“We’ve got to figure out how to get better as a team, just more consistent,” Winston said, via MLive.com. “We were winning games, but we weren’t winning games pretty, and as crisp as we should with as much talent as we have. We still have a lot of improvements left to make as a team.”
One look at the most recent AP basketball poll and one thing immediately jumps off the page — Michigan State is No. 2 in the country.
But, there’s a second thing that immediately jumps out at me, and that is the fact that there is a rather large gap between the Spartans and anyone else in the Big Ten.
Michigan State is the only Big Ten team currently inside the top 10 of the rankings and you have to go all the way to No. 17 to find the next Big Ten team — Purdue.
That’s also it for the Big Ten in the AP poll all together.
Not even Ohio State’s 8-3 start and 2-0 start to Big Ten play has been deemed worthy of a single vote in the AP poll.
Say what you want about the Buckeyes losing to both Butler and Gonzaga, but in previous years any team starting off the Big Ten as hot as Ohio State has would be at least worthy of a look from one voter in the AP poll.
But, the fact that OSU hasn’t garnered any attention after sweeping the first weekend of Big Ten action speaks volumes. It tells us that those who pay attention to the college game from the first moments of the season see this as a one-horse race and one that isn’t even close.
Michigan State has certainly helped their case with an impressive opening run to the season. Sitting at 9-1 and 2-0 in Big Ten play is a good start, but it is the details that suggest this is the Spartans year to run away with the Big Ten title.
The Spartans own two of the best non-conference wins from any B1G team this season — crushing North Carolina and Notre Dame in back-to-back contests.
It also doesn’t hurt that in the nine wins to date, Michigan State has won by at least 10 points or more. Yes, not a single game has been within single digits for the win.
Michigan State also isn’t a one-man show this season. So far, five players are averaging in double figures, led of course by all-everything guard Miles Bridges’ 15.6 points per game. But, he isn’t doing the work alone as Nick Ward, Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston are all averaging more than 12 points per game. Then there’s Jaren Jackson Jr., who is averaging a solid 10.8 points per game through the first 10 games of the season.
That smacks of a team ready to dominate on the Big Ten scene when conference play re-starts in earnest in a few weeks time. But, is Michigan State really head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league?
Of course, other measures of basketball acumen suggest that the gap is nowhere near as big as the AP voters suggest. Take the Ken Pomeroy rankings for example.
Michigan State sits second in the country to Villanova, just like it does in the AP rankings. But, the gap between MSU and the next team from the Big Ten is much smaller. That’s because Purdue comes in at No. 8 in the country according to the KenPom rankings.
The Boilermakers are actually better offensively than Michigan State, coming at No. 10 in AdjO on the KenPom rankings, compared to No. 14 for Michigan State.
But, those are the only two teams inside the top 25 of the KenPom rankings. One would have to go all the way down to No. 35 to find the next Big Ten team and that team is Minnesota.
Maryland (No. 38), Penn State (No. 40) and Michigan (No. 41) round out the Big Ten’s contingent inside the top 50 of the KenPom rankings as well.
Therein lies the biggest factor suggesting that Michigan State may indeed run away with the Big Ten title this season — it’s a down year for the conference, and one of the strongest Michigan State teams in recent memory.
Wisconsin’s struggles, along with those of Iowa, Indiana and Northwestern suggest a conference that is going through some changes and struggling to find a competitive core outside of conference play.
In conference, the one weekend of action already in the books suggest that this is going to be a conference that beats up on each other once again. Only Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue came away from the first two games with a perfect record. Eight teams sit at 1-1, while Illinois, Iowa and Rutgers all have two losses under their belts.
Is Michigan State’s March magic in danger of running out in 2018?
Michigan State has limped through the start of March, can it right the ship and pull off its usual March magic?
Death, taxes and the Michigan State Spartans going deep in March under Tom Izzo.
Almost all three of these things are automatic in life.
Usually we’re talking about Michigan State and deep runs in the NCAA tournament. After all, this was a program that went to back-to-back Sweet Sixteen’s and then an Elite Eight and a Final Four in four straight seasons from 2012 to 2015.
But, the last few seasons have ended in much quicker fashion than normal, with a first round exit in 2016 and a second round exit last season.
All seemed right heading in to this March though, with the Spartans riding a 13-game win streak and a Big Ten regular season title.
But, March took on a different tone for this team and those deep runs MSU is famous for may not be worth betting on this time around.
One loss in 15 games may not be anything to worry about, but the devil is in the details as to why MSU may not be the solid bet everyone seems to think they are.
It actually started in late February, with Michigan State being taken to the wire by a lower-half Wisconsin Badgers team in the regular season finale. Five days later, that same Badgers team did it again, making the Spartans work for a 63-60 victory in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.
