Big Ten Midseason Report Card

Written January 27th, 2012 by Eric

Playing for the Golden Rock

Time really seems to be flying by these days.  Here we are in the middle of the Big Ten conference basketball schedule and it feels like just yesterday that we were getting excited to get this season underway.  Amazing.

As a whole, the Big Ten season has been packed with incredibly exciting games.  There have also been more than a few surprises that have made the conference seem impossible to predict.  Several teams (I’m looking at you Purdue) have pulled some very strange Jekyll and Hyde routines that defy understanding.  All in all, it’s made for one excellent year of Big Ten basketball.

You may recall that JoeD and I (along with Robby Donoho and JoeL) previewed each team Big Ten team during the preseason.   I wanted to take a moment* to look at how each team has done compared with our expectations; and with the information we now have at hand, attempt to predict how they might finish out going forward.  You will find links to our previews with each team below.

We also put together this Q&A with the Minnesota basketball blog From the Barn that aggregates a lot of our ideas.  You may find that a humorous look at where our thoughts were prior to the season.  We weren’t completely off-base, thankfully.

I won’t make predictions of who will make the NCAA tournament just yet – that will depend a lot on how strong the conference is viewed by the selection committee.  We’ll just have to set that discussion aside for a future date.

The grades are how they’re playing as a whole so far, with a middle-of-the-road conference team grading to a C.  I’ve given out no A’s, as I don’t think anyone has cemented themselves as the best team in the conference yet.  The discussion is a comparison to their expectations to date.  I am not grading teams on what I expect them to do from here on out, only what I’ve seen them do so far.

The team names are links to their respective previews – except for Ohio State and Wisconsin.  We did not publish a preview for Ohio State because we broke down the individual players, and Wisconsin because, admittedly, we don’t like them**.  Both team’s expectations are based off the “From the Barn” Q&A.

The table colors are fairly self-explanatory – Green (wins), Red (losses), Blue (home), Gray (away), Purple (Non-conference Home).  Hopefully they’ll give you a good sense for how difficult the road has been for each team so far, and what they may still have to face in the future.

* Ok, a long moment.

** That’s partially sarcasm.  To be honest, we ran out of time before the games started, and never got around to previewing them.

Illinois

Non-Conference Record: 11-2

Conference Schedule Remaining Schedule
vs Minnesota W 81-72 @ Minnesota
@ Purdue L 60-75 vs Michigan State
@ Northwestern W 57-56 vs Northwestern
vs Nebraska W 59-54 @ Indiana
vs Ohio State W 79-74 @ Michigan
@ Penn State L 52-54 vs Purdue
vs Wisconsin L 63-67 @ Nebraska
@ Ohio State
vs Iowa
vs Michigan
@ Wisconsin

Brandon Paul has only really turned it on once. Illinois could use some more of that.

Where we thought they would be:

To be fair, we long believed that Illinois would have DJ Richardson as a starter for the whole season.  His injury has seriously damaged Illinois’ ability to point points on the board, and it has shown in recent losses to Penn State and Wisconsin.  The win over Ohio State, however, taking advantage of Brandon Paul’s once-in-a-lifetime points explosion is an excellent early win that they just weren’t able to ride.

How they’ll finish:

The remaining schedule is relatively kind to the Illini.  While they have plenty of difficult matchups in the future, they have potentially easier match-ups interspersed throughout.  Games against Northwestern and Iowa at home, and Nebraska on the road, should be win-able.  They may also be able to capture wins over Michigan and Purdue at home, and Minnesota on the road.  If they can do that, they’ll finish 10-8 in conference.

Grade: C+

The Illini are barely exceeding expectations.

