The Bracket Buster matchups have finally been announced! Every true college basketball fan loves the small school underdogs, and the Bracket Busters will show us the best they have to offer. The College Court will be going over the T. V. games and rank the best matchups so you know what to watch, as well as what to watch for. The games take place on February 17th and 18th.
1. St. Mary’s @ Murray St.: The obvious favorite matchup has the 21-2 Gaels taking on the undefeated Racers. St. Mary’s has had an impressive season. They have taken out solid opponents like Northern Iowa, Weber St., BYU, and Gonzaga, and have looked impressive in doing so. They are loaded across the board, being in the top 50 in the nation in scoring, rebounding, assists, and field goal percentage. Matthew Dellavedova and Rob Jones have been the two stars, both having WCC player of the year type seasons. Dellavedova averages 15.4 points and 6.4 assists while Jones is scoring 14.3 points and pulls down 10.8 boards a game. The Gaels will be the best team that Murray St. has played all season, and it will truly test them in their quest to an undefeated season. The Racers have beaten the likes of Southern Miss and Memphis, but will face a huge test in St. Mary’s. Not a very good rebounding team, Murray St. must keep Jones off the glass as much as they can. Their big three, Isaiah Canaan, Donte Poole, and Ivan Aska, will have no trouble scoring, but the key will be playing their game and forcing the Gaels to do the same.
2. Long Beach St. @ Creighton: Doug McDermott, a contender for national player of the year, is leading the Blue Jays to a stellar mid-major season. He averages an outstanding 23.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, while shooting .617 from the field, .831 from the free throw line, and .500 from behind the arc. Those numbers are incredible. With wins over San Diego St., Wichita St., and Northern Iowa, Creighton has put together an impressive resume. However, they face an interesting test in Casper Ware and a talented Long Beach St. squad. Ware and Larry Anderson will be pests for the Blue Jays, but the key for the 49ers is to get T. J. Robinson going. Robinson averages a double double and could be the x-factor in this game. The 49ers have been battle tested, facing Louisville, Kansas, UNC, and Kansas St. already so far. They won’t be fazed when facing Creighton, which could be an upset in the making.
3. Nevada @ Iona: On a 15 game winning streak, the Wolfpack may have finally met their match. Iona is a team that leads the nation in assists, is fifth in scoring, and sixth in field goal percentage. The Gaels receive the majority of their production from a trio of players that could truly be called the big three: Michael Glover, Lamont Jones, and Scott Machado. Glover leads in scoring with 18.8 points and also has 9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. Jones is solid across the board with 14.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. Finally, Machado is the player I feel is the most important part to this team. He averages 13.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 9.9 assists, and 1.5 steals. Machado is a huge reason why the Gaels lead the country in assists. Meanwhile, Nevada is certainly going to put up a fight. Four players average in double figures as Deonte Burton is scoring 15.5 points per game, while Dario Hunt is a beast on the glass, getting 9 rebounds per contest. The Wolfpack is still looking for that signature win, so expect them to being playing extra motivated. In what looks to be an extremely up-tempo and close game, you will not want to miss this one.
4. Drexel @ Cleveland St.: Two of the top mid-major conferences have a representative in this matchup: Drexel of the CAA and Cleveland St. of the Horizon League. The Dragons are the underdogs in this one, as they would receive a nice resume boost by beating the Vikings, who lead the Horizon League. Drexel has two players who average over 7 rebounds per game in Sammie Givens and Daryl McCoy. These two are the best way to beat the Vikings, who have a guard-oriented team that is led by Trevon Harmon (12 ppg), D’Aundray Brown (11.5 ppg), and Jeremy Montgomery (10.6 ppg). Cleveland St. has already beaten Vanderbilt, but could use another big win. However, the game is more crucial for the Dragons, who have a bad loss to Delaware. Drexel will be upset-minded, but I expect Cleveland St. to hold strong.
