This has not been a banner season for the Big Ten.
Illinois is 8-4 and Michigan is 6-5 after beginning the season in The Associated Press’ Top 25. Michigan State is 9-3 but has lost to the best teams on its schedule, falling to Florida, North Carolina and Texas. Ohio State is 10-2 but its best player, Evan Turner, suffered a broken back earlier this month and will miss the start of conference play.
Northwestern has certainly been a pleasant surprise, getting out of the gate at 10-1 despite losing its top player (Kevin Coble) for the season because of injury before playing a game this season. Wisconsin has also been a bit of a surprise at 9-2 and Minnesota is the top Big Ten team in the Pomeroy Ratings, standing No. 7 with a 9-3 record despite having disciplinary problems.
However, the Big Ten that has stood out above the rest is Purdue. The Boilermakers are 11-0, ranked No. 4 in the AP poll and No. 10 in the Pomeroy Ratings. They are one of six unbeaten teams remaining in the nation going into their conference opener next Tuesday at Iowa along with Kansas and Texas (Big 12), Kentucky (SEC) and Syracuse and West Virginia (Big East).
“We’ve obviously gotten off to a good start and I’m pleased,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “The encouraging part to me, though, is we’ve won all of our games without really playing our best.”
While Purdue is 51st in the nation with a 110.2 adjusted offensive efficiency, it is 142nd with a 49.9 effective field goal percentage and 268th with a 30.8 three-point field goal percentage. Yet, the Boilermakers have survived without shooting straight.
“We’ve been able to string some wins together,” Painter said. “We’ve made strides rebounding the basketball and taking care of the basketball but I thought shooting the basketball would be our strength. I feel it will be before the season is over because we have too many guys who can step up and make an open shot.”
Purdue, though, is noted for defense and that has been a constant during the 11-0 start. The Boilermakers are fifth in the nation with an 84.4 adjusted defensive efficiency and eighth with 26.8 turnover percentage.
“We’re competing and playing hard on the defense end,” Painter said. “We’re doing the things to cover up for the fact that the ball is not going in the basket.”
Purdue ranks a paltry 233th in strength of schedule but Painter has liked the way his team played against the three opponents currently in the Pomeroy Top 100. The Boilermakers beat Tennessee 73-72 in the Virgin Islands, downed Wake Forest 69-58 despite making only 1 of 15 three-point attempts then rallied from 16 points down for a 73-65 road victory over Alabama.
“We’ve been able to win some close games against some tough teams,” Painter said. “I thought the Alabama win was really big for us. We simply did not play well or make good decisions early and we fell behind 46-30 in a tough venue. But our guys really made a strong effort late in the game. It was a huge confidence booster for us because there was really nothing to indicate we were going to come back in that game but we kept plugging and fighting and that showed the character of our team.”
Junior guard E’Twaun Moore is leading the way for Purdue as he is averaging 16.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 28.4 minutes a game. Junior forward Robbie Hummel is averaging 14.3/6.6/1.8/27.2 and junior center JaJuan Johnson has a 14.3/6.5/0.5/24.8 line.
Meanwhile, senior guard Chris Kramer, last year’s Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, is 60th in the nation in free throw rate (78.6), 71st in offensive rating (125.9) and 78th in true shooting percentage (64.2) to go with a 7.3/3.4/3.3/24.9 line. While his advanced offensive metrics are impressive, Painter feels Kramer has gotten even better on the defensive end.
“He really keys everything we do on defense but he’s not just looking to steal the ball on every possession anymore,” Painter said. “He’s been much more solid and he’s become very good on the offensive end. He’s having a great season to this point.”
Texas Stakes Claim to No. 1 Spot
Kansas has been the top-ranked team in the AP poll since the beginning of the season and remains No. 1. However, No. 2 Texas gained ground on the Jayhawks in the voting among a panel of media members this week.
There are some analysts who now believe the Longhorns are the best team in the country after they beat North Carolina 103-90 last Saturday at Arlington, Texas and visiting Michigan State 79-68 on Tuesday at Austin.
Kansas’ players saw the poll results this week and some of them admitted after Tuesday night’s 84-69 victory over California that they were miffed about Texas getting closer.
