College basketball insider: How to predict the Big Ten? No one knows

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 31, 2014 - 7:53 PM
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Penn State’s players and coaches celebrated a victory over Ohio State on Wednesday in Columbus, Ohio, another surprising result in the unpredictable but powerful Big Ten.

Photo: Eric Albrecht • Columbus Dispatch/MCT,

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There are nights when the boxscores read like they were generated randomly.

One Big Ten team wins, one Big Ten team loses, and the folks in Vegas shake their heads. How can anyone predict perhaps the nation’s most unpredictable conference? The first month of the league schedule has been so up and down, it’s hard to imagine how the final standings will shake out.

Yes, the Big Ten has sported some crazy victories, and by extension crazy collapses.

But resist the urge to wonder if maybe the Big Ten isn’t so strong this year.

In fact, wildness or not, the Big Ten still retains the distinction it claimed a year ago: that of the strongest conference in the country.

Through five weeks of play, the traditional powerhouse is ranked No. 1 among all Division I conferences in average adjusted defensive and offensive efficiencies, according to kenpom.com, on the strength of three of the top 10 offenses in the nation and five of the top 20 defenses.

Even so, there is little clarity at the top. Every team in the conference has at least two wins, and all but three teams have gotten a win over another ranked team in the league. Only three teams are actually above .500, and just two games separate spots 4 through 12 in the standings. And our vision of the elite has changed substantially since New Year’s. Ohio State — seemingly in contention for the Big Ten title after a perfect nonconference schedule in which it established its stout defense — has nose-dived in the league season, losing five of its past six, including getting edged out by Penn State at home on Wednesday. Wisconsin, once looking like one of the strongest teams in Division I, has looked very average in league play, mustering a 4-4 record and getting trumped by Northwestern — which despite a horrifically bad offense has won four games — at the Kohl Center on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Iowa, a team that looked on the verge of success, has taken the next step in a big way and Michigan has become the outlier, the undefeated squad among the chaos, but only after wobbling through a less-than-impressive nonconference schedule and losing preseason All-America Mitch McGary. Michigan State is perhaps the only team that the average fan could look at and nod, thinking, “Yep, that’s about right.”

Some might look at those results and say the Big Ten — which currently has five teams in the AP Top 25 — is weaker than we thought. I think it speaks to depth and great coaching. There are at least four Coach of the Year candidates in the Big Ten right now: Tom Izzo, for directing Michigan State through overwhelming injuries; John Beilein, for helping his young Michigan squad grow up quickly and impressively; Chris Collins, for overcoming the odds with a Northwestern team with mediocre talent in his first season as a head coach and manufacturing some surprises; Fran McCaffery, for building his Iowa program from the ground up, and seeing big results now.

Perhaps most meaningful, the Big Ten — which could still send seven-plus teams to the NCAA tournament — is exciting. There aren’t a ton of blowouts; upsets are a constant threat. With so much variety in pace and style, there is no shortage of intriguing matchups. Night in, and night out, one has to watch the games to know the result.

And that’s what we love about the game, right?

College basketball short takes

As college basketball heads into February, a stunning three teams remain unbeaten. To get a sense of how rare this is, three teams have never posted 20-0 records or better since Indiana, UNLV and Rutgers did it in 1976, according to ESPN Stats & Information (originally written by ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan).

Ken Pomeroy has now calculated that there is a 51 percent chance one team will go unbeaten for an entire season (which has not happened since the ’76 Hoosiers did it). It’s hard to believe the odds are now in favor of another such run.

• Contrary to what one might think, big success on a national scale doesn’t always mean financial gain for programs. According to forbes.com, Wichita State, which is undefeated and was one of the last four teams standing in the NCAA tournament a year ago, actually lost money in the wake of its Final Four run. Team expenses for Wichita State — which usually brings in about $1 million of revenue each year, Forbes reports — were up 16 percent because of travel costs and incentives for coach Gregg Marshall, and the prize money (lump sums aren’t handed over to programs; it’s a six-year rolling period instead) wasn’t enough to cover the deficits. Yikes.

• The men’s Final Four site finalists for 2017-2020 were announced Monday, and Minneapolis got a nod.

