Big Ten Geeks: Runnin' Badgers & Escapin' Boilermakers
Most of the Big Ten cruised to easy wins over cupcakes—with one notable exception—but the Wisconsin Badgers faced a formidable challenge against St. John’s. The Red Storm was mediocre last year, but the team returned everyone, including a healthy dose of rising sophomores. The team is expected to be much-improved, much like Wisconsin’s offense.
And the Badgers definitely were better on the offensive end, scoring 1.32 points per possession, which was very out-of-character for last year’s team. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the defense was just as unrecognizable.
Of course, there’s a legitimate point to be made that the new rules could have factored into the high-scoring. Between the two teams, there were 57 free throw attempts. Last season, only two Wisconsin games included that many free throws. At least this analyst hopes that the result was a one-off (or at least temporary), and not indicative of what’s to come this season across college basketball. Others might be fans of the unguarded 15-foot set shot—I am not.
Josh Gasser led the way with 19 points on a paltry 7 shots, while Sam Dekker—looking noticeably yoked after the offseason—chipped in 16 points. Keep an eye on Wisconsin’s defensive rebounding early in the season. Last year’s frontcourt was excellent on the glass, which led to Wisconsin being the best defensive rebounding team in the conference. But that’s never been a strength for Frank Kaminsky (who finished Friday’s game with a solitary defensive rebound), and I have my doubts that Gasser can continue to pull down 7 rebounds a game once we enter Big Ten play. A fundamental component of Bo Ryan’s defense is rebounding, so Kaminsky’s progress in this area is probably going to have a big impact on the Badgers’ season.
The other interesting game was Purdue’s win over Northern Kentucky, but it wasn’t supposed to be. In fact, the Norse missed two shots around the basket in the final seconds to hand Purdue the victory.
To be fair, Purdue was without the services of A.J. Hammons, who was serving a suspension. And yes, NKU was red-hot from the perimeter (13 for 26 on three-pointers). But none of that is a sufficient excuse. NKU shouldn’t have been able to find that many good looks from three-point range, and the team certainly shouldn’t have recovered 47 percent of its misses—with or without Hammons. It’s also worth noting that Hammons’ replacement in the starting lineup, Jay Simpson, chipped in with 14 points on 9 shots, to go with 6 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block. While Hammons is definitely an upgrade over Simpson, it probably wouldn’t have been a massive one in this game.
Moreover, NKU was projected to be a Pomeroy 300+ team coming into this game (based on this result, the Norse have risen to #254). Since Pomeroy has computed ratings (the 2002-03 season), no Big Ten team has lost to a 300+ team. Not when Northwestern went 1-17 in conference play. Not when Penn State won just 7 games all season. Not when Bret Finkelmeier was able to sneak into the starting lineup for Indiana. Indeed, if NKU had held on, it might have been the worse loss by any Big Ten team in at least over a decade. That said, it remains to be seen how good NKU really is this year. Ironically, this close call might actually keep it out of the 300 club.
In any event, while this game does nothing to the on-paper resume for Purdue, it’s a concerning result for a team that’s hoping to return to the NCAA Tournament this season. It’s a long season, but Painter clearly already has a lot to fix.
The Big Ten season is barely underway, but already there are some huge matchups this week. At the top is Michigan State’s matchup with Kentucky on Tuesday in Chicago. Both teams are national title contenders this season, so I really don’t need to hype that game any more. But do yourself a favor and clear your schedule for Tuesday at 7:30 ET.
Also on Tuesday is Florida’s visit to the Kohl Center for the Badgers’ home opener. Wisconsin shouldn’t sneak up on anyone this season, as this non-conference schedule is nothing but challenging. In addition to St. John’s (which was a top-50 Pomeroy team entering the game), Wisconsin has four other games against top-30 Pomeroy teams. We should have a pretty good idea of what the Badgers are by December.