(After some holiday-related weeks off, you can expect ONIONS! every Friday for the rest of the college basketball season.)
As a fan of college sports, I never fully bought into the cult of conference-over-everything. I like seeing teams in my conference win, but only so much as it hypothetically helps my team. I laugh in the face of conference rivals over rough losses, my only regret being that their suffering has made life more difficult for me.
So you'll have to believe me when I speak to you, in spite of my registered membership as a fan of a Big Ten team. ("A" = "the worst, the worst, by far the worst, a team so horrifically bad that no amount of praise for its conference compatriots could possibly reflect well on it.) We need to take a moment to discuss just how damn good the Big Ten is this year, and how glued y'all gotta be to its goings-on.
The fact that the Big Ten is the best conference in college basketball in 2014 should come as no surprise. Per Ken Pomeroy's rankings (which are based off of average adjusted offense and average adjusted defense of each team in the conference,) the league is in its fourth consecutive year at the helm of college hoops. And per Pomeroy, the margin between the top league and the No. 2 league is closer than it has been in any of the three prior years.
But still! A moment.
1. Their elites are the most elite.
The top three teams in the Big Ten are ranked in the nation's top five via people polls and top 10 via Kenpom. They are absurd.
Wisconsin: We discussed death, taxes, and Bo Ryan last time, but they've gotten better, their stranglefetish stranglefetishier. I stand by this phrase: "they reek precision." No turnovers. No fouls. Just sound play on both sides of the ball, and you going home with a 20 point loss.
The cliche about Wisconsin is that they don't have a star; they somehow play better than the sum of their underrecruited parts. Don't say this. Not because it's not true -- it is, it's incredible how unnoticed guys manage to show up at Wisconsin and form a competent unit -- but because it does a disservice to the heaps dead cast aside by Bo Ryan's Skilled Basketball Player Workshop, which he runs unsupervised by government regulations below the Kohl Center. His experimentation into basketball player augmentation yields a few players capable of putting on the Badger uniform, but thousands of failed, discarded semi-humans. If you heard their screams, you wouldn't welpily exclaim "boy, what a job Bo Ryan does with these unheralded players!" like every color commentator ever.
How MSU beat OSU
How MSU beat OSU
Michigan State: In the conference everybody says is the best, is there even a single standout worthy of All-American status? Who is the best player in the nation's best league? I couldn't tell you, but I can tell you they play for Tom Izzo.
Perhaps it's Keith Appling, who led the Spartans in scoring last year before deciding to develop a deadly jumper while somehow becoming a better passer. Perhaps it's Gary Harris, who looks perfectly normal averaging 17.8 points a game in college. Perhaps it's Adreian Payne, the 6'10 dude with the huge wingspan, range out beyond the three-point arc and enough strength that his forehead appears to have sprouted muscles. The only reason children shouldn't be scared about Adreian Payne being under their bed is that he probably wouldn't fit.
These three dudes on a court, you're not going to lose much.
Ohio State: It's obvious that the best player in college basketball is Aaron Craft. Sure, he plays alongside two plus-plus scorers in LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. and a prototype center in Amir Williams, and his numbers are pretty identical to his backcourt mate Shannon Scott, save that Scott is a better shooter and plays less minutes, but... but...
Look, bloggin' ain't big money, so I've decided to loan out some of my weekly column space to Dan Dakich. Just trust me: Aaron Craft would be a safe No. 1 pick, and you should go see the team for which Dakich serves as general manager in action. They're called the Washington Generals, and after some hard times, they're bound for a come-up.
These three teams went 35-1 in non-conference play. That's demolition. Sure, Michigan State lost to North Carolina, which is a transitive property loss to, well, everybody in the world, but that is 2013-14; we have all lost to North Carolina, and we have all beaten North Carolina.
Three teams, sure. But going down the list -- all the way until you reach Northwestern -- this league is bringing it.
If you matched the top ten teams in the B1G against the second-ranked conference in Pomeroy's ratings, the Big 12, the Big Ten would go 9-1, with No. 66 Texas beating No. 69 Indiana. Against the Big East, they would go 10-0. Some of this is due to having 12 teams rather than 10, but if we subbed in the Big Ten's two worst teams for its 9th and 10th teams, the league would still go 9-1 against both conferences.
As of now, Northwestern is the only team in the league below 100 on Kenpom. (It is well below.) This would be the first time in the last three years a conference managed to feature one or zero teams outside the top 100 in the country.
Sure, this is just one computer system's ranking method, and yes, it seems to value the Big Ten. But, um, it's the one I'll roll with.
With 350 teams, a good college basketball game is a not-unfindable gem, but it takes some trial-and-error. Top 25 matchups often turn into blowouts, one team not ready for another's home building, one team that decides it cannot possibly play against a zone defense and clangily pouts en route to a rout.
I have no numbers to back it up, but I feel the Big Ten's top has a better hit percentage than any other league. I'm not talking about Wisconsin eviscerating a supposedly top-25 team in Illinois the other night. I mean the meat: the three I already said, perhaps Michigan and Iowa sprinkled in this year.
