This Week in Big Ten Men's Basketball - 1/5 to 1/11


Nothing too astonishing happened this most recent week in Big Ten basketball. All but two games went as I predicted. Nebraska snuck a win past a Northwestern team, it’s safe to say Northwestern is not at the level they were last year, and Ohio State handled Iowa, a game I believed the Hawkeyes would closely win. The games were exciting but for the most part, there were very minimal surprises. Perhaps the biggest surprise was Michigan State’s dominance. Michigan State put up back-to-back one hundred point wins last week followed up by a 91 point win over Maryland. But hold on! Purdue, Northwestern, and Iowa all had 90 point games last week. The Big Ten put their firepower on display showing a much different conference than what people are used to. Michigan State, Purdue, and Ohio State stayed perfect in the conference, Maryland and Northwestern are really bringing in doubt, and Rutgers, Iowa, and Illinois all have yet to win a game in conference. Let’s hope this new week and the new year brings in more exciting Big Ten basketball and let's continue the high scoring affairs. Sidenote: The latest AP Poll only featured two Big Ten teams at all, the Big Ten really needs to step its game up.
Big Ten Men’s Basketball Standings (As of January, 4th, 2018)
AP Poll/Coaches Rankings (NA=Not Applicable; RV=Receiving Votes)
1. #1/1 Michigan State (3-0) 15-1
2. #13/12 Purdue (3-0) 14-2
3. Ohio State (3-0) 12-4
4. NA/RV Michigan (2-1) 13-3
5. Minnesota (2-1) 13-3
6. Nebraska (2-1) 11-5
7. Wisconsin (2-1) 9-7
8. Maryland (2-2) 13-4
9. Penn State (1-2) 11-5
10. Northwestern (1-2) 10-6
11. Indiana (1-2) 8-7
12. Rutgers (0-3) 10-6
13. Illinois (0-3) 10-6
14. Iowa (0-4) 9-8
Friday, January 5th
7 PM, Wisconsin @ Rutgers, ESPN2
Wisconsin started off the year on a bleak note but have since rattled off 5 wins in a row, still never scoring over 82 points. Rutgers started off the year 10-3 and since have dropped three in a row. Two of these three were to Stony Brook and Hartford. Rutgers looked like they legitimized this early record by beating Seton Hall but followed it up with confusing losses. Wisconsin’s current win streak has not proven them tournament quality but wins over Indiana and Western Kentucky speak louder than losses to mid-majors. Both of these teams rely on their defense to win. Rutgers allows around 60 points a contest and Wisconsin 65. Both have found trouble putting up numbers on the offensive end with both averaging 70 points per game. Ideally, this is the game where Rutgers turns it around and in front of a home crowd. This game will be close. A win for either side will be a true measuring stick. Wisconsin can officially move on from their sloppy start and Rutgers can put their three-game skid behind them.
Prediction: Rutgers 60-59 (stagenent offenses vs great defenses)
8 PM, Northwestern @ Penn State, Fox Sports 1
Two teams at the same point in the season. Both are 1-2 in the Big Ten, both are 3-2 in their last five, both coming off a conference loss, Northwestern sits at 10-6 and Penn State at 11-5. How equal are they? They are both within two points of points scored per game and points allowed per game, Penn State holds almost a two-point advantage in both categories. In a conference with so much disparity, it’s not often we see two teams this equally matched. Home court advantage will be key in this close game. Penn State needs the win to prove themselves in the conference and Northwestern needs to salvage their season.
Prediction: Penn State 65-63 (Almost too close to call)
Saturday, January 6th
12 PM, Illinois @ Michigan, Big Ten Network
Michigan has been good, surprisingly good. At 13-3, Michigan has surpassed expectations. They still have not gone into the upper echelon of the Big Ten but have placed themselves right with Maryland, Minnesota, and Ohio State in the second tier. Illinois is 10-6 and 0-3 in conference. Their season has been underwhelming so far but they look to turn it around. Unlike most years, Michigan’s defense is what they are counting on rather than fast-paced scoring. Michigan is allowing 61 points per game compared to Illinois’ 69. Their offensive outputs are close to the same, showing Michigan is a more rounded team. The game being in the Crisler Center will put further pressure on Illinois and perhaps too much to overcome.
Prediction: Michigan 74-65 (Michigan’s defense comes to play)
2:15 PM, Nebraska @ Purdue, Big Ten Network
Purdue has proven themselves this year. They are by everyone’s account the second best team in the Big Ten and if Michigan State was not in the conference, they would be the hands-down favorite. What’s a better than the 16th best offense in the nation at 86 points per game? How about the 23rd best defense in the nation at 63 points per game. What’s better than being 14-2 overall? How about being perfect in conference play and perfect at home this season. As you could have guessed, all of this has described Purdue. How has Nebraska compared? Well, they allow 70 points per game and score 75 points per game. Respectable numbers for sure, but small in comparison to Purdue.
