RUTGERS BEAT WISCONSIN. SERIOUSLY. THEY DID. (source)
Your Weekly B1G Hoops Column
Weren’t any Big Ten basketball games last night, so I bumped this column to Tuesday.
Table of Contents
Week II Results
Post-Week II Big Ten Standings
Team of the Week: Rutgers
Player of the Week: Travis Trice
Stat of the Week: League-Wide Efficiency
Game Recap Graphics
- Michigan’s Week That Was
Michigan’s Week Ahead
Week III Schedule
1. Week II Results
Home teams held serve most of the week – only Michigan (over Penn St.), Ohio St. (over Minnesota in overtime), Michigan St. (over Iowa), and Maryland (over Purdue) managed to get an elusive Big Ten road win and, to be fair, most of those came against lower-half teams. MSU’s win over Iowa was particularly impressive: after trailing 39-28 at halftime, they hit eight three-pointers to outscore the Hawkeyes 47-20 in the second stanza.
Ohio State played the two closest games of the week, both on the road: the Buckeyes managed to beat Minnesota in overtime by two points and lost to Indiana by three. Minnesota had another close loss – to Michigan – later in the week. Michigan State was perhaps the most impressive team of the week: they destroyed Indiana and eventually pulled away to win comfortably at Iowa.
More on Rutgers’s shocking upset over Wisconsin a little bit later.
2. Post-Week II Big Ten Standings
After two weeks, there are four teams tied for first place (and six tied for first place in the loss column). Maryland has the worst efficiency margin of the top four, but they have won two games on the road (against Michigan State and Purdue). Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Michigan are all fairly comparable from an efficiency standpoint, though the Spartans probably have played the toughest schedule thus far.
The conference race is still far from any clarity. Wisconsin’s loss sets them back with the rest of the teams chasing and 10 of the league’s 14 teams are within a game of first place.
Click on image to enlarge
3. Team of the Week: Rutgers
Didn’t take long for Rutgers to ring up its first signature Big Ten win (source)
A few nights ago, I decided to brave the cold and head out to our favorite undergraduate library to play school for a little while. “The only Big Ten game on right now is Rutgers – Wisconsin,” I thought. “Even though Frank Kaminsky’s out, what could possibly happen?”
RUTGERS BEAT WISCONSIN.
With due apologies to Michigan State, who probably had the best week of any Big Ten team, Rutgers deserves mention for pulling what will probably stand as the biggest upset in Big Ten play this year – what very well may be the worst team in the league beating what’s likely the best. Yes, Kaminsky sat out of the game with concussion-like symptoms and yes, Traevon Jackson exited the game because of a leg injury that will keep him sidelined for a while.
Regardless of all that, it was an impressive showing for the Scarlet Knights: Kadeem Jack and Myles Mack each scored at least 20 points and, as a team, Rutgers posted a gaudy 1.20 points per possession. Despite the injuries to Kaminsky and Jackson, Wisconsin’s offense actually did alright (1.10 points per possession, at least a dozen points from each of Nigel Hayes, Sam Dekker, and Bronson Koenig), but the Badgers’ heretofore excellent defense was exposed. Rutgers shot 20-35 (57%) from two, so it wasn’t as if this were some anomalous barrage of three-pointers.
Besides Duke’s barrage of three-pointers earlier this season, this was Wisconsin’s worst defensive outing on the season. It was Rutgers’s best offensive game. Since I didn’t see the game, it’s hard to make any declarative statements, so here’s this solid recap from B5Q. As they note, Rutgers did trail by 12 at halftime, but 67% shooting (with four made threes) in the second half was enough to carry them to a win.
The homework that I did on that Sunday evening was due today and the professor bumped it back to Thursday… definitely could have waited on that in order to watch one of the most bizarre Big Ten games we’ll see this season.
Rutgers also lost to Nebraska by 16 on the road this past week, but that’s neither here nor there (I guess).
Previously: Maryland (Week I).
[After THE JUMP – the rest]
4. Player of the Week: Travis Trice
Caption contest. (source)
@ Iowa (W) – 25 points (7-8 3-point FG), 2 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal.
vs. Northwestern (W, OT) – 18 points (8-10 free throws), 2 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals.