5. Wichita St. @ Davidson: The Wildcats rely heavily on two of the basic facets of the game: scoring and rebounding. They are 19th in scoring and 47th in rebounding. Losses to Charlotte and Samford hurt, but the road win against Kansas speaks volumes for their resume. Another solid win would be nice, however. The two big men, De’Mon Brooks and Jake Cohen, are the embodiment of their team, scoring 15.2 and 14.2 points, and 6.4 and 6.1 rebounds respectively. They will have their hands full with a very balanced Wichita St. team. The Shockers hold a win over UNLV and still have another chance to beat Creighton, so they are looking good at the moment. Senior center Garrett Stutz has been a leader both on and off the floor. The seven-footer averages 13.6 points and 7.5 assists. This game pits two similar and evenly matched teams against each other; the winner will be the team who wants it more.
6. Akron @ Oral Roberts: The Zips have rebounded from a tough start to win seven of eight. Like Davidson, they are led by their frontcourt. Nikola Cventinovic averages 10.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, but the true x-factor is Zeke Marshall. Marshall averages 3 blocks a contest and is a complete game changer. When Marshall patrols the paint, the opposing team will think twice about attacking it. Since its first win of the season over Mississippi St., Akron hasn’t really beaten anyone of note, so they have a golden opportunity here. Speaking of golden, the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles have won 13 straight and have already reached the 20 win plateau. Their resume isn’t the best, but the reason for their great success is that they’re shooting .487 from the field as a team. Dominique Morrison averages 20.2 points and is a terror from long range. If the Zips can contain Morrison, they have a shot, but if he is on his game, Oral Roberts will be flying high.
7. Northern Iowa @ VCU: With the daunting task of opening the Bracket Busters, the Panthers of Northern Iowa have a chance to revive their season against the surging Rams. It has been a tale of two halves for both teams. For Northern Iowa, they started the year off 10-1 with wins over Old Dominion and Iowa St. and their only loss to St. Mary’s. Since then, they have lost eight of twelve, two of the losses coming to Evansville and Bradley. VCU has been the opposite. An average start at 3-3, they have gone 15-2 since then. Both teams have two players that are staples to their teams: Anthony James and Jake Koch for Northern Iowa and Bradford Burgess and Juvonte Reddic for VCU. Burgess was key to the final four run for the Rams this year; he could be the difference in this game.
8. UT-Arlington @ Weber St.: Damian Lillard should be in consideration for player of the year, but because he plays for Weber St., he won’t receive any votes. Lillard averages 24.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.7 assists for Wildcats, who are most likely tournament bound. Scott Bamforth has also been a key with 15.6 points per game. However, it’s hard to determine just how good Weber St. is because they have lost to every good team they’ve played, so this will be a nice test. Texas-Arlington is in the top 25 in the nation in both scoring and rebounding, so you know they are an impressive ball club. They will do whatever it takes to keep their 11-game winning streak alive. LaMarcus Reed III is a star, scoring at a 16.8 clip. It will be a lot of fun to see Lillard and Reed battle with each other, and whoever has the better game will probably be the one to lead their team to victory.
9. Valparaiso @ Loyola Marymount: Some people may be surprised that the Lions got a home game, but they are battle tested and will try to prove their worth against the Crusaders. Valparaiso has been more impressive, but has also had an easier schedule. Kevin Van Wijk and Ryan Broekhoff are the top performers for the Crusaders. Broekhoff (8.8 rebounds per game) will have to control the glass to keep Valparaiso at their best. They will have to contend with the scoring of Loyola Marymount. Drew Viney, Anthony Ireland, and Ashely Hamilton all average more than 12 points per game. The game is huge for both teams, who have rough paths to winning their conference championship, but it’s bigger for Loyola Marymount. The Lions won’t be able to climb over St. Mary’s and Gonzaga, so they’ll need this win for both a resume builder and momentum.
10. Old Dominion @ Missouri St.: This matchup is very underrated and has a chance to be special. Old Dominion has been a strong rebounding team as usual, and although they are not as good as they were last year, they still have their two seniors Kent Bazemore and Chris Cooper. Bazemore is an offensive threat at 13.6 points per game, while Cooper is averaging a double double. The Monarchs have played some tough teams like Kentucky and Missouri, but have also lost to some teams that they shouldn’t have lost to (Vermont, Fairfield, Richmond). Missouri St. has had a tough season, losing four of six, but their claim to fame is a road win over Creighton. Kyle Weems is a star player for the Bears with stats such as 16 points and 7.5 rebounds. Weems will have his hands full, and Missouri St. desperately needs this win. Sometimes desperation is all a team needs.
