Checking in on the… Big TenPosted by rtmsf on January 2nd, 2009
Josh & Mike from Big Ten Geeks are the RTC correspondents for the Big Ten Conference.
Conference play is here, and if the early returns are any indication, it’s going to be a topsy-turvy season in the Big Ten. Illinois made a statement in the opener, taking down Purdue in West Lafayette in a 71-67 overtime win. We’ve given some grief to the Illini for their strange style – they have all the characteristics of a perimeter-oriented team, except for the whole shooting 3-pointers thing. Instead, the Illini settle for lots of mid-range jumpers, fueled by the shooting prowess of their All-Mike Frontcourt. On its face, this is not a recipe for success. But the Illini made it work again against Purdue, grabbing a road win against one of the best (if not the best) teams in the conference. A solid start for Bruce Weber’s squad.
Michigan State also made a statement on Wednesday, taking down previously-undefeated Minnesota 70-58 in Minneapolis. This is a good sign for Izzo’s team, which had been struggling on the defensive end of the floor. If MSU is going to go anywhere this season, the defense needs to catch up to the offense. Another team that needs the defense to step up is Michigan, who were defeated on their home floor by Wisconsin, 73-61. Michigan’s defense was porous, especially in the first half, which saw Wisconsin put up 42 points. Sure, Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims didn’t have their best games, but Beilein’s squad has defensive issues, especially on the glass. Unless the defense improves, those signature wins against Duke and UCLA won’t matter, this team will be headed to the NIT.
Speaking of NIT, Northwestern and Penn State are both trying to prove they’re better than that. Penn State was able to defend its home court against the Wildcats, coming back from an 11 point deficit to win 61-57. Talor Battle kicked off his conference season with a bang, pouring in 26 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. This was an important game for both teams – a winnable game in a deep conference, and may prove critical on Selection Sunday.
What’s especially exciting about all of this is that we’re 2 days in, and we’ve already seen 3 road victories. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
There really aren’t going to be a lot of “bad” games this year in the Big Ten, as the conference is strong, up and down (with the exception of Indiana). But there are a few especially intriguing matchups this week, such as Ohio State/Minnesota, Illinois/Michigan (in what should be a cold reception for Alex Legion, who committed to the Wolverines – twice – before ultimately going to Kentucky and then transferring to Illinois), and Ohio State/Michigan State in what could feature the best two frontlines in the conference.
A Look at the Numbers
The Big Ten had looked pretty good in the Pomeroy Ratings until about a week ago, when they slipped from 2nd to 5th nationally. What happened? Sure, West Virginia’s demolition of Ohio State didn’t help matters, but the bigger drag here is Indiana. At number 204, the Hoosiers are the lowest-ranked BCS team in the country, and that number is in free fall after home losses to Northeastern and Lipscomb. Indeed, every other BCS conference has at least two teams ranked lower than all of the non-Indiana Big Ten teams. Hopefully Indiana doesn’t end up being the RPI killer that keeps a team out of the Dance.