Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Big Ten Hoops: how they stack up thus far

We're now getting into the final stretch of non-conference hoops before the real action starts in January and things are starting to shape up a bit in the Big Ten. Here's how I see the teams stacking up so far.

#1 MSU
#2/3: Indiana and Illinois
#4/5: Michigan and Wisconsin
#6/7/8: Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota
#9/10/11 (aka who cares): Purdue, Penn State, Northwestern

Michigan State (7-2): yep, they've looked fairly pedestrian at times. Their rebounding (8th in conference in rebounding margin) and D (dead last in pts allowed) are flat out ugly thus far. And in tempo-free-stats courtesy of Big Ten Wonk they aren't any prettier at dead last in PPP allowed and 10th in def. rebound % and 8th in off. rebound %. But they've still got Paul Davis and Shannon Brown and Maurice Ager. And they can score a lot of points (81.7 ppg is good for #2 in the conference, 1.13 PPP is good for #4 in the conference). Here's guessing they continue to round into form as conference play approaches, though they better shore up the glass if they want to win the conference title.

Indiana (5-2): What can I say? They gave Duke a game and blew Kentucky out of the water. For now I'm willing to chalk that little Indiana State loss up to a fluke. Just wait til DJ White gets back and they will be a force. He was their best player last year and figured to be their most important player this year. At least that was until Killingsworth turned into an All American candidate.

Illinois (10-0): Call me crazy. I was way wrong about Illinois at the start of the year. I figured they lost too much talent to be a player in the conference title race. Well, Bruce Weber has a pretty good thing going in Illinois so who am I to doubt him. He's now 73-9 at Illinois and 47-2 since the start of last season. Not bad, huh? The Fighting Illini currently have the best efficiency margin in the conference (1.13 points per possession and 0.88 points per possession allowed which are both good for #3 individually). The win at UNC is looking pretty good since Carolina decided to bounce back from massive NBA losses just like the Illini.

Michigan (7-0): #1 in scoring defense, #2 in points per possession allowed, #1 in defensive rebound percentage, #1 in rebounding margin, etc. Did I mention that the Wolverines can hit the glass and play some D? Yeah, the competition has been marginal thus far but cue up the #14 UCLA Bruins on Saturday for a real gauge of the Wolverines. Dion Harris and Daniel Horton have suddenly become quite stingy with the turnovers ranking #1 and #3 respectively in the conference in the all important Assist/TO ratio. Now if only the rest of the team could join in the fun and they would be a legit top 15 squad. Win over UCLA and this team should be sitting 11-0 and sky high heading into conference play. Lose? Doubts will linger but they'll still be riding high.

Wisconsin (8-1): is there anything Bo Ryan can't do? He has lost his best player every single year it seems like without missing a beat. Kirk Penney? No problem, we got Devin Harris. Devin's gone? How about Mike Wilkinson. No more Wilk = the Alando Tucker show. Or perhaps I should call it the Kam Taylor/Chris Rock show after his great start. All the Badgers do is win games. And they are a pretty young team so expect them to continue to improve.

Ohio State (5-0): Nice win at St. Joe's, but 5 games make it difficult to judge this squad.

Iowa (7-3): In what seems to be a theme for Steve Alford, the Hawks got off to a dynamite start with some big time performances at the start of the year. And then they fall on their faces. Will this year be different when Horner gets back? I'm not sure.

Minnesota (5-2): Now that Vincent Grier is back, they've got a fighting chance against anybody in the conference. And they do have a legit shot at the NCAA tournament. So that's 8 teams in the conference I'm pegging as NCAA hopefuls.

As for the rest (Purdue, PSU, NW): they suck.


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