Welcome to our Big Ten Power Rankings where we examine the conference on a weekly basis and attempt to rank the conference and provide some insight about each team.
1. Wisconsin (7-1)
The Badgers are steadily improving on defense and continuing to dominate on offense. It’s no secret that Bo Ryan abhors turnovers, the Badgers almost made it through a 40 minute game against Iowa without one, but Wisconsin is setting a new standard for ball security.
Nearly midway through the Big Ten season, Wisconsin’s turnover rate is on pace to be the best in conference play during the KenPom era. Here’s a look at the top five end of season marks.
As you can see, this isn’t really a statistical contest between Wisconsin and the rest of the Big Ten, it’s essentially just the Badgers trying to one-up themselves. (Data via KenPom since 2002)
2. Ohio State (6-3)
Frank Kaminsky was widely regarded as a shoe-in for First Team All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year, but D’Angelo Russell has a fair claim to the crown. Here’s a comparison of their conference-only numbers thus far (click to enlarge):
Kaminsky is a special player and has lived up to his billing this year, but Russell’s freshman year is starting to remind me of Trey Burke’s. Jared Sullinger was another preseason All-American who was as dominant as a sophomore as everyone expected, but Burke was flat out good enough that he deserved a share of the Big Ten Player of the Year honor.
3. Michigan State (6-3)
Even Michigan State fans seem somewhat down on this Spartan team, but they are one of the few teams in the league that has proven to be capable of blowing teams out. Thrashings of Indiana, Iowa and Rutgers have boosted Michigan State’s efficiency margin onto equal-footing with Ohio State and provide reason to believe that the Spartans deserve to be in that upper tier of the Big Ten.
4. Maryland (6-4)
Maryland has dropped two of its last three after starting 5-1 in conference play, but Mark Turgeon deserves one of our coaching superlatives for dominating the after timeout efficiency margin tally this year. Maryland is outscoring its opponents by over .26 points per possession out of timeouts this season thanks to Turgeon’s stingy after timeout defense.
5. Purdue (6-3)
As the season wears on, Purdue continues to look like the Big Ten’s most impressive bubble team. The Boilermakers have some ugly scars from non-conference play, but they are playing good basketball and seem like the Big Ten’s best bet for a sixth bid, even if Iowa has the better resume right now. Purdue has rattled off three straight wins against Iowa, Indiana and at Northwestern and has a great chance to make a statement at home against Ohio State before traveling to Minnesota this weekend. KenPom projects losses in both games, but a 2-0 week or even a 1-1 week would be a huge step for Matt Painter’s group.
My biggest question about Purdue is why it can’t do a better job on the defensive glass. Purdue is ranked 21st nationally in average height, but is somehow grabbing only 66.2% of its opponents missed shots – third worst in the Big Ten. Maybe it’s over-aggressive shot blocking — Purdue has the best 2-point defense in the league and third-best block rate — but sooner or later it’s going to cost this team games.
6. Indiana (6-3)
Indiana has been missing big man Hanner Mosquera-Perea, and without him its interior defense has regressed toward the bottom of the conference. Big Ten opponents are shooting a league-worst 54% on twos and a league-worst 52.7 eFG%. The Hoosiers have been forced to play small ball and have responded with great transition play and a dynamic perimeter-oriented offense, but how long can they survive while being gashed at the basket?
7. Michigan (6-4)
It’s all about the zone defense for Michigan. John Beilein’s decision to try just about anything that will work — 1-3-1 zone, 2-3 zone and every combination in between — has resulted in a much-improved Michigan defense. The Wolverines keep losing players, but they’re figuring out how to get stops. The Spartans finally cracked Michigan’s zone in East Lansing, but U-M has the No. 3 defense in the Big Ten through 10 games.
8. Iowa (4-4)
Iowa has one of the tallest and most experienced teams in the Big Ten, yet has the Big Ten’s worst defense. The Hawkeyes are ranked 2nd to last in eFG% allowed, 2nd to last in forced turnover rate and last in defensive rebounding rate and haven’t held their opponent below a point per possession since January 5th against Nebraska.
9. Illinois (4-5)
Illinois doesn’t really excel in one particular area, but John Groce’s team continues to hang around the .500 mark in conference play. Rayvonte Rice was set to make his return from injury, only to be suspended before a Saturday win over Penn State. Rice and Aaron Cosby remain suspended indefinitely according to Groce.
10. Minnesota (3-7)
Minnesota has the fourth worst record in the Big Ten, but is one of just five teams with a positive efficiency margin. Andre Hollins continues to power the Gopher offense and his catch and shoot ability is unparalleled across the league. The following scatterplot shows 100 Big Ten players with at least 10 catch and shoot field goal attempts according to Synergy Sports. We’ve highlighted Hollins to show just how much better he is than the rest of the league.
Only three players have more catch and shoot attempts than Hollins (Kendall Stephens, Zak Irvin and Brandon Taylor) and they all have a catch and shoot eFG% around 55 to 56%. Only Rayvonte Rice has a better eFG% than Hollins on catch and shoot jumpers, but he’s only attempted 33. Ohio State’s Marc Loving and Illinois’ Kendrick Nunn are the next best thing, but they’ve both attempted about a third as many catch and shoot jumpers.
11. Nebraska (4-5)
Nebraska had a tough week, losing to Michigan and Minnesota by a combined 32 points and falling below .500. The Cornhuskers simply can’t score and that’s because of their woeful perimeter shooting. Here’s a shot chart of Nebraska’s team-offense in Big Ten games, via Shot Analytics.
If your head coach isn’t playing a packed in 2-3 zone against Nebraska, it’s time to start asking questions about his defensive gameplanning.
12. Penn State (2-7)
Give Penn State credit for continuing to come up with creative ways to lose games. This week the Nittany Lions let a late lead slip away only to have DJ Newbill drive the length of the floor in under four seconds (a terrific late game play from Pat Chambers) and miss the game-tying layup at the final horn.
13. Northwestern (1-7)
Northwestern has lost its last six games by single digits with one loss in overtime. The Wildcats are close to breaking through, they just can’t get over the hump. The schedule isn’t going to lighten up anytime soon, but Tuesday at Nebraska could be an opportunity to steal a road victory.
14. Rutgers (2-8)
Rutgers broke its three-game streak of being held under .9 points per possession at Assembly Hall, but fell short of pulling off the upset. The Scarlet Knights have now lost their last six games since upsetting Wisconsin and have a 16% chance of losing the rest of their games, according to KenPom.com.