Indiana

Non-Conference Record: 12-0

Conference Schedule Remaining Schedule
@ Michigan State L 65-80 vs Iowa
vs Ohio State W 74-70 @ Michigan
vs Michigan W 73-71 @ Purdue
@ Penn State W 88-82 vs Illinois
vs Minnesota L 74-77 vs Northwestern
@ Ohio State L 63-80 @ Iowa
@ Nebraska L 69-70 vs NCCU
vs Penn State W 73-54 @ Minnesota
@ Wisconsin L 50-57 vs Michigan State
vs Purdue

Tom Crean in his default mode: criticizing something.

Where we thought they would be:

Considering Tom Crean’s record thus far in conference, we did not expect very much from the Indiana Hoosier’s this season.  While we did anticipate improvement considering their impressive recruiting class, including freshman big Tyler Zeller, we simply didn’t expect the pieces to fall together very quickly at all.

How they’ll finish:

The Hoosier’s are one of those teams that’s hard to figure out – a clear sign of a youth dominated squad.  They have picked up some very impressive wins, including a wins at home over the Buckeyes and Wolverines.  Unfortunately, they have yet to demonstrate that they can win on the road, and Tom Crean remains 2-30 in his career at Indiana in away tilts against Big Ten foes.  Considering this, I expect that Indiana will crumble down the stretch, finishing out their remaining schedule (sans NCCU) 4-6, and not winning a single battle on the road.

Grade: B-

The Hoosiers were dramatically exceeding my expectations, until their last run of losing 4 of 5.  Ending 8-10 in conference would be a big improvement over previous years under Tom Crean.

Iowa

Non-Conference Record: 8-5

Conference Schedule Remaining Schedule
vs Purdue L 76-79 @ Indiana
@ Wisconsin W 72-65 vs Minnesota
@ Minnesota W 64-62 vs Penn State
vs Ohio State L 47-76 @ Northwestern
@ Michigan State L 61-95 @ Penn State
vs Michigan W 75-59 vs Indiana
@ Purdue L 68-75 vs Wisconsin
vs Nebraska L 73-79 @ Illinois
@ Nebraska
vs Northwestern

Matt Gatens is one of those guys who's been in the conference forever.

Where we thought they would be:

Given that it is Fran McCaffery’s second season in Iowa, we did not expect a lot out of the Hawkeyes.  We predicted that they would net a winning record out of conference, which they were able to accomplish.  We also predicted that Iowa would pick up only three conference wins this year and would struggle to keep up with the big dogs while Fran McCaffery tried to put the pieces together.

How they’ll finish:

Considering that Iowa has picked up wins over Wisconsin and Minnesota on the road, it’s impossible to tell what this team will do.  They also put up a huge home victory over Michigan that is clearly a result of McCaffery’s player’s “getting it” with his system.

Unfortunately, the poor Hawkeyes have played nothing but the most challenging of competition.  That they came out with three wins is astounding at the least.  With the schedule easing up a bit from here on out, the Hawkeyes make close out at 5-5 and end up with an overall 8-10 record.

Grade: C-

So much for being one of the bottom dwellers of the Big Ten this year, the Hawkeye’s are vastly exceeding expectations.

Michigan

Non-Conference Record: 10-3

Conference Schedule Remaining Schedule
vs Penn State W 71-53 @ Ohio State
vs Minnesota W 61-56 vs Indiana
@ Indiana L 71-73 @ Michigan State
vs Wisconsin W 59-41 @ Nebraska
vs Northwestern W 66-64 vs Illinois
@ Iowa L 59-75 vs Ohio State
vs Michigan State W 60-59 @ Northwestern
@ Purdue W 66-64 vs Purdue
@ Illinois
@ Penn State

John Beilein is quite proud of the way his boys have played.

Where we thought they would be:

Michigan was one of the teams we expected to play solid basketball coming into the season.  Despite losing Darius Morris to the NBA it was believed there were enough pieces left, plus the arrival of Columbus stud Trey Burke, to make a run at the Big Ten title this year.  Losses were expected with the quality of teams in the Big Ten, but we ultimately thought they would end up no worse than 3rd in conference play.