Last year gave us a damn slew of thrillers -- two OSU-Michigan bangers, two Michigan State-Ohio State bangers, a Michigan-Michigan State game that hung on the rim, Wisconsin hitting a half-court heave to go to OT, some late Victor Oladipo takeovers. This year, we're 1-for-1: Tuesday's classic 17-point comeback by Ohio State in the Breslin Center, only to end up with a Sparty win.
Other conferences bring it too, but I think the B1G's hit rate is unmatched. Keep track of this tweet:
BREAKING: Big Ten game between two incredible teams is incredible— Rodger Sherman (@rodger_sherman) January 8, 2014
There are other great teams and will be other great games. And hell, maybe only one Big Ten squad reaches the Final Four. Maybe none do! But I wouldn't take any other league pound-for-pound, squad-for-squad.
The rep for grinding ugly is oversold. It's well-played fireworks, and if the league loses your viewership based on some no-longer-necessarily-true warning of KEEP AWAY: UGLYBALL, you'll miss out. And probably watch your team get mashed into a pulp in March.
Teams watched count
I haven't mentioned this before, but I have a goal: to watch a snippet of every basketball team this year. Every time I watch a new team, I mark it down in a Google Doc, and try to write down a note about the team in question. I try to only include games I watched for a significant amount of time -- one media timeout, at the least -- and with a modicum of interest -- not games that were in the background while I was working.
I don't choose to watch games with teams I haven't seen over, say, Ohio State-Michigan State, but I'm making a concerted effort here.
As of right now, the count is at 141, meaning with a bit over three months, I have 210 to go. The idea is to get it down to the 250 range by conference tourney time, and then start knocking off the ones I haven't seen when almost everything is televised.
This serves as a segue into the Onions! DISTURBING DEVELOPMENT OF THE WEEK! from Thursday night's Cal State Northridge-Cal-Davis game. (Very hyphens. Many confusing.)
I've seen my fair share of awful courts in this quest.
This is a basketball court pic.twitter.com/NeoKezRlU9— Rodger Sherman (@rodger_sherman) December 12, 2013
On that front, CSN -- I can call em this, for shortness' sake, right? -- wasn't particularly horrendous.
Tonight in enormous mid court logo theater: pic.twitter.com/fSek5RzsI3— Rodger Sherman (@rodger_sherman) January 10, 2014
Yes, it's GYNORMOUS, but not violent.
But then I started noticing that everything about CSN basketball is ratcheted up a little bit too high.
Their team name is the Matadors. So of course, their arena is
They have an in-house DJ:
But most importantly, their coach is REGGIE THEUS. Yes, he from the NBA career, three years as the coach on the TV show "Hangtime," and eventually a job as head coach of the Sacramento Kings.
We don't know how Reggie Theus ended up patrolling the Matadome's sidelines. But man, Cal State Northridge is ballin' out on a big school level while playing in the Big West. We're not sure if that's the best thing or the worst thing.
(Note: this is important, too.)
Rodger bothers a coach
(I bothered more than a coach this week! Expect a story soon.)
Games of the Day of the Week
Since this is gonna happen every week, don't worry! You'll get guidance every damn day for the rest of your college hoops season!
Friday, Jan. 10: Wright State vs. Valparaiso (9 p.m., ESPNU)
This battle of 9-8 teams poses one question: do you prefer raiding, or crusading? One is like the other, but features religion.
Saturday, Jan. 11: Iowa State vs. Oklahoma (noon, ESPNU)
The Sooners have pushed Michigan State and Kansas and beaten everybody else (besides Louisiana Tech, but, well, ignore that.) Can they score enough to topple the unstoppable Cyclones? Both of these teams are in the top 30, tempo-wise, so, yanno, buckets. Plus, you can watch football!
Sunday, Jan. 12: Iowa vs. Ohio State (1:30 p.m., CBS)
Read the first thousand words or so.
Monday, Jan. 13: Kansas vs. Iowa State (9 p.m., ESPN)
Repetitive, but I'm not gonna lie to you.
Tuesday, Jan. 14: VCU vs. George Washington (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
VCU's HAVOC goes up against GW and Indiana castoff Mo Creek, who has spent most of the season showing the world what he looked like before injuries wrecked his Hoosier career. With wins over Creighton, Maryland, and Miami and no real bad losses, the Colonials can begin making a case to be one of the A-10's squads come March, but they'll need wins like this one.
Wednesday, Jan. 15: Georgetown vs. Xavier (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Tough to know what to make of the Hoyas, who can do stuff like "losing by 18 to Providence." Other than three neutral court games in the Bahamas -- presumably, their muskets were waterlogged in the Battle 4 an underground kingdom -- Xavier is undefeated. The questions are whether Georgetown can stop Semaj Christon, who absolutely will not turn the ball over and can also score a lot, and whether Joshua Smith, Georgetown's fickle, but talented scoring big man is healthy and/or interested in doing anything on a basketball court.
Thursday, Jan. 16: UCLA vs. Colorado (8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
GUARDPLAY (reggaeton siren) Yeahhhhhhhhh I'll watch Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker play against Kyle Anderson -- maybe the most interesting player I've seen this year -- and Jordan Adams! The Pac-12's stud is clearly Arizona, but there's a battle shaping up to see who's next. Right now, I'd take Colorado, whose resume is very kissable.