Big Ten season is finally upon us, and it's going to be another dominate year for the conference as it could easily send six teams to the big dance. Thus far, the upper portion of the conference has been, for the most part, absolutely dominate while the latter portion is still competitive and filled with good, talented teams. For Purdue fans this will be an incredibly frustrating season, as it already has been. But if you're also a general lover of college hoops then you have the right to be extremely excited to watch the best conference in the nation duke it out this season. Now, lets move onto the rankings.
1. Michigan Wolverines (13-0)
Being the number two ranked team in the nation, still unbeaten, and extremely fun to watch, it's almost impossible to not put the Wolverines at number one in the Big Ten. Trey Burke is the real deal at point guard and, if he chooses to leave, could easily be in the top ten for this year's NBA draft. Michigan has beat quality teams like Pittsburgh, Kansas State, and North Carolina State. This team is efficient too, with a field goal percentage of .511, which is good for 5th in the nation. They have quality players in Tim Hardaway Jr. Jordan Morgan, Glenn Robinson III (GR3), Nick Stauskas, and Mitch McGary. Actually, pretty much every guy on this squad is talented, which makes them scary deep. I firmly believe Michigan will win the conference this year, but it's going to be a tough battle the whole way.
2. Indiana Hoosiers (12-1)
As much as it pains me to say this, IU is back and as good as ever. This team is young, athletic, and extremely talented. However, I'm not completely sold on this team. Outside of playing an extremely overrated North Carolina team and a decent Butler team, the Hoosiers really have no other wins on their résumé that are extremely impressive. Their margin of victory during their 12 wins is unreal, and with the best scoring offense in the nation 89.4 points per game, that's something you have to pay respect to, but at the same time their competition has been minimal. Big Ten play will be a defining moment for the Hoosiers, and we'll really see if this team is all that Dick Vitale hypes it up to be (note that Dicky V loves IU and, at times, seems like he'd run out of his seat to give Tom Crean a blowie courtside). Despite having one of the best big men in the nation with Cody Zeller, IU lives by the 3-point shot, but they'll have to be way more versatile during Bg Ten play and get creative with Zeller and Victor Oladipo. Regardless of who they have played, IU is still a damn good team and could easily win the Big Ten as well.
3. Michigan State Spartans (11-2)
"What?!? How can you put MSU over Ohio State, Illinois, and Minnesota when they're ranked higher?!?!" Here's why: None of those teams are coached by Tom Izzo. Izzo is hands down one of the most brilliant minds in all of college basketball, and, like pretty much every year, has another talented squad. Gary Harris looks like the real deal, which makes me really not like him for bypassing Purdue. But outside of Harris, Izzo's upperclassman should be respected by everyone in the conference as well. Centers Derrick Nix (senior) and Adreian Payne (junior) are two huge bodies that can score on the low block, rebound well, and give opposing 4s and 5s headaches both offensively and defensively. Keith Appling is looking as good as ever and Branden Dawson is also having a good year. MSU played two extremely tough opponents to start off the year with a four point loss to UConn and a three point win over Kansas (who beat OSU at home by a fair margin. Another reason for putting Sparty over the Buckeyes). This team will get better and better as the season goes on. I think they could compete for the Big Ten title, but it will be tough to get ahead of the first two teams.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes (10-2)
Even with the loss of Jarred Sullinger, coach Thad Matta's 10th ranked Buckeyes are still a threatening team. Deshaun Thomas is scoring like a madman this season at almost 20 points per-game (19.8) while also pulling down 6.9 rebounds and shooting a career high 39% from long range. Lenzelle Smith Jr. is another talented scorer on this team who averages in double figures per game with 11.2 points. Point guard Aaron Craft is still a defensive threat (and is great at getting away with fouls) and rarely turns the ball over. This team doesn't really have a great big man at rebounding, though. Center Amir Williams only averages 3.8 per-game at 6'11". That's tied for 4th best on the team despite being the tallest guy on the squad. However, the Buckeyes still average 39.4 rebounds per game, which is good for 43rd in the nation. OSU's big men are going to have to board better from now on, but this team, like many others in the conference, is extremely talented with big play makers. However, I don't think they have what it takes this year to make a run at the Big Ten Title, but you never know.
