Examining Big Ten Non-Conference Strength of Schedules

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 21st, 2013

With opinions forming on various teams’ chances at winning a Big Ten title and advancing deep into March, it seemed like a good time to take a harder look at the league’s overall non-conference strength of schedule. With just over a week to go until the conference season opens up on New Year’s Eve, and some big games upcoming for B1G teams this weekend on slate (Michigan State at Texas, Notre Dame at Ohio State, Illinois at Missouri, Stanford at Michigan, and Purdue at West Virginia), now is as good a time as any. At this point, non-conference strength of schedule is relatively settled and we can begin to examine if a team’s current record is symptomatic of a particularly weak or strong slate.

Big Ten NCSOS

Above you can see the RPI-based strength of schedule rankings for Big Ten teams from both CBSSports and ESPN. It should be noted almost every site has some differences in RPI rankings right now, but as much as we all might hate that it matters for NCAA Tournament purposes, that’s the reality we have to consider. Here are a few notes from an examination of the rankings.

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Big Ten M5: 12.18.13 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 18th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. The up-and-down early part of Derrick Walton Jr.‘s college career took another turn on Saturday in Michigan’s loss to Arizona. Walton only played 14 minutes and contributed one point, one assist, and one turnover. John Beilein still has faith in his rookie point guard, though, and he will still be the starter when the Wolverines take on Stanford on Saturday. The fact that Walton hasn’t quite been what Michigan has expected so far is minimized by the play of Spike Albrecht, though. There’s no Darius Morris or Trey Burke to lead the way, but Michigan still has a chance to go far in March if the combination of Albrecht and Walton Jr. can be effective.
  2. The success Wisconsin has had so far has been the story of the B1G so far, and maybe the biggest story nationally in the first six weeks of the season. The major reason for this success is, of course, the coaching talent of Bo Ryan. Ryan runs one of the unique programs in the country, mainly because he preaches and practices the same fundamentals that many other coaches tend to gloss over. This is why the running joke in the preseason every year seems to be to avoid placing Wisconsin lower than fourth no matter who his players are. Ryan’s system and attention to detail is probably worth 18-20 wins a season by itself, but now that he has it in place and the talent on this year’s unit, you can see why the Badgers are 12-0 and the number-one ranked team in the RPI.
  3. Penn State blew a golden opportunity on Saturday, as the Nittany Lions let Princeton come back from a 20- point deficit to beat them in overtime. This overshadowed the team’s return to its old on-campus arena, the Rec Center. The Nittany Lions got a tremendous turnout at the gate, and the game seemed to bring some excitement to a program that hasn’t always been that popular in the shadow of a formerly dominant football program. The biggest takeaway from this game and some of the other losses B1G teams suffered on Saturday was that the middle pack of the league is still wide open. Minnesota, Illinois, Penn State, Nebraska  and Purdue are all pretty equal, and the games when they play against each will go a long way to determining which teams go where in the postseason.
  4. Despite the success Indiana has enjoyed in the last two seasons and the success he had previously at Marquette, Tom Crean still has his fair share of critics. But the Hoosiers’ head coach was his own worst critic after Indiana lost to Notre Dame in Indianapolis on Saturday. Crean mainly thought his team did a poor job of getting the ball inside to center Noah Vonleh. The Hoosiers are not a great or even a good long-distance shooting team, and with a lack of great big men in the league, a renewed emphasis on pounding the ball inside will lead to better looks for shooters that need clean looks. The Notre Dame loss could serve as something of a wake-up call in terms of strategy and potentially turn the Hoosiers’ season around.
  5. Ohio State is winning, and they are winning with one of the best defensive teams in the country. One of its key contributors has been Shannon Scott, who along with fellow point guard Aaron Craft, is averaging over two steals per game. The Buckeyes have already had some notable defensive performances, highlighted by holding Marquette to 19 percent shooting from the field in its own building. On Saturday the Buckeyes held North Dakota State’s Marshall Bjorkland, the NCAA’s active field goal percentage leader, to a ‘mere’ 50 percent shooting, which is significantly less than his career mark of 66.6 percent. Defense is the primary reason why Ohio State is ranked second in the country and will have as good of a chance as any team in the B1G to cut down the nets in April.
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O26 Weekly Awards: Princeton, Augustine Rubit, Joe Scott & NDSU…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 17th, 2013

It was final exams for many schools across the country this past week, meaning a relatively light college hoops schedule leading up to Saturday. But once the weekend kicked into gear, there proved to be plenty of intriguing match-ups, weird semi-neutral court games played in NBA arenas, standout performances and altogether surprising results to pass out weekly awards to deserving O26 performers. Heck, even the thinly-populated weekday slate offered up a noteworthy upset and a fine example of early-season coaching.

