Resetting the Big Ten Race as Conference Play Ramps Up
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Resetting the Big Ten Race as Conference Play Ramps Up

January 03, 2018

With the nonconference schedule for the Big Ten officially in the books, it’s time to look back and see how Nebraska’s competition fared and what kind of opportunity lies ahead for the Huskers.

The two teams at the top of the league look as strong as ever, but after that Big Ten appears to be wide open with several teams falling short of preseason expectations.

Michigan State

Record: 12-1 nonconference, 2-0 Big Ten

Nonconference Losses: Duke (88-81)

Key Wins: North Carolina (63-45); Notre Dame (81-63)

The Spartans dropped a close game to the Blue Devils way back as part of the Champions Classic, their second game of the season, and they’ve been rolling ever since. They’ve been an absolute buzzsaw on both ends of the floor as they are currently 14th nationally in points per game and 14th in points allowed. They’re first in assists, blocks and opponent field goal percentage; second in rebounding and field goal percentage and 17th in 3-point percentage. The Spartans are No. 1 in the nation for a reason.

Michigan’s one real weakness is turnovers as the Spartans are giving the ball away 14.3 times per game (284th nationally).

All five starters are averaging double figures in scoring led by sophomore stud Miles Bridges’ 17.0 points per game. The Spartans have three players averaging seven-plus rebounds (Bridges, sophomore center Nick Ward, freshman forward Jaren Jackson Jr.) and sophomore point guard Cassius Winston is leading the conference in assists at 7.1 per game while also scoring 13.1 points and shooting 56.9 percent from 3.

The Spartans are just as good as expected.

Purdue

Record: 11-2 nonconference, 2-0 Big Ten

Nonconference Losses: Tennessee (78-75); Western Kentucky (77-73)

Key Wins: Marquette (86-71); Arizona (89-64); Louisville (66-57); Butler (82-67)

Outside of a brief hiccup at the Battle for Atlantis tournament, No. 13/12 Purdue has looked every bit of the second best team in the league many expected them to be. The Boilermakers are 17th in the country at 87.2 points per game and are 29th defensively, surrendering 64.2 points per contest. 

Purdue has a strong inside-out game with 7-2 monster Isaac Haas (14.8 points per game, 63.2 percent shooting) in the middle and shooters all around him (41.4 percent from 3, 13th in the country). Carsen Edwards has made a sophomore leap and is leading the Boilermakers at 17.7 points on more efficient shooting (51.1 percent from the field, 36.9 percent from deep). 

Senior Vince Edwards is one of the more versatile players in the conference and is leading the team with 8.9 rebounds per game while chipping in 13.9 points and 2.5 assists per contest. Senior Dakota Mathias is a quality two-way point guard putting up 13.5 points and 4.9 assists while making life difficult for opposing point guards on the other end. 

Add in a quality cast of supporting players who provide a mix of defense, shooting and playmaking and the Boilermakers will be tough to handle. 

Ohio State

Record: 9-4 nonconference, 2-0 Big Ten

Nonconference Losses: Gonzaga (86-59); Butler (67-66); Clemson (79-65); North Carolina (86-72)

Key Wins: Stanford (79-71)

The Buckeyes have been a tough team to figure out. Coming into the season, they were expected to be in the cellar of the Big Ten coming off a tough year and starting over with a new coach. However, they’ve been fairly competitive for much of the season. They won both their early Big Ten games (against Wisconsin and Michigan) but Stanford was the only high-major team the Buckeyes beat outside of the league. 

Junior wing Keita Bates-Diop has had a tremendous season so far in his return to the court after missing most of last season. He’s averaging 18.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks (all team highs) while shooting 38.7 percent from 3.

Seniors CJ Jackson (13.6 points and 4.3 assists per game) and Jae’Sean Tate (12.5 points and 5.9 rebounds) have been solid and freshman Kaleb Wesson has been strong in the middle (11.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game).

Maryland

Record: 11-2 nonconference, 2-1 Big Ten

Nonconference Losses: St. Bonaventure (63-61); Syracuse (72-70)

Key Wins: Butler (79-65)

Maryland looked primed for a breakout season with a strong sophomore class making a leap and big contributions from freshman center Bruno Fernando, but the Terps suffered a big blow when sophomore forward Justin Jackson went down for the season. 

Maryland still has talent led by sophomore guards Anthony Cowan (15.5 points and 4.5 assists per game) and Kevin Huerter (14.1 points per game, 47 percent form 3), and Fernando has been one of the better freshmen in the conference so far, averaging 10.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in just under 20 minutes per game, but Maryland’s nonconference slate doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. 

Michigan

Record: 11-2 nonconference, 2-1 Big Ten

Nonconference Losses: LSU (77-75); North Carolina (86-71)

Key Wins: UCLA (78-69); Texas (59-52)

Michigan has the look of a solid team that can compete with most teams, but they also aren’t above dropping some games they should win. Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews is leading the way for the Wolverines at 16.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists. 

Moritz Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson have all seen only minor upticks in production from last season and the Wolverines are really struggling to find a point guard to replace long-time start Derrick Walton with none of grad transfer Jaaron Simmons, sophomore Zavier Simpson and freshman Eli Brooks able to grab that job and produce consistently. 

Minnesota 

Record: 11-2, 1-1

Nonconference Losses: Miami (86-81); Arkansas (95-79)

Key Wins: Providence (86-74); Alabama (89-84)

Minnesota looked like it was going to carry over its success from last season early on, but its loss at Nebraska began a stretch of three losses in four games that almost became four out of five as the Gophers barely avoided a loss to Drake with a one-point win. 

Jordan Murphy has been a monster for the Gophers, recording a double-double in every game this season and averaging 19.1 points and 12.6 rebounds. Senior point guard Nate Mason is putting up 15.5 points and 4.1 rebounds, sophomore wing Amir Coffey is chipping in 14 points per game and reigning defensive player of the year in the conference, Reggie Lynch, is contributing 10 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game. 

Minnesota still has plenty of talent; the Gophers just have to start competing better against quality competition.

Penn State

Record: 10-3 nonconference, 1-2 Big Ten

Nonconference Losses: Texas A&M (98-87); North Carolina State (85-78); Rider (71-70)

Key Wins: None

Penn State is in the top seven because it has 10 wins, but its only two wins against high majors came against Pittsburgh and Iowa, and its resume also includes a loss to Rider. 

The Nittany Lions are led by a trio of sophomores. Point guard Tony Carr has made a big step forward this year, bumping up his averages to 18.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists. Wing Lamar Stevens is second in scoring (14.1) and rebounds (7.1). Big man Mike Watkins is anchoring the teams defense with 3.5 blocks and 8.4 rebounds while also chipping in 12.4 points per game. 

Senior Shep Garner and junior Josh Reaves are both averaging just north of 11 points per game, but Penn State isn’t getting much production off its bench and as a team, Penn State almost has as many turnovers (207) as assists (222). 

Illinois

Record: 10-3 nonconference, 0-2 Big Ten

Nonconference Losses: Wake Forest (80-73); UNLV (89-82); New Mexico State (74-69)

Key Wins: Missouri (70-64)

Rutgers

Record: 10-3 nonconference, 0-2 Big Ten

Nonconference Losses: Florida State (78-73); Stony Brook (75-73); Hartford (60-58)

Key Wins: Seton Hall (71-65)

Nebraska

Record: 9-4 nonconference; 2-1 Big Ten

Nonconference Losses: St. John’s (79-56); Central Florida (68-59); Creighton (75-65); Kansas (73-72)

Key Wins: Boston College (71-62)

Northwestern

Record: 9-4 nonconference, 1-2 Big Ten

Nonconference Losses: Creighton (92-88); Texas Tech (85-49); Georgia Tech (52-51); Oklahoma (104-78)

Key Wins: None

Iowa

Record: 9-4 nonconference, 0-2 Big Ten

Nonconference Losses: Lafayette (80-71); South Dakota State (80-72); Virginia Tech (79-55); Iowa State (84-78)

Key Wins: Colorado (80-73)

Indiana

Record: 7-5 nonconference, 1-2 Big Ten

Nonconference Losses: Indiana State (90-69); Seton Hall (84-68); Duke (91-81); Louisville (71-62); Fort Wayne (92-72)

Key Wins: Notre Dame (80-77)

Wisconsin

Record: 7-6 nonconference, 2-1 Big Ten

Nonconference Losses: Xavier (80-70); Baylor (70-65); UCLA (72-70); Virginia (49-37); Temple (59-55); Marquette (82-63)

Key Wins: None

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