Another week into the season and we're starting to see some separation as the pretenders start to fade and the postseason race becomes a bit more clear. It's still early and things can (and likely will) continue to change in a hurry, but the Big Ten is starting to look like a conference with five teams set for the postseason and two teams in the middle of the pack that have the chance to make a run for a sixth or seventh bid for the league. Nothing major has really changed over the last week, though, besides the Badgers missing out on two more opportunities for key wins in one possession losses to Indiana and Maryland.
|Team||Record||Conf. Rec.||RPI||SOS||KenPom||vs. 1-50||51-100||101-200||201+|
Will the real Purdue please stand up?
Good wins and good losses for Purdue, up until Sunday when they played a terrible second half against a suddenly hot Illinois team. The Illini game highlighted the issues with Purdue this season as we witnessed what happens when the team is cold from outside (31.8%) and starts turning the ball over. The problem is that this "bad" Purdue has reared it's head somewhat commonly this season, with the teams defense and frontcourt typically carrying it whenever the team struggles with jump shots and/or turnovers. That means that while Purdue has the potential to contend in the Big Ten and make a deep postseason run, the team could just as easily no show a winnable game and skip out of the tournament just as fast.
The Boilermakers have a ton of talent and size inside to give them a major advantage over their opponents, especially with that defense. But if the team can't maintain control of the ball and starts relying heavily on perimeter shooting, even when the shots aren't falling, this team is entirely beatable and could start racking up more losses than expected earlier on in the year. Like mentioned, outside of the Illinois loss there's nothing bad on the team's resume, but the recent setbacks show that Purdue is more human than we thought. If we get the second half Purdue we saw against Iowa and Illinois, this team will be beyond frustrating. If we get the Purdue team that dominated everyone (outside of Butler) in non-conference play and ran past Michigan? Well they could still contend for a Big Ten title.
Five of the next six games are all winnable (Penn State, at Rutgers, Ohio State, at Minnesota, Nebraska), while the road trip to Iowa sandwiched in there is a solid chance to get revenge and add another quality win. If Purdue plays to their potential it will lead to an interesting February with the Boilers set to play Maryland (2x), Michigan State and Indiana throughout said month.
Badgers set to miss NCAA Tournament for the first time since '98
Wisconsin hasn't missed the NCAA Tournament since 1998 when they finished 12-19 under Dick Bennett. Under Bo Ryan the team never missed the tournament and the harsh reality is Bo's midseason retirement will likely allow him to boast that he never missed the tournament in Madison, even if the Badgers were likely on their way out even if Ryan stuck around. Instead of Bo taking the credit, though, that honor will go to interim head coach Greg Gard, who has inherited a thin and inexperienced program that doesn't have much past Nigel Hayes and really isn't in any position to make a run to the postseason.
Wisconsin is already at 9-8 this year and have lost three of their first four conference games, with two of those losses coming at home (and both being winnable games). If Wisconsin can't land an upset over Michigan State then they could come into an Indiana game towards the end of the month sitting at 11-9 (3-4) with nothing but a win over Syracuse on their resume. The Badgers don't have any top 50 wins, have lost to four teams outside the top 100 and already are near double digit losses less than halfway through January. Mix that with a down Big Ten so far this season and the Badgers don't have the liberty of losing many more games this season, with the chance of Wisconsin even missing the NIT this year being a possibility.
Are the Hoosiers back yet?
Indiana went from one of the conference's top teams to an afterthought and now are trending back up top in the Big Ten. Sound familiar? Before we hop back on the Hoosier bandwagon, don't forget that the team went from a dud last season to "Tom Crean for B1G COTY" back to "fire Tom Crean" comments from the peanut gallery. On one hand the Hoosiers looked a lot better with a dominating win over Ohio State, on the other hand they still haven't beaten a team inside the top 50 and have faced a relatively vanilla schedule. To further complicate things lets not forget that the team allowed Rutgers and Nebraska opportunities to win each while just barely edging a pretty weak Wisconsin team.