5. Illinois Fighting Illini (13-1)
Over the past few games it's been the Tracy Abrams and Brandon Paul show. These two guards have been lighting it up for the Illini and first year coach John Groce has to be pleased with the way his team has been playing this season. Things began to look promising for this team after an exciting victory at Gonzaga on the 8th. A loss against Missouri is the only sour game this team has. With a dominating win against Auburn, Illinois looks to keep their winning streak alive when they play Purdue on the 2nd. With the way Purdue has been playing Illinois may have little trouble against us.
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers (12-1)
I thought Tubby Smith's Gophers were going to be a good team this year, but this team has been playing great this season with only one loss to Duke. The eleventh ranked Gophers are one of the best rebounding and passing teams in the nation; averaging 41 rebounds per-game (25th) and 16.5 assists per-game (24th). With scores like Austin and Andre Hollins, and Rodney Williams, and the determination behind this team (senior forward Trevor Mbakwe said he would repay his scholarship back to the school if they didn't make the NCAA Tournament), this is a lethal team that could go a ways in the Big Ten tourny and NCAA tourny.
7. Iowa Hawkeyes (11-2)
Iowa has been playing some darn good basketball to start the year off, and I think that Hoosier fans should be a little more nervous about playing Iowa at home to kick off conference play. Like Minnesota, Iowa is one of the best rebounding and passing teams in the country; 41.6 rebounds a game (18th) and 16.9 assists a game (19th). Junior guard Roy Devyn Marble is leading the team in scoring with 15.7 ppg while sophomore forward Aaron White is not far off with 13.6 ppg while chipping in 6.5 boards per-game. A win over IU tomorrow and some other quality wins could definitely make this a tournament team.
8. Wisconsin Badgers (9-4)
Despite the four losses, this is a darn good team that Bo Ryan is working with. Three of Wisconsin's losses came against tough opponents: Florida, Creighton, and Maquette. The Badgers' first two games come against Nebraska and Penn State; two teams not known for their hoops programs. Wisconsin always have big, goofy white guys that can shoot. This year, senior John Berggren is emerging as their go to man with 13.4 ppg and 6.7rpg. I have a strong feeling that Bo will get his Badgers on track, and maybe they could even sneak their way into the NCAA tourny as well. This is also one tough team to beat at home.
9. Northwestern Wildcats (9-4)
For me, I don't see a lot superheating NU and Nebraska. But I have to give the edge to NU here just because they are averaging 17.2 assists per-game, good for 16th in the nation. The Wildcats started off hot, but had back to back losses against Maryland and UIC at the end of Nov. & beginning of Dec. This team really knows how to share the ball and have great chemistry. One thing that will hurt this team is how tough their early schedule is. In their first seven games they face tie ranked opponents, and have three road games. It won't be easy for this team, but I do see NU having some success in the Big Ten this season.
Nebraska's first year in the conference was rough, to say the least. This year, the Cornhuskers will be looking to improve from their 4-14 league play. Senior Dylan Talley is starting off strong with 13.9 ppg. However, outside of Creighton they really haven't played a super talented team. Their first three Big Ten opponents are OSU, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Tough start for a not too talented team.
11. Penn State Nittany Lions (8-4)
This was a tough call for the last two spots, but I have to give the edge to PSU for their record, the fact they beat Bucknell and we did not, and because we have just not been playing that great at all this season. But we'll get to Purdue shortly. After starting off smoking hot, it looked like Tim Frazier could be an All Big Ten caliber player. However, injury brought Frazier's season to an end and now PSU really doesn't have much going on for them; example being that Frazier hasn't played since Nov 11tj and yet he is still their leading scorer. I see PSU taking the twelve spot pretty quick in these rankings.
12. Purdue Boilermakers (6-6)
It's been a rough year for Purdue. We appear to play to our opponents level, but if they're actually good then we don't really show up till it's too late (see ND game). We know the issues: poor shots, lots of turnovers, miscommunication, lack of effort at times, immaturity. Even though it's been ugly, we still have talent. I definitely think we are capable of turning this season around and, hopefully, go to the NIT and make a run there. That is what Minnesota did last year and now look at them. A.J. Hammons is the real deal at center and will have a bright future, but he's too young and not skilled enough to carry this team. Players like Terone Johnson and D.J. Byrd need to step up and start finding their game. It's been rough, but our future is bright. However, this will be an incredibly long Big Ten season if we keep playing like we currently are.