Happy Wednesday TOC Nation,
I hope everyone had a very merry eggnog-filled, stocking-stuffed, wish-list-fulfilled Christmas.
And for those who don’t celebrate the holiday, I hope you at least got to enjoy having Monday off from work.
And for those who don’t have jobs, I hope you at least enjoy all your days off.
As we get ready to turn the calendar to 2023 and dive into the Big Ten Conference schedule, I wanted to take a few minutes to have a look around at the other 13 teams we will be playing for the rest of the regular season after our game against Buffalo. Quick rant: I really can’t stand that the conference name was never changed after Penn State was added, and then Nebraska, and then Rutgers and Maryland, and soon UCLA and USC. In the comment section, let’s hear your suggestions for a new conference name.
Let’s start with a quick look at the standings at this point, with everyone having played one or two conference games.
As of this writing, there are 3 teams currently ranked in the A.P. Top-25: Purdue, Wisconsin, and Indiana (Maryland and Illinois are ranked in the Coaches Poll). We will run through everyone in the order of their appearance in this table and I will give a few notes on each.
The lone undefeated team remaining in the Big Ten, and one of only 3 left nationally, Purdue has put together a great resume already, notching 2 wins against then-top ten teams Gonzaga and Duke, and neither game was quite close. Of course, the story of the Boilermakers this year is the likely winner of the Player of the Year Award, Zach Edey. The 7’4” Canadian is currently averaging over 22 PPG and close to 14 rebounds to go along with a couple blocks, all while shooting over 60% on his field goals. They are definitely a one-headed monster though, with only one other player averaging in double-figures, Fletcher Loyer - the younger brother of recent Spartan Foster Loyer. We will see if this formula leads to continued success for them, or if the rigors of the conference schedule will wear down the big man.
The only other B1G team who so far is 2-0 in conference play is the Badgers, and among their only 2 losses in the noncon is a one-point defeat to 1-seed candidate, Kansas. The Badgers have a more spread-out distribution of scoring, with 4 players averaging at least 10 PPG, and 7 playing at least 15 minutes per contest. But overall, they are one of the lowest scoring teams in the conference, with only Nebraska and Minnesota averaging less than the Badgers. So... score points, beat Wisconsin.
Next up is Northwestern, whose 1-0 conference record is because of their victory over our Spartans at the Breslin. And, unfortunately, MSU does not get a chance for revenge this season, unless they face off in the BTT. At 9-2, their only losses were to a ranked Auburn team and a blowout by Pitt. Other than their victory over MSU, their best win is… um… uh… @Georgetown? I have no idea. I think the MSU game was more about MSU being worn down than it was about NW being a better team and I don’t expect this squad to remain in the upper portion of the conference standings for long.
Currently being led by freshman Brice Sensabaugh, the 8-3 Buckeyes have understandably lost to the 3 best teams on their schedule, ACC powers Duke and UNC as well as San Diego St. They did beat Texas Tech, who were ranked at the time, but they are now barely in “others receiving votes” territory. OSU does not play MSU until the middle of February, and then again for the regular season finale in early March. For now, though, I am sure everyone in Columbus is still focused on being a football factory. Speaking of football, my personal hope for the CFP is to see OSU go up against TCU in the championship game. And that is my wish because that would really be the biggest nightmare scenario for the faithful of…
I’m not even going to talk about the product they are putting out on the hardwood. Rather, I just want to give my thoughts on the reputation this school is quickly developing, and I think it is finally going beyond the Great Lakes region and becoming a nationwide realization. Just in the past 12 months we have Juwan slapping an opposing coach in the handshake line, multiple tunnel fights at michigan stadium, and now the most recent episode of Juwan having to be restrained and Dickinson driving a knee into the face of an opponent sitting on the ground. Let them keep pointing their finger at the other team. Karma is coming for this team and this athletic department, and it is going to be wonderful when it finally punches them back. Oh, and go Horned Frogs!