All things considered, there's still the talent in Bloomington that warranted the preseason hype and rankings. At the same time, there's still been the typical deficiencies with performance and coaching, further complicated by the injury to James Blackmon. Are the Hoosiers back just yet? We don't know, and we likely won't know until sometime in February thanks to a schedule that features Minnesota (2x), Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State before finally ramping up almost halfway through February. The Hoosiers don't have to worry about missing the tournament or anything like that, but it's going to be hard to get a good read on Indiana to see if they're a legitimate contender or simply taking advantage of a schedule that favors them considerably.
Six Bid Conference?
Michigan State, Maryland, Iowa, Purdue and Indiana should all be locks more or less for the postseason. The question is will the Big Ten be capable of getting a sixth (or seventh) seed into the field of 68? Unless things change in a hurry, it looks like teams like Penn State, Illinois, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Rutgers are all out of the running for the time being. The same can likely be said for Northwestern, with their resume set to fade in a hurry this winter. So that means any additional bids will likely be dependent on how things pan out for Michigan and Ohio State.
The pros for Michigan are...well, I guess positioning? A 12-4 record is perfectly fine right now, the same for the team's RPI and SOS. They have a neutral site win against a top 40 team (Texas), though the Longhorns are 9-6 and that win could look a lot less promising in the near future. The same can be said for North Carolina State, though both of those wins could also look more promising as well depending on how each team fares. Past that though? The Wolverines aren't going to benefit from beating Illinois or Penn State, and while they've lost to three really good teams (Xavier, SMU, Purdue) and one so-so team (Connecticut), let's not forget that those four losses have come by almost 18 points per defeat. Mix that with injury issues once again and a difficult 1-2 punch of Maryland and Iowa that could range from two more double digit defeats to a resume-defining win (or two) and you have a Wolverines program that could trend either way. Following the Hawkeyes game the Wolverines will have a few winnable games to up their win count (Minnesota, at Nebraska, Rutgers, at Penn State) and should probably be fine if they can hit ten conference wins and snag a win (or two) against one of the upper B1G programs.
First things first, bad losses early in the season will not break your season and can be made irrelevant. Yes, the Buckeyes lost at home to Texas-Arlington and Louisiana Tech, while losing to Memphis on a neutral site, but Purdue lost to Gardner-Webb and North Florida last year and managed just fine. The Buckeyes team that went and upset Kentucky is a legitimate postseason team, the Buckeyes team that laid an egg against Indiana? Not so much. Considering the youth on tap in Columbus, the up-and-down nature of this team isn't a huge surprise, but it does create less room for error as the Buckeyes will likely drop a few more winnable games this season.
The problem right now is that 11-6 record isn't pretty and outside of that Kentucky win the resume is thin. But if Ohio State can finish in the middle of the Big Ten, get to around 20 wins and maybe get a quality win here and there, the team could manage to secure a bid. The reality is a team like Ohio State has name appeal and beating Kentucky means that the selection committee very well could put them in over a few more worthy programs (it happens almost every year). The next five games will be pretty big for the Buckeyes as there are three games they cannot afford to lose (Rutgers, Penn State, at Illinois) and two road trips (Maryland, Purdue) that provide opportunities for quality wins. If they can only muster a 3-2 mark over this stretch, that would drop them to 14-8 and put quite a bit of pressure to start winning more consistently in February. Of course the beginning of February tips off with Wisconsin, Northwestern, Rutgers, Michigan and Nebraska, so wins will be there if they can take care of business.
While Maryland is in the running for a top seed, it should be noted we still haven't seen the Terps face much in the form of opposition. So far through 16 games this season they have only faced one team with a RPI inside the top 80, with that coming in their loss to North Carolina. So far their best wins are against a 11-4 Connecticut, 10-6 Rhode Island and 10-6 Georgetown. While the schedule is about to pick up a little, the next three games include Michigan, Ohio State and Northwestern, a serviceable, but not exactly difficult stretch of games...that hot start for Northwestern ultimately meant nothing thanks to a dreadful non-conference SOS, with the 14-3 Wildcats sitting outside the top 100. With their best win against Virginia Tech, the only way to get a NCAA bid will be a strong run in the Big Ten. Already with two losses (through four games), the Wildcats really need to end up with at least 10 or 11 wins to solidify a bid, and with a very difficult late January coming up, the Wildcats could be on pace for the NIT within a week or so.