Over the past week or so, the Big Ten has dropped four games to teams likely to finish outside the top 100 in the RPI. I'm no fan of the RPI or its methodology, but it's still the standard by which all teams are judged, come March.
(Which, by the way, is insane. From October through January, RPI is rarely mentioned. ESPN does not preview the Big Game by citing each team's RPI, and coaches do not mitigate the opponent's W/L record by citing their very difficult RPI strength of schedule. But sometime in February, we all decide that RPI suddenly matters. Why? We were all getting along perfectly well without it. Humbug.)
But even by Pomeroy standards, the likes of NJIT, North Florida, Incarnate Word, and Eastern Michigan are decidedly not the kinds of teams that Michigan, Nebraska, or even Purdue should be losing to. So perhaps it's time for a checkup on those squads.
Michigan: They Are Who We Thought They Were
Michigan is not as good as last year's Michigan. Everyone knows this, everyone expected this. And the ways in which 2014-15 Michigan is different are all predictable:
Glenn Robinson III made 56% of his 2s, but this season much of his minutes are going to Kameron Chatman, who is just making 33% of his. Jordan Morgan and his 70% accuracy on 2s is gone. Spike Albrecht (38.1% on 2s) is playing a lot this season. As I said before the season began, this roster is set up well to shoot jumpers—and they have shot very well—but there weren't many interior scoring options, even accounting for Beilein's offense.
This means that improvement will have to come on defense. That may sound like a dicey proposition given that the team recently allowed 1.22 points per possession to NJIT, but the defense is actually, on the whole, better than last year's. Alas, unlike last year, the Wolverines cannot boast the nation's best offense, so that particular bar is too low if Michigan plans to dance in March.
But the defense should improve. Really, the only weak parts are items that fall firmly into the "unlucky" camp—opponent three-point percentage and opponent free throw percentage. Those will even out, and when they do, we'll resume our regularly-scheduled programming. Of course, those two bad losses are etched in stone, so Michigan's path to an at-large bid looks a lot tougher. Eleven wins might be a necessity.
Nebraska: Where's Walter?
Last season, Walter Pitchford was a tremendously-efficient player. He hit 41% of his 3s, 54% of his 2s, and almost never turned the ball over. And I'm not exaggerating there—he didn't commit his first turnover of the season until Nebraska's 15th game. He had just 15 turnovers for the entire season.
He already has 13 this year, and that's the relative good news, as he's hitting just 40% of his 2s and 27% of his 3s. Frankly, Nebraska just doesn't have enough scoring options for Pitchford to take this kind of leave of absence. Opponents can get away with focusing on Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway, knowing that no one else is willing or dangerous enough to deal significant damage.
If Nebraska still has eyes on making the Dance, then either Pitchford needs to quickly return to form, or Leslie Smith needs to get better, fast.
Purdue: This Isn't Youth Basketball—You Don't Have to Play Everyone
Matt Painter currently has a 10-man rotation. Maybe John Calipari can get away with that, early in the season, because his team can whip just about anyone even if he picked up lineups out of a hat. But without meaning any offense to the Boilermakers, Painter can't do that.
Specifically, Painter has two centers and what appears to be eight combo guards all receiving regular minutes. I don't know, it seems like there might be some redundancies there. Also, we should probably question why there are 8 players with assist rates of at least 15 and turnover rates of at least 12.5 in the rotation. That seems like entirely too much dribbling and passing for entirely too many players. Assists are great (Purdue is 6th in the country in assists per field goal), but not when they come with a side dish of turnovers (167th in turnover percentage). Kendall Stephens, for example, seems better suited to run off screens and wait for an open 3 (he's hitting 49.2% of those) than dribbling into traffic looking for a 2 (he's hitting 21.4% of those).
Overall, this kitchen has entirely too many cooks.