11. UNC Asheville @ Ohio: There’s a lot to like about UNC Asheville even though some people may think they don’t belong in the Bracket Busters. They are third in the nation in scoring, and are led by the duo of Matt Dickey and J. P. Primm, who average a combined 33 points per game. Chris Stephenson, Jaron Lane, and Jeremy Atkinson all score in double digits as well. The reason for their high-powered offense is their .494 field goal percentage, good for ninth in the nation. You can talk all you want about the Bulldogs, but Ohio has had a better season. At 17-4 and with two of their losses coming on the road to Louisville and Akron, the Bobcats have been cleaning house. D. J. Cooper is an all around player who averages 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 5.6 assists. Cooper and the Bobcats are still looking for that signature win, and they may find one in UNC Asheville.
12. Drake @ New Mexico St.: The Bulldogs are in the lower tier of Bracket Busters, while the Aggies have already beaten New Mexico and are only two games out of first place in the WAC. New Mexico St. is 4th in the nation in rebounding, a surprising stat. The biggest reason for that is Wendell McKines. The senior forward is averaging 18.3 points and 10.3 rebounds. He’s going to be a terror for Drake, who need this win badly. After just beating Wichita St. in triple overtime, they will look to sustain their momentum. Rayvonte Rice and Ben Simons do the majority of the work for the Bulldogs, but they lack depth. It’s going to be difficult for Drake to hold off New Mexico St., but expect them to enter this game focused.
13. Buffalo @ South Dakota St.: Buffalo is actually a very solid team overall. They are 4th in rebounds and 14th in assists in the nation and are on a four game winning streak. In need of a big win, the Bulls will look towards Javon Mcrea and Mitchell Watt. Both averaging nearly 15 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. The duo will try to hold off Nate Wolters and the Jack Rabbits of South Dakota St. Wolters is a star, averaging 20.7 points, 5 rebounds, and 6.1 assists. He is certainly one of the best mid-major players out there, and now he will have a chance to shine on a national stage. A win over Washington is all they have to their name, so South Dakota St. will be looking for a key win. It’s Jack Rabbits against Bulls. Who will be the better Bracket Buster?
Wrapping up the midseason reports, we end with the worst conference in the Big Six conferences: the Pac-12. They are the only conference in which there are no ranked teams and no one receiving votes in the polls. It wasn’t always like this; a few teams were ranked to start the season and others were pegged as sleepers. However, just because the conference doesn’t show promise right now, doesn’t mean that’s how the season will end. I’ll break down the conference and try to pick apart the hidden good teams from the truly bad teams.
California Golden Bears: California is the one team that seems to stand out from the rest. It sits atop the conference, and has really not been that bad. In nonconference play, they only lost to Missouri, San Diego St., and UNLV, all teams in the top 15. However, in conference play, they’ve slipped up not once, but twice in the weak Pac-12. In their defense, both losses came on the road, the most recent to a Washington St. team that is actually pretty good at home. I’m not trying to give the Golden Bears a pass here and say they should be ranked, but they are certainly a good team nonetheless and may end up winning the conference. There are some quality players on the roster. Allen Crabbe is the top dog, averaging 15.7 points and 6.1 rebounds, while Jorge Guitierrez is also having solid season, averaging 14.3 points, 5 rebounds and 4.5 assists. Harper Kamp was expected to be the third member of the trio of top Cal players, but his production has been off this season. Stepping up in his place has been Justin Cobbs. The transfer from Minnesota has exploded onto the scene. He averages 13 points and 4.8 assists, but more importantly, is shooting .508 from the field and an unheard of .538 from long range. Cobbs may be the factor that has kept the Golden Bears a step above the rest.