A day later and MSU found itself out of the tournament at the hands of bitter in-state rival Michigan. The Wolverines played the type of game most expect from the Spartans and won 75-64.
That was the end to a 13-game win streak, but the cracks were clearly there prior to the loss.
Michigan State struggled to score in both games against the Badgers and over the past three games have only been shooting 41.6 percent from the field. Additionally, the Spartans have scored under their conference season average of 76.5 points per game in five of their final seven games.
Of course, one could also see it as a positive that MSU found ways to win six of those seven games despite not playing its best basketball.
But, come March all it takes is one day or night of off basketball and you are bounced from the tournament.
That fact isn’t lost on the team, as guard Cassius Winston pointed out that the upcoming break needs to be about MSU finding its rhythm once again.
Maybe it is a good thing the loss came on Saturday in the Big Ten tournament, giving the Spartans a bit of an extended break ahead of the NCAA tournament. The team certainly sees the extra week of prep as helpful.
“We can sharpen up on a lot of things, understand ourselves as a team more and get better offensively, because we’re not as sharp as we have been,” Spartans guard Joshua Langford said, via MLive.com. “This break is going to be great for us.”
The Spartans have the Big Ten’s most talented starting five and certainly can go deep in to the NCAA tournament, but this isn’t a team that screams classic Tom Izzo tournament run. Something seems off about this team heading in to the tournament, let’s see if they can find the spark to dominate like they have most of the season.
If not, expect this NCAA tournament run to not last very long.
2017 talking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards Special
The Big Ten may have its awards, but what is the point of watching endless hours of Big Ten basketball without putting our two cents in, right?
Welcome to the 2017 taking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards special. Our hope is to educate you on the names that dominated our conversations and the hardwood across the Big Ten this season.
So, sit back and enjoy our special for your viewing pleasure.
Big Ten Basketball Weekly Roundup: Jan. 9
Who said the Big Ten conference wouldn’t be entertaining in the 2016-17 season? Sure, the top of the league may not be nationally elite, but the first few weeks of the conference have been one heck of a ride.
With that in mind, we here at talking10 give you a new weekly basketball feature. It is our way to make sense of the chaos and take stock of the league from the past week. Along with our newly minted weekly power poll, look for us to have a heavy dose of basketball coverage every Monday morning for you throughout the rest of conference play.
So, let us not waste any more precious words and let us get right in to the fun of breaking down the week that was in Big Ten basketball.
Team of the Week: Purdue Boilermakers
When you are in a conference that is a complete log-jam, just simply winning out for the week can work. Such is the case this week as we pretty much had to go with the Boilermakers on this one.
Caleb Swanigan nailed a free throw to give his team a one-point win on the road to Ohio State, then followed it up with an incredible one-man effort in an 11-point win over No. 13 Wisconsin just yesterday. That win alone should’ve been enough, but coupled with what took place around the league in total, this was an easy call.
Add in an 11-point win over arguably the second-best team in the conference in Wisconsin? Well, the call gets real easy at that point. It wasn’t just the final margin of victory, it is how it happened that was so impressive.
Wisconsin just couldn’t get much going offensively thanks to the effort Purdue put in on the defensive side of the ball. Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter were a combined 6 of 16 from the field and a lot of that had to do with the defense played on the perimeter against them.
No one is going to run away with this league if early results hold firm, but should there be a run-away winner, look no further than the team that won a game on the road and took down the best team they’ll see all season at Mackey Arena.
Player of the Week: Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Sensing a theme here? Well, when you happen upon a pair of double-doubles and sink a pressure free throw to win the game? You bet this was the easy and the right choice this week.
Swanigan put up 16 points and 11 rebounds in the win at Ohio State, while putting up an even more impressive 18 points and 13 boards against Wisconsin. He also happened to shoot 50.0 percent (11-of-22) from the field, 60.0 percent (3-of-5) from three-point range and 81.8 percent (9-of-11) from the free throw line for the week.
Weeks like this could also make it a very easy choice for Player of the Year, with Swanigan third in the conference in scoring, averaging 18.3 points per game and topping the league in rebounding (12.9 per game).
Most Surprising Win: Penn State over Michigan State
The whole neutral court (well, at least in name in this case) thing should be old hat for the Spartans by now. It turned out to be exactly the same as before for the Spartans, as they were dropped at the famed Palestra in Philadelphia by a game Penn State program.
It was a raucous environment, one in which the Nittany Lions actually felt like they had a home-court advantage for a change. But, what made this result so surprising is that it came with Miles Bridges rounding back in to form.
Even his return to the lineup could do nothing to stop the bleeding that took place in Philly.
This is also the type of win that can change some minds and hearts in Philly recruiting circles. Pat Chambers has made significant inroads in the city, but this win is going to make everyone in the Philly basketball world stand up and notice Penn State basketball just a bit more.