O26 Team of the Week

T.J. Bray and Princeton will be Ivy League contenders this season. (Mel Evans/Associated Press)

T.J. Bray and Princeton will be Ivy League contenders this season. (Mel Evans/Associated Press)

Princeton. It is official: the Ivy League has two legitimate contenders in 2013-14. For all the recognition Harvard has received nationally — which is certainly well deserved, considering the team’s loaded roster and excellent start to the season — there has been another Ivy squad lurking under the radar, playing great basketball and looking like a bona fide threat to challenge the Crimson this year. That team is Princeton, and last week was its ‘hello, world’ moment. It started Wednesday night in Piscataway when the Tigers took on Route 1 rival Rutgers, a team starving for a victory in the wake of three straight losses. After trading leads for much of the contest, Princeton took firm control of things at around the 10-minute mark by doing what it has done so often this season — calmly finding seams in the opposition, penetrating and kicking out for open threes on the perimeter. In all, the Tigers hit 16 of their 34 attempts from behind the arc, and T.J. Bray — the senior point guard who was suspended for the previous game — scored 15 of his 23 points in the final nine minutes to put the game away for Mitch Henderson’s seasoned group. The 78-73 victory was a nice one, moving Princeton to 7-1 and furthering its case as the best team in New Jersey. Yet, it was Saturday’s win at Penn State that turned the heads of many college basketball fans.

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Ranking the Big Ten Coaching Positions

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 13th, 2013

In the always debatable world of athletics and rankings, a recent post from Will Leitch at Sports on Earth discussed the top college basketball coaching jobs. The column included quite a few Big Ten programs, with five among the top 25 and two in the “just missing the cut” line. This prompted the obvious follow-up question of how would we rate the 12 coaching positions in the Big Ten. Remember that we aren’t just talking about the history and quality of the programs (measured in national titles and draft picks), but the coaching position itself. There is a difference. For this analysis, we examined each program’s history and recent success, its facilities, commitment to basketball, recruiting ease, coaching salary (where available, as Northwestern and Penn State do not report salaries), the normal pressure of the position, fan support, location, academics and more. All in all, it’s a lot to take in, but if all coaching positions in the conference came open tomorrow, what would be the most appealing spots for prospective coaches to move in and take over? Feel free to tell us how we are wrong.

Tom Crean sits in the top coaching position in the Big Ten (AP).

Tom Crean sits in the top coaching position in the Big Ten (AP).

