Friday, December 6, 2013

Torvik's Big Ten Preview

Chorlton is the master at in-depth previews of every Big Ten team. I can only pretend to have his depth of knowledge. And I will do so now.

Chorlton put things in terms of top and bottom. Instead of an upper and lower division, I think there are really four pretty clear divisions this year, and I'm going to predict that none of the teams in my four divisions will finish more than one division above or below the slot I assign them to. Put it in the book. Here we go.

Division #1:
Michigan State
Ohio State

One of these three teams will win the Big Ten. (Keep in mind that there might be like a five-way tie for the Big Ten title.)

MSU was the clear pre-season favorite, and rightfully so. But though they've been ranked #1 for three weeks, they've gone through a few of their typical early season woes. A close game at home to Columbia was disturbing. Then they got destroyed at home by North Carolina, as usual. WTF, MSU? Thankfully, they've got an easy excuse: they aren't 100%. Star Gary Harris has a gimpy ankle, and Adreian Payne apparently has plantar fasciitis, which I believe is the sudden emergence of a third big toe (usually somewhere on the foot). Unfortunately, there's no guarantee these injury problems are going to resolve. Gary Harris seems a little ... fragile. And who knows how many more toes Payne might grow. Still, even at 90% this team has the talent and experience to contend nationally. I have begun to doubt whether they've got the balls to win the Big Ten, but they'll be in the mix.

Last year I made the mistake of underestimating Ohio State. Never again! Matta is a master, and Ohio State is doing its thang™ again. They are going to be great on defense, the only question is whether they can score enough. Luckily for them, scoring is often optional in B1G conference play.

As I've documented, Wisconsin has already had probably the best non-conference season in the history of the program. The win over Virginia was the most impressive of all, as it showed they could get down 'n dirty. I've had some concerns about their defense, but as time goes on these are dissipating. Indeed, their weakest defensive performance have come against lesser foes and their best defensive performances have come in their toughest games. Look at this picture:

On the y-axis is the Kenpom win probability for each of Wisconsin's games. (To put it in terms Chorlton can understand: The higher it is, the more likely they were to win that game.) On the x-axis is the Badgers' corresponding defensive performance in that game. For example, in the lower left you've got the Virginia game, where they had a 30% chance of winning but held Virginia to .67 points per possession. On the upper right is the North Dakota game—they were 96% likely to win, but gave up 1.15 PPP.

So this chart shows a very clear trend, but it is exactly backwards. You'd expect the Badgers to allow more points to the better teams, but the opposite is true. It's a mystery. But here's my thought: these guys rise to the occasion.

Division #2: 

Chorlton wrote the book on these teams already, and we agree they'll finish 4-6. So just a few brief notes:

Michigan misses Trey Burke a lot, as any team would. He was a three-star recruit who became national player of the year as a sophomore. No one appreciates how good he really was, and thus Michigan is overrated. This is a big year for Beilein. If they revert to pre-Burke semi-mediocrity, my old opinion that he's more of a Tubby Smith than a Bo Ryan will be redeemed.

Iowa is definitely on the rise, and I actually think they're the most likely of these Division #2 teams to win the Big Ten. But they have serious flaws as well. In particular, they still struggle in the half court on offense. As we know, running won't get it done in the Big Ten, so you have to figure out a way to scrounge up baskets. Iowa lost a lot of close games last year because they just couldn't score at the end of games when things got tight. They've got all the same players, and could have the same problems.

Indiana does have some good freshmen. From what I've seen, Vonleh could be really good. I hope he leaves after this year. But this is a team that will struggle in the Big Ten. They're more likely to fall into the NIT than win the Big Ten.

Division #3:

One of these three teams will surprise us, but I'm not sure which one. Purdue has looked terrible at times this season, but I refuse to believe they won't improve. Illinois has a bunch of freshman, as Chorlton noted, and maybe they'll get good this year (but I doubt it). Minnesota has Austin Hollins (or maybe it's Andre who's good) and a bunch of other guys, and they'll get some wins at home. Which one of these teams will put together a lucky season? My bet is on Purdue because they have the best coach.

Division #4:
Penn State

I actually disagree with Chorlton, and have observed some improvement in his beloved "bottom." Well, not in Northwestern. But Penn State and Nebraska could win some big games at home.

Okay, I've run out of gas. Prediction time.

OSU, 14-4
WI, 13-5
MSU, 13-5
Mich., 11-7
Iowa, 11-7
Ind., 10-8
Ill., 8-10
Minn., 8-10
Purd., 8-10
PSU, 5-13
Neb., 4-14
NW, 3-15

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