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
hide

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,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

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.

The other six finalists are Atlanta, Indianapolis, North Texas, San Antonio, Phoenix/Glendale and St. Louis.

• Virginia’s BPI (ESPN’s version of weighted rankings) hasn’t been anything special for most of the winter — falling to as low as No. 55. But after winning six of seven games against ACC teams in January, the Cavaliers had the best BPI for the month, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They’ve bumped all the way up to No. 20.

Big Ten power poll

1. Michigan: The last unbeaten team in Big Ten play isn’t who we expected it might be a month ago. The Wolverines have improved mighty quickly.

2. Michigan State: The victory over Iowa wasn’t pretty, but the Spartans possess a special ability to prevail amid all kinds of adversity.

3. Iowa: The Hawkeyes still struggle to challenge the very elite, but their fifth-ranked offense certainly makes them a threat.

4. Minnesota: The Gophers are only 4-4, but two wins over ranked teams look pretty good.

5. Northwestern: A team no one thought would do anything has sprung surprises — capped by a win at Wisconsin on Wednesday — by playing solid defense.

6. Wisconsin: Allowing 43 second-half points to the worst offensive team in the league (Northwestern) at one of the toughest places to play (Kohl Center) makes no sense. But then, nothing in the Big Ten makes sense this year.

7. Nebraska: We can officially say the Huskers are taking another step. It’s a small step, but they’re nothing close to a surefire basement dweller anymore.

8. Indiana: The Hoosiers, like so many young teams, don’t know how to handle success yet — falling at Nebraska after beating Illinois.

9. Purdue: The Boilermakers need A.J. Hammons to show up every night, not just from time to time.

10. Penn State: Count the Nittany Lions the latest to beat a ranked team after stunning Ohio State in Columbus.

11. Ohio State: Go ahead, argue with me. Right now, the Buckeyes don’t deserve to be any higher.

12. Illinois: Twelfth in the league is a bad place to be, but the league’s craziness means everything could change for the Illini in a week.

  • related content

  • Big Ten power rankings

    Friday January 31, 2014

    BIG TEN POWER POLLMichigan: The last unbeaten team in Big Ten play isn’t who we expected it might be a...

  • College basketball short takes

    Friday January 31, 2014

    As college basketball heads into February, a stunning three teams remain unbeaten. To get a sense of how rare this...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Chicago 17 FINAL
Detroit 34
Philadelphia 33 FINAL
Dallas 10
Seattle 19 FINAL
San Francisco 3
Cleveland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Washington 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Tennessee 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
NY Giants 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Cincinnati 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
New Orleans 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Carolina 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Arizona 11/30/14 3:05 PM
Atlanta
New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Denver 11/30/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
Miami 12/1/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
Edmonton 0 FINAL(OT)
Nashville 1
ULM 54 FINAL
Robert Morris 71
Santa Clara 57 FINAL
Tennessee 64
Oklahoma 59 FINAL
Butler 46
Austin Peay 79 FINAL
Brown 58
Princeton 56 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 62
Coastal Carolina 67 FINAL
Chattanooga 78
Kansas 76 FINAL
Rhode Island 60
Wisconsin 68 FINAL
Georgetown 65
FIU 53 FINAL
USC Upstate 68
Long Island 54 FINAL
Stony Brook 73
San Diego 71 FINAL
Xavier 82
Illinois 88 FINAL
Indiana State 62
Cal State Fullerton 67 FINAL
Wright State 62
Western Ky 62 FINAL
Saint Josephs 59
Michigan State 77 FINAL
Rider 45
UCLA 56 FINAL
North Carolina 78
Long Beach State 73 FINAL
Western Mich 55
Marquette 72 FINAL
Georgia Tech 70
Stephen F Austin 73 FINAL
Prairie View 61
UAB 47 FINAL
Florida 56
Rice 71 FINAL
Mercer 77
San Jose St 56 FINAL
Washington 78
Washington St 43 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 71
Baylor 71 FINAL
Memphis 47
LSU 23 FINAL
Texas A&M 17
(6) TCU 48 FINAL
Texas 10
Northern Ill 10:00 AM
Western Mich
Nebraska 11:00 AM
Iowa
Western Ky 11:00 AM
(19) Marshall
UCF 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11:00 AM
SMU
Akron 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 12:00 PM
Massachusetts
Toledo 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 1:30 PM
(17) Missouri
Navy 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 2:30 PM
(12) Arizona
Stanford 2:30 PM
(9) UCLA
(21) Colorado State 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 7:30 PM
Tulsa
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(24) Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(23) Clemson
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Indiana
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Northwestern
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Temple
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Troy
Utah 11/29/14 12:00 PM
Colorado
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:30 PM
USC
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
(22) Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(5) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Maryland
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Memphis
BYU 11/29/14 3:30 PM
California
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Fresno State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Duke
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
(15) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 7:00 PM
Oregon State
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
(25) Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
UNLV
UCF 12/4/14 6:30 PM
East Carolina
Hamilton 11/30/14 5:00 PM
Calgary
Hartford 43 FINAL
Furman 53
Clemson 77 FINAL
Ohio State 86
Idaho State 53 FINAL
San Diego State 68
East Carolina 58 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 69
Santa Clara 0 Cancelled
Texas-El Paso 0
Florida State 68 FINAL
Washington 80
Wichita State 39 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 56
Wisconsin 44 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 67
Kansas State 0 Cancelled
LSU 0
BYU 73 FINAL
BYU-Hawaii 52
Charlotte 58 FINAL
Montana 67
Illinois 77 FINAL
(9) Kentucky 71
Central Michigan 61 FINAL
Richmond 56
Oklahoma 68 FINAL
South Florida 83
Princeton 72 FINAL
Wake Forest 55
(19) Oregon State 85 FINAL
Butler 53

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Will the Gophers bring home The Axe?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close