The first week of college basketball has officially passed, with every Big Ten team playing twice. It’s early, but there were things to be learned from every game.
Big Ten basketball is back! So it is time to overreact, ignore small samples, and have opinions that can’t change.
Okay, maybe not that, but there was finally basketball on, and it felt so good. All 14 Big Ten teams played twice, except for Rutgers who played three times. The Big Ten went a combined 28-1. A dominant performance, but one that was expected. Per Kenpom ratings, the Big Ten played 23 games against teams ranked 200 or worse, four games against teams ranked between 100 and 200, 1 against a team ranked between 50-100 (Stanford), and one against a team ranked between 1-50 (Gonzaga).
And that is what makes the early season, especially the opening week such an interesting thing in college basketball. Teams only play roughly 30 games, so these first two games are about 7% of the season. That is not an insignificant amount, but they are often not quality enough games to really get a gauge of the team.
That’s where I am going with this article. After watching every Big Ten game from last week, I have 3 takeaways from every team. These are things that stood out to me, and I will monitor throughout the season. They are not final takes, and they can change throughout the season. Just things that intrigue me and I will follow.
*Side note – the Big Ten looked very good (against poor competition). Maybe there is not that true top-tier contender, but the league is deep once again.*
Illinois Fighting Illini
Takeaway #1 – Coleman Hawkins has All-Big Ten potential, and his facilitating looks to be legit
In the first game of the season, Hawkins went for 23 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks, and no turnovers. And he went 5-of-8 from behind the three-point line. A couple of the threes were from pretty deep as well, and he confidently put them up.
He is going to be a big part of the offense and defense. His versatility and movement at his size allow him to play both the 4 and 5, and he can play up in their press. His length is going to give teams issues.
What has been most impressive to me is some of his facilitating chops. He has been able to take multiple bigs off the dribble, making the correct read on where to kickout to. The video below is a prime example.
The shot doesn’t fall, but it is still a wide-open three. Hawkins collapses the defense, and then does a wrap-around pass in mid-air through the defense, right to the open guy. Pretty crazy stuff.
Takeaway #2 – Terrence Shannon is going to attack the rim hard and often
The 3-pointer has not fallen early for Shannon, but he has attacked the rim a ton. He has gotten 20 free throws between the two games, a testament to how often he is slashing to the rim.
It is a mix of transition, pick-and-roll, and cutting for him. All of which he has been successful with in getting near the rim. On a team full of wings, he has really stood out with his aggressiveness.
Takeaway #3 – Illinois is going to be fast and a lot of fun to watch
Illinois currently has the 13th fastest offensive possessions per Kenpom. They have been able to dice defenses up pretty well so far.
What makes them so fun is their versatility. With Hawkins at the 5, Illinois can run a full-court press that turns into man-to-man in the half-court where they switch everything. They’re going to force turnovers and get out and run. Even when Dainja, who has been awesome so far, is in, Illinois is still playing fast. Dainja has also been a surprise, but he has been super fun to watch work in the post.
Takeaway #1 – The freshman duo of Hood-Schifino and Reneau look legit
There was a lot of anticipation for these incoming freshmen as they were two of the top in the entire class. They have both looked good so far.
Hood-Schifino looks more poised than most freshmen. He seems to always be in control, and he moves at his pace. I have really liked the minutes where he has been leading the second unit and has the ball in his hands more. He has shown an advanced comfort in the mid-range that I was not fully expecting. The 3-pointer has not fallen yet, and that will be something to monitor.
Reneau is who broke the game open against Bethune Cookman. After they went zone, IU could not do anything offensively for the first 5-7 minutes or so. Then Reneau came in off of the bench and tore the zone apart. He utilized both passing along with some scoring down low. He even stepped out and knocked down a three. He showed good defensive versatility also, and I think he is going to be good off the bench.
Takeaway #2 – The 3-point shooting is…
Honestly, I’m not sure. It is early, but I still lean on the side of they have to figure out how to get shots to fall. The first game they went 4-of-11 from deep which is very few attempts. Maybe that was just because they could dominate an inferior opponent down low, maybe they just were very hesitant. The next game the Hoosiers responded with a 10-of-24 outing from downtown. Kopp has looked great, as he hit 4-of-6 from three that game. However, there are still things that worry me about IU’s shooting performance.
Mainly it was who was shooting the threes. In the second game, the starting backcourt of Johnson and Hood-Schifino combined for 1-of-6 from behind the line. Neither attempted one in the first game. The role players off the bench all stepped up and knocked some down, but Johnson and Hood-Schifino are going to need to eventually start taking (and making) perimeter shots to make IU truly elite.
