While Christmas has passed and New Years is just around the corner, many people are focusing on the NFL or College Football bowl games. But here at DRosesAndThorns, not only are we focused on the NBA, but also looking forward to the start of Big Ten (B1G) conference play this week.
With that in mind, let’s do a quick power rankings and check in with each team’s season so far and where it might be headed once the bloodbath that is the B1G conference season gets underway.
- Michigan State
Looking Back: This is an easy one. The #1 team in all the land is the only undefeated left in the conference (13-0). With big wins over Kansas, Providence, and Louisville, the Spartans easily have the best resume of any team in the B1G. They have also been demolishing teams, with an average margin of victory north of 20. The Spartans have been powered by the do-everything Denzel Valentine who will be out for the next couple of weeks with a knee injury.
Looking Ahead: Fortunately for the Spartans, they won’t face a tough beginning to the B1G schedule without Valentine, as their first big test doesn’t appear until January 23rd against Maryland. The Spartans have arguably the easiest conference schedule, facing Indiana, Maryland, and Purdue only once, while facing bottom-feeders Penn State and Rutgers twice. Michigan State appears to be a lock for the tourney as Izzo looks to put his stamp on this team before making a deep run into March.
Editor’s note: since these rankings were submitted, Iowa upset Michigan State to start conference play.
Looking Back: In a good but not great non-conference slate, the Terps (11-1) played some solid ball. However, their only notable wins are against UCONN and an underachieving Georgetown team. They played their best game in a loss to UNC up in Chapel Hill that had the feel of a tourney game. Maryland was led by their stud point guard, Melo Trimble who is averaging 14.8 PPG on 52% shooting and 5.8 APG heading into conference play.
Looking Ahead: Maryland has a pretty tough slate ahead of them. The Terps play Michigan, Purdue, and Wisconsin all twice while facing Indiana and Michigan State only on the road. Maryland should have no problem making the tournament, but getting a few marquee wins in conference play will go a long way towards getting this team a more favorable draw come Selection Sunday.
Looking Back: Purdue rounds out the clear top tier heading into conference play. The Boilers (12-1) were steamrolling opponents until facing the Butler Bulldogs in the Crossroads Classic. Purdue, powered by their two-headed monster down low in Isaac Haas, and A.J. Hammons, had some quality wins against Florida, and at the Zoo in Pitt, before hitting a wake-up call in Indy where they couldn’t crawl their way back against Butler. The Boilers rebounded with a nice win over Vanderbilt to close out the non-conference slate.
Looking Ahead: Purdue has double dips against Maryland, Michigan, and Wisconsin. This isn’t the easiest trio to play multiple times but the Boilers will be ready. Their main concern going forward is getting more consistent play out of their backcourt with only one of their guards, Rapheal Davis, averaging more than 9.0 PPG. Purdue will make the tourney, but to get past the first weekend, improved guard play will be a must.
Looking Back: With their only notable win coming at the end of non-conference against Notre Dame, it appears the Hoosiers (10-3) are peaking at the right time. Before that, the team struggled in Maui, loosing a pair to Wake Forest and UNLV and getting man-handled by Duke. It looks like they aren’t quite ready for the big time yet. The Hoosiers were led by veteran point guard Yogi Ferrel, who has stuffed the stat-sheet with 16.1 PPG, 5.9 APG, and 4.7 RPG.
Looking Ahead: The Hoosiers only face the top tier of this conference (Michigan State, Maryland, and Purdue) once each in conference play. Playing Wisconsin twice won’t be easy but this is a down year for the Badgers. The main issue with this team is defense, giving up 70 points per game (tied for 155th in the nation). The Hoosiers should make it to March with their schedule, but to make some noise some much-needed defensive toughness will need to emerge.
Looking Back: The Hawkeyes (9-3) played some great basketball in non-conference games. If they could’ve won a couple more of their close games (*cough cough* Iowa State), this team would be ranked heading into B1G play. Iowa has a great win over an underrated Marquette team, and three excruciatingly close losses to Dayton, Notre Dame, and the aforementioned Iowa State. Led by the most underrated player in the conference, Jarrod Uthoff (18.3 PPG), the Hawkeyes are the best team no one is talking about.
Looking Ahead: The Hawkeyes face a tough conference schedule with Indiana, Michigan State, and Purdue on the slate twice each. However they have a pretty soft home schedule outside of their double-dips in Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. Iowa must stiffen up their defense, which is surrendering 68 points per game, but expect them to make the tourney and even make some noise for the conference crown.
Looking Back: The Wolverines (10-3) faced a pretty calm non-conference schedule with their best win coming against Texas and no bad losses. Michigan has been led by senior guard Caris LeVert who has been averaging 17.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 4.8 APG. Now if only he could get more help this team could make some noise.
Looking Ahead: Michigan gets Maryland and Purdue twice, but plays Indiana and Michigan State only once and they are both in Ann Arbor. As previously stated, the Wolverines will need to find more help for LeVert as only 3 of their players are averaging double figures. If they want to make it back to the tournament after a one year hiatus, Michigan will need to find some low-post scoring; their leading frontcourt scorer is Ricky Doyle with 5.4 PPG.
- Ohio State
Looking Back: Thad Matta’s Buckeyes have had an interesting season thus far, to say the least. His team (8-5) followed up a disappointing start by capping off its non-conference schedule with arguably the best win of any B1G team to date, at Kentucky. However, bad losses to Louisiana Tech and Texas-Arlington will leave a bad taste in the Buckeyes mouths come Selection Sunday.