  1. Indiana. The “blue blood” of Big Ten basketball has quite the history in terms of conference championships, Final Fours and national titles. It has tremendous support within the Hoosier State and sits in arguably the biggest recruiting hotbed of the nation. Assembly Hall is an historic venue and its lack of modern conveniences will recede as a critique as the Hoosiers look to start a renovation campaign soon. Tom Crean also earns plenty in salary, ranking second in the conference only behind Tom Izzo. A small drawback may be the pressure of the position, as some fans are already starting to question Tom Crean’s likelihood of bringing a national title to Bloomington. Still, it’s the top job in the Big Ten.
  2. Michigan State. Izzo gets paid the most of any coach in the Big Ten and his big competitor in the state is a football school at Michigan. He may not face much pressure given all of his success there, but for a new coach the honeymoon period probably wouldn’t last very long. The Breslin Center is a good arena and Sparty’s fan support is near the top of the list for all schools. Include the successes of the past with Magic Johnson’s championship team and Izzo’s Flintstones along with its recruiting location near Detroit and not far from Chicago and Indiana, and Michigan State represents as an attractive national position when the job reopens. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 12.12.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 12th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. It’s been a question all year when discussing Ohio State. Everyone knows how strong the Buckeyes’ defense is, but are they be able to score enough points on the other end to become a Final Four team? Replacing DeShaun Thomas was a huge question mark coming into the year, but through the first quarter of the season, at least, LaQuinton Ross has matched his production. Last night Ross scored only nine points in the team’s 86-48 win over Bryant, but as Ross’ recent production has been on an uptick lately, so too has his team’s scoring capability and potential ceiling. If he has in fact turned a corner and is rapidly becoming the team’s offensive leader, then Thad Matta’s team is well on its way to becoming a legitimate Final Four contender.
  2. Indiana cruised in its most recent win against Oakland, but a potential key player off the bench is starting to emerge. Freshman Luke Fischer has finally healed from a torn labrum in his left shoulder and is no longer wearing a brace. Thanks to being healthy over the past two games, Fischer has notched season highs in minutes and scored 12 points, nearly half of his season total of 25. Granted, these games were blowout wins for the Hoosiers against inferior competition, but Fischer came into this season with a lot of unrealized potential. Some thought Fischer could start at the five for Indiana next to Noah Vonleh, and he is just now starting to show why in the past two games. If he emerges and gives Indiana another strong piece inside he could help alleviate some pressure on Vonleh and give the Hoosiers some quality post minutes off the bench.
  3. It’s impossible to really know at such an early point, but with the good start Minnesota has enjoyed and if Richard Pitino quickly builds the Golden Gophers program up in the next two or three years, would he be likely to stay in Minneapolis or leave for a more traditional, high-powered program? According to his father and Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, “he could die at this program.” The elder Pitino was in town this week to watch his son’s team win on Tuesday night and gave some interesting insights into his son’s career choice. The father had urged him to stay on board as an assistant at Louisville and follow him there as the next head coach in several years, but the son wanted to blaze his own trail. That has to be a good sign for Minnesota fans because if young Pitino is successful he could potentially stay at the school and become a long-term fixture that leads the program routinely to the top of the Big Ten.
  4. Maybe it’s time to start thinking of Penn State as more than a cellar-dweller or a team that could pull off an upset or two in Big Ten play. After a loss to a mediocre Bucknell team in its second game of the season, the Nittany Lions have now won six of eight and pushed their record to 8-3 following last night’s 68-59 win over Duquesne in a neutral site game. This opponent was another middling team, but Penn State’s only other losses were to a very talented Pittsburgh team and a three-point loss to a solid Ole Miss squad. Last night’s win was just another that exhibits that this team could challenge for a top-half finish in the B1G. Most impressively may be Penn State giving up 24 free throws to the Dukes yet still winning the game. It’s also good that Tim Frazier only scored 11 points but had 13 assists, giving credence to the notion that role players are stepping up around the Nittany Lions’ talented backcourt duo. If Penn State wins its next game against 7-1 Princeton, everyone will have to start putting this team on its dark horse radar.
  5. Another game, another high-scorer for Wisconsin. The Badgers have proven to be a very well-balanced and talented squad this season, as Ben Brust led the team in its 78-52 win over UW-Milwaukee last night. Every time out it seems like someone different is taking control of the team, with Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky, Traevon Jackson or Josh Gasser trading positions. Brust is just another dimension to the effectiveness of the Badgers as it has gotten off to its best start at 11-0 since 1993-94. This team has shown it can do just about anything in Bo Ryan’s motion offense, with every player versatile enough to hit shots outside or play inside. With five strong scorers in its starting lineup, this could be the year Wisconsin goes from a consistently good team to a Final Four contender. It also helps that it has shown it can play different styles this season, already notching wins in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and more than 100 points. That’s quite the spectrum of game styles to win them all.
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Big Ten M5: 12.11.13 Edition

