Player of the Week:
Zach Edey, C, Purdue
College basketball is back! And with that comes the one thing we were all expecting. Like Thanos, like death, like taxes, Zach Edey putting up monster numbers and dominating in the regular season is something we have come to expect. He’s averaging 21 and 10 with almost 4 blocks a game through the first 3 games of the year and, like clockwork, Purdue is off to a dominant start this season. They beat up on their first two opponents, much to the chagrin of any Samford or Morehead State fans, but they also got a solid win over Xavier who figures to be a solid team within the Big East this year. A lot of questions still float around with Edey and Purdue as last season’s ending hit the lowest point for the Boilermakers. They almost lost to Penn State in the BIG10 championship game, a team who didn’t have any true centers by the way, and then lost to the shortest team in the entire NCAA tournament. It’s almost like poetry in how they lose and who they lose to. I’m sure any Purdue fans reading have that same feeling they have every year, “Well yeah we’re winning but we aren’t going to win the whole tournament so who cares.” It’ll be up to Edey and company to try and break Purdue’s curse of postseason woes this season, but if you ask me? I don’t think this is the year to do it. Call me a hater, but we know how this is going to end.
Penn State’s Defense
Penn State had a miracle run last year, upsetting Texas A&M in the first round of the NCAA tournament just a few days after finishing as the runner up in the BIG10 by just a few points. After such a successful season, their head coach Micah Shrewsberry up and left for the more renowned basketball program in Notre Dame, taking along with him all of his recruits and players. Lucky for Penn State, the athletic department wasted no time in bringing in a great replacement, hiring Mike Leach from VCU, who then brought all of his players with him, most notably springy point guard Ace Baldwin. Ace is averaging 3 steals a game this season and the Nittany Lions’ defense looks formidable. Their whole identity has switched, from last year’s high powered 3-point barrage of an offense to this year’s stifling defense with twitchy athleticism all around the court. Penn State through 4 games has allowed just 53 points a game and they look poised again to be a sleeper pick to win the BIG10 and a game or two in March.
Anyone that has seen Nebraska starting off 5-0 this season probably had the same reaction as me, “Oh hey! They’re 5-0, that’s so neat good for them.” But those Cornhuskin’ fellers up North are playing some ball this year and are already a third of their way to matching their total wins from last year. Their defense is second the BIG10 in points allowed through 5 games, second only to the aforementioned Penn State, and just by watching them you can tell they have more life to them this year than last. They look like a fun team to watch! They have 4 guys averaging 11 ppg or more and are playing exceptional defense as a unit. Nothing pops out statistically about this bunch, but they just play great together. Last year was a season studded with mediocrity from Nebraska, I think in my 10 weeks or so in covering the BIG10 I might’ve written about them twice, they were just kind of there. But the new season gleams in opportunity for the Cornhuskers and if they hit a stride on offense and find their shot creators they can pick up some big wins this season.
Michigan State Spartans
It hasn’t been the start that Tom Izzo and the boys were looking for up in East Lansing, on paper at least. With an opening night upset loss to JMU (A team who is now 4-0 and ranked 24th overall) and a close loss to the mighty Blue Devils from Durham, Duke University. So they lost 2 close games to good opponents, it happens. When they scheduled JMU I’m sure the AD wasn’t expecting that school to be having an athletic renaissance at the time of playing them. The biggest concern for the Sparts has to be their lack of shooting prowess, through 4 games MSU is shooting 21% from downtown which is just awful. High School teams shoot higher percentages than MSU is shooting right now. But the fact that the team has yet to find their touch from behind the arc, not just as shooters but as facilitators, and they’re hanging tough with good opponents has to be a bright spot for Tom Izzo and his staff. If they can revamp the offense to find some sort of rhythm along, MSU could become a dominant force within college hoops this year.
I mean… woof. I’ve tried not to be too convictional of good or bad performances in this post, we’re only a week or so into the season and what we’re seeing right now is not what we should expect for the rest of the season, but it’s head scratching and very concerning that Maryland has been this bad to start the year. Maryland wasn’t elite last year but they had some good wins and got into the tournament on the backs of their stars. They actually retained two of those stars, Jahmir Young and Julian Reese, yet they’re 1-3 with losses to UAB, Davidson (without Steph Curry), and Villanova. Nova is excusable but UAB? Really? This school is in the middle of arguably the best state for hoopers, the DMV area is loaded with talent and Maryland has been fumbling around in mediocrity for a while now. If a turnaround doesn’t happen soon, I believe some coaching changes can be expected from Maryland. They’re shooting 36% from the field through 4 games, and besides playing Nova they haven’t been playing defensive juggernauts or anything like that, the product produced on the court has just been bad and has to have a swift turnaround so this season doesn’t end right at the start.
Top 5 Prediction
Instead of doing a top 5 power ranking as I normally do, since the season just started I want to predict where I believe each team will finish come the end of the year (regular season only).
5. Penn State Nittany Lions
The new-look Lions are different from last year in many ways, but even with a complete culture flip I fully expect them to be great again this year. They brought in a whole bunch of transfers and their defense looks stout enough to actually dethrone Purdue this year in a game, or maybe upset Texas A&M in the highly anticipated rematch next week.
4. Northwestern Wildcats
Boo Buie and the guys are back and surprising people once again, it would be no shock at all if the Cats get 23-25 wins this year with a few speedbumps along the way and get some huge upset wins sprinkled throughout. They have the veteran leadership, the guards, and the coaching to be a great team once again this year and I would not be surprised if they finished even higher than this in the BIG10 tourney.
3. Illinois Fighting Illini
The Illini lost a tough game to the 4th best team in the country in Marquette and have won every other game so far this year, they have the guard talent and the shot creating to make a deep run in March and they have only progressed as a unit since last year and are set up to be a great team once again this year.
2. Michigan State Spartans
As I said earlier, if this team figures it out they will be dominant. Lucky for them, their coach is Tom Izzo and he’s been coaching basketball since the dinosaurs were still alive. They have the size, the athleticism, and the grit to win 25 games this year and dominate in conference play and I fully expect them to right the ship and start piling up wins this year.
1. Purdue Boilermakers
It’s safe to say that Edey and the gang will once again find a way to win 27-ish games and finish with the BIG10 title and a 1 or 2 seed in March Madness. I genuinely don’t think I need to explain why here, but I’ll sum it up in a few words. Zach Edey is such a dominant force purely because of his size that it makes it almost impossible for teams to knock them off in the regular season without specific gameplans that you see employed in March.