Takeaway #3 – IU’s defense has been elite
This was the expectation coming into the year, but it was shown in the first two games. IU held their opponents to 0.74 and 0.69 points per possession. These are elite numbers that are expected against the opponents they played. Pretty much every aspect has been elite thus far, and I am excited to see them go up against Xavier.
Takeaway #1 – Tony Perkins is the answer Iowa needed at point guard
Perkins has been awesome thus far for Iowa. He has done a little bit of everything for them so far. He is a tenacious defender that already has disrupted quite a few plays for opposing offenses. His facilitating has impressed me the most. He currently has 11 assists compared to only 1 turnover. He has been able to consistently find the open guys.
Takeaway #2 – The defense may be much improved
This may be the take that backfires the most, given it has only been two games. But the defense has been solid to me. They are a really long team that can give teams issues with their full-court press. The combination of Kris Murray, Pat McCaffery, Payton Sandfort, and Filip Rebraca give that starting unit a ton of versatility to trap, switch, and defend well. On top of that, Perkins has shown he can be really good on ball. Their defense will be something I monitor closely.
Takeaway #3 – The transition offense is elite
This is what is to be expected at Iowa. Per Synergy, Iowa is in the 98th percentile for number of transition possessions, and they are in the 93rd percentile for efficiency in transition. So basically they run a lot, and they’re really really good at it. Part of it is the defense being able to force turnovers, especially in their press. The other aspect is Iowa will push make or miss. They got quite a few baskets after their opponent scored, just by not letting the defense get set.
Takeaway #1 – Jahmir Young is going to get into the paint a lot
Jahmir Young, a transfer from Charlotte, was relentlessly getting into the paint against Western Carolina. Maryland has run 12 pick-and-rolls for him where he has shot the ball, and he has gotten to the rim on 7 of them. 50% of his shots have come at the rim so far per Synergy, and he is only 611.
Takeaway #2 – The shooting needs to stay consistent
Maryland went 9-of-20 from three in the first game, and they went 2-of-19 from three in their second game. They got similar quality of looks in both games, but there was some major variance going on. One thing to note is Donta Scott went 4-of-5 from deep in the first game and 0-of-3 in the second game.
Takeaway #3 – This team confuses me
Out of all the Big Ten teams, I think I am least confident assessing Maryland. They seem like they have good pieces, and they are starting four seniors, and have three upperclassmen coming off of the bench. They were solid in their first two games, but nothing that seemed crazy good to me. They are interesting because I really think they could end up finishing anywhere from 5-12 in the Big Ten.
Takeaway #1 – Michigan’s spacing will make life so much easier on Dickinson
Michigan is now playing more guards and wings that can shoot around Dickinson, and it has given him so much more room to operate.
On the play above, Eastern Michigan is fronting Dickinson. Michigan counters by going high-low action. Look at all of the space Dickinson has though. He has the entire paint and surrounding area to work and create positioning. It has helped him to start the season 22/28 from the field, averaging 26.5 points per game.
Takeaway #2 – Jett Howard is a legit shooter
Howard is currently 7/17 from 3 in the two games, good for 41.2%. It is not only that he is making shots however, it is how he is doing it. Michigan is running him off of pindowns and flares to get movement shooting. He is also going to generally be one pass away from Dickinson in the post, so if his man digs, Howard is going to be open.
Takeaway #3 – Llewellyn may need some time transitioning
The Princeton transfer has struggled some to start. On a team that does not feel super deep, it is going to be important that Llewellyn gets going. He has yet to hit a 3, but he has had some nice facilitating. One reason for hope is Llewellyn seemed to have some confidence attacking into the paint towards the end of the Eastern Michigan game. Michigan will be hopeful that it continues on.
Michigan State Spartans
Takeaway #1 – Sissoko is super important to the team
In MSU’s highly anticipated matchup with Gonzaga, MSU was a +15 with Sissoko on the floor and a -16 with him off. He exploded for 14 points and 9 rebounds, but foul trouble ended his night early. If he had stayed in the game, there is a solid chance MSU wins. With him off the floor, Timme was able to go to work and dominate as he does. Sissoko is the only big that currently seems like he can play quality minutes. Freshman Jaxon Kohler has shown a couple flashes, but he may be a year away from really providing good minutes.
Takeaway #2 – MSU lacked shooting
Granted, one game was on a boat so honestly just throw those shooting samples out the window. In the first game, only 3 players made a 3. Malik Hall went 1/3, Pierre Brooks went 4/7, and Hauser went 4/8. Those shooting numbers are somewhat to be expected for Hauser and Hall (which shows the importance of Hauser), but Brooks was a pleasant surprise. He went 2/11 all last year. We will see which side wins. Tyson Walker will be the guy that needs to get going, as he was elite from 3 last year, but is 1/6 to start the year.