Posted by Brendon Brody on December 11th, 2013

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  1. Though he’s slightly lost in the shuffle due to Iowa‘s outstanding depth, Melsahn Basabe is starting to come on and is contributing a lot more for the 10-1 Hawkeyes. His career has been a bit of a roller coaster in terms of how his production has been up and down, but to date this season he’s averaging 7.7 PPG and 6.3 RPG in only 18 minutes of action per contest. In his last two games, he’s hit for an average of 14 points and 10 boards per outing. Iowa needs selfless players like Basabe to continue to contribute in limited minutes in order to take advantage of their depth without a drop in production.
  2. Northwestern has had a shaky beginning to the Chris Collins regime in Evanston. His former college coach and colleague, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, watched the team’s recent 51-35 win over Western Michigan, and then spoke to the team afterward. His message was for the team to stay together and fight through adversity. Coach K served as a decent good luck charm, as the Wildcats held the Broncos to 24.4 percent shooting from the field on the night. Collins may have found something with his switch to starting James Montgomery and Nikola Cerina in his lineup, emphasizing the need for tougher defense in order to get things on track from the start of the game.
  3. Penn State is right around the middle of the pack in rebounding in the B1G, but the Nittany Lions may have turned a corner in the second half of their win Saturday against Marshall. The team only allowed three offensive rebounds in the second half after giving up 12 in the first 20 minutes. They attributed this turnaround simply to a renewed emphasis on being tougher and getting to more loose balls. Without the talent that many other league teams possess, intangibles and hustle stats like rebounding will be vital if Penn State hopes to exceed expectations and make a run at an NCAA berth.
  4. Indiana knocked off Oakland 81-54 on Tuesday night, as the Hoosiers got another strong outing from senior transfer Evan Gordon. Gordon has now gone 17-of-21 from the field in his last two games. He had looked like he wouldn’t be able to contribute much offensively before those last two contests, despite the fact that he came in from Arizona State with a pretty good reputation as a scorer. If he can continue this production as an instant threat off the bench, the Hoosiers may solve some of their problems with inconsistency in their half-court production that they’ve been struggling with.
  5. NBC Sports’ College Basketball Talk released their list of the 10 most disappointing players of the first month, and they listed both Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III in their rankings. McGary seems to be playing his way into shape, with averages of 9.7 PPG, 8.9 RPG, and 2.1 SPG on the season. Robinson has been an enigma, however — disappearing for numerous key stretches and hardly noticeable at times as the team has struggled through an uneven start. My other occupation aside from writing for this website is that of a adjunct English professor, so in honor of it being finals week, McGrady gets a B- for his play thus far, while Robinson gets a D — both players are passing, but they could stand to really show some improvement.
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Big Ten Resume Review: Part I

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 9th, 2013

After everything has calmed down in the aftermath of the B1G/ACC challenge, it’s time to take a first look at the resumes that each team in the league has put together. Granted, this is going to be a fluid situation all season, but right now this is how it shakes out. I won’t reveal my exact methodology, but suffice it to say that I used a combination of KenPom efficiency ratings and the RPI to assign a specific value to each team’s wins and losses. Starting from the bottom and working up, this is how B1G teams stand right now as we head into the exams period. I’ve listed teams #12-#7 here, with teams #6-#1 to come tomorrow.

12. Northwestern (5-5)

Chris Collins' First Season in Evanston Has Been Challenging So Far

Chris Collins’ First Season in Evanston Has Been Challenging So Far

  • Best Win: Western Michigan  (51-35)
  • Worst Loss: Illinois State (68-64)
  • Breakdown: Northwestern has played four power conference teams but did not win any of those games. The Wildcats played Missouri reasonably close, but they lost by 21 to an NC State team that is predicted to finish in the middle to the bottom of the ACC. They have a chance to finish the season with more than 20 losses given the formidable conference slate Chris Collins’ team has ahead of it. They got back on track slightly with a win against a top-150 Western Michigan team on Saturday, but don’t expect the wins to pile up here.
  • Status Right Now: No postseason.
  • Projected Status: No postseason. Not trying to pick on the Wildcats, but they’ve done nothing to show that they are better than all the other bottom-level teams in the conference right now, and might only win three or four games in league play.

11. Nebraska (6-3)

  • Best Win: Miami (60-49)
  • Worst Loss: @ Creighton (82-67)
  • Breakdown: When listing Creighton as their worst loss here, this is more because of the fact that the Cornhuskers blew a golden opportunity to get a signature win, and because they looked so bad in doing it. That said,  Tim Miles’ squad has probably slightly exceeded expectations. They’ve started 6-3, but have no wins versus anyone that would be in the field of 68. Their first two losses to UMass and UAB weren’t horrible ones, and neither is the Creighton loss, but the Huskers need a win at Cincinnati on December 28 or they would need to do some significant conference damage.
  • Status Right Now: No postseason.
  • Projected Status: No postseason. This team could pull off some upsets and get to five or six B1G wins, and if so, they could find themselves headed to the NIT.

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An Early Look at the Big Ten POY Candidates

Posted by Max Jakubowski on December 6th, 2013

We are a little over one-fourth of the way through the season. Non-conference play lasts about another three weeks, and before you know it, New Year’s Eve will arrive and conference games will be here. The Big Ten Player of the Year award is of course won and lost during conference play, but let’s take a very early look at five players who have positioned themselves to possibly be among the favorites for the award (in alphabetical order).

Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky is one of many early candidates in the mix for POY. (Reuters)

Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky is one of many early candidates in the mix for Big Ten POY. (Reuters)

  • Keith Appling, Michigan State: Appling has two teammates in Gary Harris (now injured) and Adreian Payne who are also deserving of this award, but it has been the point guard who has done a little bit of everything for the Spartans this year. His impressive stat line of 16.9 PPG, 5.6 APG, 3.0 RPG and 52 percent from deep are conference POY numbers. Perhaps his most impressive performance was against then #1 Kentucky, exploding for 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in a consummate performance. If Appling continues to put up big games like that, he might be on track to become the second Spartans’ senior to win Big Ten POY in the last three years (Draymond Green was the other).
  • Tim Frazier, Penn State: It is extremely hard for a player on a team with a losing record to take home the conference POY award, but Frazier could possibly accomplish that this season. He is only averaging 19.4 PPG, but expect that number to rise into the 20s by the time conference play is in full swing. The fifth-year senior is also averaging a league high 7.0 APG and that stat may be underrated too because Frazier will need to get his teammates active on the offensive end of the floor to open up more space for him to work with.

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Key Questions in the Tuesday Big Ten/ACC Challenge Early Games

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 3rd, 2013

It’s back. The Big Ten/ACC Challenge starts tonight. The ACC is currently ahead 10-3-1 in the event, but the Big Ten hasn’t lost a challenge in four years with last season giving us the lone tie. This year’s match-ups provide plenty of compelling games to consider and includes the first time that Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Syracuse will compete as well as Maryland’s last run with the ACC. With that in mind, Matt Patton and Lathan Wells from the ACC microsite and Jonathan Batuello and Brendan Brody from the B1G microsite got together on Monday to answer some key questions concerning this year’s Challenge. This post will preview the three early Tuesday night games, with a second post previewing the late games coming this afternoon. Wednesday will have a similar construct. Also be sure to check-out both microsites over the next few days for further reaction and analysis as the Challenge gets underway.

Indiana @ Syracuse, 7:15 PM, ESPN

Indiana and Syracuse Match Up Again, This Time at the Dome

Indiana and Syracuse Match Up Again, This Time at the Dome

B1G: The Challenge’s first game is a rematch of the Sweet Sixteen game last year. It ended the Hoosiers’ hopes for a national title, but this year’s game has plenty of new faces. This year’s Indiana team is extremely athletic, so how does Syracuse match up against them?

ACC: Very well. One of the things that makes Syracuse’s zone so dangerous is its length. The zone hides a lot of athletic mismatches on defense, but expect the Orange to be able to hang with most of Indiana’s roster. Offensively the most important thing is for Tyler Ennis to feel comfortable. On the other hand, Tom Crean’s history against the zone is well known. How do you think he changes his game plan to handle a talented Syracuse team and its zone?

B1G: Crean would love nothing more than to get his “zone struggles” monkey off his back heading back to Syracuse. Honestly, though, IU will have a different game plan than last year because it has a different team. Last season, IU didn’t hit from deep in the NCAA Tournament against the zone, but this season it doesn’t have the players to simply shoot Syracuse out of it. Indiana will likely struggle shooting the ball so it needs to do what a fellow B1G microsite writer talked about a few weeks ago – rebound. The Hoosiers will have to get some free points off putbacks to have a chance to win this game. On that note, Indiana is an absolute monster on the boards this season, outrebounding its opponents 50-32. Syracuse is only averaging 36 boards a game itself, so is there anyway the Orange can hang with the Hoosiers on the glass?

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Penn State Proving It’s More Than a Two-Man Show

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 29th, 2013

With its win Tuesday night, Penn State upped its record on the young season to 5-1. As they head into their weekend mini-tournament in Brooklyn tonight, they will be tested by the likes of St. John’s and either Ole Miss or Georgia Tech. These are all “power conference” teams, but they are all beatable. If the Nittany Lions want to continue the roll that they’ve gotten on this season, they will need to continue to get contributions from their starting frontcourt. Players like Ross Travis, Brandon Taylor, and Donovon Jack are not household names outside of State College, but they have all been huge factors in the team’s play as of late.

Brandon Taylor has gotten off to a hot shooting start for Penn State thus far (Jesse Johnson, USA Today).

Brandon Taylor has gotten off to a hot shooting start for Penn State thus far (Jesse Johnson, USA Today).

