Anthony Cowan [Maryland Athletics]
Last Week’s Results
Indiana 72 - Maryland 75
Minnesota 47 - Michigan State 65
Michigan 69 - Illinois 85
Ohio State 66 - Wisconsin 89
Northwestern 69 - Rutgers 60
Purdue 78 - Iowa 83
Nebraska 85 - Michigan 91
Minnesota 50 - Penn State 52
Maryland 62 - Illinois 56
Rutgers 57 - Indiana 76
Michigan State 67 - Ohio State 72
Iowa 54 - Northwestern 89
1. Maryland (4-1)
2. Wisconsin (3-1)
T-3. Michigan State (4-2)
T-3. Northwestern (4-2)
T-5. Nebraska (3-2)
T-5. Penn State (3-2)
T-5. Purdue (3-2)
T-8. Iowa (3-3)
T-8. Minnesota (3-3)
T-10. Illinois (2-3)
T-10. Indiana (2-3)
T-10. Michigan (2-3)
13. Ohio State (1-4)
14. Rutgers (0-6)
A Dark Horse Emerges
Since joining the Big Ten for the 2014-15 season, Maryland has been one of the best programs in the conference, posting an impressive 30-11 record in league games and finishing in the top three in both seasons that have been completed with the Terrapins as a member. Despite losing four starters before this season, UMD is the surprising outright leader of the Big Ten early on this season (it’s worth noting that Wisconsin is tied in the loss column, but has played one less game than Maryland has). Non-conference play offered little indication that Maryland would get off to such a hot start; they barely beat a couple of bad teams and won three games against decent opponents by just a single point.
Melo Trimble has been a huge part of Maryland’s success, of course - although his offensive rating (92.9) and usage rate (30.7, third-highest among B1G players in conference play) likely aren’t sustainable. Freshman Anthony Cowan, who was correctly compared to Trimble often as a recruit, has arguably been better, as he’s been able to score at the rim and get frequent trips to the free throw line despite his lack of size. Another freshman - Kevin Huerter - has also excelled, shooting an impressive 46% from behind the arc with 13 made threes in five conference games. Damonte Dodd, a senior big man coming off of an injury-related absence, has been the cornerstone of Maryland’s excellent defense when he’s been on the floor; Ivan Bender and LG Gil also receive minutes at the five.
It’s difficult to assess how much of Maryland’s early success in Big Ten play is schedule-related: they’ve swept a mediocre Illinois team, beat Indiana at home in what was essentially a coin-flip game, and won on the road against Michigan. Their only loss came after blowing a double-digit lead late at home against Nebraska. While their remaining schedule is relatively unchallenging compared to those of other teams, it’s probably more difficult than the games they’ve already played. Kenpom has Maryland just inside the top 50 nationally - a far cry from the quality of supposed Big Ten title contenders. A lot of that is due to their non-conference schedule, which resulted in a lot of wins that weren’t well-regarded by his algorithm.
Whether or not the Terps regress to the mean will be a major storyline. Many people (including myself) have been predicting that regression for quite a while, only to see Maryland continue to put up wins on the floor. Since they’ve been so dominant since entering the Big Ten, there’s good reason to think that they might continue to flaunt statistical wisdom, despite their youth. Maryland’s an undeniably talented team and having an excellent point guard helps bring everything together.
More on Big Ten hoops after the JUMP
Appreciating Peter Jok
Like Maryland, Iowa is a team featuring a talented veteran surrounded by a lot of promising young talent. Peter Jok is the star for the Hawkeyes, and the senior swingman has elevated his game substantially after moving into his role as a heavy-usage scorer. Jok leads the Big Ten in points per game at 21.3, notwithstanding a terrible four-point outing this past weekend in a blowout loss to Northwestern on the road. Jok has the ability to score from nearly anywhere, attacks the basket to draw fouls, and can get open with the tiniest sliver of space off a screen because of his quick release.
