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February 7, 2011, 12:00 PM ET
Salutary chaos in the Big Ten

by John Gasaway

The state of Wisconsin had a very good day yesterday, and certainly I don’t blame anyone for already looking ahead toward Saturday’s showdown in Madison, where Wisconsin will host No. 1-ranked and undefeated Ohio State. After all, these have been the two best teams in Big Ten play, right?

Well, yes.

The year nobody sucked 
Through games of February 6, conference games only
Pace: Possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession  Opp. PPP: opponent PPP
EM: efficiency margin (PPP - Opp. PPP)

                     W-L     Pace    PPP    Opp. PPP   EM
1.  Wisconsin        7-3     56.1    1.19     1.03   +0.16
2.  Ohio St.        11-0     63.0    1.14     1.00   +0.14
3.  Purdue           7-3     64.0    1.14     1.04   +0.10
4.  Illinois         5-5     62.7    1.10     1.03   +0.07
5.  Penn St.         5-6     58.6    1.07     1.09   -0.02
6.  Minnesota        5-6     61.7    1.07     1.10   -0.03
7.  Northwestern     4-7     63.2    1.08     1.14   -0.06
8.  Indiana          3-8     63.0    1.06     1.13   -0.07
9.  Michigan St.     5-6     61.6    1.03     1.10   -0.07
10. Michigan         4-7     59.7    1.07     1.15   -0.08
11. Iowa             3-8     65.9    1.00     1.11   -0.11
AVG.                         61.8    1.09 
 

Prospectus readers were well prepared for an eventuality like Jon Leuer being really potent on offense, but the emergence of Jordan Taylor this season has been…amazing? Spectacular? Bo-dacious? (Har!) Call it what you will. Improving one’s three-point shooting from 33 to 41 percent while taking on a much larger share of the possessions is something any coach can love.

In his ability to translate possessions into points, Taylor’s now equivalent if not superior to Leuer. Both players draw about five fouls for every 40 minutes they play, and together they’re shooting 86 percent at the line. In other words Wisconsin’s league-leading offense is driven by more than just their historically low turnover rate. (The Badgers have given the ball away on just 11 percent of their possessions in conference play.)   

But it’s a mark of the churn and spin that’s enlivened the league this year that “Hey, Wisconsin better not look past that game at Iowa on Wednesday night!” is more than just a customary and predictable sound bite. In this case the customary and predictable sound bite also happens to be 100 percent accurate. 

In achieving this year’s gaudy per-possession numbers (and bear in mind they do this every year), Bo Ryan’s team has in fact been every bit as bipolar in terms of home vs. road performance as your run-of-the-mill average team. Wisconsin’s D in conference play has been more or less the same at the Kohl Center or on an opponent’s home floor — very good but not Alabama-good by any means. But it’s the Badger offense that really changes depending on the venue. They’re no slouch on the road, mind you (1.13 points per trip) but in Madison they’ve been simply invincible (1.24).

That bipolar quality will give the Hawkeyes a chance, albeit a slim one. (Repeat, “slim.” Iowa’s specialty, after all, is forcing turnovers. That doesn’t figure to help much Wednesday night. Keep reading anyway.) One of the most notable features of this year’s Big Ten is the total absence of a team that really sucks. For the first time in years there is no such team. Somebody has to finish last, of course, but this year’s Big Ten bids fair to follow in the footsteps of last year’s ACC, when Miami finished last and in fact was surprisingly competitive.

As seen here, Fran McCaffery’s team is being outscored by 0.11 points per trip by the rest of the league. That’s pretty bad, sure, but it’s nowhere near as bad as what we see from the likes of Texas Tech (-0.18), much less LSU (-0.22), DePaul (-0.24), or (gasp) Wake Forest (-0.29). This year the lower depths of the Big Ten most closely resemble the bottom of the oh-so-often egalitarian Pac-10, where Arizona State (-0.13) is the closest thing to a doormat.

That annual Big East sound bite about there being “no nights off”? To the extent that it’s true anywhere in 2011 it’s true in the Big Ten and Pac-10.

John maintains laudable home-vs.-road consistency on Twitter: @JohnGasaway. You can contact John by clicking hereCollege Basketball Prospectus 2010-11 is now available on Amazon. 

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