How they’ll finish:

Michigan is right in line with where we expected them to be at this point.  Losses to Iowa and Indiana weren’t expected preseason, but considering how strong the conference is as a whole, they’re not terribly surprising.  The Wolverine’s have also picked up a few good home wins against Wisconsin and Michigan State, and even took care of Purdue on the road.  All in all, they have firmly put themselves in the driver’s seat for the conference title.

Looking ahead, I see two road losses for Michigan, at Ohio State and at Michigan State.  There’s no question that Tom Izzo will have his Spartans ready to take on their hated rivals at home.  Michigan may very well be favored in all of their home games from here on out, and could even take out the Buckeyes in the Crisler later this season.  The Wolverines should finish at 14-4 in conference play.

Grade: A-

The Wolverine’s are meeting expectations so far this season.

Michigan State

Non-Conference Record: 11-2

Conference Schedule Remaining Schedule
vs Indiana W 80-65 @ Illinois
@ Nebraska W 68-55 vs Michigan
@ Wisconsin W 63-60 vs Penn State
vs Iowa W 95-61 @ Ohio State
@ Northwestern L 74-81 vs Wisconsin
@ Michigan L 59-60 @ Purdue
vs Purdue W 83-58 @ Minnesota
vs Minnesota W 68-52 vs Nebraska
@ Indiana
vs Ohio State

If Draymond Green's not yelling, it's not a good day for the Green and White.

Where we thought they would be:

After last season’s relatively dismal showing, the Spartans were expected to improve slightly with the losses of some of their star players.  In particular, the loss of Delvon Roe caused a lot of concern about how Izzo’s front court would fair again this season.  A lack of front court play in a Tom Izzo team can often be a sign of bad things to come.

We also said that this team could surprise some people if Keith Appling became a solid ball distributor in his sophomore year.  Having a guy at the top of the key capable of getting the ball in the paint is a huge advantage for a front court heavy basketball team.

Ultimately, we predicted this team would go 13-5 in conference and end 4th or 5th overall.

How they’ll finish:

Michigan State has certainly played excellent basketball so far this season, suffering only four losses all year.  The road losses to Northwestern and Michigan were a little surprising (obviously Northwestern more-so than Michigan) but not unexpected for a Big Ten team this season.  Road wins have been hard to come by this year, and lots of teams are showing strength on their home courts.

Their five road games from here on out could all be tough battles, but the Spartans shouldn’t be big underdogs in any of those games.  The Spartans should also be favored in their home games from here on out, and may only find true difficulty against Ohio State and Wisconsin within the friendly confines of the Breslin Center.  They may ultimately finish around 14-4, depending on how a few of those away games go.

Grade: A-

The Spartans are exceeding expectations so far, but only barely.

Minnesota

Non-Conference Record: 12-1

Conference Schedule Remaining Schedule
@ Illinois L 72-81 vs Illinois
@ Michigan L 56-61 @ Iowa
vs Iowa L 62-64 @ Nebraska
vs Purdue L 66-79 vs Wisconsin
@ Indiana W 77-74 vs Ohio State
@ Penn State W 80-66 @ Northwestern
vs Northwestern W 75-52 vs Michigan State
@ Michigan State L 52-68 vs Indiana
@ Wisconsin
vs Nebraska

You know Trevor Mbakwe wishes he could be doing this now.

Where we thought they would be:

Minnesota was expected to be one of the better team’s in conference this year.  They weren’t going to be on top of the conference this year, but they were expected to be good enough to give the better teams a headache.  Their preseason record is an indication of what this team should have been capable of.

How they’ll finish:

Tubby Smith has to be the unluckiest fellow in the conference.  After losing his star point guard, Al Nolan, to a series of injuries last season, he’s now lost his star forward, Trevor Mbakwe, to a season ending knee injury.  Smith simply can’t catch a break.