Oregon Ducks: As I expected, the Ducks ‘ mini run in the Pac-10 tournament last year has been used to build off for this season. Currently second in the Pac-12, Oregon is receiving their main contributions from three players. Senior guard Devon Joseph has been a sharpshooter, averaging 14.6 points and 2.3 threes a game. E. J. Singler, brother of former Duke Blue Devil Kyle Singler, has been a presence scoring 12.9 points and grabbing 5.1 boards. Rounding out the trio is Garrett Sim, averaging 12.6 points per contest. All of their losses have come to decent teams, and quality wins lie against Stanford and Arizona, so their resume is very average. A run in the Pac-12 tournament can change that, which may be Oregon’s only way into the NCAA tournament.
Colorado Buffaloes: In their first season in the Pac-12, the Buffaloes are impressing. Only a half game out of first place, they have already beaten Washington and Arizona, two competitive teams that have ruled the conference for recent years. Make no mistake, Colorado is not keeping people on the edge of their seats, but they’ve done what they needed to do this season and after losing Alec Burks, they should be happy with where they stand. Carlon Brown, Austin Dufault, Andre Roberson, and Spencer Dinwiddie all average double figures, but the most impressive has been Roberson. The sophomore forward is averaging a double double with 10.9 points and 11.1 rebounds. Standing at only 6’ 7”is what makes that so remarkable. The Pac-12 title is within their reach, so we’ll see if they stay content with where they’re at, or they could make a run after narrowly and controversially missing the NCAA tournament last season.
Washington Huskies:The Huskies have the talent to really make some noise. Always a good team, they are 8thin the nation in rebounding, 25th in scoring, and have some very interesting elements on their roster. First, there’s Tony Wroten. The freshman guard has been their best player, averaging 16.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 2 steals per game. C. J. Wilcox and Terrence Ross, two key players from last year’s team, have upped their play to average 15.5 and 15 points per game and 3.5 and 6.5 rebounds respectively. Aziz N’Diaye has paced the Huskies in rebounding, averaging 8.1 per game. However, Washington has just received a player that could be their x-factor. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a freshman who just finished playing tight end for the Washington football team. In his debut against Stanford, he missed the only shot he took, but grabbed seven boards in only 16 minutes. Granted, he did foul out of the game, so he has to realize that football season is over, but his rebounding will help a squad that is already one of the best at cleaning the glass. Washington has had a tough schedule so far, but they’ve had some inexcusable losses. The Huskies will need to step up their game and play to their strengths in order to tap into their true potential.
Stanford Cardinal: The Cardinal opened some eyes in nonconference play. While not much was expected of them, they went out and beat Oklahoma St. and N. C. State, and played Syracuse down to the wire. Now, after a strong start in conference play, Stanford has lost back-to-back games against Washington St. and Washington, and has a huge game at California on Sunday that could really give them a nice boost. The little man-big man combination of Aaron Bright and Josh Owens has been very effective for the team. Chasson Randle has also been a nice development for the team; the freshman is averaging 12.1 points per game. Stanford is only one game back in a very winnable Pac-12. Although I don’t see them as a favorite, it’s theirs for the taking if they increase their play and make a run.
Arizona Wildcats: After losing four times in nonconference play, all to quality teams, it was evident that Arizona could not hang with the big boys. However, their struggles in the Pac-12 are starting to make me think that they can’t hang with anyone. After being ranked in the preseason polls (which was outrageous in my opinion), the Wildcats have already lost three games in the conference and have yet to beat a team in the top half. Senior Jesse Perry is having a great year as he has made a jump to 11.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Kyle Fogg, another senior, has also upped his scoring to an 11.8 clip. Finally, Solomon Hill, a junior, has made the leap as well to 11.6 and 8 rebounds a game. So what’s the problem? The Wildcats were supposed to be led by highly touted freshmen Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner who have both been disappointments. Johnson is only averaging 9.5 points and 2.5 assists while Turner has stats that include 7.2 points and 2.1 assists. Neither of them has been shooting very well either. While you can’t blame them too much because they’re freshmen, it just goes to show that highly regarded first year players aren’t always good. Arizona will have to wait until next year for the success it was hoping for this season.