Looking Ahead: Ohio State easily has the toughest road schedule playing at Purdue, Indiana, and Wisconsin, and doubling up against Maryland and Michigan State. The Buckeyes as a team need to learn to share the ball better, as their 11.9 APG ranks them 272nd in the nation. OSU is still in need of a lot more marquee wins like the one against Kentucky if it wants to crawl its way back into the tourney picture.
Looking Back: Has their ever been a team hit worse by the injury bug in the first couple months of the season? Before the season the Illini (8-5) lost their veteran point guard Tracy Abrams, then lost terrible games at home to North Florida and Chattanooga with Kendrick Nunn out of the lineup. Following that was promising transfer, and previously starting center, Mike Thorne tearing his meniscus and missing the remainder of the season. And most recently, with Leron Black being ruled out indefinitely after suffering a set-back from his meniscus injury. Injuries aside, this team shows promise but no consistency. Losing tight at Providence and on a neutral floor to Iowa State shows they have talent, but no quality wins will hurt come tourney time. The Illini have the best scoring combo in the league with Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn averaging 18.7 and 18.5 PPG, respectively.
Looking Ahead: Luckily, for the injury-riddled Illini, they have a rather easy conference schedule. They face the top 3 teams only once while facing Rutgers and Minnesota twice. The team gives up 74.4 points per game which ties them for 234th in the country and that rate will be unacceptable come B1G play. If the Illini can tighten up on D and win the few marquee games it has on its conference slate, John Groce’s bunch may yet hear their names called in March.
Looking Back: No team in the league had a more tumultuous non-conference than the Badgers (8-5). The team beat Syracuse and Temple while losing a heartbreaker to Marquette, but the players took a backseat to the coach on December 15th when the legendary Bo Ryan abruptly retired. This obviously threw a wrench in the Badgers’ season and it will be interesting to see how the team handles it come conference play.
Looking Ahead: Wisco plays their first B1G game in 15 years without Bo Ryan at the helm against Purdue. After that, the schedule doesn’t get any easier as the Badgers play the Boilers, Maryland, Michigan State, and Indiana all twice. If interim coach Greg Gard can hold his own against this gauntlet the Badgers will find a way into this tournament and Gard will be able to remove the interim tag.
Looking Back: Just when everything finally looks to be going right for the ‘Cats to go dancing for the first time in their history, they lose starting Center Alex Olah indefinitely. The Wildcats (12-1) played a fairly easy non-conference schedule, with their only loss coming to North Carolina and their biggest win against a mediocre Virginia Tech squad. Bryant McIntosh has been one of the most improved players in the conference, with the sophomore point guard averaging 16.2 PPG and 6.8 APG. Coupled with senior guard Tre Demps, this duo makes up the most underrated backcourt in the league.
Looking Ahead: The Wildcats will struggle to replace big man Olah, with offensively-limited Joey van Zegeren and size-limited Gavin Skelly the only options to replace the senior. On the bright side, the ‘Cats get Nebraska and Minnesota twice while only drawing Indiana, Michigan State, and Purdue once. Given their lack of quality wins, Chris Collins will probably need 10 conference wins if he wants to make history in Evanston.
Looking Back: There were no surprises in the Huskers non-conference performance. With their best win against a middling Tennessee, Nebraska beat who it was expected to, and fell to the stronger opponents on their schedule. Junior guard Andrew White has been a nice surprise for coach Tim Miles, as the Cornhuskers look to replace Terran Pettaway.
Looking Ahead: The Huskers get Indiana and Purdue twice, but only face Michigan State and Maryland at home. Much like the Buckeyes, Nebraska will need to learn to share more as their team averages only 12.5 APG with the team leader, Shavon Shields, averaging only 2.9 APG as a forward. This team looks unlikely to make the tourney.
- Penn State
Looking Back: Pat Chambers has done a solid job with this relatively young group. The Nittany Lions (9-4) have solid wins over DePaul and Boston College. Led by senior guard Brandon Taylor (16.2 PPG), Penn State should be able stay competitive in most games. However their lack of firepower–just 67.3 points per game–will be their undoing.
Looking Ahead: Of all the teams that struggle sharing the rock in the B1G, no team is worse than the Nittany Lions. In fact, no team in the country is worse than the squad from Happy Valley, who manage only 9.5 APG as a team. To give you an idea, the leading assister is Kahlil Felder of Oakland with 9.3 APG. The Nittany Lions have a fairly favorable schedule, but with the lack of scoring and ball movement, this young team has no chance of making it to late March.
Looking Back: Richard Pitino’s group has had a disappointing start to the year to say the least. The Gophers are a measly 6-6 with their only decent win coming at home against a struggling Clemson team. Close losses to Temple and Oklahoma State should have this team encouraged it can compete, but their are still several holes to be fixed and B1G play is not the time for resolving issues.
Looking Ahead: Someone on this Golden Gopher squad needs to step up. Joey King is their leading scorer at 13.8 PPG, which is only good for 20th in the conference. King, or sophomore Nate Mason needs to to take charge of this team or Pitino’s third year at the helm will easily be his worst yet, despite a soft conference schedule.
Looking Back: Rutger’s continues to disappoint. With the worst record in the B1G at 6-7 and no notable wins to speak of, this team will struggle to beat the low-bar mark of 10-22 (2-16 in the B1G) from last year’s team. One bright spot has been freshman Corey Sanders, who leads the team in points (14.0) and assists (3.5).
Looking Ahead: It will be tough for Rutgers to scratch out more than a few wins, but home games against Penn State, Minnesota, and Nebraska present their best chances to pick up a few Ws. Eddie Jordan has his work cut out for him in trying to get his young core to compete in the B1G.