Pretty much low-majors and a couple mid-majors for the Scarlet Knights in their noncon. So far, their season highlight is a win over Indiana at home, a ranked team. Rutgers features another one of the B1G’s best big men in Nigerian-born Clifford Omoruyi, who is averaged a double-double (you don’t mind me rounding up 9.8 RPG to 10, do you?) Statistically, Rutgers has the best team defense in the conference thus far, allowing opponents only 54.3 PPG. But again, they have not played the toughest of competition. Their next conference game is @Purdue, so let’s see what happens to that statistic.
The Hoosiers are one of the deepest teams in the conference, with 9 players averaging over 13 minutes a game including 7 who go over 20. Of course, their best player is Trayce Jackson-Davis. The senior is leading them in points, rebounds, and blocks, as he should as another one of the conference’s best interior players. As a whole, Indiana has the best FG% in the B1G, but they also are the team who is fouling the opposition the most, so it seems like the game plan is very straight forward: be aggressive on offense and don’t give up the open shot on defense. MSU will have two chances this year to see if they can follow that game plan.
The Terrapins started the season with 8 straight wins, all but one on their home court, including one over a then-ranked Illinois team, but then suffered 3 losses in a row against noticeably tougher competition - Wisconsin, Tennessee, and UCLA - before notching a win against a team named the Peacocks. This is a team without much to say about them. They don’t have an identifiable alpha on their roster. They don’t have any statistical category that they are really good at, nor any that they are really bad at. This will probably be a team that ends up around .500 in conference play with a win or two over a team that should have beat them and a loss or two against a team further down this list.
The Nittany Lions, on the other hand, very much have an alpha on their roster. Senior guard Jalen Pickett leads the team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals, though he is admittedly a poor 3-point shooter at under 30%. They, too, have beaten Illinois, but they already played their only game against MSU, a road win for our Spartans, so no need to spend any more time on them.
The Hawkeyes have the highest scoring average in the conference, putting up 83.8 points per game. They also are giving up the second highest amount, with only um allowing more. I haven’t seen any of their games, but I imagine this means they are either forcing a lot of pace in their games, or they are just really efficient on one end and not at all good on the other. Considering they allow their opponents to shoot at the highest FG%, I am leaning toward the latter explanation. Home-grown Kris Murray is their stud, averaging a 19 & 10 double-double so far this season. Patrick McCaffrey, the coach’s son, and Filip Rebraca, the son of former Detroit Piston Zeljko Rebraca, are their other two primary scorers. I imagine this squad will end up higher in the B1G then their current position on this list.
The Illini may have the best two-win combo of any B1G team thus far, having beaten UCLA and Texas in their non-conference schedule, both of whom were top ten teams at the time of the game and are still in the top 15. Add in games against Virginia and Missouri, and Illinois may be the only team in the conference that could make an argument to have had a harder schedule than MSU. They currently only have one player averaging double digits, Terrence Shannon Jr., but they have 4 other players averaging between 9.1 and 9.8 PPG. This team does cough up the ball more than any other B1G team and they commit the second most fouls. They only play MSU once this season, and it is in East Lansing.
I have to admit I have a little bit of a soft spot for the Huskers hoops team due to the fact that their coach’s son used to don the Green & White for Coach Izzo. Despite their 0-2 start to conference play, they are looking much better than the last few years, already collecting a signature win at top-ten Creighton and hanging close in a loss to Purdue. Maybe this is the year they don’t play on the opening day of the BTT, but not if they continue to have the conference’s worst 3-point shooting % and second worst FT %.
Last up is the Golden Gophers, who, at 6-6 overall, are the only B1G team at this point not over .500. Nothing impressive about this team. They have not beaten anyone noteworthy and have been blown out by everyone who is at least decent. They give up the most offensive rebounds and shoot the worst rate from the charity stripe by far. Unfortunately for MSU, they only play the Gophers once this season.
Let’s see how it goes. At this point, there is only 1 team in the Big Ten that I will say is definitely a better squad, and that is Purdue, but if MSU can repeat those early performances against Gonzaga and Kentucky, I could see us splitting the two games against them. My prediction is 15-5 in conference play, which will get us 2nd place. Let’s hear your predictions.