Prediction: Purdue 86-72 (Purdue’s offense is just too much)
5:15 PM, Indiana @ Minnesota, ESPN 2
Minnesota started the year off in the top 15 and has bounced around the top 25 before falling out recently. Minnesota recently saw center Reggie Lynch suspended from the team but still has advantages over Indiana offensively and defensively. Indiana lost to Wisconsin recently which could be used as a measuring stick. If they could only limit the low power offense of Wisconsin to 71 it’s hard to imagine that they’ll be able to hold Minnesota to a reasonable amount. Minnesota’s combination of Coffey, Mason, and Murphy will be hard to handle and Minnesota should get the win on their home court.
Prediction: Minnesota 76-62 (Minnesota lost Lynch but not the game)
Sunday, January 7th
4:30 PM, Michigan State @ Ohio State, CBS
Michigan State is coming off one of the most impressive stretches in college basketball this season. Michigan State has gone 5 straight games scoring 90+, 4 of which were over 100. All five of their starters are playing up to their abilities and more than just a few are looking like future NBA players. I have been high on the Spartans all year, but for good reason, they now sit at #1 in the rankings. Ohio State has surprised most this season with a 12-4 record and going 3-0 in the Big Ten. The way these teams have gotten to this point is different and the deciding factor. MSU has the 11th ranked scoring output this season and the 12th best defense to match. In addition to this, they boast the 4th best rebound average and first in assists per game. Ohio State has squeaked by teams using their grit and great coaching from Chris Holtman. Michigan State is the better team and should win. Ohio State should use this game as a tool to see how much progress needs to be made, and if they do win, have fun storming the court.
Prediction: Michigan State 91-73 (MSU is good, like really good)
8 PM, Iowa @ Maryland, Fox Sports 1
Maryland is looking to recover from their sad game against Michigan State. Maryland let the Spartans put up 91 while only managing 61. Iowa is looking to get their first Big Ten win. A homecourt game for Maryland is tough for any team, especially one that has yet even feel victory in conference play. Overall, Maryland is the more talented team boasting a slew of star players, but what do the stats say? Maryland’s defense is only allowing 64 points a game compared to Iowa’s 74. Inversely, Iowa is putting up 81 points per game to Maryland’s 76. It’s safe to say the only stat out of those four that stands out is Maryland’s defense. This being said, Maryland has not had a daunting schedule and in Big Ten, they sit at 2-2 with very close wins over Illinois and Penn State. Iowa is equal, if not worse than these two teams. This game should be close. It’s too early to say Iowa is the worst team in the Big Ten and it’s too early to say that Maryland isn’t a top-four team in the Big Ten. This game could help settle these debates though.
Prediction: Maryland 75-72 (Maryland wins, but it’s this close to Iowa at home... are they good?)
Monday, January 8th
Tuesday, January 9th
6:30 PM, Penn State @ Indiana, Big Ten Network
Like a few of the games covered so far, this matchup is interesting. We have one of the historically worst Big Ten teams going up against one of the historically best Big Ten teams. Only now, the roles are reversed. Indiana sits at 8-7 and Penn State is 11-5. Penn State is actually favored in this game even though it’s at Indiana. If that’s not an indication of the season for IU, then I don’t know what is. Indiana has had a horrible point differential this season at 74 points scored and 72 points allowed per game. Penn State has allowed 65 points per game and scoring 78. Thanks to five Nittany Lions averaging double figures, led by sophomore Tony Carr, Penn State has the ability to score in bunches. The only life in Indiana this season has been Juwan Morgan and Robert Johnson. Relying on two players has not panned out so far. Still, this game is home for the Hoosiers and with college students back, it will be rowdy.
Prediction: Penn State 76-69 (Trouble lingers in Miller’s first year at IU)
8:30 PM, Wisconsin @ Nebraska, Big Ten Network
Nebraska has two wins of 10+ and a loss in Big Ten play. The loss is at Michigan State (can you blame them) and the two wins are at Northwestern and at Minnesota. That’s two major quality road wins in conference play and a loss to the best team in the country. Wisconsin has a one-point win over Penn State, a big loss to Ohio State and a big win over Indiana. Safe to say, it’s been hard to get a read on this Badgers team. Nebraska has quietly entered itself in the conversation of the second tier in the Big Ten. The first tier has been claimed by Michigan State and Purdue, but teams like Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan, Minnesota, and now Nebraska are all in the hunt for a middle seed come March. With Maryland’s recent loss and Michigan State’s assumed victory over Ohio State, that leaves Nebraska right outside the leaders in the Big Ten. a couple slipups by the top teams and Nebraska could be looking at truly competing for the Big Ten. With all this pressure, their consistent play against top teams, their strength of schedule so far, past showings in Big Ten play, and the home court advantage I think Nebraska will continue their streak. The key for Wisconsin like all of their games comes down to slowing down the game and forcing late and inefficient possessions by their opponent.