He’s put up some eye-popping numbers already in Big Ten play. In a home win last week over Purdue, Jok scored 29 points on 21 shot equivalents, while adding six rebounds and eight assists - clearly diversifying his skills as he’s grown more comfortable as the go-to guy for Iowa. Jok poured in 34 points in a double overtime loss to Nebraska despite a quiet first half, trading buckets with Glynn Watson in an entertaining shootout. Against Michigan, he helped the Hawkeyes overcome a career performance from DJ Wilson and scored 25 points - including a dagger three to seal the win in overtime. Jok also had some impressive showings in non-conference losses: 42 points against Memphis, 33 against Nebraska-Omaha, and 30 against Seton Hall.
Iowa’s a young, fun team, but they aren’t particularly good and likely won’t make the NCAA Tournament. Their fast-paced style may inflate Jok’s raw numbers somewhat, but he’s a fantastic scorer and watching him develop into the player he is now has been one of those small things that make college basketball so intriguing. There are a lot of young players for Iowa who will probably see some success later on in their careers, but Jok’s best seasons (from a “is my team winning” perspective) are behind him. Still, he’s blossomed into the most fearsome scorer and arguably the most entertaining player to watch in the Big Ten, and he’s making the most of his final season in Iowa City as he helps bring his freshmen teammates along.
Michigan: All Offense, No Defense
Ace wrote a good post yesterday breaking down some of Michigan’s many defensive issues – somehow things have gone from bad to worse and the Wolverines are posting what’s easily the worst defensive efficiency mark in Big Ten competition over the last 15 years. Opponents have been hitting over half their threes and that’s not likely to continue (even though many of those shots are wide open); the parade of uncontested layups and barrage of offensive rebounds and put-backs probably won’t go away any time soon. It’s hard to argue that defense isn’t being coached poorly at Michigan, and when that’s combined with the personnel’s defensive deficiencies, it becomes a massive liability.
What’s been lost is that Michigan’s offense has been terrific through five conference games. The Wolverines have posted a league-best 117.6 points per 100 possessions and have a well-balanced attack that boasts two versatile big men who can get buckets on the offensive end. DJ Wilson in particular has elevated his play on offense once the calendar flipped to the new year, and he has to be considered one of the most improved players in the Big Ten (if not the most improved).
Unfortunately, Michigan’s combination of “best offense” and “worst defense” isn’t great:
Something is going to have to change, or Michigan won’t make the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully John Beilein is capable of making the massive changes necessary for even a passable defense.
Chart of the Week
Click on image to embiggen
This chart was kindly provided by @bkbtNUmbers, a Northwestern fan who’s worth the follow on Twitter.
Basically, this graphic portrays team performance relative to the expectations of Kenpom’s algorithm, and if you’ve been following the conference somewhat closely, the information here shouldn’t be too surprising. Minnesota and Northwestern have been pleasant surprises: both teams have great defenses that should help them compete for NCAA Tournament spots. Minnesota retooled most of their rotation (with transfers and quality freshmen) and Northwestern welcomed back Vic Law from injury and have seen Scottie Lindsey break out as an offensive weapon.
On the flip side, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa have fallen short of expectations. OSU was rated too highly by Kenpom’s preseason metrics and have fallen steadily throughout the season. Michigan State has also underachieved relative to lofty preseason hopes, but could recover. Iowa wasn’t expected to do as much as either OSU or MSU, and Pomeroy’s numbers are bearish on the Hawkeyes.
As for recent developments, Maryland and Penn State have been on the upswing while Michigan and Indiana have been on the downswing.
- Illinois at Purdue, 7:00, BTN
- Michigan at Wisconsin, 9:00, ESPN
- Indiana at Penn State, 7:00, BTN
- Ohio State at Nebraska, 9:00, BTN
- Maryland at Iowa, 7:00, ESPN
- Penn State at Purdue, 12:00, BTN
- Nebraska at Rutgers, 12:00, ESPNU
- Illinois at Michigan, 2:15, BTN
- Michigan State at Indiana, 4:00, ESPN
- Wisconsin at Minnesota, 4:30, BTN
- Northwestern at Ohio State, 1:00, BTN