In its victory over La Salle, Penn State had all five starters in double figures. With a pass-first type of point guard getting them great looks with his dishing prowess, Taylor, Jack, and Travis have shown they can take advantage and hit shots. While none of these three is very physically imposing, they all have certain useful skill sets that they’ve displayed in the early going. Travis is a banger and a slasher, leading the team in rebounds at a 7.3 RPG clip. He has a nice mid-range game and can get to the basket, but his main role is that of someone to do a lot of the heavy lifting on the boards. Taylor went for 25 points in the team’s lopsided win against Longwood, mostly on the strength of his 5-of-9 shooting from deep. He too showed in that game and in others that he can knock down an open shot from mid-range, and displays athleticism and length defensively. Taylor is 11th in the B1G in block rate (5.78%) going into Brooklyn, and has a high of four in one game. Jack has a season high of 18 points, and while he tends to get pushed around a some in the low block, he works well in a high pick-and-roll situation with Frazier. Jack has also become a big fan of taking three-pointers from the top of the key, which will at times bring a center or power forward away from the basket and allow the others to crash the offensive boards.

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The Whistle Blows: Big Ten Teams See Notable Increase in FTAs and Percentage

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 19th, 2013

It’s been impossible to avoid noticing the difference in foul calls so far this season. The new hand-check rules and officials intent on enforcing every foul has caused free throw attempts to shoot up and games to slow down. Across all of Division I basketball, free throw attempts are up a whopping 22.8 percent (about 4.5  more attempts per game). This amounts to about 24.3 attempts per game, the highest mark since 1971-72 when it was at 25.6 FTA per contest. This has caused some complaints among B1G coaches, most notably Purdue‘s Matt Painter, who called them “excessive” following his Boilermakers’ recent win. While the foul calls and free throws may slightly drop as officials adapt and study film, almost any contact for now causes a whistle to blow. With this in mind, it seemed like a good time to look at the Big Ten team’s free throw shooting so far this season compared to last season’s totals through roughly the same amount of games. You can look at the table below to get a good gauge of exactly what has and is happening with your favorite B1G team and the conference overall.

big ten ft diff

Some notable trends:

  • Overall, the B1G is shooting free throws at an even higher rate than the country with a 28.2 percent increase as it has attempted 232 more total free throws than at this point last season. This equates to more than 19 additional free throw attempts per team so far. Only Michigan State has shot fewer free throws at this same point, and Michigan and Minnesota are near where they were last year at this time. Every other team is up.
  • Could more trips to the line mean more comfort while there? Most teams at this point have experienced a positive change in free throw percentage, with Penn State, Indiana, Ohio State and Nebraska the four teams showing a decrease.

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Big Ten’s One Loss Record Supports Early Claim for Best Conference

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 14th, 2013

The start to the Big Ten season has certainly gone well. Granted, there have been a few closer games than expected (we’re looking at you, Indiana and Purdue) and one loss, but nonetheless, the conference now sits at 23-1 going into Thursday morning. (It should be noted this topic was originally written with the assumption Penn State would not lose and the Big Ten would still be undefeated, but alas, we’ll settle for 23-1). It also has two of the biggest signature wins of the young season with Michigan State over Kentucky and Wisconsin downing Florida on Tuesday night. That said, the Big Ten is the only power conference to have only one loss and sits tied with the WCC for best record overall as the only conference with just one loss. The next closest leagues are the Big East and AAC with three losses each. Granted, overall record isn’t the only way to measure conference strength, especially this early in the season with high-major schools playing teams they should beat. Still, it’s an impressive start and worth taking a look at the next few days to see exactly how long the Big Ten can keep it up. This post projects the next four days to determine how likely it is that the Big Ten stays at the one-loss plateau heading into next week.

Gary Harris led Michigan State to No. 1 in the country and the Big Ten sits as the top conference early on, too. (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Gary Harris led Michigan State to No. 1 in the country and the Big Ten sits as the top conference early on, too. (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Today: Maryland Eastern Shore at Iowa; Northwestern at Stanford

This is a legitimate underdog situation for the Big Ten. Iowa should cruise in its home game against UMES, but the Wildcats are traveling west to play against a good team in its building. Stanford may have given up 112 points against BYU, but the Cougars are no slouch in the WCC.

Loss probability: 80 percent. It’s Northwestern on the road.

Friday: Samford at Indiana; Columbia at Michigan State

If Northwestern pulls off the upset, the Big Ten is looking at 25-1 heading into the weekend. In these two Friday games, Indiana and Michigan State will be heavy favorites. The Hoosiers got their wake-up call against an inferior team on Tuesday night and won’t let that happen again. Michigan State just beat Kentucky, and they aren’t losing to Columbia with a veteran squad coached by Tom Izzo.

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