Prediction: Nebraska 77-65 (Nebraska gets another by 10+)
9 PM, Purdue @ Michigan, ESPN
Purdue will enter this game focused on beating Michigan but keep Michigan State in their mind all game. Purdue needs this win to stay level with the Spartans in their quest for a Big Ten championship. Purdue is offensively better (87 ppg compared to 77 ppg) and almost equal in their defensive effectiveness (63 papg vs 61 papg) but the Crisler Center will be loud. Expect Michigan to bring it their all and jump out from the start. If Purdue sees this game as just another on their way to playing Michigan State, they may fall flat. Michigan will see this game as a chance to shine on the national stage. A win for Michigan and then they will sit at second place in the conference and most likely gain a spot in both top 25 polls. Overall, Purdue has the ability to blow this game out of the water, my concern lies in their focus. Purdue’s five-point wins over Northwestern and Maryland really worried me about their ability to play a full season at the intensity needed to compete for a title.
Prediction: Purdue 86-75 (Michigan makes it close but Purdue pulls away)
Wednesday, January 10th
7 PM, Rutgers @ Michigan State, Big Ten Network
If this game is a repeat of the last time these two met I would be surprised. Last time they met Michigan State trailed a large part of the game and then finished on fire to pull away and win. Oddly, this game is similar to the Purdue vs Michigan game. Michigan State has everything in its favor, talent, coaching, homecourt, but if they show up without the right mindset they could see a scare. I don’t think Rutgers would pull off the upset, but I believe they may make it closer than Spartan fans would like to see. The key to this game is focus. If Rutgers can maintain composure, they have a shot to make it interesting. If MSU comes in with focus, they should blow it out.
Prediction: Michigan State 90-72 (Michigan State pulls away in the second half)
9 PM, Minnesota @ Northwestern, Big Ten Network
Minnesota has been winning as of late but has consistently received fewer votes in the polls. A win of the Golden Gophers at Northwestern should put them back into the polls. Northwestern has followed up their historic season with a subpar performance thus far. They have no real big wins (the best would be... Illinois?) and they yet to show that they deserve a bid in the tournament this spring. Minnesota will be playing at a higher offensive level while Northwestern will try to slow the game down and limit possessions. With all the stats, I think this game will come down to who controls the pace of play. If the game starts moving fast Minnesota will have an advantage. If Northwestern can make Minnesota run set plays and not let Mason and Coffey run the length of the court they have a real chance.
Prediction: Minnesota 74-73 (This is my least confident pick of the week)
Thursday, January 11th
7PM, Maryland @ Ohio State, ESPN 2
Maryland will head over to Columbus for this ESPN matchup. Both of these teams are right outside the top of the Big Ten but could still be competing for a championship given a few things fall their way. This game will also be important because these two equal teams look like they could finish neck and neck, meaning this may be a potential tie breaker. Ohio State and Maryland are equal on the talent level and are almost equal in point differential. This game will be about how the teams perform in the second half. We have seen Maryland fall apart in the second half to Michigan State and we have seen Ohio State storm in the second half to beat Michigan. Since the first half should be even and Ohio State has proven to be a second-half team, I’d give them the edge.
Prediction: Ohio State 74-70 (If only we got to see them play twice)
8 PM, Iowa @ Illinois, Fox Sport 1
This very well, and most likely will be, a matchup of the two bottom Big Ten teams. The winner would gain their first win conference play and the loser remain, well, a loser. Both teams are averaging around the same points per game and against similar competition. Illinois is at 80 ppg and Iowa at 81 ppg. The difference will lie on defense and with one x-factor. The Illini defense has allowed 69 points per game, not an outstanding stat but better than allowing almost 75 a game like Iowa. The Illini defense needs to come ready to play since this is their biggest opportunity to seal the game. Oh wait, there is still the x-factor. This x-factor would be that this is a home game for Illinois. Illinois has lost one game this year at home, a 92-91 game against Maryland. If your only home loss is a high scoring one-point loss to one of the better teams in the conference and your first conference game, it’s safe to say you’re good at home. With the home court advantage, I take Illinois is a close game led by defense.
Prediction: Illinois 73-70 (Illinois gets their first Big Ten win)