It's been a rough non-conference season for the Big Ten. Despite a win in the B1G-ACC challenge, there have been a litany of embarrassing losses and precious few impressive ones. The conference is full of new faces, and those faces have largely taken it on the chin. For four straight years, the Big Ten had been the best basketball conference, per KenPom. He now lists the Big Ten as the third best.
I thought it would be fun to visualize every team's journey to where they're at today. Spoiler alert, it looks a lot like this:
Anyways, here's a chart of B1G KenPom ranks and how they've changed over the non-conference season:
I know there are a few non-conference games left but I think this paints a pretty clear picture. The Big Ten has started to stretch out downwards, creating what I think are five distinct clusters. I'm gonna do a little mini-breakdown of each team, helped along by Dennis Green.
Wisconsin (KP #4)
Boring. They're clearly elite and flubbed a chance for a statement win against Duke at home. They still are the clear favorites to win the Big Ten.
Are they who we thought they were? Yawn. Yes.
Ohio State (KP #12)
Freshman D'Angelo Russell is for real; he's using nearly 30% of tOSU's possessions and is doing so at an elite rate. He can shoot (42% from 3), dish (31.8 Assist Rate), and defend (3.5 steal percentage with just 2.2 fouls committed per 40 minutes). I'm terrified.
Behind Russell, tOSU's offense has drastically improved from a year ago, with guys like Marc Loving being able to take smaller roles and do so very efficiently. And without Rosy Cheeks McGee (Aaron Craft) their defense has not dropped off much; they're still a top-25 defensive team.
Are they who we thought they were? Certainly better.
Solid Tournament Teams
Michigan State (KP #22)
Yes, the best win is against Marquette, and the Texas Southern loss is a major pimple on the resume. But the schedule actually sets up nicely, with just one game each against Wisconsin and Ohio State. There are 8 games against the bottom 6 teams in the conference. The resume can be built in conference play.
Are they who we thought they were? Yes, but I had hope for a higher ceiling than this.
Minnesota (KP #27)
Sneaky-good. The win against Georgia is a nice feather in their cap and they've avoided the bad losses plaguing the other B1G teams. They're big, with 5 dudes in the rotation who are 6-9 or bigger, and they're playing at the 10th fastest tempo in the nation. I'm glad this is a home one-play for MSU.
Are they who we thought they were? A little better.
Maryland (KP #26)
They've gotten a combined 9 games out of Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz but they've still tallied nice wins against Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Even without those two, Maryland has put together a top-20 offense behind Jake Layman and freshman Melo Trimble.
The bad news for MSU is that Smotrycz is back and Dez Wells is slated to return in their game against Oakland tonight. That B1G opener feels really important, doesn't it?
Are they who we thought they were? Better, and trending upwards
Iowa (KP #40)
They've played an Izzo-esque non-conference schedule, and all of their four losses (Texas, Syracuse, Iowa State, and even Northern Iowa) are legit. They're not shooting the ball very well (just 262nd in the country in eFG percentage) but they're playing top-25 level defense behind Gabriel Olaseni. Aaron White has taken on a larger role and performed well; I think he probably needs to take another step up in usage to ease the load on other players.
Are they who we thought they were? Yes.
Indiana (KP #42)
The loss to Eastern Washington is bad but they've got nice wins against SMU, Pitt, and Butler. James Blackmon is another very good freshman and has helped backcourt-mate Yogi Ferrell be more effective so far this year. Tom Crean has actually... done a good job?
Are they who we thought they were? A little better. I didn't expect this to be a bubble team.
Illinois (KP #46)
The win against Baylor is a nice one, and they've avoided bad losses. With the flabby lower-middle of the Big Ten, I think they can get to .500 in the conference and that probably gets them in the tournament. Have to be concerned that leading scorer Rayvonte Rice, a 6-4 guard, is probably their best defensive rebounder, though.
Are they who we thought they were? I was personally bullish on this edition of Illinois, but yeah.
Outside the Tournament
Michigan (KP #79)
It's hard to grave dance after the Texas Southern loss and before we play UM twice in conference play. That said, pretty much all of Michigan's returnees have struggled to some extent with expanded roles, and the new guys haven't been great either. Their three-center rotation has been pretty efficient with scoring but has not rebounded defensively very well. Freshman Kam Chatman is rebounding well (21.6 DREB%) but he's posting a true shooting percentage under 40. They've taken a major step back offensively, and it hasn't been nearly offset by the small gains made on defense.
Are they who we thought they were? LOL
Nebraska (KP #88)
Terran Petteway is using even more possessions than a year ago and he is doing so at a rate that is much less efficient. I don't totally understand how a team which is so similar to last year could be so much worse all of a sudden. Do they really miss Ray Gallegos that much?
Are they who we thought they were? RIP Nebrasketball
Penn State (KP #81)
This is a vintage Penn State team. They've got one guy who is a solid scorer (DJ Newbill) and that's about it.
Are they who we thought they were? Yep.
Purdue (KP #85)
Have they named their two-headed center monster yet? Is it too easy? Isaaj Hassons. A.I. Haam. There are so many good ones, potentially.
After they beat BYU and NC State in back-to-back games, I thought they might be turning a corner towards competitiveness. That was beaten back by losses to Northern Florida and Gardner-Webb.
Are they who we thought they were? Sigh. Yes.
Northwestern (KP #145) & Rutgers (KP #152)
They are who we thought they were.