Now that football is over and all of that SEC business is behind us, we can fully turn out attention to Big Ten hoops.
Or, as Dickie V Tweeted last night: “BIG 10 BEST HOOPS CONFERENCE IN USA!”
Without a doubt.
But who is the best team in the best conference in all of the land? As we round the quarter pole, it looks something like this:
1. Michigan State (15-2, 4-0): Strong wins at Wisconsin and at home against Indiana mean the last unbeaten in the conference is the clear No. 1 – for now. The Spartans still must travel to Ann Arbor, Columbus and Bloomington – not to mention Champaign and West Lafayette.
2. Indiana (15-1, 3-1): The loss to Michigan State is the lone blemish to go along with wins over No. 1 Kentucky, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 13 Michigan – all in Bloomington. The Hoosiers have three true road wins, but head to Columbus this weekend after hosting wounded and potentially dangerous Minnesota.
3. Ohio State (15-3, 3-2): Hard to believe Ohio State is 3-2 in conference play. The Buckeyes have two tough road losses – to the Hoosiers and Illinois. They still must go to East Lansing and Ann Arbor, but the schedule looks fairly favorable for perhaps the most complete team in the conference.
4. Illinois (15-3, 4-1): If Brandon Paul scores 43 on eight of 10 shooting from deep every night, the Illini will be tough to beat. The Spartans come calling soon, and Illinois must still travel to Indiana and Ohio State. Still, Illinois is 4-1 and took care of business against the Buckeyes at home.
5. Michigan (13-3, 3-1): The Wolverines blew out Wisconsin at home and gave Indiana a scare in Bloomington. Michigan, however, has perhaps the toughest road ahead with two games against Michigan State and Ohio State upcoming, along with a home game against Indiana and trips to West Lafayette and Champaign.
6. Purdue (13-4, 3-1): Purdue hasn’t played a ranked team yet in Big Ten play, and has been hot and cold (losing by 20 at Penn State before manhandling Minnesota on the road). After home games against Wisconsin and Iowa (neither of which are gimmes), the schedule is about to turn tougher with the next four of five games against ranked teams (at Michigan State and Ohio State, home against Indiana and Michigan).
7. Wisconsin (12-5, 1-3): The Badgers have shocked everybody by losing three in a row in January, though only the Iowa loss looks bad on paper. There’s plenty of time to right the good ship Bucky, and they have a break in the schedule – no trips to Columbus or Bloomington this year.
8. Iowa (10-8, 2-3): The Hawkeyes would have been higher but for the blowout Tuesday night in East Lansing. Still, after a dismal preseason, Iowa opened with a close loss to Purdue and wins over Minnesota and Wisconsin – before blowout losses to Michigan State and Ohio State. There are some winnable games ahead, however.
9. Northwestern (11-4, 1-2): The Wildcats have played just three games, losing big to Ohio State and by just one to Illinois. Northwestern may be better than ninth, but Iowa has better wins to date. They may have to wait a while, as the next three opponents are home to Michigan State and at Michigan and Wisconsin. Ouch.
10. Penn State (9-8, 1-3): After blowing out Purdue, the Nittany Lions threw a scare in to the Hoosiers at Happy Valley over the weekend before falling 88-82. Other than against Indiana, Penn State can’t shoot (314th in the nation) or score (259th). That’s not going to get it done in a loaded Big Ten.
11. Minnesota (12-5, 0-4): What a horrendous start to the Big Ten season – and the Gophers still have two games each against Indiana and Michigan State, along with a home game against the Buckeyes. Where have you gone, Trevor Mbakwe? To be fair, Minnesota had three tight losses before the blowout loss to Purdue (at home).
12. Nebraska (8-7, 0-4): The schedule makers did Nebraska no favors. The Cornhuskers started their inaugural Big Ten season with losses to Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State and Illinois. After a home game against Penn State, Nebraska then goes to Madison before the Hoosiers and Buckeyes visit Lincoln. It’s going to be a long season.