State of the Race, HOOPTYBALL EDITION

This might be my favorite picture of all time. Never change, TV Teddy. - USA TODAY Sports

1/3 of the way home, time to see who's winning and who's not doing that so much.

Doing conference race updates every week sounds like an awful lot of work and might potentially even necessitate game-watching, so we'll pass on that. But with 1/3 of the conference race in the books, we'll take a quick glance at what we've seen so far, and what there is to look forward to in the next month.

Current Standings

1. Michigan State, 17-1 (6-0);  IU 1/21, UM 1/25

2. Michigan, 13-4 (5-0); Iowa 1/22, @MSU 1/25

3. Iowa, 15-3 (4-1); @UM 1/22, @NW 1/25

4. Wisconsin, 16-2 (3-2); @Minn 1/22, @PU 1/25

5. Purdue, 13-5 (3-2); @NW 1/21, UW 1/25

6. Minnesota, 14-5 (3-3); UW 1/22, @Neb 1/26

7. Ohio State, 15-3 (2-3); @Neb 1/20, UI 1/23

8. Indiana, 12-6 (2-3); @MSU 1/21, UI 1/26

9. Illinois, 13-6 (2-4); @OSU 1/23, @IU 1/26

10. Northwestern, 9-10 (2-4); PU 1/21, Iowa 1/25

11. Nebraska, 8-8 (0-4); OSU 1/20; @PSU 1/23

12. Penn State, 9-10 (0-6); Neb 1/23, @OSU 1/29

1) What's been the best game of the first third of conference play?

MNWildcat: Northwestern 49, Illinois 43. Because shut up, it's all I have and I loved it. [sidenote: no kidding, I had a dream last night that the Illinois press kept working and Northwestern lost by 2 at the buzzer, right after I'd put up a celebratory post on OTE.]

Jesse Collins: Ohio State-Iowa. As much as it most likely takes away my Nebraska fandom credibility, you have to give it up to Iowa. They are as fun a team to watch - especially with a Franimal Attack potential lurking - as any in the conference. They are still a bit inconsistent from start to finish, but the coaching and talent is there for them to play with anyone in the conference. I honestly don't think that Ohio State was expecting Iowa to come into Columbus and play unflinching, but they did. OSU is still a great team, and that was high-level basketball.

Green Akers: Tough call because we've had some classics already, but I'll give it to MSU-OSU. It was only the second matchup of top-five teams in Breslin Center history, and gave you everything you'd want from that kind of marquee clash, albeit not in the normal back-and-forth fashion; MSU took advantage of a sloppy game from OSU to build a 17-point lead, only to take the foot off the gas and watch the Buckeyes come all the way back to not only tie, but have a chance to win it as time expired (thanks for the bricked layup, Shannon Scott). Hoo boy am I looking forward to the rematch in Columbus.

Aaron Yorke: Ohio State vs. Michigan State was the best game so far. It had everything: Aaron Crafty being crafty, Adreian Payne knocking down threes in overtime (I love a big man who can shoot!), and Dan Dakich waxing poetic about Craft's craftiness even though Keith Appling was putting on a show.

Graham Filler: That OSU MSU game was all kinds of goodness. Top 5 teams, comebacks, YESYESYES at halftime, football induced euphoria for the Spartan fans, big time shots, big time dunks...It was a great show.

Candystripes for Breakfast: Indiana vs. Wisconsin. Surprised the hell out of just about every IU fan, and knocked out an annoying team to break an annoying losing streak. You're welcome, rest of the B1G and other Wisconsin basketball teams.

2) Are any teams surprising you, either positively or negatively, with their play so far?

MNWildcat: I don't think I'm all that surprised, but Minnesota, neither positively or negatively, is just annoying the hell out of me. Get taken to the finish by PSU, then walk into the Breslin Center and take Sparty to overtime? Make up your damn mind if you're a good team or not.

Jesse Collins: Illinois. And I would go with both surprising in a positive and negative way. Positives: A good friend of mine is an Illini fan and we were discussing this year's expectations, and honestly, they were pretty low. Talent is getting groomed and players are going to have to come into their own. For Illinois to crack the Top 25 - after a win over Indiana - was a big deal. Then once they got me convinced they could overachieve, they lost to Northwestern. Just unbelievably up and down.

Green Akers: Despite the whole lack of wins so far thing, Nebraska has looked a lot livelier than I thought they would. Aside from the bludgeoning @OSU, the Nebrasketballers have kept it interesting so far. Their schedule's also pretty front-loaded, so don't be surprised if they scrape together as many as 5 or 6 conference wins this year. Disappointment wise...I guess maybe Indiana? Upending Wisconsin sure helps undo this, but it's been a far rockier transition to the post-Zeller/Oladipo era than most Hoosiers probably anticipated, and watching this team on offense just makes you wince sometimes, especially if Ferrell's on the bench.

Aaron Yorke: Wisconsin is better than I thought they would be! I am a dummy and ranked them sixth in our preseason poll, but I underestimated the greatness of Frank Kaminsky. Also, Ben Brust makes some amazing cuts to the basket, and the freshmen Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koening have given the team a boost from the bench. On the other side of the coin, Penn State has been worse than I expected. I didn't think they would be in the top half of the B1G or anything, but 0-5 is a bit much, especially when they had leads late in the second half versus Minnesota and Indiana.

