Three Biggest Surprises & Disappointments in the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 3rd, 2017

Each and every season people like myself who cover college basketball make predictions as to how the season will go. Each and every season people like myself are wrong. What follows are three of the biggest surprises and disappointments in the Big Ten so far this season. Whether they will hold true over the next two months is anybody’s guess.

Three Surprises

  1. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: That the Purdue sophomore is having a massive impact this season isn’t the surprise — the surprise, rather, is in the level of dominance he has displayed 14 games into the season. Swanigan is averaging 18.5 PPG, 13.0 RPG and 2.9 APG in high-possession usage, while shooting 41 percent from the three-point line, 59 percent inside the arc and converting 77 percent of his free throws. He has already notched four 20/20 games in points and rebounds, including a few flirtations with a triple-double. Swanigan made the preseason All-Big Ten team with good reason after a freshman campaign where he led the conference in rebounds, but his play to this point makes him the early frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year.

    Caleb Swanigan has played like a potential All-American so far this season. . (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

    Caleb Swanigan has played like a potential All-American so far this season. . (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

  2. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights were 44-84 over the last four seasons and that’s why little was expected of them despite adding a new coach (Steve Pikiell) and some impact newcomers this year. An 11-2 non-conference record has ceded to an 0-2 start in the Big Ten (losses at Wisconsin and vs. Penn State), but Rutgers should be commended on the defensive end for protecting the rim (ranking among the nation’s best 25 teams in two-point field goal percentage defense and block percentage). Someone on this microsite mentioned that the Scarlet Knights’ goal this season should be to win 10 games and a 15-win season seems reasonable on this trajectory. In a position that requires a certain kind of coach, Pikiell appears to be the right person to eventually turn this program around.
  3. Minnesota: The Gophers surprised a lot of observers in getting off got to a fantastic 12-1 start against a decent schedule, and a massive weekend road win at Purdue shows that the wheels are unlikely to come off now that conference play has started. Minnesota has already accumulated seven victories came against KenPom top 100 foes, and it appears that the Pitino tradition of suffocating defense has made its way north — the Gophers sport a top 15 defense that covers both the paint and three-point line very well. After the way last season ended in Minneapolis, Richard Pitino seems to have the program back on track.

Three Disappointments

  1. Eron Harris, Michigan State: After the losses of Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes to graduation and this season’s leading scorer Miles Bridges to an ankle injury, Harris seemed to be the natural next choice as the primary scoring option. Instead, his scoring average sits at only 12.2 PPG and he has yet to show the breakthrough in production that many expected. Furthermore, with only 14 minutes in the Spartans’ weekend win over Northwestern, he seems at risk to lose even more time on the floor given the recent emergence of fellow senior Alvin Ellis.

    Eron Harris hasn't gotten off to quite the start many imagined for Michigan State this season. (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports)

    Eron Harris hasn’t gotten off to quite the start many imagined for Michigan State this season. (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports)

  2. Iowa: After making the NCAA Tournament for three consecutive seasons and losing four senior starters, Iowa was expected to take a dip this season. Right now it’s looking like that dip might be closer to a dive. The Hawkeyes survived an overtime battle with Michigan over the weekend, but its six losses have been by an average of 15.7 points. They looked horrible against Virginia and Purdue, and right now it appears as if a fourth straight trip in a row to the NCAAs will not be in the cards.
  3. Penn State: The Nittany Lions managed to beat Rutgers on the road over the weekend, but six losses with three coming at home before New Year’s Day is cause for concern. There have been far too many games already this season where Shep Garner has been missing in action, leaving freshmen Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens having carry too much of the offensive load.
Brendan Brody (307 Posts)

Brendan Brody is in his fourth season covering the Big Ten for RTC. Email him at, or follow him on twitter @berndon4.

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