Jajuan Johnson may be playing himself into the lottery
The Big Ten season has started in earnest and three things are abundantly clear in the Big Ten. First, Iowa is going to have a very hard time getting out of the cellar. Second, Ohio State at 5-0 is going to be difficult for any one team to surpass to win the Big Ten title outright given the level of competition in the conference. Finally, because of the level of competition in the conference, the rankings of the team within the conference will likely change every two weeks.
11. Iowa (7-10)(0-5) – The young undersized Hawkeyes continue to struggle to find a way to start aggressively in games. Iowa has led in only one Big Ten contest at halftime. In Iowa’s loss to Northwestern, the Wildcats rushed out to a 22-point lead in the first 10 minutes of the game on the strength of making seven of their first eight three-point shots. The Hawkeyes bounced back and played well early against Minnesota but because of their lack of size, Iowa could never effectively compete against the Gophers. Iowa is going to struggle to win ten games this season.
10. Michigan (11-7)(1-4) – The Wolverines have the talent to upset the ranked teams in the Big Ten as attested by the close losses to Syracuse, Kansas and Ohio State. Six-foot-four-inch guard Darius Morris is emerging as the primary threat of the team as he is averaging 16 points, seven assists and four rebounds. Michigan is a young team and often struggles with shot selection especially in transition. As a result of poor shot selection, the Wolverines often find themselves on the wrong end of quick 8-0 runs. Michigan with a little luck will get to the NIT tournament.
9. Indiana (10-8)(1-4) – Coach Tom Crean recently called out Christian Watford for not playing hard enough and the sophomore responded with a 17-point 10-rebound effort in the Hoosier 80-61 win over the Wolverines. Verdell Jones III however was the star of the game connecting on nine of 10 shots on his way to 24 points. Indiana is playing better basketball but the team does not have enough talent to make a legitimate run for the NCAA tournament. A trip to the NIT for Indiana may even be out of reach as the Hoosiers finishes the season playing nine ranked teams in its last 13 games.
8. Northwestern (11-5)(2-4) – The NCAA tournament committee is playing the song “Tiny Bubbles” for the Wildcats. Northwestern has six of their remaining 13 games against ranked teams; the Wildcats have yet to beat a ranked team this season. If Northwestern fails to pull off an upset over a ranked team they will be firmly on the NCAA bubble with an 18-11 record. 6’8 Forward John Shurna is doing everything he can do to get the Wildcats to the tournament as he is averaging 19 points a game while shooting 55 percent from beyond the three point line.
7. Penn State (10-7)(3-3) –The story out of Happy Valley the last three years has been Talor Battle and his willingness to play David to the Goliaths in the Big Ten. This year, the story is not about Battle and his willingness to try and carry the Nittany Lions, the story is about senior Jeff Brooks. The 6’8 Brooks is averaging 13 points and 8 rebounds this year after never posting half the numbers in any of the preceding three years of his career. Battle and Brooks have been able to engineer upsets over Michigan State and Illinois this year. The Lions will need to pull off a couple more upsets in order to see post season play as they play eight ranked teams in their final 12 games.
Who is the biggest surprise in the Big Ten?
6. Illinois (13-5)(3-2) – The question in Champaign is whether history is going to repeat itself. Last year, the Illini started the Big Ten season 4-0 with expectations of easily qualifying for the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, Illinois fell short going only 6-8 the rest of the Big Ten season. This year, Illinois once again started strong winning their first three games of the Big Ten season; unfortunately for Coach Bruce Weber his team similar to last year dropped its last two games to Penn State and Wisconsin. Next up for the Illini is Michigan State and Ohio State. Illinois will have its hands full trying to avoid that feeling of déjà vu.
5. Minnesota (14-4)(3-3) – The Gophers are trying to take a page out of Ohio State’s playbook from last year where the Buckeyes started the Big Ten season 1-3 but finished the season 14-4 for a share of the Big Ten title. Minnesota has no legitimate one-on-one scorer but they have the most formidable front line in the Big Ten with Trevor Mbakwe, Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson. The Gophers schedule is favorable as they play only four ranked teams in their last 12 games of the season.
4. Michigan State (12-5)(4-1) – The Spartans appear to be stuck in second gear as Kalin Lucas clearly does not have the explosive first gear he once had before he ruptured Achilles’ tendon in last year’s NCAA tournament. The recent play that epitomizes Lucas’ loss of speed was when Keaton Nankivil easily blocked a Lucas lay-up from behind at the end of regulation in the Spartans 64-61 win in Madison over Wisconsin. Forward Draymond Green, who is 6'7, is quietly having a solid season averaging 13 points, nine rebounds and four assists a game.
3. Wisconsin (13-4)(3-2) – Everyone understood going into the season that Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor would be a formidable one-two punch for Coach Bo Ryan but the question in Madison was whether the Badgers would find a third scorer. The answer to question appears to be Keaton Nankivil who is averaging 13 points and five rebounds in the first five games of the Big Ten season. Wisconsin will be a tough out this season as they appear to be a better defensive team than last year.
2. Purdue (15-3)(4-1) – JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore have taken their respective games to another level this year. Johnson is averaging 20 points, eight rebounds and nearly three blocks a game; Moore is averaging 18 points, six rebound and three assists. The Boilermakers are relying on the two seniors to supply most of their scoring as the rest of their offense is by committee with Coach Painter using six players to score between five and eight points. The Boilermakers dropped their last two games against Minnesota and West Virginia but given that both were closely contested and on the road, Purdue’s star doesn’t fall much this week.
1. Ohio State (18-0)(5-0) – The Buckeyes are clearly the best team in the Big Ten. The easy answer as to Ohio State’s success is look to Jared Sullinger as he has been as good as advertised in the low post. Jon Diebler and David Lighty providing senior leadership can’t be overlooked in explaining the success of the Buckeyes. While he is not the main reason for the Buckeyes success, a key player who is starting to emerge to the forefront is freshman Aaron Craft. Craft is playing tenacious defense and is making great decisions in running the club.