The Big Ten Roundup has been replaced with Big Ten Power Rankings this year at UM Hoops. We’ll take a look across the conference on a weekly basis, rank all 12 teams and attempt to provide some insight about each team.
1. Michigan State (1.10 PPP, .98 Opp. PPP, +.12 EM)
For the second straight Sunday, Michigan State could have grabbed sole possession of first place after a Michigan slip up. For the second straight Sunday, the Spartans lost.
Nebraska pulled off arguably the top upset of the Big Ten season by traveling to the Breslin Center and escaping with a 60-51 win. It was Michigan State’s worst offensive performance of the season at just .875 points per possession, but it was the third weekend in a row that the Spartan offense has sputtered to a loss and scored fewer than .97 points per trip.
2. Michigan (1.15 PPP, 1.07 Opp. PPP, +.08 EM)
Michigan’s inability to play defense continues to cost the Wolverines victories. Michigan is tied for first in the conference, but is just fourth in efficiency margin after a home loss to Wisconsin.
Michigan’s defense has only managed to hold two conference foes below .99 points per possession in league play: Nebraska and Northwestern at home. Michigan’s offense is the best in the conference, but the Wolverines will need to play better defense to make a run at the Big Ten title over the final three weeks.
3. Iowa (1.13 PPP, .99 Opp. PPP, +.13 EM)
Iowa went on the road and won at Penn State on Saturday. The Nittany Lions managed to hang around into the second half, but eventually Iowa’s talent was too much. That game didn’t teach us much about the Hawkeyes, but with another week in the books Iowa finds itself just a game and a half out of first place. After Michigan State’s loss to Nebraska, the Hawkeyes now boast the best efficiency margin in the league.
4. Wisconsin (1.12 PPP, 1.04 Opp. PPP, +.09 EM)
Never count Bo Ryan out. You hear the phrase every year, which is ironic because everyone always counts Wisconsin out. The Badgers lost five of six games in January, but are just two games out of first with the third-best efficiency margin in the league. Wisconsin picked up a huge win at Michigan on Sunday thanks to a monster game from Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky’s 25 points were the most by a big man in a Big Ten game this season (overall Big Ten single game scoring rank in the left column).
5. Ohio State (1.02 PPP, .97 Opp. PPP, +.05 EM)
Ohio State let one slip away against Michigan on Tuesday, but still has a favorable stretch to close conference play. Ken Pomeroy gives the Buckeyes a 66% chance or better of winning each of their final five games. Ohio State is probably too far out of the conference title race with six losses, but could be fighting for a Big Ten Tournament bye when it hosts Michigan State in the season finale.
6. Nebraska (.96 PPP, 1.03 Opp. PPP, -.05 EM)
Nebraska should make the NCAA tournament. I realize people weren’t talking about Nebraska as a NCAA tournament team before its win at Michigan State, but take a closer look. The Huskers have played the second hardest schedule in the Big Ten this season and have a golden opportunity to finish strong.
The scatterplot below compares strength of schedule (Ken Pomeroy’s in-conference strength of schedule) to efficiency margin. You can see that Nebraska has played a much harder schedule than the other teams around their mark in the efficiency margin standings.
Nebraska still hosts Penn State, Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin. The Huskers, who have lost one game at home all season, only need to win three of those games to reach .500. Road games at Illinois and Indiana are also manageable opportunities to add to the tally.
In last week’s Power Rankings I wrote that Terran Petteway was the second best jumpshooter off the dribble in the conference. His ridiculous performance at the Breslin proved just that as he buried long jumper after long jumper down the stretch.
7. Minnesota (1.06 PPP, 1.07 Opp. PPP, -.01 EM)
Minnesota has hovered around .500 through conference play and the Gophers probably need to reach .500 to the make the NCAA tournament. That will mean taking care of home games against Illinois and Penn State and managing to win one of these three games: at Ohio State, vs. Iowa or at Michigan. Sunday’s win at Northwestern was big to give the Gophers a chance, but they need to improve their defense down the stretch.
8. Northwestern (.88 PPP, 1.02 Opp. PPP, -.14 EM)
Northwestern’s early over achievement appears to be steadily regressing toward the mean. The Wildcats have done a great job of slowing down games and scrapping out victories late, but were blown out by Michigan State and beaten at home by Minnesota.
9. Purdue (.99 PPP, 1.03 Opp. PPP, -.04 EM)
How did Purdue beat Indiana by 18 points? Hot three-point shooting. Purdue had shot better than the Big Ten average (33.6%) just four times before Saturday’s win. Against Indiana, the Boilermakers were 10-of-18 (56%) from long distance. Sterling Carter was Purdue’s hero, going 5-of-6 from long range despite entering the game on a 2-of-16 stretch.
10. Penn State (1.00 PPP, 1.08 Opp. PPP, -.08 EM)
Penn State is a game out of last place, but is capable of beating anyone. The Nittany Lions are the sort of team that makes the league so difficult. They are pretty good, but sit near the bottom of the conference. Just ask the other Big Ten coaches:
“To me nothing is surprising,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “I think that makes our league that much more unique. Every other league has bad teams. We don’t have any bad teams.”
“I don’t think it’s any question that top to bottom it’s the best since I’ve been here,” Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said. “The last couple of years it was pretty good, but it’s even better now. That’s because the two or three teams that you thought were at the bottom of the league for a lot of years are not only playing better, they’re playing really well.”
11. Indiana (.97 PPP, 1.01 Opp. PPP, -.04 EM)
With two devastating losses and a 4 a.m. arrest, Indiana had about as bad of a week as anyone could imagine. The Hoosiers were beating Penn State 64-53 with 2:53 to play in the game and managed to lose 66-65. The win probability graph is as ridiculous as you would expect.
Indiana followed that up with a shellacking on the road at instate rival Purdue and appear to be headed toward rock bottom at warp speed.
12. Illinois (.93 PPP, 1.03 Opp. PPP, -.10 EM)
Offense is coming at a premium in the state of Illinois. While Northwestern has one of the worst offenses in the country, Illinois is giving the Wildcats a run for their money. The Illini have three of the four worst offensive performances in conference play this season including the worst of the season on Saturday against Ohio State.