – Michigan figured out you have to guard Indiana in order to beat them. Jordan Hulls was a perfect 4-4 from the field, including 3-3 from beyond the arc, and scored 13 points and Verdell Jones III went 9-10 from the field and scored 24 points in the Hoosiers’ 80-61 victory over the Wolverines.
- 10. Michigan (11-7, 1-4) – The Wolverines exhibit all the signs of a young team. They play up for the good ones and down to the bad ones. Unfortunately the numbers suggest that the games against the good teams might just be the kids playing over their heads. It’s the defense that’s been the problem lately.
- 11. Iowa (7-10, 0-5) – The Hawkeyes are struggling to score points in Big Ten play. While Fran McCaffery has tried to spruce up the offense, Iowa still needs more talent. When Indiana comes to town on Sunday it might be the Hawkeyes’ best chance to steal a conference victory.
A Look Ahead (all times EST):
- 1/18 – Michigan State at Illinois, 7 p.m., ESPN
- 1/19 – Penn State at Purdue, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
- 1/22 – Ohio State at Illinois, 12:00 p.m., CBS
- 1/22 – Michigan State at Purdue, 9 p.m., ESPN
- 1/23 – Wisconsin at Northwestern, 12:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
- 1/23 – Indiana at Iowa, 3 p.m., Big Ten Network
Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom
- You might be surprised to learn that Purdue still leads the conference in efficiency margin during Big Ten play. Of course that has a bit to do with scheduling. The Boilermakers have feasted on an easy schedule and have avoided Michigan State, Ohio State, Illinois and Wisconsin during their first five games. Ohio State is second with Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan State coming up behind them. The Spartans are the second luckiest team in conference according to my count, with undefeated Ohio State being the first.
- Before Iowa’s loss at Minnesota, there wasn’t a single team in the Big Ten that was scoring less than a point per possession, but the Hawkeyes have dipped below that minimum standard of competency again. On the other hand, Purdue and Michigan State are both allowing less than a point per possession in conference play. The Spartans are winning in conference on the strength of their defense.
- Finally, the Bubble Battle between Penn State, Northwestern and Minnesota should be fascinating to watch all season. The Gophers did more than the other two during non-conference play, but the three of them have very similar efficiency margins in conference play.
- After next week, every team in the conference will have played one-third of its conference schedule and I’ll provide a full rundown with all the numbers and predictions moving forward.