Washington St. Cougars: The Cougars are a perfect example of a team that is only good at home. So far, they have yet to win a Pac-12 road game, but at home, they just defeated Stanford and California back-to-back. The one thing that they have going for them is their high field goal percentage, .478. Two veterans, junior Brock Motum and senior Faisal Aden lead Washington St. Motum has been a presence on the glass, averaging 6.3 rebounds, while Aden has been a three point shooter who is scrappy on defense. Both average over 15 points a game and make up nearly half of the Cougars’ scoring. With six road games still left in the season, Washington St. still has time to prove itself, but it’s hard to imagine them doing so.
UCLA Bruins: It’s really going to be painful going over the Bruins. They were expected to be one of the best teams in the country, but are now a team in turmoil. Reeves Nelson’s suspension was a big blow to a team that started out 1-4 with their lone win coming to a Division II school. Then they picked up some steam, but have since fallen flat on their faces in conference play. Joshua Smith is not rebounding enough for a player his size because he’s always in foul trouble. The Wear twins have been contributors, but not necessarily what they were expected to be. Lazeric Jones has been the lone bright spot, averaging 13.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists. This Bruin team is going nowhere fast and has been one of the biggest disappointments in college basketball.
Oregon St. Beavers: The Beavers have a very high-powered offense, as they are fifth in the country in scoring with 82.7 points per game. Also at 7th in assists per game and 16th in field goal percentage, it’s a bit confusing as to why these numbers haven’t translated to wins. The Beavers have lost five Pac-12 games already, but there are two interesting things to factor in: first, four of them were on the road, and second, two were in overtime (one actually being in quadruple overtime against Stanford). While I’m not trying to make any excuses for the team, those are just facts. Junior Jared Cunningham has being the leading scorer with 17.8 points per game, but the Beavers have a plethora of options on offense. Ahmad Starks, Devon Collier, and Roberto Nelson all average in double figures at 13.5, 13.2, and 10.1 respectively. Angus Brandt and Joe Burton are not very far behind with 9.5 and 9.3 points respectively. Oregon St. has wins over Texas and California, but that won’t be enough to garner a tournament bid. The Beavers will have to do it the old fashioned way by winning the Pac-12 tournament, and they certainly have a shot at that.
Arizona St. Sun Devils: Things have not been pretty this season for the Sun Devils. They only have six wins, their best ones coming over Wake Forest and Oregon St. Trent Lockett and Keala King have been performing well, but the team doesn’t have much depth. Only four players average at least six points per game. If things weren’t bad enough already, Arizona St. has a tough stretch coming up against Washington, Washington St., at Stanford, and at California. It would be close to a miracle if they’re able to split those games. For a team that hasn’t been successful since the days of James Harden, the drought will continue in the desert.
Utah Utes: Moving even further down the Pac-12 standings, things continue to get uglier with the Utes. Being on an eight game losing streak in nonconference play and losing four of their last five to Pac-12 opponents, Utah has looked horrible. Nine of their fourteen losses have come by over 20 points, a truly gruesome stat. Josh Watkins has had a nice season personally, averaging 15.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game, but I’m sure he would love some help and some wins. With the way the rest of the schedule looks, I honestly would not be surprised if Utah doesn’t win a game for the rest of the season.
USC Trojans: We’re still not done? Come on…anyways, we cap off this conference with the USC Trojans, a team that has lost eight straight. Still searching for their first Pac-12 win, USC has looked completely lost. While they haven’t been blown out the same way the Utes have, the lack of wins is still unimpressive. Maurice Jones is being forced to do everything, and his 14.6 points per game doesn’t look as good next to his .348 field goal percentage. The Trojans have no good wins and several bad losses. There is a glimmer of hope with a home date against Utah on Saturday. That game will determine who is the worst of the worst.
Here are the projections for the final Pac-12 standings:
The Big Ten is being called by some as the best conference in college basketball this season. There are a few teams ranked highly, but the depth is what really makes the conference special. With so many quality teams that can beat anyone on any given night, it’s starting to resemble the Big East. We’ll go over the standings as they are now, and try to sort out what is sure to be a wild second half of the season.
