Is the Big Ten Better Than Expected?

Posted by Ryan O'Neil on November 20th, 2018

Before the season began, there was a lot of skepticism nationally about the Big Ten, a conference that placed only three teams in the preseason AP Top 25: Michigan State (#10), Michigan (#19), and Purdue (#24). After Michigan State was thoroughly dominated by Kansas at the Champions Classic, the rhetoric only became more harsh. The conference’s presumed best team had been outplayed in every aspect by the Jayhawks, so experts and fans alike were left to wonder if the Big Ten was even worse than previously thought. Two weeks into the season, however, has introduced a different narrative — one of depth and quality rather than shallowness and despair.

Michigan is Rolling Again (USA Today Images)

Although Michigan State began the year as the highest-ranked team in the Big Ten, it appears as if its intrastate rival, Michigan, might just be the best team in the league. In the Wolverines’ Gavitt game, they dominated Villanova from start to finish en route to a 73-46 road win. John Beilein‘s squad, which has been led so far by freshman Ignas Brazdeikis and junior point guard Zavier Simpson, has the best defense in the country (per KenPom), and the Wolverines are particularly adept at turning turnovers (14.9% TO Rate) into points. Michigan’s next big test will be in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge next week against North Carolina.

Indiana also beat a ranked team when the Hoosiers easily knocked off #24 Marquette at home. While the Hoosiers took a one-point loss to Arkansas on Sunday, Archie Miller’s squad is already showing flashes of the team that it could become. The freshman backcourt of Rob Phinisee and Romeo Langford is talented and dynamic, serving as a better complement to Juwan Morgan than he’s had in the past. The biggest question for Indiana will be whether they can consistently win away from Assembly Hall.

Although Purdue lost in the championship of the Charleston Classic to #16 Virginia Tech, the Boilermakers have also demonstrated why they are one of the best teams in the country. Carsen Edwards has to date vindicated his  preseason All-America selection, as he hit tough shots all over the court while compiling 26 points against the Hokies. Matt Haarms is a force inside, whose length allows him to score inside and affect shots on the other end. Ryan Cline is an elite outside shooter who can space the floor around Edwards, and Dartmouth transfer Evan Boudreaux brings requisite grit to Matt Painter‘s squad. So far this season, the Boilermakers have put together the seventh-best offense in college basketball, which should hover near that metric throughout the year.

Iowa got two big wins last week over #13 Oregon and a scrappy Connecticut team to win the 2K Classic. The Hawkeyes’ offense, led by Tyler Cook and Jordan Bohannon, features several players who can make an offensive impact, including Luka Garza on the inside and Connor McCaffery coming off the bench. Wisconsin once again seems primed to compete in the conference, due in large part to the experienced backcourt of Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice, while Ethan Happ has remained one of the most efficient players in the country.

It’s still too early to know what we have with Nebraska, Ohio State, Minnesota and Maryland, but that group is collectively 16-0 and all four are capable of making the Big Dance. For a league that sent only four representatives to last year’s NCAA Tournament, consideration of as many as eight or nine possible teams this time around is a definite plus.

Ryan O'Neil (1 Posts)

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