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Checking in on B1G Hoops Before Conference Play (Pt. 2)


Caleb Swanigan [Gold and Black dot com]

Part One (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, MSU, Minnesota) found here.

Teams are listed in alphabetical order.


There weren’t high expectations for the Cornhuskers entering the season, and they look as if they’re one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. They opened the season with four straight wins – including a victory over a solid Dayton squad at a neutral site – before losing six of their next seven. Most of those losses came to quality teams, but a home loss to Gardner Webb on Sunday was an unfortunate sign – and they barely beat Southern two days later. Nebraska made the NCAA Tournament in year two of the Tim Miles era, but they look destined for their third straight losing season since then and it’s easy to wonder whether he’ll be able to right the ship in Lincoln.

The offense is the problem for Nebraska this year, especially the shooting: NU is outside the top 300 nationally in eFG% and are just hitting 28.6%(!) of their three-point attempts on the season, the third-worst mark of any major conference team. Outside of Tai Webster, few Huskers can get to the free throw line for easy points, so the Nebraska offense is frequently mired in scoring slumps. Webster has been a pleasant surprise in his senior year; the Kiwi guard has upped both his usage and efficiency and is distributing the ball as well as he has in his entire career. Ed Morrow, a sophomore power forward who also plays some center, has been Nebraska’s second-best player and is a force on the offensive glass.

Anyways, it would be a surprise if Nebraska wasn’t near (or at) the bottom of the conference standings come March.

[Northwestern, OSU, PSU, Purdue, Rutgers, and Wisconsin after the JUMP]


All things considered, the Wildcats have had a good non-conference showing – they avoided bad losses (though almost got one from a truly terrible Chicago State team) and gained decent wins over Dayton and Wake Forest (and could have their win against Texas appreciate in value over time), but they lost on a buzzer-beater at Butler and lost to Notre Dame after leading in the last minute of the game. Had they won both – or either – of those games, they’d be garnering some hype as a potential NCAA Tournament team. Kenpom currently projects NU to go 9-9 in Big Ten play, which would put them squarely on the bubble, their fate depending on if they’re able to get big wins in conference play. Theoretically it could happen.

Northwestern has much better personnel than they’re used to. Surprisingly, they’re one of the best shot-blocking teams in the entire country (#3 in block rate) – Gavin Skelly, Barret Benson, and Dererk Pardon, who’s missed time to injury but should be back, each have a block Rate over ten, which is a very impressive number. Bryant McIntosh, the Wildcats’ point guard, has struggled this year, but the void in scoring has been filled by Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law: Lindsey has a solid assist rate for an off-guard and Law is shooting 45% from three. Sanjay Lumpkin – a senior defensive specialist with a very low usage rate – has an offensive rating of 140.3 as he’s blossomed into a quite valuable player as a senior. If McIntosh figures things out, this could well be a top half Big Ten team, which puts that  elusive tournament bid into the realm of possibility.


The Buckeyes averted disaster against UNC Asheville last night, which would have been their second loss in a guarantee game this season. In early December, they lost to Florida Atlantic in overtime: the Owls came back from down nine with about ten minutes left and wound up winning on the strength of ten made threes. That’s the only outlier on Ohio State’s resume, as they’ve taken care of teams that they were supposed to beat and have also lost to Virginia and UCLA, two Final Four contenders. Their loss to UVA came by just two points on the road; the Buckeyes leapt out to a big early lead in that game and led by double digits at halftime, but fell to the Cavaliers. They also put up a pretty good fight against the Bruins, though UCLA did shoot relatively poorly from three in that double digit victory.

Ohio State returned their entire starting lineup from last season and they have an egalitarian distribution of possessions, though JaQuan Lyle is clearly their go-to guy. Lyle has a Top 50 assist rate, but his outside shooting is still a liability (9-34 from three this season). Other players with a comparable usage rate are Jae’Sean Tate – still an excellent offensive rebounder for being just 6’4 – Trevor Thompson, who’s protected the rim well and boasts the best efficiency mark on the team, Keita Bates-Diop, and CJ Jackson. Kam Williams doesn’t take many shots, relatively speaking, but he’s the only Buckeye with a strong three-point percentage (43%) on a significant amount of shots. Micah Potter, the backup center, has also shown the ability to shoot the ball. Ohio State doesn’t have much size and is definitely off Thad Matta’s usual standard again, but they have the talent to turn things around and make the NCAA Tournament. Of course, a repeat berth in the NIT is also a possibility.


Pat Chambers has the second-youngest team in the Big Ten behind Iowa, and like the Hawkeyes, PSU has been playing at an atypically quick pace this season. While the true freshmen – particularly Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens – were highly-regarded coming out of high school, the best freshman might be Mike Watkins, a center who took a redshirt last season. Watkins has been an elite shot-blocker and great rebounder, shooting a high percentage from the field (55%) and at the free throw line (71%). Stevens has also been quite solid as a more traditional power forward; he leads the team in shot attempts and is able to score from the free throw line. Shep Garner is still  the go-to guy and the sophomore guard, who was moved to the two to accommodate Carr, basically has the same statistical profile as he did as a freshman. As a team, Penn State struggles offensively, which is typical of Chambers team.