“A lot of people were saying we’re not worthy of being No. 1,” senior guard Sherron Collins said.”We’re supposed to lose or they’ve got us losing. We took it in. We took it personal. We wanted to show everybody we’re No. 1.”
“I guess there could be a couple different No. 1 teams but they gave it to us, and I don’t think they should take it away from us until we lose,” sophomore guard Tyshawn Taylor said. “I felt this was a game we had to come out and make a statement, ‘Listen, we’re No. 1 for a reason,’ so that’s what we did.”
North Carolina has also lost to Syracuse and Kentucky this season but Tar Heels coach Roy Williams gives the edge to Texas.
“They’re all real good clubs,” Williams said. “Syracuse has the best zone team and Texas plays the best man-to-man. Kentucky has some youth, which will help you, but Texas has more experienced talent and has more depth.”
The Pomeroy Ratings have Texas at No. 1 and Kansas at No. 3, sandwiching Duke. The Longhorns and Jayhawks will meet in a Big 12 showdown on Feb. 8 at Austin.
Seminoles Kick Off ACC Play with Win
Conference plays begins in earnest next week but Florida State got a nice head start in the ACC last Sunday by rallying for a 66-59 road victory over Georgia Tech. The Seminoles had gone 9-2 in non-conference games but a 68-52 loss at Florida and a 77-64 defeat at Ohio State left doubts about how much of a factor they would be in the ACC this season.
“It means an awful lot to us because we didn't really play well against the other nationally ranked teams that we faced,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “Playing well against a great team like Georgia Tech will really boost a young team's confidence.”
Florida State senior forward Ryan Reid, who scored a game-high 17 points, including consecutive baskets in overtime to give the Seminoles the lead for good, tried to downplay the victory’s significance.
“At the end of the day, 1-0 is really nothing because later on you can be at the bottom of the ACC,” he said. “Right now, it’s just another win for us.”
Florida State improved to 11-2 by beating Tennessee-Martin 95-68 on Tuesday night and has non-conference games against Alabama A&M on Dec. 31 and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Jan. 4 before returning to ACC play Jan. 10 with a visit to Maryland. The Seminoles are No. 45 in the Pomeroy Ratings.
Echenique's Season Over
Rutgers will be leaning heavily on senior center Hamady Ndiaye now that sophomore center Greg Echenique will miss the remainder of the season with a detached retina in his left eye.
Rutgers announced last Saturday that Echenique was out for the year and would apply for a medical redshirt after undergoing a second surgery to correct a problem caused by being accidently poked in the eye during a pick-up game in the fall. Hours after the announcement, Ndiaye had 11 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocked shots in 31 minutes of a 71-62 victory over New Jersey Tech. He then had 15 points, six rebounds and 10 blocks in 31 minutes Tuesday night in a 66-42 rout of St. Peter’s.
“H has been a warrior here,” Rutgers coach Fred Hill said. “He’s plays with enthusiasm. There is no newfound weight on H’s shoulders. H is H.”
Echenique had a 12.6/7.7/0.6/23.4 line in seven games this season. His 9.5 block percentage was 53rd in the nation and Ndiaye now leads that category with a 25.0 mark.
“The surgeries have gone very well,” Hill said. “All we can do now is monitor Greg’s recovery.”
Rutgers is 9-2 going into its game at North Carolina on Monday but is just No. 174 in the Pomeroy Ratings because its strength of schedule ranks next-to-last among the 347 Division I schools ahead of only Texas-Arlington.
Another Upset for Richmond
Richmond continued its string of upsets last Saturday when it beat Florida 56-53 in the Orange Bowl Classic at Sunrise, Fla. The Spiders have also beaten Mississippi State, Missouri and Old Dominion on their way to a 9-3 start and the No. 41 spot in the Pomeroy Ratings.
Richmond is 23rd with an 87.6 defensive efficiency and it has given teams trouble by playing a couple of rarely seen defenses, the match-up zone and 1-3-1 zone.
”When we're playing great defense, like we were (against Florida), we’re tough,” guard Kevin Anderson told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Richmond is suddenly looking like a contender in the Atlantic 10 this season. It hosts North Carolina-Wilmington next Monday and visits Wake Forest on Dec. 31 and Bucknell on Jan. 2 before opening conference play at Duquesne on Jan. 6.
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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