The Big Ten joined the wave of other conferences around the country on Tuesday by adjusting its previously agreed upon rules regarding cancelling games because of COVID-19 concerns.
No longer will games automatically be considered a forfeit if a team isn’t able to safely field a team of healthy players. With the spread of the omicron variant and its extreme transmissibility, it didn’t make sense to stick with that policy as those who are fully vaccinated and boosted can still catch this strain of the virus far too easily.
What remains to be seen is how aggressive the league will be in rescheduling games that are postponed as a result of COVID-19 pauses or concerns. Nebraska ended up making up every game but one last year after its month-long pause, but it took an absolutely grueling schedule to make that happen. How proactive will the league be in altering schedules to make sure healthy teams get as many chances to play a full 20-game Big Ten slate as possible?
With all the traveling and family gatherings surrounding the holidays, teams across the country are hitting the pause button after testing their athletes upon returning to campus. These next couple of weeks could get pretty wild in terms of the number of cancellations and accompanying rescheduling. Just this week we saw Ohio State, which hasn’t played since Dec. 11, have to cancel its Tuesday game against New Orleans as the team works its way back from a COVID-19 pause. The Huskers are scheduled to play the Buckeyes on Sunday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
At this point, I’d treat basketball schedules across the country as rough estimates more than definite timelines. Unlike NBA teams, college programs can’t call up players from minor league or sign free agents off the street to hit the roster minimum.
B1G Surprises and Disappointments
Uncertainty aside, Nebraska is set to dive head first into Big Ten play this week, so here’s a quick refresher for what has happened around the conference.
Overall, I’d call the Big Ten’s nonconference performance decent, relative to expectations. Big Ten teams went 26-25 overall against teams from the other top-seven leagues, and KenPom has the Big Ten as the second-best conference currently behind only the Big 12.
The best wins for the conference according to KenPom ratings are Wisconsin’s against No. 4 Houston (though that will likely drop in value as the Cougars lost two starters for the season to injury in the last couple of weeks), Ohio State’s over No. 6 Duke, Purdue’s over No. 12 Villanova and Michigan State’s over No. 25 UConn.
Purdue rose all the way up to No. 1 in the AP Poll for the first time in school history then immediately lost to Rutgers in a head scratcher in an early Big Ten game. However, the Boilermakers are still 11-1 and look every bit the national contender they were projected to be.
The other preseason favorite for the conference title was Michigan, and the Wolverines are just 7-4 and 0-3 against other high-majors (though all three of those opponents were in the top-40 nationally according to KenPom).
Ohio State and Michigan State are both top-20 teams according to KenPom and are about what I expected, if not a little better. Illinois has been slightly disappointing, but not dramatically so. That designation probably falls to Maryland, who is 6-4 and has already parted ways with long-time head coach Mark Turgeon.
Indiana is about what I expected in a positive way, while Iowa (one win over a high-major team in Virginia) and Rutgers (5-5 with a good win over Clemson but a bad loss to DePaul) have both been about what I expected on the other end of the spectrum. The biggest surprise form the middle term (based on how I saw the conference heading into the season) is Wisconsin. The Badgers are 4-1 against high-majors teams with the only loss coming when its best player in Johnny Davis was in street clothes.
As expected, neither Northwestern nor Penn State is particularly good. However, Minnesota — who I had in its own tier at the bottom before the season — is 10-1 start to the year with wins over a top-50 Mississippi State team and Michigan. I’m still skeptical considering the Golden Gopher’s only other high-major win is over a bad Oregon State team, but new coach Ben Johnson has certainly done a good job with that team.
And then there’s Nebraska. Sigh.
I spent all day on Tuesday sitting court side at Baxter Arena for the boys and girls Metro Holiday Tournament quarterfinals. I always enjoy covering this tournament and getting to see all the Class A teams from around the Metro in one place, but this year’s tournament is unique.
This year, the Metro is experimenting with a 35-second shot clock in all of the games at Baxter. Support for a shot clock has been growing significantly in recent years, and this is an important step toward getting it passed everywhere, or at least in Class A at first.
There was a lot of intrigue surrounding the clock and how it might impact game play heading in, but after watching eight games — four boys and four girls — I don’t think it made a huge difference at all. There were only a handful of violations sprinkled throughout the eight games, and there were as many or more situations late in the clock where players did a good job of creating a good look before the buzzer went off.
My thought process is if you need more than 35 seconds to generate a good look, chances are another 30 seconds isn’t going to change much for you. That is a long time, and most of the day shots went up in the first 20 to 30 seconds.
Where a shot clock can really change things for the better is late in quarters where coaches often like to call for one shot with up to a minute remaining on the game clock, or in the fourth quarter after a team has built up a decent-sized lead and goes into stall mode early.
I saw one or two issues with the shot clock or a shot-clock related call for the day, which is pretty decent considering it’s a trial run and has never been done in Nebraska at the high school level.
I’m looking forward to seeing how the shot clock factors into the semis and finals when the best of the best square off. I’ll be there on Wednesday and Friday to keep tracking all of the action.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.