The Big Ten Tournament moving to Madison Square Garden in 2018 necessitated a shift in the conference schedule, as the tournament being played a week earlier has forced a brief conference interlude on us in the middle of underwhelming non-conference play.
Yeah, it’s been bad. The Big Ten as a conference got embarrassed 11-3 in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, with just #3 Michigan State (81-63 over #5 Notre Dame), Nebraska (71-62 over Boston College), and Purdue (66-57 over #17 Louisville) emerging victorious.
Now, there are some important caveats to this. While Kenpom rankings were generally aligned, unfortunate shake-outs like Indiana hosting Duke, a “down” (relatively) wisconsin team hosting its mirror image in Virginia—and proceeding to murder offensive basketball in a 49-37 loss—and toss-up games being played on the road (Northwestern at Georgia Tech, Maryland at Syracuse, Iowa at VaTech, Illinois at Wake Forest) meant that things were stacked against a conference that already might not be that good.
With that, absent a Power Poll (sorry), here’s how I’ve got the Big Ten ranked going into this little jaunt through conference play:
(1) #3 Michigan State Spartans (6-1, KP #3)
Easy, right? The Spartans dispatched #5 Notre Dame in a clinical performance last night, led by 17 points from Joshua Langford and a ridiculous 5/6 shooting night from deep by Cassius Winston. Miles Bridges practically looked like a bit player last night, the Spartans were so hot. This is a team that’s rebounding, playing defense, and shooting better than anyone else in the conference—we’re talking “1 or 2 losses in the Big Ten” good.
2. #12 Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-1, KP #25)
A home loss to #10 Miami (86-81) wasn’t ideal. And we can make lots of jokes about the 5-on-3 adventure the Gophers enjoyed in Brooklyn against Alabama. But let’s not look past the fact that the Gophers have still looked like a complete team who can beat you with size and athleticism.
3. Purdue Boilermakers (6-2, KP #12)
The Battle 4 Atlantis was about as close to a disaster as you can get. But a strong home win against #17 Louisville and the fact that they still have Isaac Haas and three-and-D guy Dakota Mathias. It might involve more grinding down games rather than blowing teams away with offense, but the Boilers should thrive in Big Ten play.
4. Maryland Terrapins (6-2, KP #36)
This is a young, rebuilding Maryland team, but the Terps are playing good defense and have lost their two games by a combined 4 points, including a road loss to Syracuse in a thriller. Kevin Huerter is going to drop some points in Big Ten , and a little bit of improvement in the paint (Michael Cetkovsky might give the collective fanbase an aneurysm) could guarantee the Terps a double-bye.
5. Michigan Wolverines (6-2, KP #44)
Competence against UNC? Not embarrassing themselves in Maui after a rough opening-round loss to LSU? Sure. That’s how low the bar is to be in the Top 5 in the current Big Ten.
6. wisconsin badgers (3-4, KP #32)
The badgers have only lost to good teams (Xavier at home, Baylor and UCLA in Kansas City, Virginia on the road)...but they haven’t beaten anyone. And at some point, that’s a problem.
7. Penn State Nittany Lions (6-2, KP #38)
Tony Carr is good. You probably knew that, but Carr and the runnin’ Nittany Lions will be a tough change of pace for opponents in the Big Ten. While Penn State hasn’t beaten anyone of note (and lost a tough one on the road to NC State in the ACC/B1G Challenge), they’re still sitting prettier than the rest of this shit sandwich.
8. Nebraska Cornhuskers (6-2, KP #104)
Have the Huskers been good? No. But have they beaten everyone they should? Yeah. A blowout loss at St. John’s and a neutral-site loss to Tacko Fall and a game UCF team aren’t good. But the Huskers have avoided tripping all over themselves, and that’s almost top-half material because that’s the world in which we live.
9. Illinois Fighting Illini (6-1, KP #108)
Thump will come in here and disagree or something, and that’s just fine. But the Illini avoided a loss to DePaul, and have handled Southern, Marshall, NC Central, and D-whatever Augustana (IL). Yeah, there’s a close win over Tennessee-Martin. Yeah, there’s a loss to Wake Forest on the road. But there’s competence in Year One of Brad Underwood, and that’s enough for Illinois. They’re competent, and right now that’s enough.
10. Northwestern Wildcats (4-3, KP #52)
I don’t like having the ‘Cats this high. I don’t think they’re very good, I feel like an idiot for picking them anywhere near the double-bye line in the conference, and I am mad at myself for buying into this stupid narrative they constructed in the off-season.
So yeah, while in a vacuum a home loss to a good Creighton team and a road loss to Georgia Tech by a combined 5 points is okay, that Texas Tech ass-beating will sting for a long time. And struggling with Dr. Loyola and Saint Peter’s...dear God. It’s bad.