Ohio St. Buckeyes: The return of Jared Sullinger after he declined to go to the NBA draft has made a huge impact on Ohio St. The big man is averaging 17.1 points and 9.1 rebounds for a Buckeye team that has lost only twice when Sullinger is on the floor, both to tough conference opponents on the road. It’s still a bit troubling because they have yet to win a road game against a good team, but they are having a spectacular season nonetheless. As expected, William Buford and Aaron Craft have stepped up their game with the losses of Jon Diebler and David Lighty. However, Deshaun Thomas has made the biggest impact. In order for the Buckeyes to have the same success they did last year, someone would have to emerge, and it’s been Thomas. He has averaged 15 points a game and has really been a threat from deep. They’ve drubbed Duke and Indiana so far, so it’s no surprise as to why they’re a top five team in the country. A lot can happen in the next couple of months, and there are several elite teams in the country, but Ohio St. has a good shot at getting a one seed in the NCAA tournament.
Michigan St. Spartans: After dropping their first two games to Duke and North Carolina, the Spartans have exploded and shown that they are a real contender. Although they just lost back-to-back games against Northwestern and Michigan, they are still in position to grab a high seed in the tournament. Draymond Green is having a season worth noting, averaging 15 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.2 blocks. Green is an incredibly versatile big man and has been a senior leader for these Spartans who are trying to make everyone forget about last season. Keith Appling has increased his production in a big way and transfer Brandon Wood has supplied the team with another scorer and three-point shooter. Wins over Gonzaga, Indiana, and Wisconsin are nice, and the Spartans have a chance to have a very special season. Michigan St. is one of the only teams that I see as true contenders to go against Ohio St. in the Big Ten.
Michigan Wolverines: Michigan is a confusing team. I feel like they’ve lost more than they should have, although four of those losses have been to Duke, Virginia, Indiana, and Arkansas. Tim Hardaway Jr. leads this team with 15.1 points and is the player that gets the Michigan offense going. Hardaway, along with Trey Burke, Zack Novak, Even Smotrycz, and Stu Douglass have all nailed at least 27 three pointers this season. Having that many shooters is dangerous and a matchup problem for nearly anyone. The Wolverines don’t strike me as an elite team just yet, but with their long-range ability, they have the firepower to match the top teams. A road game against Purdue tonight will be a good test for Michigan.
Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers were ranked in the preseason, but have since fallen off the map. Even though all but one of their losses have come against ranked teams, they still only have one quality win, proving that preseason notion to be wrong. Wisconsin has been very good on the defensive end, as usual, but they have upped their scoring this year. Jordan Taylor hasn’t been as good as advertised, but is still a solid point guard nonetheless. Wisconsin has some big tests ahead of them to see if they are tournament worthy or not. They still play Indiana, Illinois, Michigan St., and Ohio St. twice. If they win three out of those five, you will see the Badgers in March.
Illinois Fighting Illini: After an almost flawless run through the nonconference schedule, a loss to Penn St. has shown that Illinois is vulnerable. Back-to-back losses have dropped the Illini from the top 25. Despite the recent mini slump, Illinois is still a very strong team. The trio of Brandon Paul (14 points, 4.8 rebounds), Meyers Leonard (13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds), and D. J. Richardson (12.7 points and 3 rebounds) are trying to help everyone not miss the McCamey-Davis-Tisdale trio too much, and so far, it seems to be working. A win over Ohio St. will go a long way in impressing the tournament committee. Illinois must continue to build off of its success this season; this overachieving squad can’t afford to slow down now.
Purdue Boilermakers: As we are at about the halfway point of the conference, we still find a very competitive team in Purdue, showing the depth of the Big Ten. The losses of E’Twuan Moore and JaJuan Johnson hurt, but having a healthy Robbie Hummel is a beautiful sight for Purdue fans. Hummel, averaging 15.4 points and 6.3 rebounds, is being the leader that he has always been. Lewis Jackson and Kelsey Barlow have also been top contributors for a team that desperately hopes to make some noise this season. They will need some more big wins, but Hummel deserves one last hurrah after an incredibly injury plagued college career. They resume their quest for March Madness tonight against the Wolverines.
