Josh & Mike at Big Ten Geeks are the RTC correspondents for the Big Ten Conference.
- Michigan State (29-6, 16-2)
- Purdue (27-7, 15-3)
- Wisconsin (24-8, 13-5)
- Ohio State (20-12, 10-8)
- Illinois (18-13, 9-9)
- Minnesota (21-10, 9-9)
- Michigan (16-14, 8-10)
- Penn State (18-12, 7-11)
- Northwestern (13-17, 6-12)
- Iowa (12-18, 4-14)
- Indiana (8-20, 2-16)
WYN2K. This is not your father’s Big Ten, or rather, it’s not your older brother’s Big Ten. Gone are dominating big men of the past, such as Greg Oden, DJ White, Kosta Koufos, and James Augustine. They’ve been replaced by guards such as Manny Harris, Kalin Lucas, E’Twaun Moore and Demetri McCamey. A solid big man (such as the perennially-underrated Goran Suton and incoming freshman B.J. Mullens) is a luxury that most Big Ten teams will not enjoy. You’ll see a lot of lineups featuring one player at 6’7 or taller. Some might hope this will spur the Big Ten into faster play, but, as Northwestern proved last season, guard-oriented teams can be every bit as slow as tall teams.
Predicted Champion. Michigan St. (NCAA #2). There are two things everyone can agree on for season predictions: Michigan State and Purdue promise to be the two toughest teams, and Indiana promises to finish in the basement. Beyond that, there’s a lot of uncertainty here. We like the Spartans to take the title. Part of that is talent (the roster features ten top 100 RSCI players), and part of that is schedule (MSU gets one game against the formidable Wisconsin, while Purdue has only one game against lowly Indiana). Also, in a guard-heavy conference, picking the team with the best frontline (Suton, Diaper Dandy Delvon Roe, and conference Player of the Year candidate Raymar Morgan – see below) isn’t a bad strategy. Sort of a “land of the blind” kind of thing. In our estimation, the Boilermakers feature the best starting five, but they have depth issues. Still though, it would not be a shock if Purdue came out on top.
NCAA/NIT Teams. We think this is a 4-bid league, but that fourth bid is hardly a shoe-in. Yes, the Big Ten is down (again), but we see a lot more parity in the middle of the conference. Fourth place through seventh is really up for grabs, and we think that makes for a lot of NIT teams. In fact, the Big Ten could send more teams to the NIT than to the NCAA tourney. We think the top 3 teams (MSU, Purdue (NCAA #4), and Wisconsin (NCAA #8)) are near-locks for the NCAA Tourney, the next three (Ohio St. (NCAA #11), Illinois, and Minnesota) promise to be bubbilicious, and the next three (Michigan, PSU, and Northwestern) figure to be in the NIT hunt.
Others. Iowa and Indiana almost certainly aren’t going anywhere, at least this season. Both teams are in the rebuilding mode, with Todd Lickliter still working to get “his players” into his system (does he really have a system though?). Indiana is sort of like how we look after a three-day weekend in Vegas – humbled, confused, full of regrets, and ready to move on. Coach Tom Crean already has several impressive recruits lined up for the next season – so get your licks in now, Big Ten, because IU will be back sooner rather than later.
Important Games. The biggest non-conference game on the schedule, without question, is on December 3rd, when UNC faces Michigan St. at Ford Field, site of this year’s Final Four. It might be the first of two meetings between those teams at that venue. We’re also interested to see the Davidson-Purdue matchup on December 20th (that Steph Curry is fun to watch), and the December 2nd Duke-Purdue contest that might be the best game between teams with so much talent concentrated on the perimeter. In conference, the two meetings between Purdue and MSU are the must-see events that likely will determine the conference champ.
- Since 1980, no conference has had more NCAA Tournament appearances than the Big Ten (144).
- In each of the past 4 seasons, Indiana has a better winning percentage as the underdog than as the favorite.
- Since 1998, the Big Ten is the 3rd best conference by RPI.
- The Big Ten is 30-56 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and has never actually “won” the event in nine tries. The only team not playing in the challenge this season is NC State – which finished dead last in the ACC last season.
(h/t to Statfix.com for some of these)
65 Team Era. The Big 10 during this era has earned more NCAA bids than any other conference (133), and its record is fourth-best of the period (194-130, .599), including 18 #1 seeds (2d), 47 Sweet Sixteens (4th), 16 Final Fours (2d), and 3 titles (4th). Even in the 2000s, when there’s been a perception that the league has been ‘down’ relative to the 80s and 90s, the Big Ten has put six teams into the F4, including two in 2005. We’ve been guilty of ragging the B10 for its ‘boring’ style of basketball, but we can’t argue with its results – and there’s a strong likelihood of seeing another Big Ten team in the F4 this year.
Final Thought. The Big Ten will not be the best conference in college basketball, but it should be home to some of the best guards in the country. The conference received a big infusion of point guards last season, and the best of the bunch, Kalin Lucas, is one of the ten best PGs in the country. And while super sophomore Manny Harris gets a lot of deserved praise (a lot), we think an even better sophomore shooting guard plays in West Lafayette. And he might not even be the best sophomore on his team. We also like last-second-shot-specialist Blake Hoffarber’s chances to become a household name. Also, the increased parity should make for a lot of close games. Expect to see very few blowout wins. Except against Indiana (sorry, Hoosiers).