When were we last together? Something like 19 days ago, it seems. A lot has happened since then, and mostly what it boils down to is that I was right. But that’s what most things boil down to, so no news there.
I posited that the loss of James Blackmon, Jr was mostly a whole lot of not much for a number of reasons. One of which was the schedule. This is what I wrote at the time:
Have you seen this thing?
I don’t know if we’re any good at all, and I’m not sure I’ll know before the end of this month. I’m not saying we’re going to start Big Ten play 7-0, but we could. And based on who we’re playing and where we’re playing them, I am saying that if we start 7-0 you could still convince me we aren’t any good.
You could say to me, “Sure, we haven’t lost since Duke, which is a 12-game winning streak, but none of those 12 teams was worth a damn, except Notre Dame and we looked awful in Maui,” and I’d have almost no argument. And I’m not sure that a 7-0 start in the Big Ten gets us back into the top 20 based on who those seven wins would be against.
And losing one shooter against that schedule doesn’t really change my opinion of what our record is likely to be when we go to Wisconsin on 1/26.
Here we sit, 7-0 and atop the Big Ten standings, which the announces yesterday against Northwestern told us repeatedly hasn’t happened since 1993. We’re currently ranked 25th and we’ll find out tomorrow if a 7-0 start is enough for us to break the Top 20.
I’m still not sure if we’re good. We won’t really know that until we play the top half of the conference, but I do know this; we’re playing like a good team that could be a very good team.
If we’re all agreed that this team might be very good if they continue to play how they’ve been playing, and I think we can, then I’d like to talk for a minute about the one question that’s been bouncing around in my head for the last week or so. And here it is:
At what point does it not matter that our schedule is junk?
We currently have the 137th toughest schedule in all of college basketball. And that is ridiculous. There’s nothing that can be done about the first 7 games of the Big Ten schedule, and there’s no one outside of Tom Crean and Fred Glass who would try to defend our non-conference slate of Non-State State opponents. I despise the way we’ve been scheduling since before Tom Crean. I thought Sampson’s schedules were a joke, too.
But here’s the thing. If we’re actually a really good team, and we might be, then it doesn’t matter. Follow me here.
If we win the Big Ten, something that’s not out of the realm of possibility with the way we’re currently playing, what’s the worst we’re going to get seeded? Third? I’d say a 2 seed is pretty likely, but if you win the Big Ten, you’re not dropping to the 4 seed. It’s just not going to happen.
So, at that point, it’s all about match-ups, which we can’t control.
And, not for nuthin’, but if we’re playing as well as we’ve played these last three games against Illinois, Ohio State, and Northwestern, I like our chances about just about anybody. Have you seen any teams that look unbeatable?
But what if we finish 2nd or 3rd in conference?
Well, it could matter there. Last year, Maryland finished 2nd and got a four seed and Michigan State finished 3rd and landed and 7 seed. But then Maryland exited in the round of 32 while Michigan State made it to the Elite 8. So, again, match ups.
But in 2014, Michigan (1) got a 2 seed, Wisconsin (2) got a 2 seed, and Michigan State (3) got a 4 seed. All three made the Elite 8 and Wisconsin made the Final Four. Match ups.
I’m of the mind that our sorry-ass schedule won’t matter if we finish in the top 3. At that point, it’s only how we’re playing at the time and who we’re playing. It will only matter if we collapse in February and an NCAA bid is looking shaky.
And the way we’re playing right now has earned us three road wins, which is not nothing, and 30-point leads against Ohio State, Illinois, and Northwestern, which is impressive no matter how you slice it.
Even better than that, though is that we’re playing better against Big Ten opponents than we did against our dopey non-conference slate.
In non-conference play we averaged 87 points on offense, but gave up an average of 70 points.
In conference play, without James Blackmon, Jr. our points per game has only dropped to 81, against better competition, and we set the Big Ten record for made threes in a game (19). While our points allowed has dropped to 64.
So, in conclusion, I was right.
We went 7-0 to start the Big Ten and no one is 100% convinced we’re good yet, but I kind of think we might be. And despite the fact that our schedule to date has basically been like that time Frank Grimes tricked Homer into entering a children’s contest where he redesigned the Nuclear Power Plant, we, also like Homer in said contest, have beat their brains in.
And because we’re beat their brains in, it might not matter that our stiffest competition to date not named Duke, may have been Ralph Wiggum.