Re-Ranking the Big Ten Heading into Conference PlayPosted by Jonathan Batuello on December 31st, 2013
With the conference season now upon us, the writers at the microsite decided it would be a good idea to re-rank how we believe the teams will finish in the race to a Big Ten championship. The conference has to this point laid a solid claim as the best league in the nation, so it will be another grueling 18-game process for some lucky team win the crown. We’ve learned a decent amount about every school’ strengths and weaknesses by now — including just how good Ohio State’s defense appears to be, and how Michigan may not be ready to repeat its postseason performance from last year — but teams don’t truly reveal themselves until they start seeing their old familiar foes in conference play. Here are how the microsite writers believe the teams will pan out with a few notes on what has changed since before the season began.
- Ohio State: Everyone knew the Buckeyes’ defense would be good, but it has been much better than expected. Ken Pomeroy ranks them as the most efficient defense in the country, so that keeps Ohio State in every game regardless of how the offense is playing. They’ve also gotten enough scoring from everyone (six players average more than 7.0 PPG), and LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith are starting to become reliable scorers every night out.
- Wisconsin: One of the biggest surprises of this college basketball season, the Badgers have become a force offensively as well as defensively. Bo Ryan’s squad has shown a propensity to win every style of game this season and unearthed a huge bright spot in Frank Kaminsky. Wisconsin ranks in the top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency while playing one of the most challenging non-conference slates in the country, so don’t think for a minute that its early success will peter out.
- Michigan State: This is still one of the best teams in the country, but our unanimous conference championship pick to begin the year has been tempered because of just how thin this team really is after its elite starting five. That group is spectacular, but injuries have put others in the spotlight and their level of play hasn’t been nearly the same. The Spartans can’t afford any downtime for players like Gary Harris and Adreian Payne or its Final Four hopes will disappear quickly.
- Iowa: The dark horse pick coming into the year hasn’t disappointed and has in fact shown that it is a team that will compete in the conference race. Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White have both been phenomenal as the Hawkeyes have a very efficient offense and have proven that they will be in contention all season.
- Illinois: With so many new players, the Fighting Illini didn’t have exceptionally high expectations surrounding them coming into the season. They have certainly outperformed those behind the breakout season from Rayvonte Rice. Illinois is now squarely looking to make the NCAA Tournament again this season.
- Michigan: It hasn’t gone the way the Wolverines thought it would after their NCAA runner-up finish and it has only gotten worse with the news of Mitch McGary’s back injury putting him on the shelf indefinitely. Michigan hasn’t gotten its other potential draft picks to perform well and its freshmen have looked like freshmen. The one big plus has been the play of sophomore Nik Stauskas, who has put himself in the B1G Player of the Year discussion.
- Minnesota: A strong and efficient offense (23rd nationally) and a unique press defense has put the Golden Gophers in position to make the NCAA Tournament with a solid conference season. The Hollins have both been great, as expected, and the play of Deandre Mathieu has been a nice surprise to push the Golden Gophers higher than originally expected in Richard Pitino’s first season.
- Indiana: Everyone knew the Hoosiers had lost a significant amount of talent, but there was still hope that Tom Crean’s team could push into the top half of the Big Ten. It just hasn’t happened. Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh have both been good (Vonleh is the leading candidate for B1G Freshman of the Year), but Will Sheehey hasn’t improved to a star level like needed and the team hasn’t found consistent three-point shooting yet.
- Purdue: A team that believed it could make the NCAA Tournament coming into the season now likely needs an 11-7 or 10-8 record with a B1G Tournament win or two to make it there. The Boilermakers’ biggest disappointment has been defensive rebounding and AJ Hammons, who just can’t stay out of foul trouble. When he’s on the floor, he’s still a force, but he’s struggled to remain there. The bright spot — Purdue’s freshman class from top to bottom may be the best in the Big Ten — is that Bryson Scott, Kendall Stephens, Basil Smotherman and redshirt freshman Jay Simpson all look like they will be great in the years to come.
- Penn State: Almost exactly what was expected of the Nittany Lions has happened so far this season. Its backcourt duo has been an offensive force, but the team’s defense is still a work in progress. Don’t be surprised if Penn State pulls a big upset with this roster at least once or twice this season, but also have a few head-scratching losses.
- Nebraska: The new arena looks great and sophomores Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway have both had solid years with great potential for the future. Realistically, not being predicted to finish last in the Big Ten is an upgrade for this team right now.
- Northwestern: Chris Collins’ first year in Evanston just hasn’t gone very well. No one on the roster outside of Drew Crawford has performed up to expectations. The good news for Wildcat fans? At least you won’t have to endure another gut-wrenching loss to cripple your NCAA Tournament hopes later in the season.