With six teams in the Top 25 and the best winning percentage of any league, I think we can all agree the Big Ten is the best conference in the country. And just in case we can’t, Pomeroy has them atop his rankings as well. And if even that isn’t enough, maybe this will help.
Since I care enough to give you the very best, here is the holiday edition of the Big Ten Power Rankings (through Monday’s games).
1. Ohio State (10-1, Last Ranking: 1)
Best Win: Duke
Worst Loss: Kansas
With Jared Sullinger battling back and foot injuries, the coming out party for DeShaun Thomas is in full effect. He hung 30 on South Carolina on Saturday, and his ORtg is now up to 121.6. Thomas is hitting over 65 percent from two-point range and ranks just outside the Top 100 in eFG% and TS%. A few other stats of note: 1) Sullinger is grabbing one third of the available defensive rebounds when he is on the floor. 2) Aaron Craft’s 5.5 steal percentage solidifies him as one of the top defenders in the country, and there simply aren’t many point guards I would rather have running my team. The Buckeyes should be 13-1 heading into a New Year’s Eve showdown at Indiana.
2. Wisconsin (10-2, Last: 2)
Best Win: UNLV
Worst Loss: Marquette
The Badgers continue to do work on the defensive end of the floor, ranking first in opponents’ eFG% and allowing just 0.75 points per possession. Jordan Taylor continues to struggle with his shot (42.9 eFG%), and even though various players have stepped up over the course of the season, no one in the supporting cast has shown much consistency. Still, it’s tough to bet against Bo Ryan’s track record. With three winnable games up next, expect them to be 13-2 when Sparty comes to Madison on January 2nd.
3. Indiana (11-0, Last: 7)
Best Win: Kentucky
Worst Loss: N/A
After crushing Howard on Monday night, the Hoosiers have ascended to seventh in the Pomeroy Ratings. They are the top three-point shooting team in the country (46.8%), which has propelled them to a 58.6 eFG%. Cody Zeller has pretty much sewn up Big Ten Freshman of the Year already, and his overall numbers are more impressive than any Hoosier fan could have expected. He is in the Top 50 in eFG% and TS% and is 52nd in steal percentage. Zeller leads the team in both OReb% and DReb% and draws nearly six fouls per 40 minutes, which has led to a 65.5 FT Rate. He also has a 5.8 block percentage and will be the namesake of any of my future children.
4. Michigan State (10-2, Last: 5)
Best Win: Gonzaga
Worst Loss: Duke
The Spartans have now reeled off 10 straight wins after losing their first two games against North Carolina and Duke. After struggling mightily through the first five contests, the offense is improving and has now scored at least 1.04 points per possession in their last seven games, thanks in large part to significant improvements in their shooting and turnover rate. They have continued to pound the glass on both ends of the floor, and they are in the Top 10 in defensive efficiency, allowing just 0.83 ppp.
5. Michigan (9-2, Last: 4)
Best Win: Memphis
Worst Loss: Virginia
Since losing at Virginia, the Wolverines have won four straight, but given the competition, I’m not sure we can draw many conclusions from that. Michigan ranks third nationally in eFG%, but they are 242nd in OReb% and 279th in FT Rate. Freshman Trey Burke continues to give them solid point guard play, and forward Evan Smotrycz has 53 points, 28 boards, and eight steals over the last three games. The downside? He also has 10 turnovers.
6. Illinois (11-1, Last: 3)
Best Win: Gonzaga
Worst Loss: UNLV
Following their win over Gonzaga, Illinois lost by 16 to UNLV and won ugly against St. Bonaventure and Cornell. They also blew out Coppin State, but in the other three games, Bruce Weber’s bench has scored just three total points. Even though all of the reserves are freshmen and sophomores, that’s a huge red flag as conference play begins. A Thursday date with Missouri could get ugly since the Illini rank 226th in defending the three-point line, while the Tigers make over 40 percent from deep. Illinois’ offense is another question mark with Brandon Paul leading the team in usage rate despite a 93.4 ORtg.
7. Purdue (9-3, Last: 6)
Best Win: Temple
Worst Loss: Butler
The Boilers have struggled offensively down the stretch in losses to Xavier and Butler. They boast a terrific turnover rate but rank outside the Top 100 in the other three factors. Their lack of size inside has hurt them on the defensive glass in recent games, but they have done a solid job of forcing turnovers. Purdue will need their defense to carry them with an offense heavily dependent on Robbie Hummel’s knees and a one-dimensional Ryne Smith.
8. Northwestern (10-1, Last: 8)
Best Win: Seton Hall
Worst Loss: Baylor
Since the Wildcats got dumptrucked by the only decent team they’ve played, it’s a little tough to get a read on them, but Thursday’s road trip to Creighton should give us some indication of how good they are. On offense, they have one of the lowest TO% in the country, and led by John Shurna and Drew Crawford, they are shooting well. However, they rarely collect offensive rebounds and seldom get to the free throw line, and while their overall defensive numbers are better in a number of categories when compared to last year, they are still mediocre at best on that end of the floor.
9. Minnesota (11-1, Last: 9)
Best Win: Virginia Tech
Worst Loss: Dayton
Speaking of teams who haven’t really played anyone, the Gophers have yet to play a true road game, and they have just one win against teams in Pomeroy’s Top 90. After losing Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota has played at a slower pace, averaging 57.6 possessions over their last five games compared to 67.0 in the seven games when he played. Rodney Williams has stepped up in the frontcourt with Mbakwe out, and Julian Welch is providing some stability in the backcourt. Still, I worry about the guards on this team given their turnover rate and three-point shooting. It will be much easier to assess the Gophers once conference play begins.
10. Nebraska (7-3, Last: 10)
Best Win: South Dakota State
Worst Loss: Wake Forest
The Huskers have just two wins against teams inside the Top 198 on KenPom, yet they still rank outside the Top 100 in all four factors offensively. Nebraska has only one player with an ORtg over 106, which is Brandon Ubel who has a 14.3 usage rate. On the positive side, the Huskers do a nice job of preventing offensive rebounds. Let’s end on that note.
11. Iowa (7-5, Last: 12)
Best Win: Drake
Worst Loss: Campbell
Picking between these last two is like picking your least favorite child. Four of Iowa’s seven wins have come against teams ranked outside of the Top 300, and they have zero wins against teams in the Top 170. The good news is they rarely turn the ball over and do a nice job of forcing them on the defensive end. The bad news is they can’t really shoot, don’t get to the line, and have a terrible defensive eFG%.
12. Penn State (7-5, Last: 11)
Best Win: South Florida
Worst Loss: Lafayette
If not for their OReb%, the Nittany Lions might have the one of the 10 worst offenses in the country. Their shooting percentages are woeful from two-point range, three-point range, and the free throw line. The bright spot has been Tim Frazier, who has an absurd 50.9 assist rate and also leads the team in points, rebounds, and steals.
Follow me on Twitter (@AndyBottoms) for more of my thoughts on college basketball.