Without Mbakwe, this team has struggled to consistently produce in conference play.  Three straight wins were a sign of improvement in the san-Mbakwe game-plan, but encountering Michigan State put the damper on those feelings.  Despite losing by a double-digit score, the Gophers put up a strong fight, and may still figure out how to recover in time to salvage a shot at postseason play.

Ultimately, there are more than a few wins on their schedule, including three of their last 4 away games.  But home games against MSU, Wisconsin, and OSU will be tough.  Finishing 8-10 in conference may not be a stretch, and should be enough to get the Gophers into the NCAA’s.

Grade: D+

Minnesota is definitely not meeting my expectations.  They’ve turned it around enough recently that they could still ultimately meet expectations, but it may be difficult from here on out.

Nebraska

Non-Conference Record: 8-3

Conference Schedule Remaining Schedule
vs Wisconsin L 40-64 @ Northwestern
vs Michigan State L 55-68 vs Minnesota
@ Ohio State L 40-71 vs Michigan
@ Illinois L 54-59 @ Penn State
vs Penn State W 70-58 vs Illinois
@ Wisconsin L 45-50 @ Purdue
vs Indiana W 70-69 @ Michigan State
vs Ohio State L 45-79 vs Iowa
@ Iowa W 79-73 @ Minnesota

Bo Spencer has been playing tough in his first Big Ten season.

Where we thought they would be:

Nebraska was not expected to do particularly well in their first season in the Big Ten.  While the Husker’s basketball team is a senior-laden squad, they have not been a historically successful program.  We believed that would continue heading into their first season in a conference that is often viewed as one of the best in the country the last couple seasons.

How they’ll finish:

Two wins at home, one against bottom-dweller Penn State, and a surprise upset of Indiana, put Nebraska approximately where we expected.  We believed they would pick up a few surprise victories, but starting out with a run of Wisconsin, Michigan State, at Ohio State, and at Illinois is not conducive to a good record.

Nebraska may find a few more victories in the next couple of weeks, playing games against Iowa, Northwestern, and Penn State.  They may also pull a surprise upset of Michigan or Illinois at home, but those wins would be quite unlikely.  Unfortunately, they probably won’t get more than 2 or 3 through the remainder of their schedule.

Grade: D+

Nebraska is meeting expectations to date.

Northwestern

Non-Conference Record: 10-2

Conference Schedule Remaining Schedule
@ Ohio State L 54-87 vs Purdue
vs Penn State W 68-56 vs Nebraska
vs Illinois L 56-57 @ Illinois
@ Michigan L 64-66 vs Iowa
vs Michigan State W 81-74 @ Purdue
@ Wisconsin L 57-77 @ Indiana
@ Minnesota L 52-75 vs Minnesota
vs Michigan
@ Penn State
vs Ohio State
@ Iowa

I'd like to see John Shurna have some post season success before he graduates

Where we thought they would be:

Northwestern is one of those teams that we have quietly been rooting for during the last few seasons.  John Shurna has to be one of the best players they’ve ever had play on the hardwood, and we’d love to see him get a shot at the NCAA Tournament.  Unfortunately, after losing some talent from last season they weren’t expected to do much better than .500 in conference, if that.

They were expected to hang around with some of the better teams in conference, and generally play good basketball throughout.

How they’ll finish:

Northwestern is not winning nearly as many games as we thought they would, but they’ve also had to face a tough schedule.  Their home win against Michigan State is proof of what this team is capable.  Unfortunately, they’ve played 4 away games, and three of them against the toughest competition in conference.

We may very well see the Wildcats perform a dramatic turnaround over the next few weeks.  With the majority of their remaining games at home, including games against Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Purdue, we may see the Wildcats pick up as many as 5 wins through the remainder of the season.  Expect them to finish around 6-12 in conference overall.

Grade: D

The Wildcats are not playing to expectations so far this year, but have had a tough schedule thus far.