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New Orleans 28 FINAL
Carolina 10
Tampa Bay 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Arizona 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Dallas
Philadelphia 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Houston
NY Jets 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Jacksonville 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
San Diego 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Washington 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
St. Louis 11/2/14 3:05 PM
San Francisco
Denver 11/2/14 3:25 PM
New England
Oakland 11/2/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Baltimore 11/2/14 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Indianapolis 11/3/14 7:30 PM
NY Giants
Washington 105 FINAL
Orlando 98
Detroit 91 FINAL
Minnesota 97
New York 95 FINAL
Cleveland 90
Utah 102 FINAL
Dallas 120
Oklahoma City 90 FINAL
LA Clippers 93
Boston 3 FINAL(OT)
Buffalo 2
Winnipeg 1 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 2
Los Angeles 0 FINAL
Pittsburgh 3
Chicago 5 FINAL(SO)
Ottawa 4
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
Tampa Bay 4
Arizona 1 FINAL
Florida 2
San Jose 3 FINAL(SO)
Minnesota 4
Anaheim 0 FINAL
St. Louis 2
NY Islanders 0 FINAL
Colorado 5
Montreal 2 FINAL(OT)
Vancouver 3
(2) Florida State 42 FINAL
Louisville 31
Troy 10 FINAL
Ga Southern 42
Cincinnati 7:00 PM
Tulane
Tulsa 7:02 PM
Memphis
Air Force 11/1/14 10:30 AM
Army
ULM 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Texas A&M
(19) Oklahoma 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Northwestern 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Iowa
(24) Duke 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Maryland 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Wisconsin 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
Rice 11/1/14 11:00 AM
FIU
(21) East Carolina 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Temple
UCF 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Connecticut
Boston College 11/1/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
North Carolina 11/1/14 11:30 AM
Miami-Florida
Washington 11/1/14 12:00 PM
Colorado
Central Mich 11/1/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Western Mich 11/1/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Western Ky 11/1/14 2:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
NC State 11/1/14 2:00 PM
Syracuse
Virginia 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Georgia Tech
Purdue 11/1/14 2:30 PM
(17) Nebraska
BYU 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Middle Tennessee
(10) TCU 11/1/14 2:30 PM
(20) West Virginia
Indiana 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Florida 11/1/14 2:30 PM
(9) Georgia
Georgia State 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Appalachian St
Kentucky 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Kansas 11/1/14 3:00 PM
(12) Baylor
Texas State 11/1/14 3:00 PM
New Mexico St
Houston 11/1/14 3:00 PM
So Florida
USC 11/1/14 3:30 PM
Washington St
Arkansas State 11/1/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
South Alabama 11/1/14 4:00 PM
Louisiana
New Mexico 11/1/14 4:30 PM
UNLV
UAB 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
(4) Auburn 11/1/14 6:00 PM
(7) Ole Miss
Old Dominion 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Colorado State 11/1/14 6:00 PM
San Jose St
Arkansas 11/1/14 6:15 PM
(1) Miss State
Stanford 11/1/14 6:30 PM
(5) Oregon
Tennessee 11/1/14 6:30 PM
So Carolina
Texas 11/1/14 6:30 PM
Texas Tech
Southern Miss 11/1/14 7:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
(6) Notre Dame 11/1/14 7:00 PM
Navy
Oklahoma State 11/1/14 7:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Illinois 11/1/14 7:00 PM
(13) Ohio State
(14) Arizona 11/1/14 9:30 PM
(25) UCLA
California 11/1/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
San Diego St 11/1/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
Wyoming 11/1/14 9:45 PM
Fresno State
(18) Utah 11/1/14 10:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Utah State 11/1/14 10:00 PM
Hawaii
Bowling Green 11/4/14 7:00 PM
Akron
Toledo 11/4/14 7:00 PM
Kent State
Buffalo 11/5/14 7:00 PM
Ohio U
Northern Ill 11/5/14 7:00 PM
Ball State
(22) Clemson 11/6/14 6:30 PM
Wake Forest
Sporting Kansas City 1 FINAL
Red Bull New York 2
Hamilton 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Toronto 11/2/14 11:00 AM
Montreal
Ottawa 11/7/14 6:00 PM
Toronto
Calgary 11/7/14 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Montreal 11/8/14 3:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 11/8/14 6:00 PM
Saskatchewan

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