The young squad has had some growing pains.  They lost their season opener to Albany and in early December, they were routed by George Mason at home. Other losses came at neutral sites to quality teams – Duke, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh (who’s not quite as good as the other two). Their best win came at Madison Square Garden against St. John’s, but the Johnnies are only a fringe Top 100 team, per Kenpom. It will be interesting to see how much, if at all, the team improves over the course of conference play – though at the very least the frontcourt of Watkins and Stevens is a nice cornerstone for the program moving forward.

PURDUE (11-2)

Outside of perhaps Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, the breakout player of the year has been Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan: the big man has recorded three games with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds and has been a dominant force for the Boilermakers. On slightly higher usage than last season, his offensive rating has leapt from 96.1 to 118.4 and he’s the frontrunner for Big Ten player of the year. Swanigan’s great on the glass, has a great assist rate for a big guy, and can step out and hit the three this year (11-21). Maybe most importantly, he’s in far better shape as a sophomore and plays 76% of available minutes.

Swanigan sort of overshadows others, but Purdue has a solid roster outside of their star forward. PJ Thompson and Dakota Mathias – the starting backcourt – each check in as Top 50 players nationally in offensive rating; Mathias is shooting 51% from three. Vince Edwards is still one of the most versatile swingmen in the conference; 7’2 gargantuan Isaac Haas is plenty efficient next to Swanigan; freshman point guard Carsen Edwards isn’t that efficient but provides a nice spark as the sixth man for the Boilermakers. Unfortunately Spike Albrecht suffered a back injury and has been out for a while.

Both Purdue losses came to great teams: Villanova escaped Mackey Arena with a three-point win in the first week of the season and Purdue was destroyed by Louisville on the road in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Their only other game against a quality opponent came last weekend against Notre Dame in Indianapolis and they won behind 26 points from Swanigan and 20 from Vincent Edwards. They’re up there with Wisconsin and Indiana and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them win the conference.

RUTGERS (11-1)

Yes, Rutgers is somehow 11-1. Sure, they played a terrible schedule and lost their only game against a quality opponent thus far (on the road against Miami in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge), but the Scarlet Knights won just seven games all of last season and are showing signs of life under new coach Steve Pikiell. The Knights have the best offensive rebounding rate in the entire country (partially due to their terrible free throw shooting, but still) and their two-point defense is stout. Pikiell brought in two new centers who have made a significant impact: Candido Sa has a block rate of 9.6 and an offensive rebounding rate of 12.0; CJ Gettys has rates of 5.4 and 9.3, respectively. Gettys is shooting 68% from the field and Sa has played some power forward and has taken a few threes.

The offense isn’t entirely reliant on Corey Sanders anymore. Sanders has an insanely high usage rate in his freshman season last year, but the attacking combo guard has slumped as a sophomore and has an eFG% just under 40%. He’s still effective as a defender, and has a steal rate of 3.6. The other focal points of the offense are Kansas State transfer guard Nigel Johnson and former JUCO wing Deshawn Freeman, who was hurt just a half dozen games into last season. Johnson’s had an impressive assist to turnover ratio, gets steals, and avoids fouling. Freeman is the best offensive rebounder on the team, blocks shots from the power forward spot, and hasn’t shot a single three yet this season.

It’s hard to draw any definitive conclusions about Rutgers because of how poor their opponents have been, but at the very least, it appears that Pikiell is much more competent than former coach Eddie Jordan.


The Big Ten’s preseason favorite has more or less met expectations, though they don’t really have many quality wins to speak of. The Badgers lost each game against the best two teams they’ve faced so far – North Carolina and Creighton – by double digits, but have taken care of the rest of the teams on their schedule. Still, their best wins – against Marquette on the road, a struggling Syracuse team at home, and in Maui against Georgetown – aren’t particularly impressive. Wisconsin hasn’t impressed, but hasn’t disappointed either. Their most defining statistical trait is that they’ve been a dominant rebounding team on both ends of the floor.

Ethan Happ had an excellent freshman season but has stepped it up a notch as a sophomore: he’s shooting a nice 69% from the field (mostly near the basket) and is an elite rebounder. His block and especially steal rates are fantastic, and he has the highest assist rate on the team as a center. Happ’s Achilles heel is his free throw shooting, but otherwise he’s a fantastic player. Since the entire rotation was back from last year, most of the players are familiar: Nigel Hayes has been a solid point forward who gets his points at the free throw line; Bronson Koenig hunts shots and has taken the most on the team by a wide margin, mostly from three; Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown are mostly defensive specialists. D’Mitrik Trice, a freshman point guard, plays quite a bit and has made 14-25 threes so far this season.

Indiana may have more top-end talent than Wisconsin does (and they’ve beaten legitimately great teams, unlike UW), but the Badgers certainly still should be considered to be in the top tier of the conference and will contend for the title.

This post first appeared on Mgoblog, please read the originial post: here

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Checking in on B1G Hoops Before Conference Play (Pt. 2)


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