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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Houston 13 3rd Qtr 4:15
Pittsburgh 24
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 98 FINAL
Cleveland 107
New Orleans 88 FINAL
Washington 84
Milwaukee 120 FINAL
New York 107
Philadelphia 88 FINAL
Brooklyn 99
Charlotte 114 FINAL
Atlanta 117
Sacramento 78 4th Qtr 12:00
San Antonio 77
Memphis 75 4th Qtr 12:00
Dallas 91
Tampa Bay 0 2nd Prd 19:43
Edmonton 0
Arkansas State 10/21/14 7:00 PM
Louisiana
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Ottawa 6 FINAL
Hamilton 16
Montreal 20 FINAL
Toronto 12
Calgary 33 FINAL
Winnipeg 23
Edmonton 24 FINAL
Saskatchewan 19

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