Friday, December 21, 2012

Big Ten Basketball Power Rankings - Pre-Conference

It's six weeks into the basketball season, and I just realized we hadn't posted any power rankings.  Consider it sheer coincidence that these rankings begin at a very convenient time which saves me from having to post a photo of happy IU fans.  I mean, I don't want to scare all the readers away or make the blog so visually unappealing that it induces vomiting.

I know you all greatly enjoyed our football power rankings, and we'll try to keep these updated weekly during the conference season.  With the depth of talent in the Big Ten this year, I expect some clear separation between the haves and have-nots, but the road to the top is going to be a difficult one.

On to the rankings, where, for at least one week, I'm a huge fan of Blue:

1.   Michigan (12-0, RPI: 3)

Creepy coach is getting the job done
Much like my football rankings, undefeated teams always get the benefit of the doubt, especially so far into the current season.  And Michigan isn't undefeated because they've played cupcakes; they are the legitimate top team in the conference right now (and the pundits agree) with wins against Pitt, Kansas State, NC State, Arkansas, and West Virginia.  Trey Burke is having an all-conference (if not All-American) year averaging 18 points and 7 assists per game, and with little Hardaway, little Big Dog, Stauskas, and McGary, they have a lot of ways to beat you offensively.

2.   Illinois (12-0, RPI: 5)

Consider me shocked at how good Illinois is playing.  I thought this would be a rebuilding year with new coach John Groce and a roster that lost its starting center to the NBA, didn't bring in any new talent, and lost 15 games last season. But Brandon Paul is lighting it up, and the team is playing inspired with double-digit wins over Butler and at Gonzaga.  Of course, this same Illini team won their first ten games last season before turning on the suck, but for now they are rolling.  Also, how bad does this make Bruce Weber look?

3.   Indiana (10-1, RPI: 16)

Although it pains me to admit it, right now Indiana probably has the best chance of all the conference teams to make the Final Four.  Do I think they're a shoe-in for the national title, as many did before a single game was played?  Heck no, and Butler can tell you why, but IU is incredibly talented and deep averaging over 93 points per game.  They won't face another real test in conference play for almost a month, and their first difficult road game isn't until February (at Illinois, which may not be as difficult by then).  Look for them to rise to the top of the rankings soon, but their final month is pretty brutal, and we all know the NCAA selection committee weights those final 10 games very heavily.

4.   Ohio State (9-1, RPI: 38)

I'm still not sold on this OSU team being ranked as highly as they are nationally, since I think they are not nearly as good as previous Buckeye rosters, but they are sneaky good featuring a lot of solid four and three-star recruits playing better than expected.  They've only been tested once, losing narrowly on the road at Duke, which is quite impressive, but they haven't played any other halfway decent teams.  This weekend they host Kansas which should be a fun game to watch.  Deshaun Thomas is a beast averaging over 20 points per game, and I really wish I had been correct thinking he was headed to the NBA early last year after a terrific late-season push.

5.   Minnesota (11-1, RPI: 13)

Like Ohio State, the Gophers also credit their only loss this season to Duke, but unlike OSU, Minnesota lost badly at home to the Blue Devils, so they fall to fifth based on that common opponent measure.  However, Minnesota is much more battle-tested with strong road wins against Memphis, Stanford, Florida State, and USC.  They have balanced scoring led by Andre Hollins and Rodney Williams, but they need to cut down on their team turnovers (16 per game, second worst in conference to only MSU).

6.   Michigan State (10-2, RPI: 44)

Another season where Michigan State starts decent, but a little weak, but expect them to get better and better as the year progresses - because Izzo gets them prepared for march every single season.  As mentioned above, the Spartans average the most turnovers in the conference, and they've definitely looked sloppy. In their three biggest games this season, they lost to UConn at a neutral site and on the road at Miami, but they were able to topple Kansas on another neutral court.  Much to the chagrin of Boilermaker faithful, Gary Harris and Brendan Dawson are both having great seasons, shooting 50% and 57% respectively, while playing well with Appling, Payne, and Nix.  Purdue could sure have used shooters like that, but screw those guys.

7.   Iowa (10-2, RPI: 56)

After seemingly turning the corner last season, the Hawkeyes are continuing to show flashes of potential and that they may finally be relevant in the conference.  They haven't beaten anyone too challenging yet, with losses to Wichita State at home and Virginia Tech on the road, but I expect them to upset a few of the teams in the top half of the conference this season.  Playing in Iowa City is no longer a gimme thanks to guys like Roy Marble and Aaron White, the best thing to ever come out of Strongsville, Ohio (right Erik?).

8.   Wisconsin (7-4, RPI: 126)

It feels very strange putting the Badgers this low since Wisconsin has only finished out of the top four in conference play once in the last twelve years. They've played a tough schedule with wins against Arkansas and California but losses against Florida, Creighton, Virginia, and Marquette.  Bo Ryan's group of "Goofy White Boys and the High Top Fade" (yes, that's an excellent band name) will probably still make noise, but I don't see them weaseling their way into the top half of the conference this year.  The team isn't shooting particularly well (still better than Purdue though), and we all know Wisconsin causes match-up problems when all their lengthy guys can shoot.  Maybe if point guard Josh Gasser hadn't been lost to an ACL injury, they'd have a shot, but Bo's proven me wrong many times before.

9.  Purdue (5-6, RPI: 176)

The Boilers have be far the lowest RPI in conference, but I've placed them ninth more as a result of the team's below them than anything good Purdue has done on the court.  It's going to be a long season, and we'll just have to watch for the development of the younger players for glimmers of hope.

10.  Northwestern (8-3, RPI: 73)

I always want to root for Northwestern.  Maybe it's because I grew up near their campus and appreciate their academics, or maybe it's just out of pity, but I'd love to see them make an NCAA tourney.  Unfortunately, with leader Drew Crawford out for the season with a labrum tear, it's' not going to happen.  Until that critical loss, I would have definitely ranked them higher (probably 8th), but for the rest of the season, I don't see much good happening in Evanston.  Reggie Hearn is a nice player, but put the Wildcats in the same boat as Purdue - they're going to have trouble scoring and will lack leadership.

11.   Penn State (6-4, RPI: 135)

Even though Penn State has a better record, better RPI, and beat a common opponent with Purdue (Bucknell), I don't think they're a better team.  They've lost by 25 or more points to La Salle, Akron, and NC State and barely beat some bad teams.  At least Purdue's games have been closer.  Without star Tim Frazier (lost for the season to a ruptured Achilles tendon), it's all downhill from here.  What does it say about Purdue that the only schools below the Boilers in the power rankings have both lost their top player for the season?

12.  Nebraska (7-3, RPI: 66)

Oh wait, I forgot about Nebraska.  Sorry, you still don't really count as a Big Ten basketball school yet, but enjoy your bowl game that isn't the Rose Bowl in the sport you do care about.

1 comment:

  1. Woohoo!! Power Rankings!!

    A couple corrections though:

    1) Minnesota played Duke in the Bahamas...still doesn't come close to putting them ahead of OSU though.

    2) Aaron White is the second best thing to ever come out of Strongsville, Ohio.