The Big Ten season kicks off tonight with Illinois heading to West Lafayette to take on a tough Boilermaker team. The conference has exceeded preseason expectations in the non conference season and several teams who were expected to settle around the middle of the Big Ten have pulled off surprising marquee wins in the early going. The Big Ten also came closer than it has in years to winning the Big Ten/ACC challenge and probably should have won it. In the end, the non conference season has raised more questions than it’s answered.
This year there are not going to be very many easy wins in the conference. Every night is going to be a battle and there is really only one awful team in the conference this year. Here’s my best attempt at sorting out the conference and predicting the standings, because of all the parity I think 3 through 7 is almost a toss up.
1. Michigan State – I still feel that Michigan State has the most talent from top to bottom of any team in the Big Ten. All jokes aside, Suton is a very good player and helps make MSU a more complete team. They will continue to gel as a team and I think they will benefit from a fresh start.
2. Purdue – The Boilermakers have struggled at times this year but are still in pretty good shape. They have two respectable losses to Oklahoma and Duke but have yet to live up to expectations from last years surprising season. On paper I think the Boilermakers have just as much talent as anyone in the league. Their talent mixed with their tenacity on defense will keep them right near the top of the Big Ten.
3. Minnesota – Minnesota’s record is inflated by a lot of cupcake wins but I think they can be in the tournament tier of the Big Ten. They have a great opportunity to make a statement early on with home games against Michigan State and Ohio State.
4. Michigan – Michigan enters the conference season with the best pair of non conference wins but they have yet to prove they can withstand the grind of the Big Ten season and win on the road. Michigan is weak in the post and any injuries to DeShawn Sims or Manny Harris could be costly. Michigan also has a back loaded schedule and only gets to play Indiana once. It’s important for Michigan to jump out to a great start because wins will be a lot tougher in the second half of the conference schedule.
5. Illinois – Illinois plays great defense but the question is how good can their offense be? They have balanced scoring with Meachum, McCamey, Davis, and Tisdale but I don’t think they have any playmakers to take over a game. The debacle of not getting a shot off in the closing seconds of the Clemson game comes to mind.
6. Wisconsin – The Badgers will probably make me look stupid for putting them this low but they just haven’t proved anything to me. Their best win is a road win against a mediocre Virginia Tech team and they have gone 0-3 in chances for quality wins. In the end though it seems like Wisconsin always finds itself near the top of the conference.
7. Ohio State – Evan Turner looks like an early candidate to win Big Ten Player of the Year and the Buckeyes have some solid wins at Miami, at Notre Dame, and Butler. However I think David Lighty’s injury and Noopy Crater’s transfer will hold the Buckeyes back, and you never want to head into the conference season after getting destroyed on your home floor.
8. Penn State – Talor Battle has been spectacular but I’m taking a wait and see approach. Penn State won’t be a gimmie win for anyone but I don’t think they are contenders either.
9. Northwestern – Same situation as Penn State, Northwestern will be competitive in every game but I don’t see them contending.
10. Iowa – Iowa just hasn’t beaten anyone. The Hawkeyes are 10-3 but all of their wins have been against RPI 100+ teams.
11. Indiana – There is a huge gap between Indiana and everyone else. The Hoosiers are just flat out bad and enter the Big Ten on a three game losing streak (Kentucky, Northeastern, and Lipscomb).
Here are some other takes on how the Big Ten will shakeout:
- Big Ten Conference Season Preview, Tempo-Free-Aerial-Style
Michigan offense = good, Defense = bad
- Big Ten Non-conference review
Off the Tracks has Michigan at #2
- Big Ten hoops preview
Badgercentric has Michigan at #3