Indiana Hoosiers: A magical and Hoosier-like season has taken a turn for the worse as Indiana has dropped three of four. Still, they have had an impressive year with wins over Kentucky, Ohio St., and Michigan. Indiana has been led by freshman Cody Zeller, who has been a perfect fit in Tom Crean’s system. Zeller averages 15.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 3 steals and blocks combined. Another key player is Christian Watford, the man who hit the three-point dagger against Kentucky. Watford is a versatile forward that can stretch the floor with his range. Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo, and Will Sheeley all average in double figures. The Hoosiers are 16th in the nation in scoring and an impressive sixth in field goal percentage, shooting at a clip of .500. Indiana is clearly a contender, as they have proven that they can beat top teams, it just remains to see how far they can go.
Minnesota Golden Gophers: The season has been a roller coaster for Minnesota. First, they win all but one of their nonconference games. Then, they drop their first three conference games, having people questions whether or not they can compete in the Big Ten. After that, they won three in a row, including beating Indiana on the road, a huge win. These Gophers are talented; that we knew last year when it took a complete meltdown to keep them out of the tournament. Now they are back, and Trevor Mbakwe is doing everything possible to get this team wins. Averaging 14 points 9.1 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks, Mbakwe is making his senior season count. Rodney Williams, the junior forward, is right behind him with 10.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 1.6 blocks. The win against Indiana certainly boosts Minnesota’s resume, but they are in a competitive league that will only get a certain amount of tournament bids, so they need to keep their winning streak alive.
Iowa Hawkeyes: What can we make of the Hawkeyes? After an average nonconference record, they lost to Purdue, then beat Wisconsin and Minnesota, then lost to Ohio St. and Michigan St., then beat Michigan, and then lost to Purdue again. Simply put, this team is too inconsistent. You’re not going to make any postseason tournament if you drop half of your games, no matter who you defeat, and Iowa is teetering around the .500 mark. Senior Matt Gatens leads the squad with 13.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Gatens is a deep threat and, for the most part, the barometer of the team. When he plays well, they usually win. When’s he’s off, they’re not able to get victories. Relying on one player like that is dangerous, which is why I think the Hawkeyes are in trouble. Expect a bumpy road the rest of the way.
Northwestern Wildcats: The Wildcats haven’t exactly had the breakout season that was expected of them. Their best wins have come against Seton Hall and Michigan St., and those are nice, but they are currently only 2-5 in the conference. John Shurna is doing his part, averaging 19.2 points and 5.8 rebounds. The versatile senior big man is clearly a nuisance to cover because of his shooting from behind the arc. Drew Crawford has also been a star, averaging 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds. With players like this, as well as having the 26th most assists in the nation, Northwestern is better than their record. A huge four game stretch is coming up with all winnable games (Purdue, Nebraska, @ Illinois, Iowa). If the Wildcats can sweep those games, they’ll be right back on track.
Nebraska Cornhuskers: The Huskers’ debut in the Big Ten is not going very well. Senior Bo Spencer has been the lone bright spot with 14.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. Aside from a shocking win over Indiana, Nebraska has been blown out by nearly every Big Ten opponent it has faced. With the conference clearly having a strong year, the Huskers are lagging behind. They have yet to win a conference road game, and have two coming up against Iowa and Northwestern. Dropping both of those will make it all but over for Nebraska, and the fat lady can start singing.
Penn St. Nittany Lions: After a slow start to the season, the Nittany Lions are starting to put it together. A win over Illinois and playing Indiana close for most of the game are certainly positive signs for this bunch that clearly misses Talor Battle. Battle was their star, but perhaps, they’ve found a new one. Junior guard Tim Frazier has played with a tenacity similar to that of Battle. Frazier averages 18 points and 6.4 assists per game, as well as 5 rebounds, a good stat for a smaller player. Unfortunately for Penn St., the production drops off quite a bit after Frazier; no one else scores in double figures. However, it has been shown that a star player can lead teams to victories, so there is hope for the Nittany Lions. Frazier probably won’t get too much consideration for Big Ten player of the year unless Penn St. wins more games, so expect them to make a push. While their ceiling may be limited, they could make the second half of the season interesting.
Here are my projections for the final Big Ten standings: