We are closing in on the half way point of the season so it seems like a good time to take a look back at the A-rank. Overall I feel pretty good. UW is clearly better than every team in the league, PSU, NW, and Rutgers are the worst 3 teams, and everyone else is in between.
UW- Prediction 15-3. 6-1 so far. The loss of Jackson and the road loss to Rutgers are clearly the story for UW. With Jackson gone until March, UW is a whistle happy ref away from having to play Showalter and Dukan extended minutes at guard in any given game. With Koenig playing so well, 15-3 is still within grasp, but it will be tough with 6 road games remaining on the schedule and no Jackson.
OSU- Prediction 13-5. 5-3 so far. 8 games in, this team is still a bit of a mystery to me. Russell has been everything he looked to be early and more. His line is PPG 19.3, RPG 5.2, APG 4.9, SPG 1.8 while shooting FG%47.0, FT%78.5, 3FG%45.3. The only negative is averaging 2.9 turnovers. If he isn't Freshman of the year in the Big Ten and in the NBA next year I will be shocked. OSU may have become too dependent on him. In OSU's 5 losses (all to good teams) he has shot 6-20, 4-17, 4-16, 3-15, and 10-22. In those losses OSU has shot under 40% in all but one (42.1% at home against Iowa).
They have pretty much got what was expected out of Loving, Thompson and Scott, and the freshman have all contributed in limited minutes. Strangely, Anthony Lee has played very limited minutes almost exclusively at center while splitting minutes with an endlessly disappointing Amir Williams and Trey McDonald. OSU has made a major change in the last couple games starting Lee at center and replacing Loving with Tate. They are also playing more man and less zone.
This team is closer to the murky middle of the Big Ten than the ceiling I thought they could reach. I may have gone a bit too high with 13 wins, but they will finish near the top of the Big Ten and be a tournament team. All the mid-season changes make this team just as hard to predict as they were at the beginning of the year. If they work then this team can still get to 13 wins, but if they fail they could fall to 9-9.
MSU- Prediction 11-7. 4-3 so far. I am comfortable with this pick so far, as MSU is what I thought they were. The next 8 games have only 3 against teams with winning conference records and 2 of those are against Lavertless MI.They could make a big run, but perimeter teams tend to have bad losses. MSU has already barely beat PSU and NW at home, the latter in overtime.
MSU has made some changes that may help them down the stretch. Shilling has taken over as the starter at center, although center minutes are still largely split with Costello and others. Talented freshman Bess is now healthy and getting playing time. MSU has a crowded backcourt so more small lineups are probable going forward. As I stated in my predictions, Izzo just won't let this team miss the tournament.
Maryland- Prediction 10-8. 5-2 so far. Maryland is finally healthy and hit the Big Ten season running. They have 2 road wins against MSU and Purdue in addition to another win against MSU at home. This team looks better than my 10-8 prediction. Trimble, Wells and Layman give this team 3 big time scorers that can carry them to as high as 2nd place in the Big Ten. They also have Iowa, OSU and UW on the schedule just once so they should make a big run down the stretch.
Smotryz has been coming off the bench but getting about 20 minutes now that he is healthy. Pack was sent to the bench in favor of better shooting freshman Nickens but continues to play starter minutes in relief. Dodd, Cekovsky, and Graham are holding down the center position on a defense that is surprisingly good. Outside of the Indiana loss their opponents have not reached 70 points in any game. This team has a good chance to get to 13 wins and 2nd place in the Big Ten.
MI- Prediction 9-9. 5-3 so far. I'm glad this team played well out of the gate as I think I was right in not predicting disaster for them after their horrible preseason. With the Lavert injury they may end up in disaster despite playing OK @Rutgers and vs UW without him. It's just hard to lose a player who leads your team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks and not suck. MI's start was a bit of smoke and mirrors anyway as they did not beat a team with a winning record in conference play. With no Lavert and a tough schedule I doubt this team wins more than 2 games the rest of the season.
Iowa- Prediction 9-9. 4-3 so far. Iowa has already made it through the toughest part of their schedule at an impressive 4-3 including 2 wins over OSU. As predicted the frontcourt has been the strength of this team with White, Uthoff and Olesani leading the team in scoring. The backcourt is bad which has already led to the benching of Clemmons in favor of Jok who shoots even worse.
Iowa has 7 of it's last 11 games against teams that probably won't finish over .500 in Big Ten play so they have a chance to be better than the 9-9 I predicted. Success will depend partly on if Aaron White recovers from the stinger he suffered Saturday. If he does Iowa should end up near the top of the Big Ten with MSU, OSU, Maryland and Indiana. If White has to sit out any significant amount of time then Iowa may be looking at another late season collapse to the NCAA bubble.
Illinois- Prediction 9-9. 3-4 so far. I predicted IL would be about 2 games better than last season even though they lost Abrams before the season. After losing Rice, and now Cosby I don't think they can overcome all the injuries and will end up around last seasons win total of 7. The young kids Hill, Nunn, and Black are stepping up and taking advantage of the opportunity to play, but that's just too many losses to sustain. The seniors Egwu and Starks just aren't good enough players to step up to the challenge.
Nebraska- Prediction 9-9. 4-3 so far. Nebraska is doing just as I thought they would. They are 4-1 at home and have yet to win on the road. Petteway and Sheilds dominate everything about this team and they will carry them the rest of the year. They inserted Parker into the starting lineup over Webster several weeks ago. They got back Leslee Smith for some added bulk to their front court but lost David Rivers to injury. This team has to play 7 of it's last 11 games on the road and has some tough home games. They will have trouble making the tournament with some bad preseason losses.
Indiana- Prediction 9-9. 5-2 so far. IU is better than I thought they would be. They were bad defensively and too small before they lost Mosquera-Perea, but they don't seem to care. With 4 guards and either 6'7" freshman Holt or 6'6" sophomore Hartman at center they are finding ways to win by scoring, and boy can this team score. They are 9th in the country in PPG and 24th in FG% without having any big man to get them easy points inside. It's hard to see how this team doesn't get to double digit wins and get into the tournament.
Minnesota- Prediction 8-10. 2-6 so far. Minnesota may not reach my prediction of 8 wins, but I don't think I misjudged them. They started the season off 1-6 but with 5 of the 6 losses by 5 points or fewer and one in OT. Nate Mason is still one of my favorite freshman this year, and Morris and Hollins give them enough scoring to win some games. They are just an OK team that will only get another 4-5 wins and are bound for the NIT. With all the close losses they may end up below my prediction but I'm OK with that.
Purdue- Prediction 8-10. 4-3 so far. In my prediction I went 8-10 but said I wouldn't be surprised if this team made a tourney run. I'm still not sure if I was too chicken to predict this team as a 10 win club or dead on. They beat MI and Minn at home and needed OT to win @PSU. The only impressive win was against Iowa but that was without Aaron White which doesn't impress. Then again, they played well in the 3 close losses @UW, vs Maryland and @IL.
This team has a lot of balance with 6 players averaging between 9.5 and 10.7 PPG. Hammons was sent to the bench in favor of starting freshman Haas and the results have been great. It's not too often an upperclassman who has started since his freshman year and is kind of a head case gets better after being benched. All too often you see that player melt down and transfer or completely lose confidence, but Hammons has responded. He is currently leading the team in PPG, RPG, and blocks (although he still leads the team in turnovers).
PSU- Prediction 6-12. 1-6 so far. I thought Newbill would score enough to steal a few wins for this team by himself. He is leading the conference in scoring but they have just one win to show for it. They look like they will end up short of 6 wins at this point.
Northwestern- Prediction 5-13. 1-5 so far. I thought NW might play through their center Olah more as they are a slow it down team and he is the only efficient scorer. Instead they are having their guards Demps and McIntosh chuck it consistently. The results are predictable and they will struggle to get to 5 wins.
Rutgers- Prediction 5-13. 2-6 so far. This team is even worse than I predicted which makes the UW loss to them that much harder to understand. I don't know if they win another game this year. They also fall short of the lowly 5 win total.