Ohio State

Non-Conference Play: 12-1

Conference Schedule Remaining Schedule
vs Northwestern W 87-54 vs Michigan
@ Indiana L 70-74 @ Wisconsin
vs Nebraska W 71-40 vs Purdue
@ Iowa W 76-47 vs Michigan State
@ Illinois L 74-79 @ Minnesota
vs Indiana W 80-63 @ Michigan
@ Nebraska W 79-45 vs Illinois
vs Penn State W 78-54 vs Wisconsin
@ Northwestern
@ Michigan State

Thad Matta's got the Buckeyes at the top of the Big Ten again.

Where we thought they would be:

Not unsurprisingly after such a great season last year, and with so many important returning players, we expected that the Buckeyes would be one of the teams playing for the Big Ten championship this season.  There were a few games of concern on the schedule (@ Wisconsin, @ Michigan State), but for the most part we saw the Big Ten as a whole getting weaker compared to last season.

How they’ll finish:

It’s amazing how things actually turn out.  The conference as a whole as improved from last season, as evidence primarily by Indiana, Michigan, and Michigan State so far.  The Buckeyes have suffered two losses, perhaps unexpected, to Illinois and Indiana on the road.  This is yet another case that teams in the Big Ten are playing far better basketball at home than on the road.

In the same breath, the Buckeyes are very nearly unbeatable at home.  The Bucks hold the second longest home winning streak at 37 games, stretching to the beginning of last season.  They’re also winning games by an unbelievable 22 points per game in conference.  There’s no question how good the Buckeyes really are, but the rest of the conference has clearly closed the gap.

There are several away games that may not turn out well. At Northwestern was a challenge last season, and may turn out to be difficult again.  Michigan State is a tough team in the Breslin, and Michigan will be a difficult team to beat at Crisler.  Expect the Bucks to lose at least 2 more, and finish at 14-4 in conference.

Grade: A-

The Buckeyes are a little behind expectations.  Those expectations were quite unreasonable, however, and were based on an estimation of the quality of the conference as a whole that has not borne out as expected.

Penn State

Non-Conference Record: 8-5

Conference Schedule Remaining Schedule
@ Michigan L 53-71 vs Wisconsin
@ Northwestern L 56-68 @ Iowa
vs Purdue W 65-45 @ Michigan State
vs Indiana L 82-88 vs Nebraska
@ Nebraska L 58-70 vs Iowa
vs Minnesota L 66-80 @ Wisconsin
vs Illinois W 54-52 vs Northwestern
@ Indiana L 54-73 @ Purdue
@ Ohio State L 54-78 vs Michigan

Pat Chambers is lucky that Frazier is only a Junior. He could use him for another season.

Where we thought they would be:

After losing 77% of their scoring production, and seeing their head coach leave to take up the top spot at Navy, it was pretty well assumed that Penn State would not do particularly well this season.  Getting to the NCAA tournament was a pipe-dream at best, and even the NIT may very well have been out of reach before the season even started.  There simply weren’t enough pieces here to believe they would be able to go far.

How they’ll finish:

Penn State certainly performed a lot better in the preseason than I thought they could manage, though a nearly 40 point shellacking at the hands of Kentucky was a bad sign.  Very little has gone right for the Nitts, though wins against Purdue and Illinois are a good sign for the future, there just hasn’t been enough to believe Penn State can put together a decent run to close out the season.  Even if they go undefeated here on out they might barely make the tournament, as an 18 win team on an 8 game winning streak would probably warrant inclusion.

Despite that, there are no real gimmies on the remaining schedule.  Nebraska, Iowa, and Northwestern at home could be wins, but outside of that is almost certainly a loss.  I see Penn State finishing at no better than 4-14 in conference play.

Grade: D-

Penn State is meeting the preseason expectations.  Though with how low those expectations were, that’s not saying very much.

