Friday, November 23, 2012

Week 3 Big Ten Update

I'm going to be starting a new recurring post on the blog updating the Big Ten on a regular basis.  Most fans are able to keep up with Michigan and maybe a couple of the other top teams like Indiana, Ohio State, and MSU, but a lot can get lost in between.  As a result, I'm going to post on a weekly basis (hopefully) to keep everyone updated on what's going on around the Big Ten.  Mainly, I'm going to address some of the main events, where the teams stand, and analyze what that means for the conference and Michigan.

I will start with the obvious, the rankings.  Not a lot changed in the most recent set of rankings.  The Big Ten currently has three teams in the Top 5, four in the Top 25, and two teams that are currently receiving votes (#26 & #27).  That is extremely impressive for one conference, especially at the top end.  So far, none of the ranked Big Ten teams has lost since the new set of rankings and only one of the teams receiving votes lost (Minnesota to Duke).  This basically means that the ranking position of the Big Ten teams will largely remain the same.  MSU and Wisconsin might be able to move up with some help, but most of the things will be the same, for now.

If the rankings aren't enough to show that the Big Ten is for real this year, just take a look at the overall record.  As of now, the Big Ten holds a combined record of 45-9.  Yes, many of those games have been "blow off" games, but there have also been some against quality squads in there including UConn, Kansas, Duke, Pitt, Butler, and Georgetown.  Plus, the sheer fact that the conference has a 83% winning percentage says a lot about its overall strength.

So the conference as a whole is doing great, but how about the individual teams.  Nothing much has changed at the top, since no team has lost, but there have been a few close games.  Indiana was severely challenged by Georgetown when Cody Zeller got into foul trouble, OSU hasn't quite dominated, and Michigan was challenged by Pitt.  With the way Georgetown and Pitt played, I have a feeling that those wins will look a lot more impressive in time.  However, I still have not bought into the Buckeyes hype and until next Tuesday, when they play Duke on the road, I won't buy into their #3 ranking.  As for the final Big Ten ranked team (MSU), they were taken to the wire against Boise State at home, which should be concerning for them.  Gary Harris had to leave with injury (he will return in 2-3 weeks), but the Spartans should have had more than enough firepower to finish off Boise.  I think MSU will be a solid team, but they need to work on finding an effective lineup.

The Big Ten's two teams receiving votes (Minnesota & Wisconsin) have played pretty well, but both teams fell in their toughest games so far.  Minnesota lost to Duke by a score of 89-71 and Wisconsin lost to Florida 74-56.  I don't buy much into Minnesota's game because I'm not sure many out there would have predicted them to actually beat the Blue Devils.  They were simply overmatched and it showed on the scoreboard.  Mbakwe really needs to try to get a little more involved as he only got 18 minutes.  Wisconsin is a different story.  With their major injuries, I don't think they should even be receiving as many votes as they did in the last poll.  They will probably still make the NCAA Tournament, but they are nowhere near the squad I thought they would be because of the injuries they have suffered.

Now into the middle of the Big Ten.  Illinois really surprised a lot of people (including myself) by winning the Maui Invitational.  I thought John Groce would turn that team and program around, but I never anticipated he would do it this quickly.  Sure, it's an early season tournament and they still have not played a ranked team (although Butler is pretty close), but they are a much more focused unit than they were under Weber last season.  Northwestern has played well so far, but have yet to face any serious challenge so I will take a wait and see approach with them.

Two teams that have underachieved so far have been Iowa and Purdue.  Yes, Iowa was not exactly fantastic last season, but they have some great pieces they brought in that give them the chance to go to the next level, especially with Aaron White back in the mix.  It's going to take awhile to develop Adam Woodbury, but they really need him contributing more than his current level if they want to be an NCAA Tournament contender.  Purdue has, frankly, been one of the worst teams in the Big Ten.  Yes, they took Villanova to the brink, but they have been incredibly inconsistent and are the only team in the Big Ten with a losing record.

Finally, last season's Big Ten bottom-dwellers.  Once promising Penn State was rattled by the news that Tim Frazier would be done for the season.  He was All-Big Ten last season and this loss is like a death sentence for the Nittany Lions.  They had a shot at improving and getting a big win or two and making a postseason tournament, but those dreams are probably gone now.  In good news, they will at least give Nebraska challenge for last place this season, which I originally didn't anticipate..

As of now, a lot is still up in the air for both the conference and Michigan.  Over this weekend and the first few days of next week, we will find out a lot more about the conference overall.  It's easily the best conference in basketball, but it will be interesting to see whether teams like Ohio State can live up to the hype during the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.  Right now, I still think Michigan is in great position to win the Big Ten, but some of the top teams like Indiana and the improving teams like Illinois will definitely make that a challenge this year.

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