After the departures of Keith Appling, Gary Harris, and Adreian Payne, the preeminent preseason narrative surrounding Michigan State was this: who is going to be the leader? Denzel Valentine, a talented swiss army knife swingman, and Branden Dawson, quite possibly the most ferocious and successful rebounder Tom Izzo has had at State, were the prime candidates and while both have played reasonably well thus far this season, Travis Trice has improved dramatically.
Trice was the same player over the first three years of his career – nominally a point guard, but more of a combo guard who was too small to play the two full time and not enough of a passer to be a true point. He was effective in a complementary role, but may not have ever been one of State’s five best players until this season.
Now he’s arguably the best. (I’d probably go with Dawson). His improvement:
Quite simply, it’s incredible that he was able to maintain his Junior efficiency at a significantly higher usage rate. He’s playing more, hitting shots at about the same rate, but he’s matured into a true point guard with a Top 50 assist rate nationally. He’s not an NBA prospect because of his lack of size, but it’s another example of Tom Izzo-coached players making dramatic improvements late in their college careers.
Against Iowa, he showed off his marksmanship from three-point range (Trice is a 41% three-point shooter over his career) as the Spartans roared back from an early deficit to run the Hawkeyes out of there own gym. Against Northwestern, Trice showed off his distributive abilities as Michigan State survived an atypically hot-shooting Northwestern team at home in East Lansing.
The core of Trice-Valentine-Dawson is undoubtedly weaker than the core of Harris-Payne-Appling, but Trice’s emergence has made Michigan State into one of Wisconsin’s most formidable challengers for the conference crown.
Previously: Jarrod Uthoff (Week I)
5. Stat of the Week: League-Wide Efficiency
We’re only 26 games into conference play, but thus far, it’s been generally low scoring play thus far. This year’s efficiency in conference games is the lowest that it’s been in at least a decade (at 100.2 points per 100 possessions) and is almost three points fewer than the average over that timespan (102.8, including this season).
I noticed that only five teams – Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Michigan – have scored above a point per possession in conference play. Although it’s a very small sample size, it’s interesting that there are so few teams scoring at an above average clip. Newcomers Maryland (93.8) and Rutgers (89.4) certainly are deflating that number, but they’re a combined 5-3 on the year against Big Ten opponents.
It’s not as if the Big Ten is an especially strong league defensively: Kenpom’s adjusted defensive rating (which takes the whole season into account) has only one Big Ten team in the top ten – Iowa at #10 – and just two more in the top 25 – Maryland at #19 and Michigan State at #25. It may simply be that the conference’s collective 3-point FG % (31.7%) is low through this small sample and should regress to the mean as conference play progresses.
Still, after several seasons in which the Big Ten had very solid offense (except for 2013), it’s definitely odd to see that efficiency number so low. Whether it’s good defense or bad offense is impossible to tell, although more offense is certainly conducive to more aesthetically appealing basketball. Maybe it’s the introduction of Maryland and Rutgers; maybe it’s the 3-point FG% that’s bound to regress some; maybe it’s because offenses or defenses have taken a step back or a step forward – regardless, it’s a little quirk in the numbers that’s worth keeping an eye on.
6. Game Recap Graphics
7. Various Thoughts
Hanner Mosquera-Perea’s injury is big for IU (source)
Fortunately, it sounds like Frank Kaminsky should be back on the court soon after missing the Rutgers game with concussion symptoms, but Traevon Jackson is out for six weeks following a fractured foot. In his absence, the rest of Wisconsin’s backcourt must step up – the onus is squarely on Bronson Koenig to replace some of Jackson’s production, and, though Koenig has looked good in a small role, he’s going to have to do a lot for the Badger offense. I think Jackson’s underrated by many – his iffy shot selection seems to me a product of the structure of their offense more than anything, to me – and he’ll be missed. The conference race is now much more open than it was previously.
More impactful might be the loss of Indiana’s Hanner Mosquera-Perea, who might be out a month with a knee injury. Tom Crean’s squad functioned at its best with HMP as the fulcrum of a free-wheeling four guard offense that highlighted the all-around ability of Yogi Ferrell, the shooting of James Blackmon, and the athleticism and skill of Troy Williams. HMP was probably Indiana’s only true big man, and in his absence, 6’7 Emmitt Holt and 6’6 Collin Hartman will try to hold up against much bigger foes. This injury might be the beginning of the end for IU’s tournament hopes.
