The Wolverines clinched a share of the Big Ten Championship on Saturday, their second Big Ten crown in three years. Michigan has the youngest team in the Big Ten, but is 4-0 in conference games decided by five or fewer points. That stat, along with six conference road wins, is why Michigan sits at the top of the league. The Wolverines aren’t a class apart – Iowa, Michigan State and Wisconsin have all outscored their opponents by more – but they just figure out how to win.
2. Wisconsin (1.13 PPP, 1.04 Opp. PPP, +.09 Eff. Margin)
Wisconsin is rolling and has won its last seven games. The Badgers broke a sweat in Penn State, but had too much for the Nittany Lions down the stretch. Something Bo Ryan said after Wisconsin’s win in State College caught my ear: Nigel Hayes has a jump shot.
Ryan swore that Hayes knocks down perimeter jumpers with consistency in practice and he’s right. Hayes is playing significant minutes as a freshman, something rarely seen in Madison, and he continues to look like a future star of the Big Ten. Beyond his ridiculous ability to draw fouls – Hayes draws 7.6 fouls per 40 minutes and attempts just shy of one free throw for every field goal attempt – Hayes is one of the best mid-range shooters in the conference. Here’s a look at his shot chart in Big Ten games.
Hayes hasn’t expanded his range beyond the arc just yet, but you can bet that it’s coming. He’s very consistent in the mid-range, especially from the right wing, and that’s a big reason that he can attack the basket so well and get to the line.
3. Michigan State (1.10 PPP, 1.01 Opp. PPP, +.09 Eff. Margin)
Michigan State played its first game with its entire roster on Saturday since January 4th. The result was a a 53-46 loss to Illinois, Michigan State’s worst offensive performance of the season.
Keith Appling is obviously injured. He’s just 6-of-12 from the floor in four games since returning from a three-game absence. He handed out 16 assists in those four games, but also has 12 turnovers. If Appling is too hurt to play, he shouldn’t be playing.
4. Iowa (1.13 PPP, 1.05 Opp. PPP, .09 Eff. Margin)
The Hawkeyes managed to beat Purdue at home, but continue to look mediocre on the defensive end of the floor.
Iowa’s defense was once among the best in the conference and the Hawkeyes were outscoring their opponents comfortably. But in the last nine games, Iowa hasn’t held its opponent below a point per possession of offensive output. Fran McCaffery needs to fix the defense quickly on Iowa’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006 could be a disappointment.
5. Nebraska (.98 PPP, .99 Opp. PPP, –.02 Eff. Margin)
Did Nebraska’s NCAA tournament bubble pop with its loss at Illinois? It’s too early to say, but it feels like the Huskers might need wins at Indiana and home against Wisconsin this week to have a chance. Neither game will be easy as Indiana will still be playing for a desperate chance at the NCAA tournament and Wisconsin is hoping to earn a high seed in the NCAA tournament.
6. Ohio State (1.02 PPP, .96 Opp. PPP, +.07 Eff. Margin)
The Buckeyes can defend, but this is the year of offense in the Big Ten. The league’s top three offenses – Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa – are 32-15 in conference play. The top three defenses – Ohio State, Nebraska and Illinois – are just 24-25. Ohio State failed to make a three-point shot on Sunday at Assembly Hall, the first conference team to accomplish that feat in league play this season.
7. Indiana (.99 PPP, 1.02 Opp. PPP, –.03 Eff. Margin)
Indiana’s home losses to Northwestern and Penn State are among the most inexplicable this season. They are also the reason that the Hoosiers are unlikely to make the NCAA tournament. But when just about everyone was ready to give up on the Hoosiers, they went and beat Iowa and Ohio State at home. Will Sheehey was the Hoosiers’ hero and carried the Indiana offense.
Can Indiana still make a run at a NCAA tournament bid? If the Hoosiers can beat Nebraska and win at Michigan this week they might have a chance. At the very least, they’ll have something to play for in Indianapolis.
8. Minnesota (1.04 PPP, 1.08 Opp. PPP, –.04 Eff. Margin)
The Gophers got a key win over Iowa at home on Tuesday, but weren’t able to win at Michigan on Saturday. This tweet pretty much sums up my feelings on the Gophers.
If Minnesota was rotating in about four more players you couldn’t possibly convince me they aren’t still being coached by Tubby Smith.
— Ace Anbender (@AceAnbender) March 2, 2014
Richard Pitino earned a lot of praise early in the season but another losing record in Big Ten play, too many turnovers and a porous defense makes this Minnesota team look a lot like last year’s Minnesota team.
9. Illinois (.95 PPP, .99 Opp. PPP, –.05 Eff. Margin)
Defense might not be enough to win the Big Ten, but it is enough to turn around Illinois’ season. The Illini have allowed 192 points in their last 231 possessions – an impressive .83 points per possession. Illinois is 3-1 in that stretch, an impressive turnaround after losing 10 of 11 in the middle of conference play. The next challenge for Illinois’ suddenly dominant defense? Hosting the best offense in the conference when Michigan comes to town on Tuesday.
10. Penn State (1.00 PPP, 1.08 Opp. PPP, –.08 Eff. Margin)
The battle for the bottom continues. Half the conference has five, six or seven wins and the final week of the conference season should see plenty of drama in the Big Ten Tournament bracket. Penn State has to go on the road for its final two games with trips to Northwestern and Minnesota.
11. Purdue (1.00 PPP, 1.07 Opp. PPP, –.07 Eff .Margin)
This was a tough week for Purdue. The Boilermakers never trailed Michigan in regulation before letting the game slip away in overtime. On Sunday, they came all the way back from a 13 point half time deficit at Iowa and then let the Hawkeyes off the hook.
12. Northwestern (.99 PPP, 1.03 Opp. PPP, –.15 Eff. Margin)
Northwestern has only scored more than 1.01 points per possession in a Big Ten game one time this season. The ‘Cats historically bad offense has caught up in a big way and they haven’t won a game since February 1st at Minnesota.