Purdue

Non-Conference Record: 10-3

Conference Schedule Remaining Schedule
@ Iowa W 79-76 @ Northwestern
vs Illinois W 75-60 vs Indiana
@ Penn State L 45-65 @ Ohio State
@ Minnesota W 79-66 vs Northwestern
vs Wisconsin L 62-67 @ Illinois
vs Iowa W 75-68 vs Michigan State
@ Michigan State L 58-83 vs Nebraska
vs Michigan L 64-66 @ Michigan
vs Penn State
@ Indiana

I wish Robbie nothing but the best for his last season.

Where we thought they would be:

I have to admit, Robbie’s view of Purdue was a lot different than mine – or even that of the Purdue fan who commented on the preview, apparently.  Purdue had some pretty gaping holes to fill with the graduation of E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson.  Obviously they wouldn’t drop terribly far, as Matt Painter is simply too good a coach to allow that, and Robbie Hummel wants a happy ending for his last go-around.  But Robbie Hummel cannot be the entire team, and without consistent production from his teammates this team is simply a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten squad.

How they’ll finish:

Thus far, Purdue has been inconsistent at best, beating Illinois at home, killing Minnesota on the road, barely escaping Iowa, getting killed by Penn State and Michigan State on the road, and barely falling to Wisconsin and Michigan at home.  It’s hard to discern a pattern, though it is clear that, like the rest of the Big Ten, Purdue is better at home than on the road.

Finishing out the season will be tough.  The easiest road game left for the Boilermakers is against Northwestern, with games against Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana left.  They won’t likely pick up wins in any of those.  Home games against Indiana, Northwestern, Nebraska, and Penn State could be wins, but it depends on which Purdue team shows up.  Conservatively, I see about 5 wins left, leaving Purdue at a disappointing 9-9 conference season.

Grade: C

Purdue is falling short of even our most pessimistic projections.  They probably have a big win in them somewhere, but it has yet to make an appearance.

Wisconsin

Non-Conference Record: 11-2

Conference Schedule Remaining Schedule
@ Nebraska W 64-40 @ Penn State
vs Iowa L 65-72 vs Ohio State
vs Michigan State L 60-63 @ Minnesota
@ Michigan L 41-59 @ Michigan State
@ Purdue W 67-62 vs Penn State
vs Nebraska W 50-45 @ Iowa
vs Northwestern W 77-57 @ Ohio State
@ Illinois W 67-63 vs Minnesota
vs Indiana W 57-50 vs Illinois

It's amazing Wisconsin ever loses at all considering how terrifying Bo Ryan is.

Where we thought they would be:

Under Bo Ryan, Wisconsin has been one of the top teams in the conference on a regular basis.  Despite their losses, particularly in the paint, it was thought that Ryan would simply reload behind Jason Taylor and come at the conference crown once again.  There was no reason to expect that they wouldn’t be right up there with Michigan and Ohio State vying for one of the top three spots in the conference.

How they’ll finish:

Not as well as it seems at the immediate moment.  That three game losing streak, including two games at home, may be more indicative of things to come than many Wisconsin fans want to hear.  Road games against Minnesota, Michigan State, and Ohio State will be tough for the Badgers.  It’s not likely that home games against the Buckeyes and Illinois will be much easier.

The current five game winning streak is nice, and the win over Indiana last night is a good sign moving forward.  It’s simply hard to see Wisconsin rolling through the remainder of their schedule to capture the conference title.  I see Wisconsin ending around 11-7 overall in conference right now.

Grade: B+

For a while they were very close to grading out the worst among the Big Ten school’s in comparison to their expectations.  At the moment, though, they’re still coming up shy but looking a lot better.  The next few weeks should give us a better feeling for who they are as a team.

 

1 Comment

  1. KenNo Gravatar
    January 28th, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Good mid-term review, Eric, thanks. Nice comparisons/evaluations of expectations/actual performance. In terms of W-L, Indiana has been a positive surprise to me; but if they continue to fail on the road, it can’t help their record at all, nor chances in any post-season play.

    To mske your preseason evaulation cur next year, Wisconsin may have to change their name to ‘aWisconsin’.

    [Reply]

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