PSU’s win was also a first, a first for Pat Chambers. He had previously never beaten Tom Izzo in a coaching matchup, and getting over that hurdle is a major one in a make-or-break season in Happy Valley.
Of course, doing something to build off the win is imperative, but that isn’t our worry here.
Most Disappointing Loss: Nebraska to Northwestern
If ever a game from this past week showcased the parity that could be on display in the Big Ten this season, the contest in Lincoln between Northwestern and Nebraska was exactly that.
So, why is it disappointing to see this loss? Well, if you’re Nebraska it is doubly disappointing. First off, you were one of the two undefeated team left in the conference coming in to Sunday and had a chance to cement yourselves in the conference title discussion early on.
That’s now gone.
Additionally, this was a home game. Winning at home is imperative in the Big Ten and not holding serve against a team that has been up and down so far in league play.
Home field advantage? That’s now gone too.
But, the most disappointing aspect of this loss is how it happened on the court — mainly a second half outburst from Northwestern that became a 14-0 run to whip out what was a double-digit Nebraska lead.
You simply can’t do that at home or anywhere and expect to be taken seriously. The road only gets tougher for the Huskers from here too. So, we’ll see if they can rebound from this defeat and continue to threaten at the top of the conference.
For a team many believed weren’t very good out of conference, they have been easily the biggest surprise in league play (sorry, not sorry Minnesota).
Big Ten Basketball Proves Its Slide Is Real in ACC/Big Ten Challenge
The last seven years were fun, but all good things must come to an end. Such was the case with the Big Ten’s title hold on the annual Big Ten/ACC challenge.
Or should I say ACC/Big Ten challenge after the B1G was beat down 9-5 in the 2016 version of this event?
There were doubts about the Big Ten’s strength heading in to the 2016-17 season. The first few weeks of the season had begun to expose those cracks in the conference’s overall strength. However, the challenge proved that even the supposed elite of the Big Ten have plenty of flaws.
Of the five Big Ten wins, only Indiana and Wisconsin took down ranked ACC opponents. Both teams took home impressive double-digit wins at home.
However, alleged contenders in the Big Ten looked rather foolish the rest of the way. Michigan State, for all of its talk of an amazing freshman class, has wilted under the pressure of big games and crazy travel.
That was on full display as they simply couldn’t hang with No. 5 Duke in a 78-69 loss that was much worse than the final score indicated. Tom Izzo’s crew gave up 18 turnovers, created just nine of their own and committed 20 fouls.
That’s how you lose a game in which you shot better from the field (49.1 to 45.5 percent), from three point range (31.3 to 26.9 percent) and out-rebounded your opponent (39-33).
Ohio State was also supposed to be buoyed by a great recruiting class and some returning talent. Instead, the Buckeyes found a way to lose a game in which it led for over 35 minutes and had as large a lead as 16 points (32-16) with 3:41 to play in the first half.
The OSU lead was 12 at the half, but an 11-0 run by Virginia to start the first half whittled that double-digit lead down to just one point. OSU only let the lead slip away once before the final few minutes, and that happened on a London Perrantes jumper which gave UVa an one-point lead that was quickly erased by a C.J. Jackson triple on the very next possession.
Yet, despite an ability to keep a lead, Ohio State eventually submitted and gave up another lead with just 1:59 to play. It was a lead the Cavaliers weren’t giving up and the Buckeyes’ cold shooting killed them down the stretch.
There’s no doubt that Ohio State can learn a lot from a loss like this, and perhaps its a catalyst for the season turn itself around, but it could equally go the other way.
What it did show is that the Buckeyes aren’t ready for prime time just yet and likely will be caught by games like these in the future too.
Iowa, who graduated a ton of talent looked perhaps the worst of all the Big Ten teams, if it weren’t for Maryland’s fail against Pitt at home. Iowa was blown away 92-78 by Notre Dame on the road and is the only team in the conference with a losing record as a result.
However, Maryland were blown out 73-59 at home by Pitt in a matchup of alleged equals. It shouldn’t be all that surprising, as the Terps’ schedule has been light on real competition and even the Power 5 teams they have faced haven’t been great in 2016-17 either. One point wins over Georgetown and Kansas State aren’t exactly things to hang your hat on.
Let’s just say this season’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge was an epic fail for the Big Ten.
While what happens in November can be forgotten in March, an event like the ACC/Big Ten Challenge won’t soon be forgotten in the narrative of conference superiority. For now, the Big Ten has a lot of work to do to rebuild its reputation.
Can it be done? Given we’re heading out of the tournament season and in to finals weeks and thusly weaker opponents, not much can be done for the Big Ten’s reputation. It will likely have to earn most of it back in the NCAA tournament, and that will be an interesting endeavor this season.