Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, January 9, 2012 at 11:35 PM
Now that college football is officially over, we’ll be devoting a lot more time to college basketball. We still have plenty of pro football to discuss of course. And, we’ll be doing just that Wednesday when we review the key stats from Wildcard Weekend and Monday Night’s BCS battle….then again over the weekend with matchup previews in the divisional round. But…with just a few football days left, we’ll be very close to wall-to-wall basketball in the near future.
To help build that foundation, we’re going to put together some conference breakdowns in the leagues you see most often on TV. That will start today with the Big Ten to get you ready for a Tuesday ticket that includes Iowa-Michigan State on the Big 10 Network and Ohio State-Illinois on ESPN.
At the beginning of the season, it was pretty well understood that:
*Ohio State was a national championship threat (#3 preseason)
*Wisconsin and Michigan were top 20 material (in preseason rankings)
*Other teams had a chance to become meaningful
Michigan State and Purdue weren’t in the top 25 before the season started. But, they got some votes…and everyone understood that the talent was there in a way that could have an impact this year. Indiana was attracting the very sharpest of eyes early on…and would ultimately announce their improvement in very loud fashion with upsets of Ohio Stat and Kentucky.
Amazingly, for a conference that only had one team in the top ten rankings before the season started, the Big 10 suddenly had FOUR teams in THE TOP EIGHT of Ken Pomeroy’s respected computer ratings heading into Sunday action.
Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Indiana were all reasonable picks for Elite Eight status…until Wisconsin was stunned by Michigan Sunday afternoon. That made it three straight losses for a Wisconsin team that’s providing us multiple definitions for “breakdown” when reviewing the Big 10!
WISCONSIN’S LAST THREE GAMES:
Wisconsin (-17) lost to Iowa 72-65 (missed spread by 24 points)
Wisconsin (-6.5) lost to Michigan State 63-60 in overtime (missed by 6.5 in regulation)
Wisconsin (-1) lost at Michigan 59-41 (missed spread by 19 points)
That’s two straight up losses at home, three straight up losses as favorites, and a combined distance from expectations of almost 50 points during the stunning slump.
Maybe Wisconsin isn’t so great after all! They certainly have a fantastic defense. When the shots aren’t falling, they’re just another generic team. We’ve typed variations of that sentence time again under this current head coach.
How do things REALLY stand in the Big 10 right now? We’d have to say that Wisconsin is providing some mystery to that. To help clear our thinking, we’re going to create a subset of only the best teams to see who they’re fairing against each other so far in two weeks of league play.
Big 10 subset: Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Purdue, Illinois
ESPN’s most recent bracketology report has those seven teams projected to play in the Big Dance. Illinois is on the bubble…and plays that huge TV game tonight vs. Ohio State that we’re sure many of you will be watching. Six of those seven were in the top 40 of Pomeroy’s numbers over the weekend too…so this seems like a good way to sample how the top teams might fare against each other the rest of the way.
THE BIG 10’S MINI-SEVEN
Michigan State (-6) beat Indiana 80-65
Indiana (+5) beat Ohio State 74-70
Indiana (-7.5) beat Michigan 73-71
Michigan (+1) beat Wisconsin 59-41
Michigan State (+6.5) beat Wisconsin 63-60 in overtime
Purdue (-7) beat Illinois 75-60
Only six games isn’t a big sample…but some trends are starting to develop. Indiana is for real, but might be less of a threat on the road. Michigan State’s tough early schedule has them so battle tested they’re not afraid of anyone. Ohio State is once again loaded, but beatable. Wisconsin looks to be in trouble. Illinois hasn’t yet established that they should be a tourney team. The jury is out on Purdue for the time being. \\\\
We were going to run the rest of the Big 10 schedule this week for you right now. But, until teams like Nebraska and Penn State prove their relevant for coverage beyond the occasional out-of-the-blue upset, let’s just focus on the special seven.
THIS WEEK’S GAMES AMONGST THE BIG 10 ELITE
Tonight: Ohio State at Illinois on ESPN
Thursday: Wisconsin at Purdue on ESPN2
Sunday: Indiana at Ohio State on CBS
That’s a nice little plate of appetizers, with two appearances from Ohio State, and already the rematch between the Buckeyes and the Hoosiers. We’ll surely learn a lot more from Wiscy and Purdue in that Thursday Night affair too.
Let’s take a quick look at recent adjusted offense and defensive rankings for these seven teams so you have a better sense of what you’re actually handicapping in these games! The adjusted rankings are available at Pomeroy’s website…and are simply scoring adjusted for tempo and schedule strength.
Ohio State: 13th on offense, 1st on defense
Wisconsin: 15th on offense, 2nd on defense
Michigan State: 10th on offense 7th on defense
Indiana: 5th on offense, 23rd on defense
Purdue: 45th on offense, 39th on defense
Michigan: 32nd on offense, 77th on defense
Illinois: 135th on offense, 20th on defense
Obviously Wisconsin isn’t playing to those rankings lately. And, skeptics could make a reasonable case that Pomeroy has had the Badgers overrated all season. The same is true for Ohio State to a degree, though there’s no denying the Buckeye’s championship potential.
One of the challenges analysts must deal with in the Big 10 this year (and most years) is determining how much of what are seen as “defensive ratings” for these teams are simply BAD OFFENSES across the league. There have been so many March Madness disappointments in recent years that you have to be a little skeptical about any methodology that celebrates this conference too much.
In case you’ve forgotten:
*Ohio State was a #1 seed last year, but lost in the Sweet 16 to #4 Kentucky 62-60 as favorites of 5- points.
*Purdue was a #3 seed last year, but lost in the second round to #11 Virginia Commonwealth 94-76 as favorites of 9 points.
*Wisconsin was a #4 seed last year, but lost in the Sweet 16 to #8 Butler 61-54 as favorites of 4-5 points.
It wasn’t a complete disaster for the Big 10, as Michigan won one game, then almost upset Duke. Illinois won a game. Penn State and Michigan State didn’t embarrass themselves in first round losses. Still, pre-tournament talk about Wisconsin and Purdue going deep turned into actual talk about Butler and Virginia Commonwealth going deep!
That sets up the next few months of play in the Big 10. We’re looking at respected teams who may or may not deserve that respect. You have to make the proper assessments in league action…and THEN hope that league action wasn’t a smokescreen created by a media hype.
You’re probably thinking that’s a pretty steep challenge for a do-it-yourself handicapper. IT IS! That’s why JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK was created. We put all the pieces together to solve the puzzles in every conference. We have scouts and sources all over the country. We have statheads who crunch all the numbers (and have been doing so since well before the internet age even began). We have computer programmers running state-of-the-art software to account for every possibility. We have trends and angles guys who know what works and what doesn’t. We have Wise Guy connections in Las Vegas and offshore who let us know what the sharps are betting and why.
It all comes together with BIG JUICY WINNERS here at the website each and every day. We also have longterm packages that are available in our home office at 1-800-323-4453.
Whether it’s the Big 10…or the Big East…the Big 12…the BIG KAHUNA is JIM HURLEY, and his NETWORK is going to get you the money