Takeaway #3 – The defense has been legit
MSU held Northern Arizona to 0.85 points per possession and Gonzaga to 0.89 PPP. They have shown that they can create turnovers, like they did against Gonzaga, and they have also defended the three-point line very well.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Takeaway #1 – They need Jamison Battle back badly
This one is obvious, but it is true. The leading scorer and potential All Big Ten player missed both of the opening games for Minnesota. He should return soon, but he will give a huge spark to the offense whenever he does come back.
Takeaway #2 – Ta’lon Cooper is a really good passer
Per Kenpom, Ta’lon Cooper has an assists rate of 49%, meaning that he assists on 49% of all Minnesota baskets while he is on the floor. It has been a heavy dose of pick and roll, and he has dissected it really well. He currently has 16 assists and 5 turnovers, while playing 34 minutes a game. The ball is in his hands a lot, and he has made the right decision a lot.
Takeaway #3 – Minnesota is going to slow it WAY down
Minnesota is really looking to turn it into a half-court game. They are 354th in pace, and they only have 7 transition points between the two games. They will be looking to play solid half-court defense and then walk it up to run a set or their motion.
Takeaway #1 – Juwan Gary adds a lot of athleticism and energy
The Alabama transfer has been added to the starting lineup in large part because he is long and disruptive. He had 11 rebounds in the first game, and he was active on the offensive end. He will need some shots to start falling to really be a factor on both ends.
Takeaway #2 – Sam Griesel will make a quality impact as a transfer
Griesel transferred from North Dakota State, and he has made an impact right away. He is 12/17 from 2, and he will do a lot of his damage attacking the rim. He is a wing that can handle the ball well, and he has also rebounded well. I am interested to see where his 3 point shooting goes.
Takeaway #3 – CJ Wilcher may be the best player on the team
Wilcher has come out playing well for the Cornhuskers. He is 5/12 from 3, and he will be one of the better shooters in the Big Ten. He will also be able to create some for others while taking care of the ball well. I think Nebraska will lean on him as their scoring punch when the offense bogs down.
Takeaway #1 – Northwestern is going to move the ball
Through their first two games, the Wildcats have had an assist on 75% of their buckets, good for 6th in the nation. Boo Buie and Chase Audige lead the way with 13 and 12 assists respectively. The Wildcats will be looking to drive and kick often this year.
Takeaway #2 – Robbie Beran has been the best player for Northwestern
Beran has put up stat lines of 20 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists in his first game and 15 points, 5 rebounds in the second game. He has been their most consistent player (in a very very young season), and he will have to play a lot of minutes.
Takeaway #3 – This is not a deep team
Northwestern has one backup guard, forward, and big that they seem to trust. Even then, 4/5 of the starters will be expected to play 30+ minutes per game. On games where one of them gets in foul trouble, it is going to be tough for the Wildcats to replace them.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Takeaway #1 – Zed Key is going to hold the fort down low
On a team that only features two bigs in the rotation, Zed Key is going to be super important for this Buckeyes team. He has had a double double in both games so far, and he has even knocked down some 3s. He will do any and everything needed for Ohio State down low, and the main question will be whether Key holds up against some of the elite big men in the Big Ten.
Takeaway #2 – Brice Sensabaugh is really good at basketball
The freshman has put up 17 and 14 points in the two games, to go along with 9 and 4 rebounds respectively. He has been able to get to the rim a lot, but he is also 4/5 on pull up jumpers this season. He is currently coming off the bench, but he very well could have one of the highest scoring averages for bench players in the Big Ten.
Takeaway #3 – The two starting transfers have looked solid in their roles
Sean McNeil transferred from West Virginia. He has shot the ball well so far, and has done a very good job in his role. One thing I have noticed with him is he is spaced pretty far behind the 3 point line, which allows players like Key and Sueing to better operate.
Isaac Likekele transferred from Oklahoma State, and he is going to just do a little bit of everything. In the first game, he had 9 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. He can run the wing, but at times he has been the point guard. He will be the jack of all trades for Ohio State.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Takeaway #1 – The 3-point shooting has been mesmerizing
Penn State is 34/68 from 3, in only 2 games. Everyone except for freshman Kebba Njie is a legit threat from deep. Per Synergy, they are in the 99th percentile for jump shot efficiency. They are 16/24 from 3 on open catch-and-shoot attempts!! These numbers should not hold, but Penn State will be legit threats all year from three.