Graham Filler: I think things have played out similar to where we expected: Mushy middle, hard to win on the road, top heavy...That Iowa win over OSU felt changing-of-the-guard-ish though. Michigan is entirely perimeter  based on offense which, though obvious, is still a huge problem for when MSU and other good teams play lock down perimeter defense. Winning all these early games is a big deal for UM though - it'll boost the record and lock them into the tourney no matter what later struggles come up. Shocking defensive decision by Wisconsin to go under every screen against michigan. I know it's their defensive strategy, but it allowed michigan to do the one thing they're actually great at: shooting threes.

Candystripes for Breakfast: Even with the loss, the fact that Wisconsin was undefeated coming into that game is something I certainly didn't see coming. Bo's boys are actually looking like a more complete team than in some years past, and may just make it out of the first weekend of the NCAAs this year.

3) What about individual players?

MNWildcat: As much as I hate admitting it, I'm impressed with Frank Kaminsky. Dude's shooting 47.7% from deep, pulling down his share of rebounds, and altering shots underneath. Indiana challenged his defensive presence last night, so I'm a little down on him today, but he is so good at being that step-out 5 that Wisconsin needs.

Jesse Collins: I'm not sure if I'm as well versed on each player, but like I said, I've enjoyed Iowa basketball so far. Aaron White stands out for me. While it's not great analysis on my part, my eyes tell me he is just making shots and has been fun to watch. I'm not sure on expectations for him coming into the season, but he's been huge for Iowa so far.

Green Akers: There's been a few: first, now that he's straightened up his off-court nonsense, Kenny Kaminski looks like the bench scorer that MSU has needed for a couple of seasons, and his defense is steadily improving enough that Izzo should keep playing him as that 8th guy in the rotation. I love his confidence in his shot, considering he'd not seen the court much before the last few games. I've also seen better-than-expected play from Jon Horford, whose decent two-way play on the interior should ease the loss of Mitch McGary for Michigan to an extent, and at least spares the Wolverines from relying on Jordan Morgan (a fate not even I would wish upon them).

Aaron Yorke: I didn't see Rayvonte Rice coming at all, and it's a good thing for Illinois that he's becoming a Big Ten star. If not for him, there would be a heavy burden placed on Tracy Abrams, and I think the Illini would be in the conference cellar. I'm also pleasantly surprised by Keith Appling's improvement in his senior year. I thought he would be MSU's third-best player, but he's been outstanding as Sparty's leading man. As for disappointments, I thought JerShon Cobb would have a bigger impact on Northwestern, but he's failed to be a consistent performer so far.

Candystripes for Breakfast: Yogi Ferrell is exceeding the expectations of most Indiana fans, completely taking over leadership of this team, being one of the few guys not afraid to keep shooting when he's not having the best game, and still dropping ridiculous points on everyone. It's probably still too early to suggest Yogi might go pro, but it's not as ridiculous as it sounded at the start of the season.

4) What games are you most looking forward to over the next third of conference play (say, until Valentine's Day)?

MNWildcat: Right in before Valentine's Day, MSU @ Wisconsin on February 9th should be a good, old-fashioned donnybrook of a B1G game. Failing that? Nebraska @ Northwestern on the 8th. SOMEONE'S GOTTA WIN, Y'ALL.

Jesse Collins: You're gonna make me look up the schedule? Ok fine... I think Ohio State and Wisconsin's tilt on February 1st looks like all sorts of fun. Same with MSU vs Wisconsin on the 9th. Iowa and MSU also have a game in there. So lots of fun matchups this trimester. Oh and I'm with MNWildcat... HUSKERS-WILDCATS for #TheOnlyVictories (save Northwestern winning which is two for them).

Green Akers: That Iowa-MSU game should be wildly entertaining, especially if MSU's back at full health by then, but I'm also looking at the MSU-Wisconsin game, though the favor with which the scheduling gods look upon Madison has become less significant with the Badgers now carrying two losses. Plus, we can run the streak to six in a row and 8 of the last 10 against Bucky.

Aaron Yorke: I'm excited about ALL the games. If I had to choose a few for people who aren't Penn State fanatics, though, I'd say Iowa at Michigan on January 22, Michigan State at Iowa on January 28, Michigan State at Wisconsin on February 9, and Michigan at Ohio State on February 11. Those games should give viewers a nice mix of the conference's top teams.

Graham Filler: Iowa Michigan is a monster game. The Wolverines have avoided horrible upsets and now three top25 teams in a row. Just winning one is great, 2 is HUGE.

Candystripes for Breakfast: January 21st, Indiana @ Michigan State. Let's see if the progress this team appears to be making is a real thing. Also, the only Purdue game of the season is just past Valentine's Day, otherwise it would be here too.

So there you have it, folks. One-thirdish of the way through the conference schedule, we've already seen a handful of classics, some huge upsets, teams stumbling badly and emerging from the cellar. Stay tuned for the next month of conference roundball and we'll check back in on the standings around Singles Awareness Day.

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