Bryant McIntosh has not found his shot but is at least showing fight out there—Scottie Lindsey literally did not score against Georgia Tech and looked disinterested by the end, Vic Law takes over a game and then disappears for a month, and Dererk Pardon has forgotten how to be a center. Oh, and there’s no fucking depth. Goddamnit.
11. Ohio State Buckeyes (5-3, KP #75)
I still know nothing about Ohio State. They choked away a good first half against Clemson, from what I could see over Mike Jones’ shoulder, choked away a win against Butler in Portland, and couldn’t run with Gonzaga. None of these are huge faults, but their depth and talent issues mean that Keita Bates-Diop will be stuck with the heavy lifting, and any team that gives Andrew Dakich serious minutes is not in a good way coming up on conference play.
12. Indiana Hoosiers (4-3, KP #80)
Losses to Seton Hall and #1 Duke. Sure, those are expected. Blowout wins over South Florida, Arkansas State, and Eastern Michigan. Right, as you should. But then there’s struggling with Howard and getting their doors blown off at home by Indiana State. Robert Johnson is supported nicely by Juwan Morgan and De’Ron Davis, but...there’s not a ton else for the Hoosiers, and that lack of depth could hurt in Big Ten play.
13. rutger Scarlet Knights (6-1, KP #112)
Why is 6-1 Illinois at #9 and 6-1 rutger down at 13? Illinois has left the state of Illinois and played teams with something resembling a pulse. Your non-conference schedule is bad and you should feel bad.
Yeah, the Knights play good defense, though, and Corey Sanders and DeShawn Freeman can score enough to keep them in it (though they’re not terribly efficient). They’ll grind a few out in Big Ten play, and it won’t be a completely catastrophic loss. Progress!
14. Iowa Hawkeyes (4-3, KP #71)
Losses in what I think was a tax haven fraud scheme of some kind to South Dakota State and Louisiana-Lafayette. Getting their doors blown off by Virginia Tech. The Hokies are good, but they aren’t that good. Lucky for the Hawks, if basketball is anything like football, Tyler Cook will be All-Big Ten anyways.
Purdue at Maryland
6pm | BTN | Purdue -2.5
DJ: Purdue rolls into College Park after beating Louisville in the ACC Challenge while Maryland is licking its wounds after three straight games of 20+ turnovers while going 1-2 in that stretch. Both teams are evenly matched but if Maryland can’t control the ball more it’ll be a long night.
Prediction: Maryland 77, Purdue 73
Illinois at Northwestern
8pm | BTN | NU -6.5
MNW: Northwestern should win this game. Of course, because this team has been a piece of shit in tough spots this year, I firmly expect this game to be played in front of a neutral-at-best, likely pro-Illinois crowd and the ‘Cats to struggle. Scottie Lindsey is due for a bounce-back game, though, and I think Dererk Pardon can at least be competent against Michael Finke.
Prediction: Northwestern 69, Illinois 65
Indiana at Michigan
11:30am | CBS | Line: TBD
DJ: Can Indiana start doing something on offense that looks like it’s actually a scripted play? Out of all of the changes from the Crean era, forgetting how to play offense was the last on my list of what might happen.
Prediction: Michigan 71, Indiana 64
Ohio State at Wisconsin
4:00pm | FOX | Line: TBD
DJ: Wisconsin, coming off one of the worst matchups ever known to college basketball (Wisconsin/Virginia), will look to show there is more than Ethan Happ on their team for offense. Unfortunately there is no one else on their team besides Ethan Happ for offense but fortunate for them, Ohio State is knee deep in a rebuild.
Prediction: Wisconsin 59, Ohio State 54
Penn State at Iowa
4:00pm | BTN | Line: TBD
DJ: Am I really going to write this? Penn State will beat Iowa.
Prediction: Penn State 68, Iowa 65
Northwestern at Purdue
3:00pm | BTN | Line: Purdue (-13)
MNW: This is going to be ugly. Do not watch this game.
Prediction: Purdue 80, Northwestern 59
Nebraska at #3 Michigan State
3:30pm | FS1 | Line: MSU (-19)
Michigan State will win this one handily and not even Nebraska can ugly the game up enough to keep it close.
Prediction: Michigan State 84, Nebraska 66
rutger at #12 Minnesota
5:00pm | BTN | Line: Minnesota (-12.5)
As we move into conference play we will really see how much rutger has actually improved in the offseason. Their soft OOC schedule so far, other than FSU in the challenge, would put Penn State and Wisconsin football Charmin Soft schedule to shame.
Prediction: Minnesota 79, rutger 67
Maryland at Illinois
7:00pm | BTN | Line: Maryland (-2)
Maryland should win this game without issue. Maryland will try their hardest to lose this game by doing every dumb thing possible from turnovers to playing obnoxious lineup combinations. Book it.
Prediction: Maryland 69, Illinois 61