Takeaway #2 – The ball movement has been elite
This kind of goes with takeaway number 1. Penn State has had some of the best ball movement in the country. It never seems to stick, and it always ends up in the open spot. Penn State has assistsed on 68.2 percent of their baskets per Kenpom, good for 17th in the country. 8 different players recorded an assist in their first game, and 6 recorded one in the second game.
Takeaway #3 – Jalen Pickett may be the best guard in the Big Ten
He has been phenomenal for Penn State thus far, and he has showed two completely different styles in their games. In the first game, he had 22 points on 6-of-7 from two and 3-of-6 shooting from three. In the second game, he only had 5 points but had 11 assists to go along with it. The ball will start in his hands, and he is going to make the right decision.
Takeaway #1 – Zach Edey is as dominant as ever
In the first game, Edey struggled some offensively. He “only” had 12 points on 4/13 shooting. However, he had a career high in rebounds and blocks with 17 and 6 respectively. He was able to protect the rim really well, and he dominated the glass. He also showed more flashes of being a really good passer.
In Purdue’s second game, against Austin Peay, Austin Peay decided to not double team him in the post for a large percentage of the game. Edey responded with a career high 30 points on 12/13 shooting. He also had 11 rebounds. He played 31 minutes that game, and the offense showed it was going to run through him.
Takeaway #2 – The freshman guards are great, but still freshman
Freshmen Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer have started both games for the Boilermakers. What did they do in their first game? They combined for 24 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and 8 steals. Braden Smith had 7 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 7 steals. Loyer had 17 points on 5/12 shooting from 3. The two complement each other perfectly.
However, they struggled some in the second game. Smith had 5 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 4 turnovers. Loyer had 5 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists while going 0/5 from 3. They showed that although they are super talented, there will be some growing pains.
Purdue has every reason to be excited about this backcourt duo of the future though.
Takeaway #3 – The defense seems much improved
Last year Purdue struggled on the defensive end. With a lot of new players this year, it was up for debate how they would look on that end. Although the season is young, they have looked much better. The rotations seems to be better communicated and facilitated, and players are staying in front of the ball well.
Purdue will have to figure out what they want to do when Edey is defending a pick and pop. Austin Peay consistently ran that action, and it put Edey in a really tough spot that tested his foot speed.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Takeaway #1 – Omoruyi is ready to be an elite big man
There is no question that it is Omoruyi’s team this year. He has defended the rim well once again, and he has been solid on the offensive end. Once he gets a little more touch down low, he is going to be extremely tough to guard. His athleticism and skill make it that way almost already. He showed what he is capable of with 22 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 blocks against UMASS Lowell.
One other thing to note is he has willingly taken jumpers this season.
Takeaway #2 – The defense will be elite
This was somewhat expected with Omoruyi and McConnell. Even with McConnell being out early to start the year, Rutgers has still done very well on that end. They have a lot of size and length, starting with Mulcahy at point, that make it difficult to drive against. If someone does get past the perimeter, they have Omoruyi waiting for them at the rim.
Takeaway #3 – Derek Simpson is someone to keep an eye on
The freshman has impressed me so far this season. His efficiency has not been there, but he really attacks the rim hard. Last game he went 10/10 from the line, with almost all of the free throws coming with being fouled at the rim. He stepped up big in their last game as Mulcahy got hurt, finishing with 16 points and 2 assists.
Takeaway #1 – Lack of rim pressure
This is not an uncommon thing for Wisconsin, as they have not been a team that attacks the rim hard in recent years. Per Synergy, Wisconsin has taken 36% of their shots at the rim, which is in the bottom 10% of D1. The majority of those have been from Tyler Wahl who works a lot out of the post.
Takeaway #2 – Defensive 3-point shooting
In the two games, Wisconsin’s opponents have combined to go 3/31 from 3, good for 9.1%. That percentage is the best in the country. Obviously, that number is not going to hold, but Wisconsin has done a good job containing the perimeter thus far.
Takeaway #3 – Connor Essegian looks ready to go
The freshman is 4/7 from 3 off of the bench. What has impressed me is how comfortable he looks moving off the ball before shooting. Wisconsin lacks that. Hepburn can shoot, but he is going to be primarily a pull up jump shot type of guy (and he really has not attacked the rim). Steven Crowl may be the best shooter percentage wise, but he is more of a stand still shooter. Jordan Davis may try and fit in that role, but the shooting will be a question mark with him. That leaves Essegian as the guy that may be able to hit movement 3s to help the offense flow.