Badgers men’s basketball: Big Ten could use fresh start in 2018
There were plenty of missed opportunities during non-conference play for Big Ten Conference men’s basketball teams.
The Big Ten went 22-31 — a .415 winning percentage — against opponents from the five other major conferences. No team took it on the chin harder than the University of Wisconsin, which went 0-5 against teams in that category and was the only Big Ten team not to record a win against a team from a group that includes the ACC, Big East, Big Eight, Pac-12 and SEC.
The Badgers (8-7, 1-1 Big Ten) have a lot of ground to make up as they resume conference play with a game against Indiana (8-6, 1-1) Tuesday night at the Kohl Center.
But UW certainly is not alone in that regard.
Here’s a look at where Big Ten teams stand at the midway point of the season:
Record: 10-5, 0-2 Big Ten
Midseason grade: C. John Groce left the cupboard pretty bare for Brad Underwood, who has the Fighting Illini playing faster but doesn’t have the firepower to compete with good teams. All three of Illinois’ non-conference losses were to KenPom Top 100 teams, but Underwood and Co. are lacking signature wins.
Record: 8-6, 1-1 Big Ten
Midseason grade: D. The Hoosiers, under first-year coach Archie Miller, are bad defensively and struggle from the free throw line and 3-point range. They already have two bad home losses on their resume: by 21 points to Indiana State and by 20 points to Fort Wayne. If not for an upset win over Notre Dame in overtime, the first half of the season would have been a total disaster for Indiana. As with Underwood at Illinois, Miller walked into an unfavorable situation left by Tom Crean.
Record: 9-6, 0-2 Big Ten
Midseason grade: D-. The Hawkeyes are 0-6 against teams in the KenPom Top 100. They finished in seventh place of eight teams at a tournament in the Cayman Islands in November, opening the event with losses to Louisiana-Lafayette and South Dakota State. Iowa is still a relatively young team despite returning most of its rotation, but this was a team some thought could contend for a top-four spot in the Big Ten standings.
Record: 12-3, 1-1 Big Ten
Midseason grade: C+. The Terrapins ended 2017 with two pieces of bad news on the injury front. After losing starting forward Justin Jackson to a season-ending right shoulder injury, Maryland found out another member of the rotation, junior forward Ivan Bender, will miss the rest of the season with a right knee injury. Jackson, who was averaging 9.8 points and a team-leading 8.1 rebounds, is a huge loss. The Terrapins have a top-20 defense, but their offense has been plagued by turnovers. They average 16.5 per game, the most in the Big Ten.
Record: 12-3,1-1 Big Ten
Midseason grade: B-. After splitting a pair of Big Ten games to open the month of December, Michigan recorded resume-building wins over UCLA and Texas, the latter on the road. Sophomore guard Charles Matthews (16.1 ppg), a transfer from Kentucky, has formed a nice 1-2 punch with junior forward Moritz Wagner (14.9 ppg). Michigan is No. 24 in the KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency ratings, which would be its best finish under John Beilein.
Record: 14-1, 2-0 Big Ten
Midseason grade: A. The Spartans’ only loss was to Duke in the second game of the season. They have double-digit wins over North Carolina and Notre Dame, though Michigan State’s schedule has been filled with cupcakes since that Nov. 30 win over the Fighting Irish. The Spartans have stars — sophomores Miles Bridges (17.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and Nick Ward (15.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg) lead the way — and depth. They have a legitimate chance to become the first Big Ten team to win a national championship since Tom Izzo led Michigan State to the 2000 title.
Record: 12-3, 1-1 Big Ten
Midseason grade: C+. The Gophers were hoping to contend for a Big Ten title after a breakthrough season in 2016-17. That may still happen, but a 78-68 loss at Nebraska in Dec. 5 was a bit of a head-scratcher. Depth is an issue for Minnesota. So is a lack of consistency, though Jordan Murphy can’t be tagged with that label. The junior forward has recorded a double-double in every game this season and leads the Big Ten in scoring (19.1) and rebounding (12.6).
Record: 10-5, 1-1 Big Ten
Midseason grade: C. Transfers James Palmer Jr. (15.1 ppg) and Isaac Copeland (12.1 ppg) have added some much-needed scoring and athleticism to the Nebraska lineup. But the Cornhuskers are going to have a difficult time in the Big Ten if they can’t do a better job on the glass. Opponents are collecting 33.6 percent of their misses against Nebraska.
Record: 10-5, 1-1 Big Ten
Midseason grade: F. The Wildcats returned eight of the top 10 scorers from a team that advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history. But they’ve gone backward this season, particularly on defense. They have a pair of blowout losses on their resume: 85-49 against Texas Tech, and 104-78 against Oklahoma. Northwestern’s only KenPom Top 100 win was at home in overtime against Illinois.
Record: 11-4, 2-0 Big Ten
Midseason grade: B-. The Buckeyes don’t have many great wins thus far, but they don’t have any bad defeats, either. All in all, Chris Holtmann has done a great job after being hired to replace Thad Matta in June. Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop has been great after missing most of last season with a leg injury. He’s third in the Big Ten in scoring (18.7) and rebounding (8.7).
Record: 11-4, 1-1 Big Ten
Midseason grade: D. The Nittany Lions are 1-3 against KenPom Top 100 teams, including a home loss to UW. They also lost at home to Rider, a brutal defeat for a program that has the talent to contend for an NCAA tournament berth. Penn State is solid on defense, but it’s erratic on the other end of the court. Sophomore guard Tony Carr is a big reason for that; while he’s second in the Big Ten in scoring (18.9 ppg), he went a combined 8 of 36 from the field in the losses to UW and Rider.
Record: 13-2, 2-0 Big Ten
Midseason grade: B+. The Boilermakers opened the Battle 4 Atlantis in November with losses to Tennessee and Western Kentucky, setting up a high-profile matchup against Arizona for seventh place. But Purdue beat the Wildcats to start an impressive run that included wins over Louisville, Maryland, Northwestern and Butler. Sophomore point guard Carsen Edwards (17.7 ppg) has taken a big jump since last season and has a solid group of veterans around him. If anybody is going to give Michigan State a run for the Big Ten title, it’s Matt Painter’s team.
Record: 10-5, 0-2 Big Ten.
Midseason grade: D. The Scarlet Knights were competitive in home losses to Florida State and Michigan State, and they opened eyes by knocking off visiting Seton Hall on Dec. 16. How did Rutgers follow up that victory over the Pirates? By losing at home to Stony Brook and Hartford in the span of a week. The Scarlet Knights play hard under coach Steve Pikiell and are relentless on the offensive glass. But poor shooting — 41.7 percent overall, 29.2 percent from 3-point range and 61.6 percent from the free throw line — has plagued Rutgers.
Record: 8-7, 1-1 Big Ten
Midseason grade: D. A tough early season schedule provided a chance for a young team to grow. Instead, a series of close losses destroyed the Badgers’ confidence. Injuries in the backcourt to Kobe King and D’Mitrik Trice have left Greg Gard with a depleted rotation that includes walk-ons. Getting to the NIT would be an achievement for UW at this point. But even that’s going to be difficult for a team that is allowing opponents to shoot 45.9 percent from the field.