Speaking of injuries, Illinois won its first game without scoring wing Rayvonte Rice, but in their second contest – against Nebraska’s tough defense – they shot 35% from two and 20% from three (an eFG of 33%) en route to 0.72 points per possession and just 43 total points. Illinois was feisty with Rice – and did beat Maryland without him – but that game should sound the alarm for an offense that didn’t look particularly good last year, even with Rice.
That upset over Maryland showcased Malcolm Hill, who might be the best sophomore in the conference. He’s a legitimate inside-outside threat and capable of taking on high usage: Hill scored 28 points and grabbed 7 rebounds in the win over Maryland and he’ll have to carry an otherwise anemic Illini offense until Rice gets back.
Northwestern was extremely close to pulling a shocking upset in East Lansing behind an atypically excellent three-point shooting performance; the Wildcats shoot just 35% from three on the season, but they made 12-25 against State – noted chucker Tre Dempts was 3-9, but the rest of the team made 9 on 16 attempts, the type of three-point luck needed to pull a colossal upset. Alas, a last-second Demps miss sent the game into overtime, where Michigan State prevailed.
Don’t look now, but Nebraska has the fourth-best efficiency margin in conference play thus far – their offense is fairly pedestrian (at best), but their defense is elite compared to the rest of the conference. Like Michigan, they have an uphill climb to the NCAA Tournament but they might not just be dead yet.
8. Michigan’s Week That Was
RICKY DOYLE BAPTIZING MO WALKER DOT JPG (Bryan Fuller / MGoBlog)
Almost out of necessity, Michigan won its two games last week against Penn State and Minnesota. In order for the Wolverines to continue cobbling together a ramshackle NCAA Tournament profile, they’ll need to steal road games against the dregs of the conference and hold serve at home for the most part.
They did so in each of these two games; Michigan shook off an abnormally sloppy game by hitting 9 threes (on just 15 attempts) to coast to a win over a probably-not-very-good-at-all Penn State team – they broke out the 1-3-1 zone to great effect for the second consecutive game to surge past Minnesota for a narrow, critical win. Neither game was particularly encouraging, but it’s hard to complain after wins, considering this team’s non-conference season.
At this point, we’re getting closer to finding out what Michigan is. A healthy Derrick Walton – as evidenced (presumably) by the Minnesota game – would be a welcome addition in the backcourt; if this team shoots well from three, which I believe they can, they’ll atone for many other mistakes; Ricky Doyle is at the very least serviceable, if not particularly outstanding – Mark Donnal and Max Bielfeldt might do some nice things sometimes, but on the average, they’re liabilities; we might have to get around to admitting that Kam Chatman has been a disappointment, considering his recruiting pedigree.
The Penn State and Minnesota games didn’t suggest or prove these things – they just added a bit more clarification.
9. Michigan’s Week Ahead
@ Ohio State – tonight (7:00 P.M.)
vs. Northwestern – Saturday (8:15 P.M.)
As Ace put it in his preview:
This game is all about upside for Michigan, as nobody really expects them to win this one: Ohio State is 100-9 at home since 2009-10, the Wolverines haven't exactly impressed even during their back-to-back wins, and both KenPom and Vegas have the Buckeyes favored by ten.
Pull off the upset, though, and Michigan would suddenly have a signature win while sitting, however briefly, alone atop the conference standings. (Wisconsin, Maryland, and Michigan State don't play tonight.) To get to 12 conference wins—the likely target number for an NCAA bid—they're going to have to pull out an unlikely win or two, and this would certainly qualify.
Winning this game would be found money, and although it’s not a vintage Thad Matta squad (they experiment with a 2-3 zone defensively and rank just 44th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency), a Michigan upset would be found money and a huge boost to their steadily improving – if only incrementally – resume.
As for the Northwestern game, Michigan finds itself in a must-win situation. It simply can’t afford to add any more bad home losses to its resume. Any margin for error has been erased, essentially. Fortunately, Michigan has generally done pretty well against the Wildcats under John Beilein and Chris Collins is still only in year two of his herculean program overhaul in Evanston.
10. Week III Schedule
In chronological order:
- Penn State at Indiana
- Michigan at Ohio State
- Iowa at Minnesota
- Rutgers at Maryland
- Illinois at Northwestern
- Nebraska at Wisconsin
- Rutgers at Minnesota
- Purdue at Penn State
- Ohio State at Iowa
- Michigan State at Maryland
- Northwestern at Michigan
- Indiana at Illinois
My arbitrarily chosen “key” games are in bold.